April 9- Easter Sunday sermon- Rev. Hamilton Throckmorton

Sermon Text...


April 9, 2023, Easter                                    Hamilton Coe Throckmorton

Matthew 28:1-10                                           The Federated Church, UCC


     Last Sunday, on Palm/Passion Sunday, we imagined a six-year-old asking us, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and we wondered how we might answer that head-scratching question. This morning, I find myself musing about what could just as easily be today’s equally mystifying follow-up question: “What in the world does it mean that Jesus was raised from the dead?”


     Not only would many six-year-olds wonder what the resurrection means, but I suspect most of us, including this pastor, struggle mightily with trying to answer that question clearly and succinctly. Here it is Easter Sunday, and the central event of our faith is utterly stupefying! Our words are all-but-inadequate. Our explanations pale before the stunning magnificence of the moment.


     If we’re going to try to answer that question about the meaning of the resurrection, it’s vital that we begin by saying this: the biblical accounts of Christ’s coming back to life are not explanations of facts. They’re not like evidence that might be presented in a courtroom. They’re not like our attempts to tell someone about the deer we saw on the way to church, or what we had for breakfast today, or what Chris said to us when we ran into each other in the grocery store. Those are events that are being recounted so that someone else knows what happened.


     With the resurrection, though, this isn’t primarily language about events. It’s language about feelings. If you tell me that you were at the Guardians’ opening day on Friday, and that the sky was blue and the wind was bracing and the crowd was cheering and the game was close and they lost 5-3, it’s likely not those facts that are at the core of what you’re telling me. What you’re trying to convey to me, and what I pick up on, is the mixture of disappointment and unutterable delight that you’re feeling. It doesn’t really matter whether the sky and the wind and the crowd and the game were any of the things you say they were. What matters is that you were transported by being there. It was both a letdown and a thrill, and you want me to know that.


     And it’s something like this that’s at the heart of Easter. It’s a feeling and an experience, not scientific or historical facts, that are at the core of this day. This, I think, is what Matthew’s story of the resurrection is intending to convey. It’s saying: ‘Something mind-blowingly fantastic has happened. And I want to share that with you and celebrate with you.’


     Those first followers of Jesus know that he has died. They know that his body has expired. At the same time, though, and in the face of that incontrovertible fact, the astonishing truth is that, even though Jesus has died, his followers experience him as still alive. Something happened that day. They don’t know what precisely it was, because it’s from a realm beyond measurable fact. They just somehow know Jesus as still alive. And because they know and experience Jesus’ ongoing life, it is true. It’s really happening.


     That may sound like an odd thing to say—that, even without evidence, because they sense it, it’s true. But we do this all the time. You can’t prove that you love your child. You just know it. You can’t prove your allegiance to the Cavs or Guardians or Browns. You just know it. You can’t prove the cardinal you just saw is a sign of your late mother’s presence. You just know it.


     In a somewhat similar way, the first followers of Jesus, even after he has died, know that he’s still in their midst. And it’s something that current followers of Jesus know, as well. This feeling is not something you can fake. Christians can’t manufacture such a feeling for 2000 years. It’s just something that many who are open to it experience in some place deep in their cores. The Jesus who walked the earth and who died a miserable death is somehow still living among us.


     Historians convey the who and what and where and when of events. Scientists focus on how things work or operate. People of faith, though, are about not so much the what and when and where and how as they are about the why. The biblical stories of the resurrection are about why this event matters. They’re about why our experience of it is at the core of our life together.


     So it’s not really provable facts that the gospel writers are trying to convey. Look at the story in Matthew’s gospel. The story we heard has not a hint about how the resurrection happened. There’s no description of the process, no account of what it looked like. All we know is that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” go to the tomb. They find it empty. They encounter a mysterious figure who tells them to go ahead to Galilee, where they will see Jesus. And then, of all the amazing things, they run into the Jesus they thought was gone forever. Jesus is gone. And then Jesus is there. No how-to book about what precisely happened. No documentary exposing the secrets of the dead. Only a sense that Jesus is right there in front of them. They feel it. And it’s real as anything could be. What we celebrate today is our experience of a startling and radiant reality. And it’s that inexplicable feeling that matters. It’s that feeling that God has done something in our midst—that God has not only conquered death, which is wildly important, but that God has offered us joy and radiance and a deep happiness right in the midst of our ordinary, and sometimes desolate and painful, lives. It’s not the events that matter. It’s the elation and wonder and ecstasy that underlie those events that matter.


     Experiences of grace and wonder happen to us all the time, and maybe most of the time we don’t take them in. A wedding happens and we can’t believe the incredible blessing that brought this partner into our life. Babies are born and we can’t imagine what our lives were like before they came along. We visit the Grand Canyon, or see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” or hear Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler sing “If This Is Goodbye,” and the tears pour down our cheeks. People stand up to bullies and hatemongers in principled witness to a more just and loving world. These are experiences of transcendence. The what and the how don’t matter in the slightest. It’s only the deeply-felt sense that we’re in the presence of something holy.


