Summary: Good Friday was a necessary part of the Easter journey. The sermon shares a Leonard Sweet story about bell-ringing. (Each person who came to worship received a bell as they entered.)
They thought it was over. Jesus was dead and buried. The religious folks sighed with satisfaction. His followers wept in grief. But they were wrong! They were all wrong!
From this side of Easter, we can call Friday “Good” because we know that it was not over, all had not been lost. What had appeared to be an ending was actually a beginning. God was not defeated, God opened a new door, and opened it wide enough for you and me to go through it.
Easter is an exciting day! Many of us bought new clothes for today. We get to say, “Alleluia” after 40 long days without using the word, and we sing wonderful songs many of us remember from our childhood. We can enjoy a scrumptious breakfast and have conversations with people we haven’t seen since Christmas.
It’s all good. In fact, it’s very good.
But we can never experience the full impact of the Resurrection unless we are honest about those times we have had that are more like Good Friday than Easter, times when we have had no hope or felt stuck or absolutely alone. Almost all of us can point to at least one time in our lives when all seemed lost, when we felt defeated
To find the joy and hope of Easter, we must go through the cemeteries of our defeats and disappointments, despair and discouragement.
This is nothing new, of course. The Bible is filled with stories about hopeless situations that were transformed.
For Abraham and Sarah, God's promise seemed so impossible that Sarah laughed. And when things didn’t happen right away, they manipulated the situation, but God never forgot the promise, and eventually Isaac was born.
And there was Moses who killed a man in defense of another and ended up running for his life. After years of exile as a shepherd, God called him to lead the people out of slavery and into freedom.
There was David who, as a boy, faced a giant, and as a man, faced much more. And, all the while, in his sins and in his repentance, he was “a man after God’s own heart.”
There was Elijah, who after his greatest success, saw no reason to live, and then found God in the still small voice
There was Ezekiel's vision of the scattered bones of a defeated army coming back to life.
Six centuries’ later, there is Nicodemus shaking his head at being born anew bringing spices for Jesus' body.
And the Samaritan woman at the well, pushed aside by her village, finding in Jesus a new life.
And the blind man whose new sight led to his rejection, but then he found even greater sight in following Jesus.
There are so many more such stories in our Scriptures and in the lives of saints through the ages.
The testimonies of Scripture and the witness of our own lives show us that the road to Easter is not perfect and level. There are stones along the way. Some stones are small. We can walk over them. Some are a bit bigger, and we can kick them out of our way. When we come to one we can’t lift, we can usually walk around it. And then there are a few, like the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb, that must be rolled away.
In the book Nudge, theologian Leonard Sweet tells this story:
“The church used to ring bells to call the community together and to announce the beauty of worship about to take place. [We religious folk are] in the bells and whistles business.
I shall never forget the first time I attended a Roman Catholic Mass and heard the sanctus bell ring during the “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the sacring bell rung three times at the elevation of the host. I came home and asked my mother what all that bell ringing was about.
She said, “It’s to tell you ‘Christ is alive,’ alive in the bread and wine.”
[And then she added:] In olden times…they used to bury people with strings attached to bells above ground, so that if perchance they buried you alive, you could ring the bell when you woke up. When people above ground heard the bell ringing, they would know, “He’s alive!” and immediately dig you out. My mother claimed that her grandmother knew someone who had been “saved by the bell.”
Today, we are the bell ringers. With courage and joy, we proclaim, “Jesus is alive!”
Dear friends, ring your bells. Ring them with fervor because, in Easter, we know:
The world will not have the last word
We will not have the last word
GOD will have the last word!