“When Will You Rise?”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
April 17, 2022
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.
Did you know that “Birds Aren’t Real?” True! All the birds were killed by the “deep state” and replaced with surveillance drones. At least that’s according to a “conspiracy theory” started by a young man named Peter McIndoe back in 2017. The truth behind that “conspiracy theory” is that it was started to poke fun at all the crazy conspiracy theories that have become the norm in our current world.
I think it is time to rise up and point out the craziness of all these conspiracy theories. You know everything from a child-slave ring being run out of the basement of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor to vaccine shots having chips in them. I want to know what kind of chips, because if they are chocolate chips, I’m all for it! I think we’ve become so paranoid that folks who believe that they are powerless victims of a world that is keeping them down, stealing the riches they were promised at birth by the consumer capitalist advertising industry will believe anything. But, I want to raise the question of when we will rise up against the Easter conspiracy?
“What Easter conspiracy?” you may ask. The better question is “WHICH Easter conspiracy?” I can point out several that I find very weird and confusing. Some Easter conspiracies seem harmless. Let’s talk bunnies and eggs. What’s with that? What do bunnies and colored eggs have to do with Easter? If Easter is about some guy coming back from the dead what do bunnies have to do with that? And what do eggs have to do with bunnies? Last I checked bunnies don’t lay eggs, especially chicken eggs! I find it very weird and confusing. And if it is about something we call “resurrection,” why do we call it “Easter?” Why don’t we call it “Resurrection Sunday?” I think it all is a “Communist Conspiracy.”
But that’s just the beginning. The original conspiracy theory was started right after the followers of Jesus claimed he was alive, that he had risen from the dead. The religious and government leaders claimed it was a conspiracy by those followers. They claimed his followers had come in the night and stolen the body. This, of course, ignores several things that seem to dispute this: One, according to the writers of the Gospels, the Roman Governor had posted soldiers at the entry to the tomb where Jesus’ body was put to keep anyone from stealing the body. Two, according to those same writers the leaders of Jesus’ movement, the ones you would expect to organize and carry out such a theft, were hiding in fear, had denied even knowing Jesus, and otherwise seem ill - equipped to carry out such a plot. Third, those same accounts tell us that the stone was so large it would have taken a bunch of men to roll it away and get in to take the body, and again, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that there were any of Jesus’ followers ready to do such a thing. So, I think that conspiracy has been pretty well debunked. But I think we need to rise up against some of these conspiracies that are still with us!
I’m more concerned with the conspiracy about just what resurrection is. Why do they want us to think we have to wait until we die to rise up? We mainly think of resurrection as a reward at the end of our lives for believing something about Jesus. Some people might say this makes it sound like the zombie apocalyse. Now, let me stop right here and ask you to be patient with me. I don’t want anyone to go out of here offended that I compared Jesus and the resurrection to zombies. But I do want to share what some others have said about such a notion. And just to forewarn you if that isn’t offensive enough, I am going to make a Mary Poppins reference before we are done. Hang on and I will try to bring all this together for you.
The source of this “Zombie conspiracy” may be none other than Stephen Colbert. Now I am not sure I want to come back as the “undead,” but Stephen Colbert once argued that
Christianity is kind of like a zombie experience: “Think about it:” he said, “Jesus rose from the dead. He’s the original zombie, except you eat His body.” One writer disputed this saying, “Thank you Stephen but the difference is far greater. Zombies come back from the dead to take life. Jesus came back from the dead to give it. That makes Jesus the anti-zombie.
“Here’s a truth we all know something about: it is possible to exist without being fully alive. So often we stumble and bumble, going through the motions, mechanically punching in and punching out, dragging ourselves through a caffeine withdrawal-like state. In those moments we can’t even claim to be on auto-pilot because at least auto-pilots have a sense of purpose and destination.” In that sense, maybe a lot of us are living more like we are zombies.
“Zombies are scarier than other monsters because they look a lot like us - right after we roll out of bed. You may not have a hankering for brain tissue, but if you’ve ever wandered through life asking what’s missing?’ and ‘how do I feed this aching hunger?’ you can relate.”
