Easter is the day when even those who love to play golf or read the newspaper on Sunday morning attend church. For clergy, it’s like the Super Bowl – a full church, a great big choir, and a sea of smiling faces.
Unless, of course, there’s a pandemic, and then we were thrilled to celebrate Easter any way that we can, because Easter is when we lift up Christianity’s greatest mystery, its biggest claim, and its deepest truth.
It’s more important than ever to share the Easter message of hope after such a challenging year. At Easter, Christians lift up the belief that God broke through the barrier of death to offer us eternal life. And yes, we really believe this.
We believe that heaven is a reality for those who follow Jesus, not universal salvation, the idea that everyone goes to heaven just for being born. Rather, we believe that those who have accepted Jesus into their hearts and follow his way of love and respect the dignity of every human being will pass through death into a realm of unending love and joy that we call heaven.
Years ago, a man exiting church on Easter said to me, “You’ve got to love everything about Easter, even if it’s just a fairytale.” I suspect some folks will forever think of Easter as fake news.
They may view Jesus as a great philosopher or the founder of a new religion, but resurrection to eternal life is wishful thinking. Some folks find it easier to accept a Good Friday world, where marriages break up, addictions are rampant and friends and family die from horrible diseases.
I can empathize with them. There is, after all, so much bad news – stories about violent crime, deep political divisions, widespread racism, and millions of people dying from COVID.
So, we wonder, “Where is the God of Easter when tsunamis, tornados, or acts of terrorism occur? Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Easter when it feels like a Good Friday world.
But the Bible speaks of something different. It notes that what happened on that first Easter was utterly shocking. There was disorientation, darkness, confusion, and fear.
Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, whom they loved. As they approached the tomb, they looked up and saw that the huge, round stone, which must have weighed a thousand pounds and was set like a coin on its side, had been rolled back.
On the way to the tomb, they must have asked themselves, “How will we roll away the stone?” Only Mark mentions this worry. Yet, it’s 2021, and we still share the women’s worry.
I suspect that each of us is worried about some immovable stone in our life – a stone that blocks our way and keeps us from living the kind of life we feel called to lead. The stone prevents us from reaching our goal.
For some of us it’s a weakness. We are not taking care of our body the way that we should. We are not exercising, and we are eating all the wrong things, and we knows that we shouldn’t, but we are weak, and we give in.
For some, the stone is a moral matter. We are doing something wrong, and we know deep down that we should not be doing it. Our conscience stings. We feel it, think about it, worry about it, but we have not stopped doing it.
For others, the stone is something that has already occurred in our life. An irreversible, physical and permanent stone has been rolled across our path. We have had a heart attack or received a bad diagnosis, or our stamina or memory are greatly reduced.
It reminds us of our mortality and shapes our outlook on everything. That stone blocks our way. It prevents us from leading the kind of life that we want to live.
You may not have a stone like that, and I hope that you don’t, but every one of us has something that we cannot seem to get rid of or roll away in our life. It’s like a tombstone. It blocks us from the kind of life that we dream of living.
If you pay attention to the stones in your life, and every one of us has at least one, then you can sympathize with the women who went to visit Jesus’ tomb, feeling weak and helpless, and wondering, “Who will roll away the stone?”
Mark says that when they looked up, “They saw that the stone… had already been rolled back. And as they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” They were probably scared out of their wits.
Then the angel calmly said, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” The angel was right for the tomb was empty.
There in the half-light of that early morning, something incredible and completely unexpected had taken place. Jesus had been resurrected, and that’s the power of Easter. Two thousand years later, it may give us goosebumps or make the hair stand up on the back of our necks.
If God raised Jesus from dead, if the tomb was empty, if the angel said, “He is not here,” and if over 500 witnesses saw the resurrected Jesus, then surely God can roll away whatever seems immovable in your life and in mine.
That means that no loss, no illness, no failure or terrible mistake should block our life forever, for the God of Easter can turn the nothingness of death into a victory of eternal life.