Some years ago I was playing tennis with a friend of mine. Neither of us are great tennis players but every once in a while even poor players hit a great shot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me that hit the great shot. My friend managed to hit a serve that was like a rocket, and it had a terrific spin. It came at me so fast that I didn’t really have time to get my racket all the way up so the ball hit the frame of the racket, spun off and came right up and hit me in the eye. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to blink, so my eye had an impression of Wilson #3 on it. I fell onto my back and my friend ran over to see if I was okay. I should mention he is a funeral director, and I still believe he was trying to drum up some business. In fact, when I looked up and saw him standing over me, I was certain he had a tape measure in his hand.
The injury to my eye was serious enough that I went to the emergency room, where they numbed my eye and picked out all the pieces of fuzz that were left behind by the tennis ball. The doctor patched my eye and for several days I only had the use of one eye. That’s a strange experience, because there is no depth perception, which makes driving really interesting. I think I have ½ mile to stop, but it’s actually 100 feet. When you reach for something you underestimate or overestimate the distance. And the one eye of which I had use just didn’t work that well on its own. When I went back to the doctor and he removed the patch it was like the entire world was new again. Lights were brighter, colors were more vivid, and everything seemed so much more alive. It was a wonderful experience to have vision returned and to see the world as if it were new.
Welcome to Easter worship, where we celebrate the reality of a new vision and a promise for life! It is a vision – a promise – of Life Over Death.
In recent weeks we have journeyed through a series of messages titled Walking With Jesus, which have been based on the final days of the life of Jesus. This morning we end up with the same theme as our first message – Life Over Death.
During his final days Jesus sought to instill in the hearts and minds of his followers his most important teachings as well as the purpose of his life and ministry. The disciples didn’t really get it. They were a bright group of guys, but their vision was blurry, it was partially masked, making it difficult for them to comprehend what Jesus was trying to teach them.
But the resurrection opened their eyes. The resurrection brought the disciples out of darkness and into light. The resurrection gave the disciples a clarity of vision and understanding they had not previously experienced. It was as though they were looking at life through eyes that had been suddenly opened. As we celebrate the resurrection this morning we understand that it opens our eyes also to a greater understanding of life as God intends it to be.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve been in school, like it has for me, you may remember what you exclaimed when you finally came to understand a concept that had previously eluded you. What did you say when understanding came to you? Not I understand, but now I see! Except in math. I never said that in math class, unfortunately.
Now, in light of the resurrection, we can say now I see! The resurrection illuminates everything about life and illuminates everything Jesus taught. The resurrection teaches us, most of all, of the triumph of Life Over Death.
That promise of Life Over Death is not just a future promise, but is very much a present reality. Resurrection is often thought of as a future event, as it ushers us into eternity, but it is also a present event. Resurrection reflects upon our eternal destiny, but it is about our destiny in this world as well.
When Jesus walked out of death and the tomb and into new life he invited us to walk out of death and into new life as well.
It was an invitation to become new people in this life. If anyone is in Christ, Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:17, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Resurrection promises that we can overcome the challenges that threaten our lives, it promises to defeat the discouragement that can overwhelm us, and it promises to triumph over our fears. No longer do we have to remain bound by the tomb of an old life, but we are invited to embrace new life.
People often walked away from Jesus as different people. Not always, but often. There were those who could not accept the love and new life he had to offer. Instead, they preferred to remain imprisoned behind the walls of their own tomb. They entomb themselves behind walls of fear, afraid to step out into the brave new world promised by God. They entomb themselves in bitterness, vowing to never forgive or forget a hurt. They entomb themselves behind anger, remaining mad at the world and everyone around them. And they entomb themselves in grief, mourning forever what was while forgetting what can be.
When Jesus walked out of death and the tomb and into new life he promised to bring new life to this world as well.
God entered into humanity to set things right. God, in the resurrection of Christ, said enough! Enough to the tomb of hatred, enough to the tomb of greed, enough to the tomb of oppression, and enough to the tomb of human structures that enslave and oppress people. He said enough to the tomb of injustice, enough to the tomb of inequality, enough to the tomb of prejudice, and enough to the tomb of discrimination.
Moving from death to life reminds us that though we live in a world where the strong too often take advantage of the weak God’s justice will prevail. Moving from death to life reminds us that though we live in a world where so many are poor, God will bring a bounty to all, because the resurrection promises that God not only broke the bonds of death but also the bonds of injustice, of inequality, and of suffering.
Some churches remain entombed as well, sadly. They remain entombed behind walls of safety and security. They are afraid of the world around them and so they remain safely entombed behind the walls of their building. Some churches have entombed themselves behind walls of familiarity and sameness. Nothing can ever change, so they cling to a past that was never quite as grand as they claim and they hide from the future and all the promises it can bring. Some churches have entombed themselves behind walls of fear and insecurity, uncertain of the calling and not willing to step out in faith and to trust the spirit to guide them.
Moving from death to life also reminds us that God is not our enemy, although listening to some churches and to some Christians would give you the impression that he is. It is good news that God loves us, not bad news! Moving from death to life reminds us that we are called to make our lives known not by what we are against by what we are for, to make our lives known not by who we will condemn but who we will love, and to make our lives known not just by what we say but by what we do.
I have told you a story or two about Bill Norris, who was my minister during my years of Junior High through my early college years. He was a great man, and tremendously influential to my life. When he left our church I went to their house to help load the moving van. An occupational hazard of ministry is that you can get far more volunteers to help you move out of town than into town.
It was very sad loading that moving van, because I didn’t want them to move. We were almost finished loading the van when a man came walking into the driveway. He was our town’s version of Otis Campbell, except this man’s life wasn’t funny, but terribly tragic. He smelled horrible. It was an odor from unwashed clothes, days without bathing, and alcohol. The usual reaction to him was to turn away or to feel repulsed, but that was not the case with Reverend Norris.
While the rest of us wanted to turn away, Reverend Norris grinned his big grin as soon as he saw that man walking into the driveway. He walked quickly to him and, without hesitation, wrapped his arms around him in a big bear hug, and pulled him tight to him. I had no idea Reverend Norris had dealings with that man, but it was obvious at that moment they were very familiar with one another, and I learned later how much Reverend Norris had ministered to and loved that man, a man everyone else either avoided or discarded. As they embraced each other the tears ran freely down both of their cheeks. When the man finally let go of Reverend Norris and turned to walk away he appeared to be a different man. His entire countenance had changed because of the love he felt.
Perhaps he seemed a different man because I was able to see him as a different man. Perhaps he seemed a different man because the love demonstrated by Reverend Norris opened my eyes to see that man differently.
Life Over Death is what the resurrection brings to us. The resurrection opens our eyes to the reality of the life offered by Jesus. Let’s go from this place today, and bask in the beauty and the gift of that life!