That’s right, on Easter, someone drove home from church in a brand new BMW. And even if you didn’t walk away with any of the big-ticket items, each and every worshipper received a gift bag filled with $300 in merchandise. I picture their Easter worship looking like one of Oprah’s giveaway shows, you know, when she used to hype her “favorite things.”
Happy Easter, everybody! And just because Christ is risen, everyone in the congregation today receives a free gift bag, filled with all my favorite CDs and beauty products. And on top of all that…you get a car and you get a car and you get a car!
I first heard about Bay Area Fellowship and their Easter giveaway bonanza through my friend Jeff Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Texas. He said that if we think we’re up against a tough spot competing with kids’ sports or churches with rock bands and pastors in skinny jeans, we’ve got no idea what it’s like to have a church right down the street giving away X-boxes and Audi sports cars on Easter. That’s when you really start to get nervous.
At first, I thought Jeff had to be joking, that this had to be an April Fool’s Joke (after all…just last year Easter Day fell on April 1). I couldn’t believe that a church would celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by giving away swag bags and new cars. But then I remembered two things: first, anything is possible in Texas. And second, and more importantly, as Christians gathered together in Jesus’ name on Easter Day, we know something about crazy, nonsensical stories that sound too good to be true. Because we are here today to celebrate the Resurrection—a crazy, nonsensical story that sounds too good to be true.
It’s a story about some women who find an empty tomb where they expected to find a rotting corpse and are told by two mysterious figures in dazzling white that the Jesus they watched suffer and die is very much alive. The women go back to the rest of the disciples to tell them all about it, but the men refuse to believe them, dismissing the truth the women proclaim as just an idle tale – which just goes to show that times really haven’t changed much. But then again, really…who could blame them? We all know that the world doesn’t work that way. Death is the inevitable end of life. That’s a fundamental rule of science.
But what those women first witnessed, and what we’ve all been trying to come to terms with ever since, is that the God who wrote the rules of science into the fabric of creation is perfectly capable of suspending them for the sake of love. Because…love causes you do crazy things, things you might not imagine doing otherwise, things that may even surprise the people who know you best. And this apparently true even for the God of heaven and earth. For the sake of love, God decided to interrupt the “way things have always been” by jamming a great big cross-shaped stick in the awful machinery of the world – the machinery of power and violence, the machinery of sin and death – to stop it turning long enough for Jesus to walk through. And once Jesus was through, he knew the way to lead all of us through, too.
It’s a crazy story, I know, one that stretches our imaginations to the very limits. It is tempting to dismiss it as an idle tale just like the disciples first did. I can’t but wonder if the reason it’s so hard for most of us to believe is because it’s not consistent with the litany of bad news that we’re used to hearing. Anxiety and fear are what most of us know best in this age. An endless string of horrible front page news. We’ve all heard so much bad news that when the news is good, and it seems to come from the God whom we have so often forgotten to include in our calculations of “how the world works”, we simply don’t know how to hold onto it or believe in it.
But what we’re here today to remember is that God is ultimately in charge of the whole arc of history, and that means, no matter what it may look like, the worst thing is not going to be the last thing. All really will be well. Say it with me: all really will be well. It will not be easy, or simple, or comfortable. The promise of Easter isn’t free merchandise or a guarantee of safety and prosperity. Actually, the promise of Easter is far better than that. The promise of Easter is that we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Afraid of the news. Afraid of one another. Afraid of death. Afraid of God. Ultimately all will be well, because the day you breathe your last will not be the last day. Jesus will be there, holding back the wheels of death, so that you, too, can walk through. No matter where we go or what we face, we go with Jesus Christ, who has taken everything that humans or hell could throw at him and he has come out on the other side.
So…I’m sorry to tell you that you are not going to win a new BMW this morning. You are not going to look under your pews and find gift bags filled with hundreds of dollars of merchandise or hear about a Jesus who wants you to prosper. The gifts you receive today are both much simpler and much more valuable than any of that.
Today you receive bread and wine, the holy food and drink of new and unending life. Today you receive the gift of a community gathered to sing Alleluia, proclaiming that the worst thing is never the last thing. And today you are given the most magnificently nonsensical story of all time – telling us that it is through a cross, a grave, a tomb, God has changed the rules forever.
So, good people of Transfiguration, do not be afraid, because our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead,
And that means…
You get eternal life and
You get eternal life and
You get eternal life and
We all get eternal life!