A teacher was working with her first grade kids, trying to teach them about the seven last words that Jesus spoke on the cross. “Does anyone know the last words that Jesus spoke before he died?” she asked. Little Johnny, after a bit of a pause, raised his hands excitedly in the air. “I do. Jesus’ last words were: ‘I’ll be back.’”
Maybe that is not the most theologically nuanced understanding you’ll ever get, but little Johnny certainly understood the most important part of the Easter story. Jesus would indeed be back from the tomb. The great revelation of Easter is simply this: Like Jesus, we were born to rise. You see, if Jesus did not remain in the grips of death, if this tomb could not and would not hold this one life, then it will not hold us either. Jesus indeed is back, and nothing is the same.
And so that unsettling question, asked of the women coming early to the tomb takes on a special significance for us. “Why do you look for the living one among the dead? He is not here…” That is not what the women expected to hear. They expected death at the tomb. They expected a body to anoint. They came to the tomb, knowing that it was over.
We know that same fruitless journey, don’t we? Even though we “KNOW” the resurrection has happened, we still keep going back to the same behaviors and decisions and patterns that don’t work for us, don’t we? We keep visiting the tombs that keep us from life.
• That nagging little bickering we do at family gatherings around an event that happened 20 years ago.
• The protecting of our time and our calendar when people ask us to step outside our comfort zone to help the neighbor or serve the broader community.
• The shaming that we do to ourselves when we fall in our human weakness, and stop believing that God can and does forgive us.
On a societal level, we hear the bellicose saber rattling of North Korea, and so to ‘calm things down’, we fly two nuclear bomb capable stealth bombers over the south… That’s the best we have?
In a hundred ways, we journey back to the tomb, as if it is not empty, as if it holds no promise of change, no hope to believe in, no power to transform our lives. We keep looking for life in the same places that have only held death or partial life, expecting that something will be different. It is so easy to hang on to things that don’t work anymore because it’s easier than risking the emptiness of the tomb.
Do you know that like I know that this Easter? It was not as good of a Lent as I would have liked, precisely because I kept going back to the places that only partly work for me, hoping that it would be different this time. Why was I looking for the living one among the dead?
Perhaps you know that experience of life. To the degree that you do, hear again that three word “theology” by that 1st grade student: “I’ll be back”, which tells us we don’t need to go to the same places any more. He is NOT there where there is death. But “He is back” in a way from which we can draw life and power and love… We are meant to rise with Him.
We can choose a different path, a different way of living.
• You who are with us this Easter and suffering from depression or even despair, for whom life feels flat and without joy … hope and meaning will find you again. You are made to rise.
• You who have been victims of others’ sometimes horrible, always selfish choices. You can know again your dignity and your deep down inviolate goodness. (It is in you to forgive.) You are meant for love.
• You who are paralyzed by some fear … you are made for courage
• You who are shamed by your sin … you can rediscover your innocence.
• You whose doubts haunt you … You can sing your alleluias again.
• To you who are discouraged by the institutions in your lives, be it church or nation or any group, the crumbling of things can begin their rebuilding into something even better.
• You who face your own impending death … or the death of a loved one. You can find the confidence that you – and they – will be well. We are born to rise.
My friends, in other words, no matter what has happened to you or ever would nothing, nothing, nothing can keep you from rising.
Johnny was right. Jesus is indeed BACK. And because of that, NOTHING can keep us from rising.