(Author’s note: I seldom,if ever, post a sermon online. I think of blog articles as something different, I guess. Anyway, I think that this sermon is somehow different, so here it is…)
Sermon given at Goshen UCC, Easter Sunday morning, 2017. “Cat’s Out of the Bag”
If you attended the Maundy Thursday service at the church the other night, you know that we talked about Quantum Physics and a thought experiment called “Shroedinger’s Cat” wherein a cat is put in a box and – according to quantum – regardless of what happened to the cat while they were in there, the cat could be alive, dead, or somewhere in the middle. The point of Quantum, and the story of Shroedinger’s cat is that anything is possible, depending on what you’re looking for, and what the matter involved wants to be. (Remember, this is a thought experiment – no actual cats were harmed in the making of this sermon).
Well, this morning, the women at the tomb, and the apostle Peter, we know that the mystery of what happened to Jesus is solved. In other words, the cat’s out of the bag. The women have looked into the cave that Jesus was laid in and have heard he’s alive. Peter has run to the tomb and found confusion, as there’s nothing but cloth in the tomb.
What does it all mean? If you believe, as the women do, that Jesus is alive, then you believe, among other things, that women can be trusted and believed, even if what they are saying makes no sense to you. It means that the head of the church (Peter) can be confused and – at least for now – not know what it all means, and still be hopeful.
Or it could be stupid, the women could be crazy, and it could mean nothing. Which do you want to see? What do Jesus’ remaining atoms want to reveal to the world? Let’s follow those possibilities to their logical conclusions and results in the real world.
If you believe it’s all made up, that it all never happened, that somebody snatched Jesus’ body, or some other concept like that, it ends there. The revolutionary guy that made you think about a new way to be, healed other people, challenged the status quo and so on, was just another false prophet. Life goes on and all that hope people had on Palm Sunday was a wasted effort. Ok, maybe some people are healed, but there’s another explanation. Mostly, though, Rome wins. Their might has proven them right. Their logic has won the day. There is no life after death.
And the synagogue elders are right as well. All those people who thought they were forgiven? Jesus didn’t have the power to do that, so they’re not forgiven.
That’s sort of okay, though, you can be forgiven for the things you do by following the law and being a good person. A few pigeons bought outside the temple and you’re good to go. You still have all the tendencies you did before, but you’re forgiven by God for the things you’ve done – all for the cost of a few pigeons and a lamb at Passover. Still, when you’re done, you’re done. If you haven’t had kids, your legacy will not be shared by your children and you will be forgotten when your bloodline ends. Still, there is the life you have. Life goes on, until it doesn’t. Your loved ones, when they die – just as Jesus did — are gone, just as it has always has been. Life is no better and no worse than it’s ever been. Roman logic will remain forever. At least, life makes sense. You know what the rules are. You know who and what’s important – and more than likely, it’s not you.
Now, you can take that tack if you want. Since none of us was there to witness any of it, there is none of us in this room that can say for certain what happened in the tomb.
But let’s – just for the sake of the argument – see what happens if people believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Since history tells us that people did believe that Jesus rose, these kinds of things happened: Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jesus didn’t have to cry anymore. Neither did Peter and all the other disciples who were gathered. Their friend is not dead. And if he’s not dead, maybe they can have the same life after death that he had. Hey, you never know… if this weird thing could happen, maybe anything can happen.
Of course, if Jesus is alive and back as he said he would be, then those who were healed really were healed, those that thought they were forgiven actually were forgiven. People can be healed. People can be forgiven. It’s a new day.
If they believed that he’s risen, the women weren’t crazy. Some even might even believe in this notion themselves and become priestesses in the early church. Peter, who’s not particularly good at getting things right a lot of the time, doesn’t have to. He can be forgiven for his mistakes. Thomas doesn’t have to give up the sort-of scientific method. Jesus proved the resurrection factually with the old “palm and feet” trick. The rest of the disciples aren’t crazy either – well, no crazier than when they started the journey.
Because they believe in this new way, they will go out and tell anyone who will listen. Sometimes this will go well, and the church will grow. But faith in the weird things Jesus said and did will be as well-received as they were when he was alive.
