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April 20, 2014 (Easter) - Matthew 28.1-10

“Failure”

Matthew 28.1-10

April 20, 2014

 

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

Failure.  Why have I titled this sermon “Failure?”  I mean, this is Easter!  This is the day Jesus rose from the tomb!  What’s failure got to do with it?  Stupid preacher…

 

Shouldn’t Easter be about everything that is perfect, like Jesus?  Shouldn’t we, on Easter, show off all the things that are nice and shiny about Christianity and the church?  I mean, let’s all put on our Easter Sunday best clothes and big smiles and hide brightly colored eggs and find cute little chicks and bunny wabbits and we can all celebrate all this perfect stuff!

 

I love to do that, but that’s not Easter.  Or at least, that is not the Easter that I as a preacher can pull off.  I stink at that fake stuff.  I don’t fool anybody when I try to act like everything is perfect and this Norman Rockwell/Hallmark/Jewelry store commercial life is real, because it’s not.

I am not a perfect pastor.

This is not a perfect church.

Christianity is not perfect. 

Jesus is perfect, but Christianity is actually kind of really messed up.

 

The Gospel truth is that Easter is far more about failure than it is about perfection.  In order to get to Easter morning, we have to go through a trail of blood, violence and conspiracy that leads to an innocent man in a borrowed tomb, executed for crimes of which he was not guilty.  It sounds a lot like failure to me.

If you are human, and you are honest, you know failure.

 

Failure. It’s that sinking emptiness in the stomach when you look down the list of grades on the exam. There are your initials. At the bottom. That breathless expectation as the figures are being added only to be met with stunned realization that they will not tally in your behalf. Failure is the physician, returning from the operating room, surgical mask taken off to reveal a face that speaks without having to speak. Was the operation a success? No. I don’t need to ask, do I?

 

Failure is packing up and moving from the house into separate apartments, packing last the book of wedding pictures that won’t be viewed again because they are too painful.

 

Failure is the morning after the election. The unused boxes of buttons and bumper stickers. The balloons and confetti not needed, the desperate attempt to smile as if it doesn’t hurt. “I want to thank all of you for all that you have done. We didn’t win, but we made our point, I think. I’m sure that, if we had a few more weeks, we might have turned things around and . . . I want to thank everyone for everything. Someday, we’ll look back on this as a good experience.”[1]
 

In this life there is much opportunity for failure. We are frail and finite creatures who do not have it within our power always to succeed and prosper, always to live and thrive.  We fail - a lot.  Easter is about the fact that all of us, as much we would like to be perfect, are not anywhere close to perfect.  We are all sinners.  And as much as I would like to try and convince you otherwise, I am still a man in need of a Savior.  This world still needs its Savior.

 

Yes, Easter is about failure, but it’s OUR failure – our sins.  And I thank God that is not ALL Easter is about.   It is about our failure and God’s response to that failure.  Our failure put Jesus in the tomb.  His love brought him out, and made the tomb a womb for our new life.

 

There is a really good Easter word that we use – Resurrection.  It refers to the dead Jesus – who was killed, murdered and buried – coming back to life out of the grave.  In the resurrection, Christ triumphs not only over his death, but over our sin and our death, giving us hope for God’s great completion and victory.

 

Let’s be clear about one thing in regard to Jesus’ resurrection: Resurrection is presented in the Bible as an experienced fact, that is, though we may have trouble grasping this, it is a fact that is external to the constructs of our imagination, an experience that is neither of our making nor at our disposal, but which invades human reality changing our destiny. The risen Christ meets us, and then we attempt to bring that meeting to speech.

 

So what is Easter?  It’s not our Easter egg hunts.  It’s not about any of the things we often make church about.

 

I’d love to use this pulpit to rant about my political views, about how we no longer live in a free republic but in fact live in an oligarchical plutocracy where our free press has been replaced by a media which has been propagandized by the thought police to control the masses, but I can’t – because that is not the gospel. 

 

The Gospel of Easter is about Jesus forgiving all of our failures and raising us up from the dead.  Some of you might have come here feeling a bit dead on the inside.  Jesus brings us all new life through his resurrection.

 

I’d love for us to be able to put on an Easter entertainment extravaganza with the best worship music band and actors to make the drama of Easter come alive right before your eyes!  But I can’t do that - because that is not the gospel. 

 

The Gospel of Easter is not a temporary balm for our hurts, like entertainment.  Easter is about the love of Jesus defeating our defeat once and for all, about bringing us eternal life where all we once knew was ordinary life.  Easter is hope, joy, love and all of that in eternity.

 

I’d love to be able to use this Easter to sell you a book that I have written that would tell you that God wants for you to have nothing but smooth sailing and a prosperous future that is filled with lots of money and beautiful friends, but I can’t do that.  And I can’t sell you on a Jesus that was merely a really nice guy and philosopher and moral teacher, like a lot of other guys - because that is not the gospel. 

 

What is Gospel of Easter is about is Jesus is different than the other “saviors” that world religions offer.  Buddha? He's in a grave. Mohammed? He is buried in a place where his worshippers can find him.  Confucius? His teachings still exist, but he's worm-food.  Jesus? He's alive! His tomb is empty because he got up and walked out of it.  Jesus lives forever!  That is the Gospel of Easter.

 

I imagine that on that first Easter Sunday morning, the female disciples going to the tomb felt like failures.  I bet the male disciples still in hiding felt like failures.  I reckon that all of them felt like this whole Jesus thing was a failure since he was now dead and in the ground.  When Jesus and his mighty love gets hold of us, our failures are gone.  There is real, living hope for you and me.  The resurrection is the defeat of failure, sin and death for all eternity.

 

The resurrection is not just something that happens once out at the cemetery. That would be too easy. The resurrection is something that happens on ahead of us, something that meets us, in the world, our world, in Galilee.  The resurrection of Jesus is something that continues to happen in our lives because Jesus IS alive.  And Jesus IS here in Mandan.  You see the proof of Jesus’ resurrection is not just in the empty tomb, but that Jesus is actually out here in the world.  Jesus is loose and he is out doing stuff!

 

Will you join Jesus?  The Easter story begins with Jesus surrounded by his disciples around his table, and that is where we find ourselves now.  I invite you to come to this table if you believe, or if you think you want to believe.  This is Jesus’ table.  Deacons, please come forward.

 

[1] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, April 20, 2014.