So here is the turning point to me. I want to start a different kind of conspiracy. I want to start a conspiracy in which we will rise up now. I believe we can have resurrection life now. I believe that living the resurrection is not only possible now, but is really what Jesus wanted us to know when he was talking about the “Kingdom of God.”
I am not so interested in when you or I will rise after we die physically, as in, heartbeat dead and unresuscitatable. I am interested in how you and I will rise up now, today, and tomorrow, and the day after that and all those tomorrows after that before die physically. Paul says, in Romans 6:11, “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Now this isn’t just to say we are dead to moral temptations of “sex, drugs, or rock and roll,” but to turn from the broken ways, habits, values and actions of the world, which is what we live and breath every day.
In other words, “As far as God is concerned, you are dead to sin, freed from its power.… embrace your identity as a child of God made alive NOW by Christ.”1 And that identity, that “being alive NOW” means we have power to rise up in the face of all the powers that try to put us to death and make us like the walking dead.
What do I mean? Well, you asked! If zombies weren’t weird enough to talk about on Easter, how about Mary Poppins? Someone once said there is “another great truth in life: Deep down, the human spirit yearns for joy, yearns to soar.” In the “movie Mary Poppins, there is a scene where Uncle Albert starts laughing as he stands in the lifeless, sterile bank vault where he is the manager. As he laughed with joy, he suddenly began to float up to the ceiling. The laughter and life and passion he felt brought him a lightness that made him float. And everyone around him began to laugh and float up as well. That scene taps a deep human truth: that we all have a spirit that yearns for joy and lightness--a spirit that yearns to soar.
And then life gets in the way--key ingredients go missing--and over time our spirits sink and become flat and heavy and bleak. For everyone out there who feels that their dreams have been destroyed, their hopes dashed, their spirits crushed...here is the good news of Easter morning: The risen Christ can take our flat, heavy hearts and put back that key ingredient... joy.” That joy is knowing your life matters, and that you can make a difference in this world by sharing your joy! “Joy allows us to rise up so that our spirits are not stuck on the ground, so that our spirits are not deadened by human pain or loss or disappointment, so that our spirits are not mired in a tomb.” So that we can rise up today and share in Christ’s resurrection.
One key way to be truly alive is to rise up, rise up above the mess of bad habits that have made our relationships painful and difficult instead of a blessing and a source of grace. Here’s a parable to illustrate what I mean:
“Once upon a time there was a family, whose father and the mother had slipped into the habit of low-level nastiness with one another and were drifting apart. The children (teenagers) were routinely snarling at one another and at their parents. Sometimes they joined in the mean-spirited exchanges between the parents. No one left the house, there was no divorce nor even the talk of divorce -–but there were lots of thoughts about it. What was once a happy and loving family, as families go, had turned into a battleground in which four armies were fighting, and not taking any prisoners. Then, the girl teen was in an auto accident in which her car was totaled by a drunken driver. The other three rushed to the hospital and found her in bed, covered with bandages, but able to smile. She said to them, ‘I had one of those near-death experiences,’ she said, ‘and God told me we’re a bunch of geeks and we should stop fighting with each other. Now.’ So they all hugged one another and cried and promised they’d start over again. Now the family had new life and it was Easter.
So for conspiracy theorists everywhere: birds are real and so is the resurrection. And you and I get to choose when we will rise up. And it can be right now, even if all the forces of the world, of sin, of our own broken deadness or that of someone we love and we can rise up. We can rise up and be done with conspiracy theories that promote fear and death. We can rise up and promote hope and love and life. We can rise up and touch others with joy – the resurrection power of joy. Rise up and set others free just by touching their lives with love and hope and joy. Here’s what I want to ask you – when will you rise up? When will you start offering your resurrection to others? Jesus has already given you the resurrection. Rise up and go. Give it to others! The truth is we have more than 10,000 reasons to rise up! Let’s go! AMEN.