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Beyond Imagination

Updated: Jan 29


a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

April 9, 2023

John 20: 1- 18 NRSV

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Have you ever experienced something you would say was beyond your wildest imagination? You know, like the Miami Dolphins having a perfect season? Oh, what? They did? Oh, yeah, that’s right. Well, how about, you know, like the New England Patriots having a perfect season? I know, I know, it was THAT close. How do you get that far and lose to the New York Giants? Sheesh. Now THAT just might be beyond your wildest imagination isn’t it?

Well, it’s baseball season not football season. It’s Masters Tournament in golf weekend. Why am I talking football? I mean its Easter season, for God’s sake why are we talking about sports at all? I don’t know, except to say that when it comes to Easter there is a lot that is beyond your wildest imagination. I mean, bunnies leaving colored eggs laying around? Oh, you thought I meant that stuff about Jesus and resurrection, huh? Like someone coming back to life is beyond our imagination? Well, maybe, but most of us have heard the story so often we never really stop to imagine just how incredible that is, do we? I mean the minute we start trying to explain the resurrection in logical terms we’ve already jumped the shark. You know that expression?

The expression “jumping the shark” is scornful and is used to argue that a creative work or outlet appears to be making a stunt in a seemingly ridiculous attempt to generate elevated attention or publicity. The phrase was coined in 1985 by Jon Hein in response to a 1977 episode from Happy Days, in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jumps over a shark while on water-skis. Fonzie – to prove his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket - jump over a shark. The stunt was created as a way to showcase Winkler's real-life waterskiing skills. Hey, I don’t make this stuff up, it’s right off Wikipedia on the internet.

I guess I could argue if Fonzie could jump a shark then surely Jesus could rise from the grave. Sacrilege, you cry? Blasphemy, you shout? Ok, but I am just trying to make a point about how incredible the resurrection of Jesus is, if we stop and take it seriously. I don’t say this to say it didn’t happen or to question its reality. I do it to say the very opposite. For a lot of folks Easter is just as an excuse to eat chocolate bunnies or to buy a fancy new dress to wear to church. If we truly understand how incredible the resurrection is, then wouldn’t it lead us to imagine and perhaps do, amazing, incredible, fantastic things?

How about if we imagined a world without wars? What about a world where schoolchildren didn’t have to be trained what to do in case of an “active shooter alert?” I would like to imagine a world where eating chocolate bunnies didn’t add ten pounds to my waistline but that is probably just jumping the shark. What if we imagined a world where racism was ended or every child had plenty to eat, a safe home to live in and an education equal to the richest legacy baby at Yale or Harvard?

I would like to imagine a world where people would be honored for loving others regardless of what gender orientation they are. I would love to imagine a world where no one suffered from mental health issues without a proven, effective and available treatment that did not cost more than anyone could afford. I long to imagine a world where the word violence is unknown. Why do we have to have violence? Is there some logical reason that is needed in this world? How about a world where the greatest value is placed on cooperation rather than competition. How about imagining a world where we realized that the things that matter most aren’t limited by price or availability? But more than imagining it, what if we were inspired to not just imagine, but to seek to do incredible, hard-to-imagine things like this?

What would it mean to do something beyond imagination as a way to express faith in the resurrection now? For a lot of years Christians have claimed there was one way to express truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection. That was explained as the way God “atoned” for our sins. Someone had to die for those sins, and Jesus took those sins upon himself and died for us. Something I have come to realize is that more than one thing can be true about the same thing without the other thing being false. For example, people are white. It is also true that people are black. And a whole lot of other colors as well.

As I have thought about the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, after 30 years of preaching on Easter and trying to say something well, something meaningful, and something true, I am not sure I can say anything totally new. But this morning I want to suggest that today I think the deepest way I can express the meaning I find in the Easter proclamation – Christ has died and Christ is risen - is to say this: Christ chose to make a sacrifice of love.

Now, let me say three things about this. First, every act of sacrifice, done out of love, becomes a sign of the power of God’s love to give new life, of resurrection. But, second, be clear – no act of sacrifice that comes out of coercion, or abuse, or by force can be either a sacrifice or an act of love. But if one chooses freely to do something that requires sacrifice, and in so doing does it out of as pure a love as one can, then that is a kind of resurrection. It is a giving of new life. This is true whether it is in a small way, or a big way. I believe any time we make a sacrifice of love it is a way we can respond to Jesus’ act of love in taking up his cross. In his choice to suffer and die, Jesus acted to defeat all the ways humans suffer at the hands of other humans, and all the suffering of death itself. Our faith in the resurrection is a proclamation that love is more powerful than anything, including death.

I’ve seen the sacrifice of love in every mother who gives birth to a child. And I’ve seen it from many who tried to bear a child but could not. Sacrifices of love beyond measure. I’ve watched the sacrifice of love of a wife who sits beside her husband’s bed as Alzheimer’s steals a little more of the man she knows and loves every day. I have witnessed the sacrifice of love in people who left the comfort of their homes to march or work for equal rights for others, for a culture steeped in violence to turn from its love of weapons for killing and love children more.

I have seen it when churches took in refugees from nations where violence was the way of life and volunteers helped them get a new start here. I watch now as people speak up against the increasing efforts to take rights away from children to read books others don’t approve of, to steal the rights of LGB and especially Trans persons. They are willing to sacrifice their own comfort, their own safety even to stand up against hatred and violence.

How about you? Where have you witnessed a sacrifice of love? Even more, think of a time when have you sacrificed out of love for someone else. I tell you then you have seen the resurrection. You have witnessed the power of God’s love to overcome death, evil, suffering, and sin. If you don’t think you have witnessed anything, then maybe it is time to find a way to step up and sacrifice some love for someone else. I see the cross on the walls of churches. I see them on the chains of jewelry around people’s necks. More importantly and more powerfully, I see it too reflected in the ways people give so that others can live.

I think the greatest way to celebrate Easter is to live the resurrection now. I believe anyone can do it if they have even a little feeling for the power of love. And authentic love almost always requires sacrifice at some point. The good news is that God has already made the most powerful sacrifice of love possible. Can you imagine the power of such love? Can you imagine trusting that kind of love enough to sacrifice for it? Can you imagine a world organized around and living out an ethic of love so powerful that it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice, but the way God intends it to be? I don’t know. Maybe that is beyond imagination. But I believe in a God who intends it that way and who acts to bring that world into being through every sacrifice of love that is made each and every day. And you and I can be part of that every day. Imagine that! AMEN.

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