The events we celebrate today are at the very heart of Christian faith.
Without the resurrection, our faith means nothing!
It is our belief in the resurrection that sets Christianity apart from other faiths.
But what is it? What does it mean to have resurrection faith?
It’s not just believing in the empty tomb.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that there was an explanation circulating
that the body had been stolen.
It’s not believing that people can be raised from the dead,
because those who had believed that Jesus was John the Baptist
raised from the dead and those who saw Lazarus raised from the dead
are not described as having resurrection faith.
It’s not even just believing that Jesus came back to life
after he had been dead for a few days, because Matthew again
tells us that the guards and the chief priests actually knew that that had happened.
The guards in fact were the only eye witnesses to the resurrection.
But the guards and the priests formed a conspiracy to suppress the information
and they are certainly not examples of resurrection faith,
even though they believed that Jesus had come back to life.
Resurrection faith is also not the unwavering belief
in a particular concept of the resurrection.
The appearances of the risen Christ are described in so many different ways
in the gospels that it is impossible to hold steadfastly to any one detailed explanation
of the resurrection and still make sense of them all.
In fact, the gospel writers seem determined to explain the resurrection
in so many ways that there will be one to make sense to just about everyone!
Don’t understand it that way – what about this?
So then, what is resurrection faith?
What is it that is so important about Easter?
As a people, you know, we’re sort of slow to catch on to how God works!
Let’s start back near the beginning of our faith story…
The book of Exodus tells us that there arose in Egypt a Pharaoh
who did not remember Joseph of the technicolor dream coat,
and he made the Hebrew people into slaves.
He had them forced to do unbearable work under whip-wielding tyrants
and when they complained he had all their male babies killed.
This was the first of many genocides against the Jewish people.
And if you know anything about human psychology you won’t be surprised to know
that many of those Jews were quite happy with their slavery.
Sure the work was hard – but they got three square meals a day
and it wasn’t so bad once you learned to adjust and not upset the masters.
The bent back grows calloused to the sting of the whip
and after a while you hardly feel it. At least you know where you stand.
There’s no uncertainties. You adjust. You adapt.
But God came back.
First to Moses, who was minding his own business in a meadow
when a bush burst into flame.
“I’ve heard the cry of my people,” said the voice from the bush,
“and I’m going to set them free.
I’m going head to head with Pharaoh and guess who’s going to help me?”
Moses stammered “But, but...” But there are no “buts” with God.
God came back.
Once free, Israel didn’t manage to stay free for long.
Just a few hundred years and then down from the north came the chariots,
war horses, and iron spears of the Assyrians.
Cities were burned and pillaged.
Whole tribes were carted off into cruel exile.
And within a few years the Babylonians marched down
and finished off what the Assyrians had left behind.
Back into slavery. Deportation. Death.
Think Serbia. Bosnia. East Timor. Rwanda. Syria.
But God came back.
A fiery tongued prophet named Jeremiah, promised return to the downtrodden exiles.
In a speech of inspiration and consolation the prophet pointed the way
to a great home-coming party, a great dance of joy and celebration
to outdo anything you’ve ever seen.
Tyrants, Assyrian or any other variety, get pretty edgy and call out the troops
whenever the people on the bottom begin to dance and sing and make music.
When the tambourines begin to beat out the freedom songs,
CSIS and the RCMP want to know why.
And how come they had the guts to sing and dance under the noses of the guards?
Because God came back.
A little two-bit town in a back corner of the Galilean grid in the first century –
Roman troops on every corner, registering these Jews,
enrolling them in order to better control and oppress them.
The greatest, most powerful, army the world had ever seen in service
to the most ruthless dictator – what can anybody do?
Assyrians, Romans, it’s all the same. You adjust. You adapt.
Keep your head down. Say your prayers.
Don’t draw attention to yourself. But then –
Down in a small side street, in a stable out back, a young woman begins to sing.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour…
for God has scattered the proud,
and God has pulled down the mighty from their thrones.”
Mary –there are Romans on the corner, why do you clench your fist and sing?
Mary replies, “Well I’m going to have a baby.”
God came back.
Good Friday didn’t take anybody by surprise.
If you know the way the religious-political-economic establishment works,
then you know that Jesus was doomed from the start.
He disregarded too may social conventions, associated with the wrong people.
He went to too many parties with partiers and people of loose morals.
And the public insults he cast at the clergy.
Friday’s bloody business at “The Place of the Skull” came as no surprise.
You can’t fight the government. Caesar had the troops.
The crowd turned against us.
The one who came inviting us all to life found himself nailed to the cross.
Death added another trophy to its cabinet.
We told the women, “You go on out to the cemetery
and take these flowers to show our last respects to Jesus.
We’ll come out later in the day.”
And so the women went out to death’s memorial park and peered into the tomb. Surprise!
God came back!
And on the way back from the cemetery Jesus meets them and says “Greetings!”
The funeral arrangements they’re holding look a bit silly at that point
and they fall down and worship.
God came back.
The joyous shouts of the women had been heard before.
In Miriam’s song as the sea surged back over Pharaoh’s chariots.
In the tambourine dances of the homecoming exiles promised by Jeremiah.
In the war chant lullaby of the pregnant Mary. It’s been heard before.
God came back. What else can you do? Sing, celebrate, worship.
God came back.
When will we stop adapting to the ways of death and begin to expect God
to come back and overthrow the powers of death and tyranny?
When will we get it into our heads that God is the Come-back King,
that resurrection is God’s way and that Easter Sunday was not the opening shot
but the climactic victory of God’s war against death?
Look at the stories of Jesus’ life.
All the way through you can see that death was losing its grip.
Every time somebody once crippled stood and walked, or blind eyes began to see,
or prisoners of fear broke free, or the outcast danced in the temple,
death was being pushed onto the back foot, and fullness of life
was having its way over deadliness and despair.
Every time Jesus was confronted with the finger prints of death, life broke through.
By the time we get to Easter, how could the tomb be anything but empty?
This is what resurrection faith is all about.
It’s got nothing to do with theories and doctrines and speculations
about the nature of Jesus’s post-Easter body.
It is a radical trust in the God who keeps coming back when everything seems lost.
It is a willingness in the face of overwhelming odds,
of oppressive power-mongering and the might of dollar and dictator,
to entrust ourselves to the ways of life and love.
To sing and dance and celebrate in the face of those
who would stifle joy and measure out existence by the spoonful.
To rejoice even in the face of our own doubts because, as Matthew said,
even face to face with the risen Christ some still doubted.
So used have we become to the inevitability of the ways of death
that we suspect we’ve lost our grip when we see with our own eyes that it is not so.
Life is bigger than our doubts.
Bigger than our accommodation to the ways of the lifeless.
Bigger than any army or dictator or power monger who would stand over you
and wrest your life from your hands.
Even if they kill the body, they have no power to stop the one
who keeps coming back and resurrecting us body and soul
– bringing us back to life and life in its most abundant form.
Easter Sunday is not an isolated event.
It is unique in its climactic nature, but we’ve had glimpses of it over and over again
as God has repeatedly, down through history,
responded to people faced with the power of death by leading them forward
to freedom and fullness of life.
Easter is everywhere, wherever the Spirit of God comes back
in the hearts of downtrodden people and they begin the dance of life,
with futures resurrected as they follow the resurrected Lord of life
and become part of God’s great movement of raising life from the midst of death
when all hope seems gone.
We are here today, singing and celebrating because in the face of it all,
God came back.