[This was shared during the 10:15am worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]
There’s a joke about an expectant couple, anxious to confirm their suspicions about the gender of their baby. They arranged to have an ultrasound done at the doctor’s office. So, they arrived for the appointment, the pregnant mom got onto the table, and the doctor began the procedure. Suddenly, the doctor let out a, “Wow!” “What is it?,” the couple wondered, “Is it a boy?” “Well,” the doctor replied slowly, “the middle one is.”
Sometimes life surprises us and the only appropriate response from us, apart from fainting, is, “Wow!” Easter records the greatest event in human history. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, rose from the dead. And yet, in our daily lives, we manage somehow not to be amazed by it. How is it that you and I can “acquire the fire,” gaining or regaining our sense of wonder at the most wonderful thing that has ever happened?
Maybe the answer lies in going back to the original Easter and following what happened according to one of the Biblical writers on the first Easter Sunday. I want to do that by considering Luke’s telling of the Easter story, which we read as our Gospel lesson a moment ago, doing so from three different perspectives.
First, there is the perspective of the women who came to the tomb at sunrise that Sunday morning. They came to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, a task they had been unable to do before it had been buried. But the women got a surprise! The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was gone. Luke says, with incredible understatement that they were “perplexed.”
You and I would be perplexed, too! That's because we get used to certain set patterns in our lives, like dead people staying dead and tomorrow being pretty much the same as the day before.
Most people have low expectations of life. These four female disciples from Galilee would have been no different from most. As they went to the tomb, driven by grief and a sense of duty, Jesus’ often repeated promises were far from their minds.
In a fog, they wouldn't have been quick to remember promise like the one Jesus gave shortly after Peter had confessed Jesus was the Messiah. Speaking of Himself as the Son of Man, Jesus had said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Nor would they have likely remembered aother time, shortly before Jesus went to Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. Then, he had said: “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”
None of the disciples had really paid much attention to words like these from Jesus. A dead man rising again? It didn’t fit in with their expectations of life.
But on Easter, God shouted to the world that He reserves the right to surprise us! Easter is worth a WOW!
The second perspective on the first Easter is that of the other disciples, the other followers of Jesus with whom the women at the tomb shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection that day. "Jesus is alive!" they said. The other disciples didn’t believe them. Why?
Some scholars think that the women were disbelieved because they were women. It may be. In those days, for example, a woman’s testimony was never deemed valid in a legal proceeding.
But I think that there’s a likelier reason the disciples didn’t believe the women. A few years ago, a prominent preacher told the true story of a friend and his son when the boy was small. The little guy had two heroes: Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers, back when both of those children’s show hosts were on TV. The father and son would sit and watch these two stars every day. Then it was announced that Mister Rogers was going to visit Captain Kangaroo’s show. The boy was so excited he could hardly stand it. Day in and day out, he would ask his father, “Is this the day? Is this the day?” Finally, the day came and father and son sat in front of the TV to watch this magic. Captain Kangaroo’s show began and after a few moments, Mister Rogers was introduced. The boy watched this for a few moments and then, left the room. Mystified, his dad found the boy in another part of the house. “What’s wrong?” the dad asked.” The son replied, “It’s just too good. It’s just too good!”
The women’s story of Jesus’ resurrection may have been dismissed because it simply seemed too good to be true. I know people today who refuse to trust that the resurrection Jesus promised actually did happen.
But if we consider Jesus’ track record, how, unlike us, He always fulfilled His promises and how His other predictions—predictions of His being arrested, betrayed, and crucified—all happened, maybe we should be open to the possibility that His resurrection victory over sin and death, a victory He promises to share with all who turn from sin and trust in Him, might be true too. Maybe Easter is one of those things too good not to be true!
The third perspective on the first Easter comes from Peter. Peter, you know sometimes gets a bad press because like us, he’s proud, impetuous, and prone to snap judgments.
But when Peter heard the women’s story of Jesus’ resurrection, he reacted differently from the other disciples. They sat their like bumps on a log or dismissed the lunacy of an idle tale about a dead Messiah come back to life.
Maybe Peter reacted differently because of his personal track record with Jesus. To Peter, on hearing the news the women brought from Jesus' tomb, memories would have come flooding back.
Maybe he remembered the early morning when he and his fishing crew returned from a night of futility when they’d been unable to catch any fish. They found the preacher Jesus, from landlocked Nazareth, waiting on the shore. He suggested that they put back out and lower the nets. Reading about that incident in the Bible, you can almost hear the smirk in Peter’s voice when he tells Jesus that, like generations of Galilean fishermen, they’d been out trolling the waters all night long. He knew what he was doing, Peter seemed to say. He was a professional fisherman. But then, he said, as if to prove Jesus wrong, he would go out again. They’d gone just a few feet from shore and lowered the nets. The nets became so full that the catch nearly sank the boat. Peter was overwhelmed. He collapsed before Jesus and begged the Lord to go away. Peter was aware in a sudden, dramatic way of how great the distance between him and the sinless Lord Jesus was.
Peter may have also remembered the events of just a few days before that first Easter Sunday. Jesus had told Peter that when the going got rough on the first Maundy Thursday and the world turned against Jesus, Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter told Jesus that would never happen. But it did.
Those and so many other memories may have incited Peter to not walk, but run, to the tomb and investigate for himself. There, he saw all the evidence he needed: the tomb empty and the linen burial cloths, left behind. Our Gospel lesson says that Peter went back home “amazed.”
Peter, I think, holds the key to our believing and our greeting the good news of Easter with a Wow! And not just on Easter Day, but every day of our lives.
For Easter to have meaning for us, it won’t be the result of our gaining knowledge through say, the reading of Scripture. (Although anyone who follows Jesus will want to read Scripture in order to know Him better!)
And the meaning of Easter won't stay with us because of emotions we experience. (Although the better we know Jesus, the more our emotions—like love and gratitude and even others like anger with injustice—will be roused.)
The wonder of Easter comes to us in another way, Peter’s way.
Years ago, a prominent psychologist told the story of being alone with his then-toddler son, Ryan, shortly after they’d moved into a developing neighborhood, with new houses being constructed all around. The psychologist was busy preparing dinner when he became aware of silence in the house. He called for Ryan...no answer. He looked all over the house and couldn’t find him. He then ran outside and saw, to his horror, that, some distance away, Ryan had crawled into the back of a large dump truck. How this little guy had climbed up there, the psychologist didn’t know. He wanted to avoid startling his son, so he approached him quietly. The closer he got to Ryan, the more he could hear Ryan talking to himself. At one point, Ryan decided he wanted to get out of the dump truck bed. So, backing up toward the edge of the truck, he began to probe with his feet for a place where he could land. Try as he might though, he couldn’t find it. The psychologist heard his son saying quietly, “Somebody help the boy.” Ryan finally decided that he would just back off the bed and see where he would land. He did so and fell...right into the waiting arms of his dad.
In the end, the power, the incredible blessing, the WOW! of Easter will be ours only after remembering Jesus’ track record as Peter did, we surrender and simply fall into Jesus’ waiting arms.
If you invest any credibility in the words and actions of Jesus, you can trust that Jesus died to destroy the power of sin and death over your life and that He gives new life to those who believe in Him. On this Easter Sunday, I invite you to, like the once disbelieving, world-weary disciples, put all your trust and all your hope in Jesus...today and every day! Jesus will catch you and you will believe that Easter is true!