As I was killing time this week, reading, waiting on orders of worship to finish printing, and waiting on a baby to come, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Bishop Wright regarding the nerve of Christian theologians and historians. In one of his writing for the week, Bishop Wright commented that we have become timid in our proclamations about Easter, forgetting both the promises made to the people of God and our heritage. Bishop Wright went on to remind his readers that what occurred that first Easter morning was a real, physical, bodily resurrection such as the world had never seen before. To be sure, Jesus' body was different. He can walk through locked doors; He is sometimes not recognized by His disciples. But, He clearly embraces some of them, He shows them His wounds, and He sometimes eat with his disciples. He is changed, but He is not raised in their mind or simply a spiritual figure. Why does it matter and why should we never forget it? Because the empty tomb testifies to each one of us here gathered, and all those who hear the story, that God has the power to redeem all things. If He can raise a man up after three days of death, what can He not do? Every other miracle that we consider pales in comparison to God's victory over death. In fact, historians and skeptics will go out of their way to look for explanations for perceived miracles. Some may seem plausible. The Red Sea parting was caused not by God but by a volcano erupting on the north side of the Mediterranean and the resulting tsunami. Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped out by a volcano rather than God. But the Resurrection of Jesus is a miracle on a different order of magnitude! All skeptics can point to is mass hysteria and mass hallucination as a "rational" explanation for what the disciples experienced, as if a hallucination such as that could ever explain why people gave up their lives as martyrs, as if a hallucination could ever explain how this small core group of witnesses founded a religion that has swept the world, as if a hallucination can experience the peace of God that so many believers claim around the world, and with which I will bless you at the end of this service. You and I always called to live in faith that the tomb was empty. It was emptied so that you and I could be enlivened by His life giving Spirit and testify to His love, His mercy, and His power.
How does this play out in the world? I was reminded of it and our role yesterday. As many of you heard, Karen and I celebrated the arrival of Joshua Patrick yesterday. It was, like all births, an amazing day. Sarah and Amanda joined us in the room for Joshua's birth. Karen's labor was, and I say this as a man who never experienced labor pains, relatively quick and easy. One push, and he was born. We made the appropriate calls. Many of you gathered were on the receiving end of that joyful news and celebrated with us. But, a few hours later, our joy turned to worry, frustration, and anger. As I was bringing the little ones into the hospital to see their new brother, I overheard the nurses griping about a doctor. The doctor from Iowa City who read the EKG for the baby in 25, our room, was trying to locate one of our doctors. I will spare you many of the details, but there was a problem with Joshua's heart. He had a severe arrhythmia. Every three to five beats, Josh's heart would skip a beat. Well, the doctor was finally located and Joshua was hustled down to the nursery for another exam. I went with him, but I was not allowed in the room -- never a good sign. Well, here I am, pacing the hall, helpless to do anything for my son. I am shut off from even knowing what is wrong. And, I have enough knowledge and experience to be dangerous. While this examination was going on, I was demanding answers from God. We were not trying to conceive Joshua, why would You allow this to happen? But during my railings, I was simply reminded of Easter. I would fuss, and our Gospel lesson would pop into my head. And so, I finally listened and determined to accept this as one who lives in the reality of the empty tomb.
After about 70 minutes, the doctor came out to speak with me. After some apologies, he admitted he was not sure where to begin. I told him to just give me the facts. He saw my cross and asked if I was a Christian. I told him I was, and so he took a deep breath and unloaded his news. Admittedly, he was as loathe to give it as I was to hear it, and, he interrupted himself a couple times to remind me that he did not do this very often (let's face it, who gets stuck working on Easter weekend?). When he finished, it was clear we would have a long road ahead of us, and it was clear that, although Joshua's untimely death was not likely, it was by no means something that we would be able to ignore for the first few months. I thanked him for his concern and his care for Joshua, and I headed back to the room to talk to Karen. I could imagine her fears and worries as I was gone over an hour. As I turned to walk, the doctor thanked me for being patient with him. He commented that when Christians hear terrible news, there is a difference as to how non-Christians hear bad news. I reminded him that it was because we had a hope. I said I would likely struggle, and I would likely grieve, but the promise of this weekend, in particular, was that God could redeem all things, even the possible death of a newborn son. The doctor as if I thought God had willed it. I told him "of course not." "How can you say that with such certainty in light of everything I just dumped on you?" he asked. I said, "Because the events of Holy Week, the death on Good Friday, and the resurrection of Easter testified just how much God loves us and how much he wants to be our Father. Things like this happen because sin is in the world. God wants us to love Him, but He will never make us love Him. And so, because He gives us free will, we sometimes experience the consequences of our sins or the sins of others. But this, the way we experienced life, was never what He intended nor what He has promised." The doctor replied that I had given him much to think on. In a bit of gallows humor, I replied that I was glad to have returned the favor. And so I turned to head back to my family and especially my wife.
