April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday, Pastor Javen Swanson

Read today’s scripture lessons: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Ninety-five-year-old John Sato couldn’t sleep the night after the horrific terrorist attack earlier this spring at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. In fact, the man says he lay awake tossing and turning each night for weeks after the massacre, so distraught was he about the hatred and bigotry that had sparked the attack. He said it was like he could feel in his own body the suffering experienced by his Muslim neighbors who were victims of the mass shooting. So when he heard about a solidarity march planned in Auckland, New Zealand, not so far from his home in the suburbs, he was determined to get there any way he could.

His wife died 15 years ago, and he lost his only child, a daughter, last year, so John is on his own. To get from his home in suburban Auckland to the city center where the march was planned, he had to take four different buses. (Asked later why he took four buses to get to the march, he said, “Because buses are more comfortable than walking.” He said taking the bus saves your shoes.) After he arrived, journalists covering the march snapped photos of the frail, elderly man in dress pants and a blazer held up and supported by a police officer and another man attending the event. Those photos made the rounds on social media, and everyone wanted to know, why was this older man, a World War II veteran of Scottish and Japanese descent, so determined to be part of this march? What was he doing there? He told reporters that he wanted to make the point that all of us are one, regardless of race or religion, and that people ought to care for one another. He said, “Life is too short to be wasted on meaningless things like hatred. This tragedy in Christchurch—it brought out the best of humanity.”

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I don’t know how to explain the resurrection. I don’t know how something dead can be brought back to life. If you came here this morning hoping that maybe, just maybe, after all the Easter Sundays you’ve shown up at church and heard this story about the stone rolled away and the empty tomb and Jesus risen from the dead, that maybe today would be the day someone would finally offer an explanation that makes sense of it all—if that’s what you came today hoping to hear, you’re going to leave sorely disappointed.

When the women arrived at the tomb and heard from those angelic messengers that Jesus had risen from the dead, they rushed back to their closest friends—to Jesus’ closest friends—the people who most wanted this news to be true, the people in the best position to believe them. The women rushed back from the tomb and told the apostles this good news, but, the gospel writer tells us, “these words seemed to them an idle tale.” The news of the resurrection really does sound like nonsense. It defies comprehension. For modern readers, this story violates the basic laws of biology and medicine. It’s impossible to believe—not just for those earliest disciples but, I suspect, for most of us, too.

I don’t have any answers for you. None of us do. It’s as confounding to us today as it was back then to those first disciples. We don’t know how to explain resurrection. And yet, this story is no “idle tale.” Resurrection is real. I know what it looks like. Resurrection looks like a sleepless John Sato deciding he needs to stand with his Muslim neighbors and take four buses to get to a solidarity march. Resurrection looks like Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people who don’t identify with any faith tradition, realizing we’re all part of one family and raising their voices to say, “Enough!” Resurrection looks like hundreds of thousands of people all around the world responding to religious bigotry and mass murder by linking arms and insisting that death will not have the final word. I don’t know how to explain the mechanics of resurrection, of a person who was dead brought back to life. But I do know resurrection happens.

Death is a powerful force in our world. It’s not only the force that stops our hearts’ beating. Death is at work whenever we are made to believe that some people are less human than others, when arbitrary distinctions persuade us that some people are disposable or undeserving of compassion. It’s lurking behind the scenes whenever fear divides us from one another or makes us suspicious of people who are different from ourselves. It makes us believe we ourselves are unworthy of love, or undeserving of forgiveness, or too broken to be healed, and it sends us down the path of despair. Death is the insidious force that seeks to choke the life out of us, not just in the final days of our lives but each and every day, in big and small ways. Death is a powerful force in our world, and many of us know that all too well.

And while I don’t know how to explain resurrection, I know that death doesn’t get the final word. Resurrection is real. We get glimpses of it every day. We glimpse resurrection when someone meets us in our darkest moment and says, “I’m so sorry. You’re not alone. I have your back.” We glimpse resurrection when this church building becomes a shelter for homeless neighbors, when volunteers prepare a meal at Loaves and Fishes for people who are hungry, when those who have felt disempowered claim their voices and show up at the state Capitol demanding justice. We glimpse resurrection when we hear someone say, “It doesn’t matter where you came from or what kind of documents you’ve got, you are my neighbor and I stand with you.” We glimpse resurrection when a table is set, bread and wine are put out, an invitation is extended to all, everyone is fed, and nobody is sent away hungry. Here, today, at this very table, a glimpse of resurrection.

Where in your own life do you need to experience resurrection? Where do you experience the forces of death trying to convince you that you’re not enough, that you’re unworthy or undeserving or irredeemably flawed? Where do you experience death choking the life out of you? The good news of Easter is that resurrection is happening now, today. It’s not something to hope for in some far-off future beyond life in this world. Resurrection is available to you today, breathing life into the places in you and the places in this world that seem broken beyond repair.

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John Sato says he’s embarrassed by all the attention, that he’s not used to so much publicity. He’s received thousands of letters from people all over the world praising him for his act of love. But he is clear that he is no hero. He said, “It’s nothing special. I don’t have a lot to give. I’m just an old, ordinary bloke who was doing what I could.”

I wonder if the challenge with believing the news of resurrection is that we’re expecting to have our own experience of a walking, talking, risen superhuman Jesus, when, in fact, the way we actually experience resurrection is through old, ordinary blokes who don’t have a lot to give but share what they can. Maybe the truth is that we learn of the resurrection not from angelic messengers pointing toward the heavens but from weak and insignificant mortals who are nevertheless bringing new life into the world, into places where death seemed to have won the day.

I don’t know how one who was dead gets brought back to life. I don’t know how to make sense of the resurrection. But I do know that Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!


Resources consulted:

Anna Carter Florence, “Preaching Moment 010: Anna Carter Florence,” on WorkingPreacher.org, June 2, 2008, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2249.

Karoline Lewis, David Lose, and Matt Skinner, “#111 – Resurrection of Our Lord,” Sermon Brainwave Podcast, on WorkingPreacher.org, March 28, 2010, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=121.

Radio New Zealand, “95-year-old caught four buses to join rally against racism,” March 26, 2019, https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018688318.

Radio New Zealand, “John Sato inundated with messages from around the world,” March 28, 2019, https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018688665.