While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
A Fresh Start
It always struck me as amazing how easily Easter could have gone wrong. Last week we had a glimpse of the kinds of expectations that surrounded Jesus: the high hopes of the Triumphal Entry. So, when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, it must have looked like the end.
By Easter Sunday the disciples were in hiding and very discouraged, bitter enough that when the women came from the tomb saying that Jesus was risen, the men didn’t believe them. They dismissed it as an “idle tale” except for impulsive Peter who had to run and see for himself. And even when he saw the empty tomb, he went home to think about it.
No one expected a resurrection. No one expected that Jesus could defeat the power of Rome by dying on the cross. It was absurd!
Or, from another perspective, it was an unexpected way to see the world: it was a twist; the ultimate way to turn expectations on their head, just as Jesus had always done.
How do you defeat the mightiest empire the world has seen? You let it kill you; you overcome power with weakness; you don’t let any of the conventional understandings slow you down; you take that principle of the first shall be last and the meek shall inherit the earth and you follow it to its extreme conclusion.
The disciples had been living with Jesus, absorbing his teachings, trying to make sense of his parables but they didn’t expect him to go this far.
The women were open-minded enough to understand it first, because they’d never bought into the male power dynamics of the world. Women have always known that there are other ways to get things done; that subtlety and imagination and sideways thinking are more powerful than anyone ever expects.
The male disciples had to overcome a lifetime of assumptions and basic prejudices to accept that the women might be right and they had to do it quickly. Otherwise, what was left for them?
If they had expected Jesus to claim the throne of King David followed by a full-on confrontation with power facing power, then they knew that they had lost and the only casualty was their leader. The disciples were discouraged and disillusioned and their best option was to go home and start fishing again.
Instead, the women brought them a new interpretation of what Jesus had done; that he had overcome the power of Rome by dying, and by being raised by God to a new kind of life.
The effect was amazing: just when disaster had taken everything away, the disciples found a fresh start, a deeper understanding of what Jesus had always taught and the exciting idea that no matter what structures society puts in place, God provides a way to work around those structures to create something of lasting value.
This wasn’t just a startling lesson for Easter day, it continued to be a deep understanding for the early church. Look at today’s lesson from Acts where Peter preaches to the Gentiles.
This message represents a radical departure from the traditional idea of a covenant people based on blood ties. The message is that everyone gets a fresh start, that all people are loved and embraced by God, even those hated Romans.
Easter represents the most amazing turn-around we can imagine. It represents hope coming out of disaster, joy coming out of the deepest mourning, life arising out of death.
In order for the Easter message to sink in that first Easter day the disciples had to forget what they thought they knew; they had to put aside their assumptions and prejudices and realize that beyond what seems obvious can be found God’s unexpected truth.
We struggle today with disasters: the endless COVID pandemic and all of the stresses and isolation that brings; the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the flood of refugees adding to the many other refugees who are just trying to keep their families alive; social challenges at home, like how hard it is for young people to afford a home and how much harder it is for so many people just to get food and clothing; and the challenges to churches, many of whom have not been able to stay open during the last two years; and our own challenge at Knox to meet our financial needs going forward.
These are all real concerns, big disruptions. They aren’t about to vanish with the wave of a magic wand.
But what the church faced at Good Friday and Easter was the deepest existential crisis possible and they made it through by opening their eyes and hearts, to discover the unexpected thing God was doing.
They found a new way to live, a fresh application for the ideals they had learned but not fully grasped.
So what fresh start God is offering us today? What new vision of the church,
what new vision of the world, is God offering us this Easter?
The only way we will find out is if we put aside our assumptions and prejudices, open our hearts and minds, look beyond our fears and bleak thoughts to discover God still bringing new life to the most challenging parts of our lives.