The “grand finale” of the Love Wins series- only fitting it was Easter Sunday…when LOVE WINS!
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
I look around this world and I see a lot of fear. I turn on the news and see fear in the stories of shootings and violence and disease. I see fear in the eyes of parents who wonder in what kind of world their children will grow up. I see fear in situations where people do not know where to turn, where they are stuck in the hells of addiction or poverty or abuse. Yes, there is a lot of fear in our world. Fear of death, pain, loss, suffering. Fear of not being accepted or loved. Fear of the unknown. If you were to make a list of your top 5 or 10 fears, what would they be? I decided to see what the popular answers were. According to one website, the top 10 fears, starting at number 10 are: losing your freedom, the unknown, pain, disappointment, misery, loneliness, ridicule, rejection, death is number 2…and number 1 is…failure. Personally, my number one fear is losing someone I love suddenly or having something bad happen to a member of my family. Some of those fears listed though apply to every one of us at one point or another. We all identify with fear- which is why I love Mark’s account of the resurrection. It is different from the other gospels in that the women see the large stone rolled back, they entered into the tomb to see the young man who tells them that Jesus has been raised. His first words to them are, “Do not be alarmed…do not be afraid,” and after they are given instructions to go and tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, they do not run out excited or ready to tell the world- instead, we are told they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. And that’s where Mark ends his story. Of course, if you were to open your Bible, you will see a short second ending to Mark, which was believed to have been added later by a different source. Perhaps whoever added this ending was not satisfied with the original ending, that the women were afraid and said nothing to anyone.
But I think we have to appreciate Mark’s ending for what it is because each one of us can relate to these women- they were afraid- afraid that they would not be believed, afraid of what people would think, afraid that they had just encountered some kind of divine presence and did not understand the meaning of it, afraid of their disbelief, afraid that perhaps someone had stolen the body of Jesus and would come after them as well. Maybe they were afraid of what would become of them if they were to share what they had seen? The possibilities are endless! But I believe that Mark’s resurrection account is the most honest, most human response to what had occurred because these women experienced one of the most basic human emotions- fear.
But these words, “Do not be afraid” are a constant theme throughout the gospels. Why is this? Because part of having faith is to hear and trust in these words, “Do not be afraid.” After all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the answer to fear. It is the answer to death, sin, violence, destruction. The resurrection of Jesus is the reminder that sin and death lose, and that love wins. We have spent the last 6 weeks talking about the concept of love wins, and during this time we have explored ideas about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. We have wrestled with different concepts of God and the afterlife and how God sets out to retell our own stories. We have contemplated tough questions such as why millions believe that a good and loving God who so loved the world that he gave his only son would also send his own children to a place of torment. And through all these ideas, the message has been constant- that love wins out every time. That we have a God whose grace and love is so big and wide and unending that love always wins in the end because God is love. We have a God who even though we may not fully understand the ways in which the world works, seeks us out until we are found, who picks us up despite our faults and mistakes, and loves us until it hurts. We have a God that despite of our own version of ourselves, whispers in our ear and says, “You are always with me and all that I have is yours” as we are told a better story- that the good news is better than that. We have a God who on Easter Sunday overcomes suffering and death and gives way to new life, who does away with fear, who does away with hate and replaces it with love. We have a God who through suffering and death, proclaims in every way possible, that love wins.
I hope for you that instead of God who is full of wrath, judgment, and condemnation, you have experienced the God who has overcome each of these things to reveal the nature of God that is love. I hope you hear this morning that if you have not experienced the God of love, the God who overcomes fear and death and hopelessness-that you are invited to experience this indestructible love of God. This love is an unfolding, dynamic reality that every single one of us is endlessly invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience for ourselves. “Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God, again and again and again” (LW, 194).
Easter is as good a time as any to set aside our fears, our cynicism, our hesitations, and our excuses as to why we may refuse to open ourselves up to this good news. Easter is as good a time as any to fully accept the invitation to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ where we allow ourselves to be fully transformed by him that we may experience new life as well. This invitation from God is “one that is offered to us with each breath and to trust that we are loved and that a new word has been spoken about us, a new story is being told about us” (195). Perhaps this is difficult to hear because we all find cynicism and skepticism to be the easy way to go. It’s easy to pick apart and point out inconsistencies and we’re all good at it. We also know what it’s like to be let down. So our guard goes up and we find it hard to believe anything or anyone or to trust. But Jesus invites us “to trust that the love we fear is too good to be true is actually good enough to be true.” Jesus invites us to become, to be drawn into this love as it shapes us and forms us and takes over each part of our lives. Jesus also calls us to repent- to have our hearts and minds transformed that we may see everything differently (196).
To accept this invitation and begin our transformation does require some kind of death- a humbling, a leaving behind of the old mind- but at the same time, it requires an opening up, a letting go- so that we can fully receive, expand, find, hear, see and enjoy (196). To accept this invitation means to hear and trust the words as the women at the empty tomb heard that first Easter morning: “Do not be afraid.” To accept this invitation means that we die to our old selves and are raised to new life with Christ that we are transformed people, ready to live for God and ready to take on the world, ready to share the good news that love wins.
But what if we are not ready? What if fear is holding us back? What if, like the women at the empty tomb, we want to run from the world and not say a word to anyone? When we live in a world like we do today, it’s easy to look around and see nothing but pain, heartache, grief, violence, and hopelessness. It’s easy to see and feel fear. When I look around and feel that the world is just so broken and my heart aches for all that is wrong, I will tell you that at times like this, it is hard to be a preacher. It’s hard to find a word of honest hope to share with those who so desperately need to hear it. So the challenge at times for all of us is to actually believe the words of hope being spoken. So, too, the challenge of Easter is to actually believe and hear the good news of the resurrection in the midst of the many tragedies that surround us and threaten to break the human spirit each and every day. If you find yourself with the women standing in the empty tomb, fearful and afraid of the world that await us out there, you are not alone. If you find yourself struggling to hear a word of hope and to trust in the concept that love wins, you are not alone.
But hear this: sometimes we must preach this truth until we fully believe and trust it for ourselves. Sometimes we must keep repeating this vital truth until we breathe it into our very being and it will truly begin to sustain and give us hope and new life. Sometimes the Easter story of the resurrection really does seem too good to be true. But the good news is that Jesus, who overcame suffering and death, can also overcome our own fears, doubts, and hesitancies. So if we find ourselves standing on the sidelines in fear, the invitation is still there and is ours for the taking. If we find ourselves standing at the empty tomb not sure what to do next, there is instruction to go on to the path ahead where you will meet Jesus, just as he promised.
Despite the fearful world we live in, despite our own fears and brokenness, mistakes, sins, imperfections, judgments and failures, the true message of Easter is that love wins. Love is what drives out fear. Love is the answer to the fear, brokenness, and heartache of this world. Love is what God is. Love is why Jesus came and love is why he continues to come, year after year to person after person. Love is what put Jesus on the cross, and love is what raised Jesus from the grave. My hope for each of you this Easter is that you experience this “vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins” (198).
He is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!