Now, sitting here, you and I might think that such was the end of God's grace that day. He had used Joshua's heart to speak into the life of a doctor. And who better to place in that doctor's life than a priest struggling with his son's problem? I mean, if we can't have faith in the redemptive power of God, we are in the wrong business, right? But little did I know that the rest of the story would involve each one of you, some of who are teared up now and full of worry for my family, and I was reminded how great God's grace truly is.
After I had talked with Karen, I gathered up the kids and headed home. I asked what they wanted for Easter dinner, since mom and Joshua would be in the hospital. They opted for grilling. Some wanted brats, others burgers, others chicken, and others steak. So, in a weird move on my part, I stopped at Hy-Vee. Most of you know I do the bulk of my shopping at Wal-Mart, and I typically get my meat at Fareway. But, Hy-Vee was on the way home, and I was worn out, physically and emotionally. I would pay extra to be done faster. I left the kids in the car (this would take only a minute) and headed in. As I was looking over squash and zucchini, this big man came up and stood a few feet to my side. As I would walk to collect my next item, he would announce "Get out of the way, man of God coming through." This guy was big. He was easily 6'3" and 280 pounds. I would walk and he would announce and ask people to get out of my way. Truthfully, I was in no mood to be mocked. If I was ever going to successfully call down a holy fire in real life, it was going to be on this guy mocking me. So, at the meat counter, I asked him what he was doing. "I am announcing your presence so that others may step aside and let you through quickly." "Why?" I asked. "Pastor, I know who you are. You may be trying to hide in the midst of us, but I know you. You lead that little church over on West Central. Your church feeds us at the Salvation Army with real food. Your people do that Angel Food month in and month out, no matter how rude and how obnoxious we people are. You guys are always taking up items for those poor women and children who are beaten by losers. You all give your Angel Food extras to other shelters or Food Pantries and give them the grateful thank you's. You have paid for my electricity one month. You helped a friend with rent and laundry. You bought this other guy I met work boots for a new job. And you have an uncanny knack to figure out the scammers, and you help without looking down on us or humiliating us. Heck, we see your pain when all you can offer us is a prayer, as if a prayer is unimportant to us. In short, pastor, I don't want you wasting time doing mundane things like shopping. You have a much more important job. Your job is to teach your people about God so that they, in turn, can reach out into this community and draw others into His family. And on this weekend especially, that's what you should be doing because so many will come for their one visit a year, knowing they need Him, but not knowing whether He's real or whether He cares." So we continued our shopping. I silently gave thanks to God that people do see what we are doing, and I gave thanks that my shopping list was shorter than usual.
Brothers and sisters, on this weekend we gather to remind ourselves of the power of God. This weekend we remember that God can accomplish all that He purposes in our lives. He can even redeem our deaths. But, brothers and sisters, we also gather this weekend to remind ourselves that we are made alive, truly made alive by His death and His resurrection. I give thanks to God that I am called among a group of people who try to live each day of their lives as if that tomb was really empty, and I give thanks to God this morning for strangers in our midst reminding us of our faithful witness. But, as my herald at Hy-Vee mentioned yesterday, perhaps some of you wonder. Perhaps, like the doctor yesterday, you wonder whether it's true and whether it's important. Brothers and sister seekers, there is not greater testimony to God's power and God's purpose than that empty tomb which Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John accounted in our lesson today. The new creation has begun! God has started reshaping all things to begin working the way He intended. To be sure, this recreation will not be completed until His return, but He has invited you, me, and everyone whom we encounter in our daily life and work to participate in His glorious work. Why not look and see for yourself and claim that inheritance your loving Father in heaven wants you to have. To be sure, it takes courage, it takes strength, it takes humility, and it requires a willingness to be patient as he works out His purposes. But, in the end, is their anything or anyone who can offer you anything that compares?