     This is something like what happens to those first disciples. They are walking along the road, and they know—they simply know—that the Jesus who has died is right there with them. And this is something like what we mean when we talk about the significance of the resurrection for us. God has “come to us and shared our common lot,” as the Statement of Faith of the UCC puts it. And if we have eyes and ears and hearts for it, we will sense that presence of the Holy One right in the midst of our ordinary lives. In doing so, we run right into the still-living Christ.


     The story says those two Marys will run into Jesus in Galilee (28:7, 10). Galilee is not the mountaintop. It’s not the bucket-list destination. It’s not the once-in-a-lifetime vacation spot. Galilee is the place of their daily lives. It’s where they eat and drink and work and sleep. It’s where they go to grocery stores and dance recitals and baseball games and AA meetings. Galilee is where the hum-drum dailiness of life lives out its only-too-ordinary moments.


     You and I, too, live in our own Galilees. And it’s right here, in these everyday Galilees, that holiness shimmers and resurrection shines. It’s right here that we meet Jesus, again and again and again. And we know it not because some scientifically provable event happens, or because some measurable incident transpires. We know it because we feel alive. We know it because something has happened that matters. We know it because something sacred and moving has washed over us. Right here in Galilee.


     Easter moments happen to us in an endless variety of ways. Our role is to notice. One day, in my first church, I was leading a graveside service for a man who had just died. A great many people had come to the cemetery. And when the committal was over, I talked to some of the attendees at the graveside for a bit, and then walked down the long row of cars back to where my car was parked. As I walked, up ahead of me I could see that some people were down on the ground working on one of the cars in the line. As I got still closer, I could see that three men were busily changing a tire on one of the cars—“oh, what a terrible time to have a flat tire,” I thought. As I got still closer, I could see that the car they were working on was mine—it was my car that had the flat tire. And as I got right up to the car, I saw that the three men changing the tire were the three sons of the man we had just buried. Even in their grief, even when they had every excuse in the world not to change that tire—“someone else can do that on this day”—even with all that, and without even knowing whose car it was, they had stopped to change my tire. And it was right there in Galilee. And it was where I met Jesus.


     Not too long ago, a Federated couple lost a son of theirs. He died at fifty-one. And as we all can imagine, they have grieved his death mightily. Shortly after he died, the couple were standing one morning at the picture window in their kitchen as the sun came up. There was a fresh snowfall, and it looked as if someone had scattered tiny diamonds all over the snow. As they looked closer at those sparkling snow-diamonds, they could see several bright blue ones. And if they moved an inch to the right or left, those diamonds turned yellow or green or orange. There were even some red ones. This was God’s striking reassurance to them that their son was in some sense still with them. And it was right there in Galilee. And it was where they met Jesus.


     A week ago yesterday, a local UCC church was sponsoring a drag story hour for children. Drag story hours, as you may know, have been around for many years. And they are remarkably benign events. Drag performers sing “Simon Says” and read uplifting and happy stories to imagination-filled children. Even so, the event had received numerous threats, and the church had been firebombed earlier in the week. As local clergy, I had been invited to attend to show support and to counter the forces of fear and hatred that opposed the event. Because of the threats, when I arrived, the church had been surrounded by security fencing. At the entrance to the parking lot, our cars were stopped. And we were told to open our trunks. And five heavily armed police officers walked slowly around the car. And a police dog sniffed for bombs. And a mirror was thrust under the car to see if anything was hidden there. So needless to say, this was a highly charged event. And I was not unaware of the threat in the air.


     As I stood with others in that parking lot, suddenly, from out of a car, came a young family. Two parents, and a little girl of maybe six, and her older brother of about eight. And the little girl had on an adorable gauzy rainbow skirt. And she was electric with anticipation. And she was absolutely beaming. And someone asked to take her picture. So she raised her arms and twirled around in utter delight. And her brother took off his sweatshirt on this frigid day so the photographer could see his t-shirt which proudly trumpeted justice and acceptance. And as I watched, the tears came to my eyes—tears of gratitude and relief and boundless joy. These two exuberant children were angels of mercy in the face of hatred and intolerance. And it was right there in Galilee. And it was where I met Jesus.


     What does it mean that Jesus was raised from the dead? We can’t really explain it, can we. So instead, we pay attention to our deep delight, and to the richness and beauty of the ties we have to each other, and to the care that comes to us from out of the blue, and to the opportunities we have to be there and to care for each other. And in that radiance, right here in this Galilee of ours, there is the risen Christ. And so we sing “Hallelujah”!