Summary: The church celebrates its mission every time it gathers for worship, especially on Sunday, and especially on Easter Sunday. This Easter sermons reflects on the mystery that is the central celebration of the Church--the resurrection.
When I was a little boy, my grandmother had a large conch shell. I don’t know where that old shell came from. I’m not sure if she ever went to the beach, or if someone brought it to her from their beach trip. What I remember is holding that conch shell up to my ear and being told I could hear the ocean in it. As a child, I believed it. I’d hold that shell up to my ear, cup my hand over my other ear, and listen to the soft roar coming out of the shell. Sure enough, it sounded just like waves crashing on the shore. It was cool for a little boy who had never been to the beach. It wasn’t a life-changing experience, but it was a first lesson into the mysterious nature of our world. Yes, as I grew up, many of the mysteries of life were explained through the scientific method, and the roar in the old conch shell was easily explained. Yet, there is something awe-inspiring in those mysteries…something that makes us say, “Wow!” One such mystery that still remains is the resurrection…that which we celebrate on Easter.
There is much that is mysterious in our world. Perhaps it goes beyond the mysterious almost to the point of, dare I use the word, magical. Think about it. Trees lose their leaves every winter, and grow new ones every spring. How does that happen? Flowers, too, know when and how to grow from seeds. The azaleas are in full bloom, and they’re magnificent. It happens every year (except in my yard, of course) like clockwork. Caterpillars withdraw into a cocoon and emerge as a butterfly. Babies, started from the meeting of two individual cells, know just how to divide into the individual parts and organs that make up a human body. At a specific point in that development, a heart-beat begins. How does it know to begin? It’s mysterious and magical. And, who knows what the signal is that causes labor to begin? Science can tell us how those events happen, but still, there is a mysterious nature that lies behind them. What brought about these things to be the way they are? What makes the world operate as it does? What determined the building blocks of life in our universe?
Yes, I know science has an answer for all of it, but save your scientific jargon. I know there are processes and theories, but any and every attempt to explain them is incomplete. They fall flat. They cannot explain the mysterious, magical part of what happens in any of those things. Perhaps because they fail to explain the purpose of the phenomena in the first place, explanation and facts are only half the story and never really account for all that we experience.
You may tell me the physical, scientific reason for the sound I hear in the sea shell. The shape of seashells just happens to make them great amplifiers of ambient noise. Any air that makes its way into a shell's cavity gets bounced around by its hard, curved inner surfaces. The resonating air produces sound. Yes, tell me that, but the ocean is still in that shell, just the same. It’s still just as mysterious and magical to me. It still makes me say, “Wow” when I hold a shell up to my ear.
Luke’s Gospel today finds us at the grave of Jesus. It is early on Sunday morning. Jesus had been laid to rest on Friday afternoon. Saturday was the Sabbath, and so it was not until this morning of the third day that the women who had followed Jesus, and who also had prepared the necessary spices and ointments to embalm him, were able to return to the tomb, in order to prepare his body. Imagine their surprise to find the tomb open. Imagine their reaction to find his body gone. Imagine their response to the two men standing by the tomb. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” they say. “Remember his teaching in Galilee?”
Yes, well now that you mention it, we do. We remember that Jesus taught “he would suffer at the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day he would rise again.”
It was for the women one of those mysterious/magical moments when “Wow” would be an understatement. No matter what else happened, at that moment, they heard the ocean in the seashell. They saw, and they believed. Their almost instantaneous belief is interesting. Did they ask or wonder how it could be? Did they stop to puzzle the impossibilities? No, they just rejoiced in the moment. They ran back to tell the disciples and everyone else what had happened. It wasn’t until they got back to the disciples that they meet with skepticism. “Impossible!” “Unexplainable!” “It can’t be.” The disciples called it nonsense, and they didn’t believe it.