“If What You Say Is True” – Easter

Date: April 21, 2019/Speaker: Jon Hauerwas

April 21, 2019 – Easter

If What You Say Is True – Luke 24:1-12

Construction on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris began in the year 1163. Nearly 200 years later, the doors first opened to the public in 1345. The church, long considered an architectural masterpiece, welcomes approximately 13 million visitors annually. And now, during Holy Week of 2019, people from around the world have looked on with a feeling of emptiness at the devastation wrought by a massive fire, which tore through the complex and toppled Notre Dame’s famous spire.

Most of us know what it’s like to feel empty. “Empty is what the house is after the last child has left. Empty is the extra chair around the dining room no longer needed. Empty is what you are when you have given life all the energy, effort, and hope you have and still you come up lacking.” [1] When faced with an unsettling decision, a difficult transition, a seemingly insurmountable task, or an overwhelming diagnosis, many long to feel hopeful, and yet, feel awash in emptiness, instead.

On that first Easter morning, a group of female disciples went to the place where Jesus’ body was entombed. They were there to serve him one last time, by anointing his body with perfume. And they were stunned when they could not find him. In the absence of his body, they assumed that someone had stolen it. That someone had taken his last shred of dignity. And there, in the absence, God spoke. Alleluia!

In Genesis, we learned that creation emerged when God breathed life into a formless void. And on that first Easter morning, God was at work once again, breathing life into the emptiness. Alleluia! As one scholar reminds us, “an empty tomb may tell us where Jesus was not to be found, but it did not address where Jesus actually was.” Thus, “an empty tomb and a missing body is not the heart of Easter faith!” [2]  Instead, “when the New Testament writers presented their proof to support the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they built their argument around one clear assertion that was repeated over and over again: ‘We have seen the Lord.’” [3]

Friends, have you seen the Lord? Just look all around us, where Christ is found in art that inspires, in nature’s abundance, and in the laughter of children. Alleluia! Friends, really, have you seen him? Because he is there in every selfless act of love, in every display of mercy and forgiveness, and in every gesture of welcome. Alleluia! Friends, did you see the Lord this week in Paris, where much of Notre Dame has turned to dust? Already, 1 billion dollars have been pledged to the rebuilding effort. Not merely to reconstruct an architectural marvel or to beautify a tourist attraction, but because the church is a beacon of hope. It is a sign that God is with us now and forevermore. Alleluia!

As Amy McCullough suggests, “emptiness can be depletion.” But, “it can also be an unused canvas awaiting the artist’s touch or the wide-open days on the calendar, awaiting fulfillment. Emptiness might (even) describe the moments of silence before the necessary words can be spoken.”  And here, in the absence, in the silence, in the void, in the emptiness, God speaks. “The disciples look into the emptiness” of Jesus’ tomb “and see amid the grief, tiny hints of hope. They believe, even as they do not understand.” [4] Alleluia!

Recently, in Louisiana, three historically black churches were set ablaze. That this occurred in the formerly segregated American South is symbolic. And now, just this morning, as Christians gathered for worship in Sri Lanka, bombs were detonated at three locations housing the faithful, killing 150 people and wounding another 400. That this occurred on Easter is symbolic too. Friends, in each of these examples, the perpetrators wanted to terrorize Christians and send them, send us, into hiding. There can be no doubt that suspicion, and racism, and hatred still exist.

But those who seek to quell our spirit and to crush our hope have greatly underestimated the strength of our resolve, the immensity of this moment, and the power of the resurrection. Friends, have you seen the Lord? If what you say is true, he’s all around us. May it be so and thanks be to God. Alleluia and Amen!

[1] [1] Amy P. McCullough, “Easter Sunday,” Journal for Preachers (Easter 2019), 11.

[2] [2] Marvin A. McMickle, “The Power and Purpose of the Resurrection,” Journal for Preachers (Easter 2019), 13.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 12.

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