When God Jumps In: Sermon for Easter, 2017

An audio podcast of this sermon is available here or on iTunes

There’s a story about a guy who falls in a hole.

A man is out walking one day and all of a sudden he trips and falls into this deep hole. He lands at the bottom and no matter what he tries, he’s stuck. So he starts to call out to the people that he knows are passing by.

“Help me!” He says. “Get me out of here!”

Eventually someone comes by. She looks down at him and he says “help me”. She’s says “okay”. And she’s a doctor, and so she writes him a prescription and throws it down to him.

sky-ditch-eye-holeStill stuck, he waits for the next person to come. And this time it’s a minister. And he looks down in the hole and the guy says “help me”. So the minster says, “I’ll help you”. And he says a prayer for him and then moves on.

But down there at the bottom of the hole, the man is still stuck.

I’ll come back to that story, but first I want to talk about the story. That story is the reason we’re all here today. On Easter morning we proclaim an incredible truth. It starts with this: nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was dead and buried.

And three days later, early in the morning, his friends were still devastated. And so they went to his tomb. But when they got there they found that the heavy stone that blocked the door had been rolled away, and Jesus wasn’t where they had left him.

They were, understandably, distressed. That’s because in the moment they didn’t know that the fact Jesus wasn’t there is the best part of the story. Because the world had done the absolute worst that it could to Jesus. It had put him in the ground, and closed the tomb. But Jesus would not stay put. Love would not consent to remaining buried. Light would not tolerate being snuffed out.

Put another way, Jesus was down at the bottom of the hole, but he wouldn’t stay there.

That’s good news for us. And that’s good news for the guy from that first story, the one who was there at the bottom of his own hole, looking for a way to get out. The doctor couldn’t save him. The minister couldn’t save him. No one could save him, and things looked bleak.

But then a third person came by. And, if you’ve ever watched the show The West Wing you might have heard this story before. The third person was the guy’s friend. And when the guy saw him from the bottom of the hole he yelled out “Friend! You have to help me.”

And so the friend did what the best of friends do. He jumped into the hole himself.

Now the first guy couldn’t believe it. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Now we’re both down here.”

“Yeah,” said the second guy. “But I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

The most stunning part of the Easter story, the most amazing part of our faith, is this: God loves us enough to jump into the hole with us and to show us the way out.

In the church we believe that Jesus was more than just a great guy, though he was certainly that. We believe that Jesus is nothing less than God-with-us. Jesus is God loving this world so much that God chooses to actively participate in our world.

This means that God is not some divine chess player in the sky who moves us around like pawns, occasionally making us fall into holes. Instead, God chooses to be on the board with us. It means that God doesn’t just come to the edge of the holes that are of this world’s making, but God loves us enough to jump in with us, and show us the way out.

And that is what Jesus did in his life. In a time when injustice, cor

Easter guy in hole
A picture drawn by a child in church during the Easter sermon on Sunday: The friend who jumps in the hole.

ruption, and cruelty reigned, he jumped down into the hole. And on Easter morning, he got back out.

Now, we hear this story today, and we have the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight. You came to church this morning knowing how it goes. It’s no surprise to us that the tomb is empty, and Christ is risen.

But to the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, it was more than a surprise. It was shocking. Jesus wasn’t there, but an angel was telling them, “Jesus has been raised from the dead. Go tell the others, and Jesus will meet you.”

It sounds impossible to them, but they go anyway. And Scripture tells us that the women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell” the others.

I love that phrase: “with fear and great joy”. I love it not because I like the idea of being afraid, but because I believe we can all relate. I love it because fear and joy are the natural reaction to the surprise of resurrection.

They had no idea what was happening. But they did know that it was something big. They didn’t have words to describe it yet, but in their hearts they had started to believe that resurrection was possible. And so, they ran.

And it was while they are running that they meet Jesus along the way. And seeing him, they know that it’s all true.

Like I said, we have hindsight faith. We are not surprised by resurrection the way that those disciples were. But maybe we should be. Maybe the news that resurrection is possible should be that jarring to us. Maybe it should cause us run quickly, ready to tell the world, wrestling between our fear and joy every step of the way.

But then again, maybe in some ways resurrection really does still sometimes surprise us. And maybe when it does we understand Easter more clearly than we ever could, even on a beautiful Easter morning.

Have you ever been down in a hole? Have you ever been there wondering how in the world you would ever get out? Have you ever felt like the people who are walking by aren’t really getting it? And have you ever had an experience of grace, maybe one where you felt God nearby, or maybe one when someone else jumped in the hole with you and showed you the way out?

IMG_4389 2
The sun coming up over the Squamscott River on Easter morning.

 

If so, you get what resurrection means. You get what it means to balance fear and joy as you climb your way out. And you get that those two things are the essential elements of hope.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that it was only when the women were running with that hope, with the first inklings that new life might be possible, that they ran into Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I need hope like that. I need to know that somewhere between my joy in life and my fear for the world, resurrection is true. I need to know that I worship a God who loves not just me, but the whole world enough to jump down into the darkest places with us. Because in days like this, when so often it feels like the whole world is stuck down at the bottom of an ever-deepening hole, who better to show us how to get out?

But more that that, every time we are shown the way out, every time we are given a little taste of resurrection, we become a part of this work too.

Martin Luther once said that it was the job of Christians to become “little Christs” to one another. That’s a tall order, and I know I’m never going to get that exactly right.
But I think I know what he meant by that. I think he meant that in a world where too many fall through the cracks and into deep holes, it’s our job to be like Christ, and to jump in after them. It’s our job to say “hey, a friend of mine once showed me the way out too.”

And so, maybe right now more than ever we who would follow Christ are called to be the people who jump into some pretty deep holes.

When violence and war drive some down into the depths, we jump in with them, and we work for peace.

When fear and ignorance shut the doors of our hearts to others, we jump in, and we open them wide again.

When addiction drives down our friends and our communities, we jump in, and we support recovery.

And whenever injustice causes any beloved child of God to be pushed into a hole, we jump in, and we work to make it right.

Resurrection happened on that Easter morning all those centuries ago. But it didn’t end that day. Resurrection is happening still. The work that Christ began on Easter morning continues. But the really amazing thing is that Christ no longer does it alone. He calls us to do this work with us.

On Easter we decide: will I stay here, unmoved by resurrection? Or am I ready to jump in?

May we always have just enough joy to allow us to conquer our fear, and to give us just enough hope to take the plunge.

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