“I’LL MEET YOU THERE!”
April 5, 2015…Easter Sunday
Saturday, March 7 was not a good day for my nephew, Matt.
Matt is golf pro at Wintergreen Resort. And yet, during the winter months, he is relegated to ski operations duty at the resort. He hates having to deal with the constant complaints of demanding upper-crust Northern Va. and Richmond skiers with their entitled Biff and Muffy kids in tow. This Saturday was supposed to have been the day he returned to teaching golf, but it happened to be 25 degrees outside. So he was stuck on the slopes.
But that’s not what was really bugging Matt.
As he drove back home to Waynesboro after a long day he was still throwing himself a pity party. He had turned 30 that previous Wednesday, but no one seemed to notice. His mom nor his girlfriend had not bothered to get him so much as a birthday card, much less a stale cake from Walmart!
As he pulled into his apartment complex, Matt was feeling so down that he failed to notice the huge volume of cars parked in the surrounding lot. He just wanted to get home to some cold pizza and a hot shower.
When he got out of his car and dragged himself to his front door and unlocked the key with a sigh, he was suddenly knocked back nearly off his front stoop with the shout of “Surprise!!!” “Happy birthday, Matt!!!”
His apartment was packed to the gills with friends and family. And Matt just stood there stunned with this totally dumbfounded, flummoxed look on his face. He could not speak! He didn’t know what to say!
Matt later remarked it simply did not register with him that this was a surprise party for him….he had never had a surprise party nor had ever been to one. He was in absolute utter shock!
Early on a Sunday morning we meet some women with a similar reaction, though they are enveloped by something far deeper than self-pity. They are devastated by grief.
Listen as Mark’s gospel describes the scene…
1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
A MOST SHOCKING INTRUSION!
Wow, you talk about a most shocking intrusion! Mark’s gospel is the earliest description we have of resurrection morning. Mary and her friends cannot make sense of the seismic shift they behold at the threshold of a vacant tomb.
An angelic being announces to them incredulous news that defies reality—Jesus who had the life executed out of his broken, nail-scarred, sin-stained body is not here! He is risen!
And the women’s response is not joy…it is discombobulated terror and disbelief. This makes no sense…it is totally off the radar screen.
Now, if it is one thing our faith has always taught us, we can always expect the unexpected from God. When we are striving to follow our Lord…and sometimes even when we aren’t…we look down and often find our feet standing in places we never would have imagined.
I could have never, in my wildest dreams, pictured myself some 10 years ago preaching alongside you dear friends under a giant tent. And yet, God has a way of surprising us, does he not?
And Easter morning is the most magnanimous, magnificent surprise of all. God chooses to make history rather than be history. He raises his Son from the dead! Jesus Christ is not some respected teacher, some renowned miracle worker, some revered revolutionary of the past. He is a living reality of the present, the hinge upon which all history now turns! He is alive in the here and the hereafter!
The news of his resurrection is met not by celebratory joy, but by stunned silence. Mary and her friends flee from the tomb, not knowing if they can believe what they have just seen and heard.
But, later, after having some time to process, to reflect, to compose themselves, the women eventually move from terror to telling.
And the good news they share with their friends—James, John, Andrew, et al. – and yes, even Peter, who denied his Lord – is that Jesus will be meeting them in Galilee. Yes, guys, get up and get on up to Galilee—Jesus is going to meet you there!
And the risen Christ keeps his promise to rendezvous with his friends, just as he still keeps that promise for you and me to day.
Where do we encounter Jesus?
JESUS MEETS US IN THE SHALLOWNESS OF LIFE
Yes, the Risen Lord is with us in the grit and grime of everyday living.
It is so easy to become jaded and skeptical and defeated in the times in which we live. We are bombarded with angst and drama from all sides. Some days you just want to disengage from it all—the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket and we’re all tangled up in the straps.
And then we experience heartbreaking, soulbreaking hurdles—mountains of pain, loss and uncertainty that chisel away at our hope.
The good news is that Jesus meets us in the shallowness of life, where there doesn’t seem to be enough living water to sustain us, when the proverbial well is drying up. The resurrection of Jesus reveals enduring resilience.
There’s hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of Don Grimes. He entered his eternal glory last July at the age of 71. For ten long years this man battled a recurring brain tumor. Surgeries, treatments, rehabilitation filled most of his days. The diary Cindy kept of his medical history was larger than a Manhattan phone directory.
And yet, Don kept smiling and persevering and encouraging and living through it all. He was a living witness to all of our Lord’s power to fill us with an inner resilient strength that cannot ultimately be defeated.
It is said that meaning heals much that is beyond a cure. Don Grimes found God-given meaning in his life as a teacher, a husband, a father, a friend. And our risen Lord is able to meet each of us and fill us with a similar perspective. We who have grown helpless and hopeless in the hurricane of life’s circumstances can find the will to get back up through Christ who strengthens us.
Yes, Jesus has promised to meet us in the shallowness of life. And Easter also is a reminder that
JESUS MEETS US IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Is anyone here old enough to remember S & H Green Stamps? Well, back in prehistoric times, when you checked out your groceries at the local supermarket, they didn’t give you 10 cents off at the gas pump. Red Front and Mick-or-Mack didn’t have gas pumps. Instead, the store clerk dispensed a wad of green stamps to you, which you promptly took home and pasted in your redemption book.
When you had collected enough redemption books, you headed to the local S & H Green Stamps Redemption Center, which I recall was on South Main St. And you exchanged your books of green stamps for various items. Valerie and I were grocery shoppin’ fools—we had lamps, toaster ovens, blow dryers, linens, you name it—all from the S & H Green Stamp Redemption Center.
Come to think of it, my first guitar back when I was a pimply-faced 6th grader came from the S & H Green Stamp Redemption Center! It cost 3 ½ books!
The resurrection of Jesus reveals eternal redemption.
Jesus has placed his stamp of redemption upon our lives, meaning that one day we will exchange these fragile bodies for something more glorious and everlasting.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” As one who conquered the chains of death, he journeys ahead of us to provide that center of redemption, ensuring that one day we will inhabit that place of complete wholeness—a place where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, where every tear shall be dried—a place where death is swallowed up in victory and forever loses its sting—a place where we shall renew our strength and mount up with wings as eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and never growing faint!
Yes, the Resurrection of Christ is indeed the supreme reminder that nothing can withstand the healing force of a loving God! Yes, that which is deemed fatefully and forever irreversible shall be reversed!
Our former bishop, Joe Pennel, tells about his organist from old St. John’s Church, a remarkable lady named Gloria Dick. She was dealing with a terminal illness. Her last trip out of the house prior to her death was to the organ bench at St. John’s.
There, on a lonely afternoon with shadows drifting through the stained glass, her frail fingers moved for the last time across the keyboard. With her back as straight as an arrow, and her head tilted upward in praise and prayer, she played the vibrant strains of Christ the Lord is Risen Today.
[Joe Pennel. God, Cornbread and Elvis. p. 124]
My dear friends, in this cynical, sarcastic age in which we live, you have every right to scoff at the assertion He has risen! But realize the Gloria Dicks and Don Grimeses of this world beg to differ with you, along with countless others who have gone before you. In their respective and unique journeys they met the risen Lord, and in that glorious encounter they found life validated, death eviscerated, sin repudiated, strength disseminated and hope resuscitated!
Yes, because Christ lives, we shall live also! He will meet us in the shallowness of life, in the shadow of death, and will never let us go! Praise be to God! Amen!