April 12, 2020…Easter Livestream – COVID-19 Pandemic
My nephew Matt was a former golf pro at Wintergreen Resort. During the winter months, he was relegated to ski operations duty at Wintergreen. And he hated 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. That particular second Saturday in March 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 fiancée Megan 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 “Fear not!,” 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. He will meet you there, just as he promised 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 are dumbfounded at the seismic shift they behold at the doorway of a desolated 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-saturated 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.
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 sensational celebration, 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 SHALLOW END 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 are living. I heard someone say last week that 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.
God in Christ defeated the enslaving bonds of sin and death that would hold us in their clutches. We can be hydrated to live courageously, victoriously. And we discover that meaning heals much that is beyond a cure.
We need never countenance the possibility of absolute futility and failure –not if Christ be risen from the grave. It is this certainty that has given followers of Jesus Christ the will to face and overcome insurmountable obstacles in every era for over 2,000 years, and it is this certainty that will carry us through these pandemic times of the present moment!
You could not grow up in the South and not be a fan of the late comedian Jerry Clower. Clower tells a very silly tale about Uncle Versie Ledbetter, a simple man who had a beloved old mule named Della.
One day Della fell into a cistern Uncle Versie thought he had covered up, but hadn’t. Della tumbled some 30 feet into the bowels of that cistern.
Well, Uncle Versie had a problem. There was his best mule down in the bottom of that cistern, and no way could he get her out of there. He certainly could not bear for her to remain there and starve to death, so he decided to take his shovel and cover her up with dirt. It would be cruel, but nearly as inhumane as allowing Della to waste away in the bottom of that deep cistern.
Uncle Versie took a shovelful of dirt and threw it down into the cistern. Every time a shovelful of dirt would hit old Della, she would shake the dirt off and stomp it down. Again and again, Versie would pitch the dirt into the hole, and Della would shake it off and stomp it down.
And you guessed it–it wasn’t long before Della had shaken off and stomped down enough dirt that she was raised high enough to leap out of the cistern!
Now there’s a lesson here: We can allow the landslide of life’s difficult circumstances to bury us. Or, like Della the Mule, we can keep trampling them under our feet until we are lifted above them. Christ, our resurrected Savior and Lord, indwells us with courage and strength to keep stomping and to keep rising.
Yes, Jesus has promised to meet us in the shallowness of life. And Easter also is a reminder that
JESUS MEETS US IN THE DEEP END 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, when the waters of death engulf us, the outstretched hand of our resurrected Lord reaches down beneath the waves to grab hold of us and never let us go. Nothing can separate us from the eternal force of a loving and living God! Yes, that which is deemed fatefully and forever irreversible shall be reversed!
Because Christ lives, we shall live also! He meets us in the shallow end of life and in the deep end of death, and never lets us go. In his presence we find
strength disseminated and
Mrs. Anderson had just finished telling her Sunday School class full of third graders about how Jesus was crucified and placed in a tomb ……… with a great stone sealing the opening.
Then, wanting to share the excitement of the resurrection, she asked: “And what do you think were Jesus first words when He came out of that tomb?”
Little precocious Bethany in the back of the room shot her arm into the air and leaped to her feet and shouted excitedly “I know, I know!”
“Good” said the teacher, “Tell us, Bethany what did Jesus say?” Extending her arms high into the air she said: “TA-DA!”
Yep, TA-DA!!! Christ is risen! Amen!