My mother saved lots of things from her three daughters’ growing up. When she and dad moved from a house to a smaller condominium, she told each of us that we now had to take our own relics or they would be tossed out. Perhaps most interesting to me from her collection was the discovery of my first Easter Sermon. I was a Senior in High School when the church youth group was tapped to do the Sunrise Service. I can’t imagine why I agreed to preach the sermon, since I abhorred speaking in public. Regardless, I found the copy of what I said that morning, and those thoughts are what I would choose to say again this night.
What I was struck by as a teenager was that whatever happened on that day of the Resurrection, its most tangible result was not an empty tomb, or abandoned linen grave clothes. What we have seen is that after that day, everything changed for those first disciples. A group that had failed Jesus at every turn, most of whom ran and hid when he was arrested, now became powerful messengers, whose proclamation of the Gospel changed the world.
It didn’t happen immediately. When the women who were the first witnesses brought word of angels at an empty tomb to the other disciples, their initial response was that the report was “an idle tale.” The Greek word here translated ‘idle tale’ might more accurately be rendered ‘delirious ravings’. It seemed like something too good to be true.
But what’s interesting is that the disciples didn’t stay stuck there. Peter said, “It’s an idle tale,” and then was off like an Olympic runner to see for himself. He returned from the tomb, “amazed at what happened.” As the day went on the risen Christ appeared to him, and to the other disciples; and gradually they moved from disbelieving in joy to joyful belief. That belief sent them out into the world in the power of the resurrection, in a way that changed everything.
It reminds me of the report of a scientific discovery earlier this year. Astronomers announced the presence of a new ninth planet in our solar system, having a mass ten times that of earth. Most scientists checking the data agree that they really have found a planet, even though they haven’t been able to see it. They know it’s true because they are able to discern its presence from it’s huge gravitational effects.
That is how it is for Christians who were not present at the first Easter day. Most of us have not had a direct vision of the risen Christ. But we are certainly able to see the huge gravitational effects of the resurrection. Something happened two millennia ago so powerful that the disciples were profoundly changed in ways that cannot be explained by the lives those men and women lived before.
And when The disciples saw what had happened, they did not make a model of the empty tomb, bring the unused grave clothes and go on the road with a show of proof for a skeptical population. Instead, they came out of hiding, and went openly into the parts of Jerusalem most dangerous for them, to testify to the new reality in the world, the reality that changed everything. Death is defeated and Christ is risen. They were filled with the knowledge that God’s love is stronger than death.
There is an important distinction here. To witness something is to see it. To testify is tell of the reality in which you live. The disciples did not bring a show and tell of witness. They testified to what had happened to them, and what had turned the world upside down. It is the long lineage of testimony since then that brings the resurrection of Christ to us today, and we are called to pass it on.
I can testify to you that Jesus has been raised from the dead, because my own life has been changed by that extraordinary fact. People like my spouse who have known me since I was a young adult will tell you that I was too shy to open my mouth and say a word to anyone. But after Jesus grabbed me and pulled me back into his orbit, I became someone who can stand before you and preach the Gospel.
At the other end of life, when I retired and had to deal with orthopedic surgery on my ankle, and with limited mobility, it felt as though I had entered the death of who I had always been, a person who loved to walk and to hike. But when we were in Israel last month, the pilgrim group was given many spaces for quiet and reflection. My prayer in those times was that God would heal my ankle. I was skeptical even in the praying, and I didn’t expect anything to suddenly change. Yet over the ten days we traveled through the Holy Land, I walked up and down hills, four to six miles a day, without pain. I found myself going from joyful disbelief to believing in joy.
Nothing in my story is unique or earth-shattering. What I bring you is my own testimony to the gravitational effect of resurrection, pulling us away from the orbit of death and onto the foundation of God’s love. And our testimony is desperately needed in a world seemingly gone crazy with fear.
The current political season reeks of death and terror. There are loud proclamations of the need for walls and for wars. More and more people declare that they need to carry guns, including many pastors in Texas who are carrying guns into their pulpits.
But we are called to testify that no matter what the world wants to say about the power of violence, we are free from this because Christ is Risen. We are able to live without nihilism and paralysis because Christ is Risen. We are free to love and to serve without fear because Christ is Risen. As the disciples said long ago, and millions of people have passed on since, so I testify to you, and you shall testify to the world – Alleluia! Christ is Risen.