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The Power of Resurrection

Updated: Apr 1


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

March 31, 2024

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’ 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 hold on to 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.

Who knows the power of the resurrection?  There is no doubt that belief in the resurrection was powerful enough to motivate a small band of men and women, most of whom were poor peasants from little villages in Palestine, to unleash a world-changing reality.  But this morning I want to ask you, do we really know the power of the resurrection?


What I mean is our understanding of the resurrection seems confined to me.  Most of what I hear people say about resurrection is it is a reward for me after life.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some me.  I want a nice tropical paradise with no calorie food and drink and some good-looking, nice friends like ya’ll to hang out with if I’m going to live forever.  But at the risk of upsetting some of you, I’m not sure the power of the resurrection is all about me… or you.  Let me explain why before you try to find a cross to put me on.

Those first followers of Jesus must have had their whole world explode over those few days we call “Holy Week.”  They went from anticipating their leader and their movement were about to celebrate a tremendous victory, or at least start of a revolution.  They were ready to change the world, not just get a cushy after-life.  By the end of that week, they were submerged in horror at the execution of their leader, the threat to their own lives, grief, fear, denial, betrayal, and a lot of other normal, human emotion.  Then comes this story we read this morning. 


There are different versions of what happened that day and the days following Jesus’ crucifixion.  Depending on which witness, which “gospel” one reads, there are various “sightings.”  There are differing stoires of “encounters.”  If one were to actually read them and think about them we might surely have to think again about the power of the resurrection.


The narrative some demand we accept is that Jesus rose bodily – in some form – appeared – in some form – to many, and promised everyone that they would have the same experience IF they believed one single way of believing in resurrection.  Who doesn’t want to have the benefits of resurrection this narrative proclaims: see our loved ones again, live forever, be rewarded for faithfulness - all the things they say.  But if you look at it, to me it all seems a little too limited.  I believe the power of the resurrection is way greater than a free E-ticket to a personal paradise.

Why do I believe that?  When I read the full gospel accounts of Jesus, I don’t think he ever toed the line of human definitions of God’s power and purpose.  I never heard Jesus tell us to be nice and we will be rewarded for it in some afterlife.  The second problem I have is that every time I read Jesus’ description of the Reign of God it seems to be he was saying it was right here, right now.  I think it only makes sense that the resurrection is resurrection NOW.  The Jesus I know, the Jesus I hear, prayed, “on earth, as it is in heaven.”  To me he was saying whatever we believe the resurrection to be, whatever we believe heaven to be, we ought to be about that now.

So I am not going to argue bodily resurrection, debate end of life rewards or the color of the gold bricks on the road to some gate where some bearded saint is waiting to tell me whether I go up or down.  I want resurrection now.  I want the power of the resurrection now. Because I believe Jesus tells me I can have it and so can you.

What is resurrection now?  I believe it is when we really hear and respond faithfully to Jesus’ words now.  Words like, “love one another as I have loved you.”  “The one who wants to be first must be last and the one who serves is greater than the one who is served.”  I believe Jesus imagined a world here and now where people were not oppressed because of their skin color, their gender, their “diversability,” or any of the other ways we use the power of religion, economic systems, or government laws to oppress others.  I believe in a Reign of God that is greater than what is, better than what is, and way different from the vision of so-called “Christian” Nationalists.

I have a theory about why we are obsessed with resurrection as a personal afterlife lottery winning.  You see if those in power can convince me to become obsessed with my personal shame for my naughty thoughts or even actions, I won’t challenge their power to use people and discard them.  If I become obsessed with me then I don’t worry about you or anyone else.  I won’t care that you live on an unlivable Social Security income or working wage, that your health care sucks because the system is broken.  I won’t care that the people who set the prices have jacked them up since the pandemic for no reason except their own riches… I won’t care that LGBTQ+? people are under attack everywhere especially in our state and others with similar pandering politicians.  In other words, I won’t try to change this world now.  I’ll wait passively and powerlessly for the next one and my personal, private reward.

One of the writers in our LTQ series writes, “The reality of the human condition leaves many “entombed” by their attitudes, circumstances, or life choices. Metaphorical “rocks” [ like the one in front of Jesus’ grave ] are everywhere: the rock of disappointment, of insecurity, of poverty, or of guilt. We’re often sealed in by the rocks of arrogance, confusion, addiction, or indifference. Our eyes adjust to the darkness of the tombs we choose. Almost anything that stands between a person and the transforming presence of the Divine can be seen as a stone in need of being rolled away.”


I believe that the power of the resurrection is greater than I can ever imagine.  I believe it is powerful enough to change the world for everyone, not just the few.  I believe in a God who "so loved the whole world” that he sent his Son to show us what real resurrection now is.  I believe that is why his way was always about living now.


Francis of Assisi, a devout follower of Jesus used to say, “you only know as much as you do,” [ p. 81, Richard Rohr, Eager to Love, ].  I think that means we can and must “do” resurrection now.  For Francis this was about living the way Jesus lived, not just believing a narrow list of dogmatic doctrines.  “For Francis … Jesus was someone to actually imitate and not just to worship,” [ ibid ].  I think if we really want to experience resurrection now we begin by seeking to imitate Jesus in his living and teachings. 


Here’s another step in living the resurrection now.  I say follow the way of Jesus living and teaching.  You say, “I’m trying but it is hard!”  I say, yes it is – it’s like carrying a cross.  You say, “help me figure out a way to do it?”  I say, “ask Jesus.”  In other words, if the resurrection is real and if the resurrection has power now, we don’t wait til we die to connect with the Living Christ. If we believe in a living Savior, we claim an incredibly powerful truth about Christ.  If we believe that, we need to connect with that source of power.


The invitation of the Gospels is an invitation to know the living, risen Christ.  Yes, that is a spiritual practice.  Yes, that is a challenging thing to do.  But let me suggest that perhaps it is easier than we might think.  I think if we start with something simple – simply asking Christ to come to us in prayer and to be present with us is a start.  Every day renew that prayer.  Don’t be “born again” once.  Be born again every day. I believe as we do this, we will begin to discover the presence of the Risen Christ guiding our lives, our actions, not just our thoughts.  I believe then we will have the power of the resurrection now, and I believe in a powerful resurrection!  And that is a powerful reason to celebrate and give praise!


So let’s start celebrating!  Celebrate the Living, Risen Christ, now and every day.  Isn’t that what Easter is about?  A celebration?  The more we do that, the more praise will rise from every corner of creation.  I believe praise is rising, right from the grave to new life, right from here and right from now.  Come on, let your praise rise up!  AMEN.

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