Saul, that serious Jew, will try to kill them. Romans will kill them when they don’t pay tribute to Caesar because they believe he’s not “all that and a bag of chips”, that he’s not a God as he says he is. Oddly, risk doesn’t go away. People can still beat you, and kill you, hang you on a cross upside down, drag you in chains, and so on for saying all those things that you believe.
The disciples know this. They just don’t care. What are you going to do? Kill them? It doesn’t take. They think they’ll come back anyway. Beat them, whip them, hang them on a cross? That’s what happened to their hero! If it worked for him, it’ll work for them! Later, when they’re fed to the lions in early Rome, and the Romans think they’re ending this Jesus revolution thing once and for all, some of those Christians will go willingly and not be afraid! As it turns out, after the Christians have been fed to the lions, the Roman Empire will fall and their church, with its weird belief system, will go on!
The church proves that even the most powerful group on earth isn’t above falling. Without swords, the Christian church lasts longer than the Roman Empire did, with swords.
What if you, like Saul, choose the wrong side of history? What if you murder people for their beliefs? What if you plan and murder a lot of them? Are you stuck in the shame and guilt forever? Not if you don’t want to be, once you realize what The Truth is.
That weird Jesus guy and his church – despite the apparent logical problems – take him in and forgave him, and let him lead a whole new life. And, just as oddly, it works! Saul changes his name to “Paul” and goes from being a leader and respected in Jerusalem with a lavish life to a criminal, dragged in chains all over the middle East – and he does it willingly, believing he got the better end of the deal! 2,000 years later, people are still talking about him. The Island he dies on, and the name of the soldiers who seemed so much more important at the time? I don’t know them. Do you?
A few years down the road, when Rome falls from its glory days, and the Pantheon of Zeus and Athena and so on are believed in no more, the Emperor Constantine will see the sign of the cross in a dream and Christianity – once a bunch of 12 men and a bunch of women, so maybe 20 people – will become the official religion of what’s left of the entire Roman Empire.
A few centuries later, when the church becomes corrupt, (because even the biggest institutions can fall), St. Francis of Assisi will model his life on the life of Christ and – with a pair of sandals and a tunic – will change the world forever. Within 15 years or so, there will be 5,000 or so followers of St. Francis. Francis will bring silliness back into the church, along with a love for animals, and a belief that he can talk to birds and calm savage wolves.
Later, in the 1700s or 1800’s, a slave trader will turn his boat around, and undo the intentional slavery of hundreds of slaves – because he believes that there’s hope for him yet and somehow those slaves are his equal.
In the 20th Century, a hopeless alcoholic will be told by a famous psychologist that he is beyond help, but he’s heard of cases where God intervenes and the man can be cured. That man begins to believe in forgiveness and becomes Bill W, the founder of AA. His group will offer hope to millions around the world, all because he believes that forgiveness and healing are possible. If Jesus could be dead dead and be healed, there was the possibility that Bill’s “life style of death” could be healed as well.
In the late 1950s and 60s, a Black pastor in Selma Alabama would overturn centuries of belief that the Negro child’s life had no value, and that they were only 3/5ths of a person, because his faith told him otherwise. Because of his faith, he will say, in his final sermon, “longevity has its place. But I don’t worry about that anymore…I have been to the mountaintop”
I don’t know if the events of Easter happened. I have no direct knowledge of the events. I wasn’t there. For a great portion of people now, it simply doesn’t make any logical sense or fit with their experience.
What I do know is this: those who believe the impossible news of Easter become fearless, develop a courage they didn’t even know they had, go places they never would have suspected, don’t fear death in the same way, come to feel they have worth because of their creation, feel that there’s a way back from anything, because of forgiveness, healing, and resurrection. They challenge whole systems of oppression … and win the respect of all humanity. 12 guys and a bunch of women that hid in a room believed … and changed the world.
So now that the cat’s out of the bag, which life would you choose? The one where things make sense but are depressing, or the one where hope lives and anything can happen? It’s your choice. Amen.