SCRIPTURE – John 20:1-18 – 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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their home
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 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.
Easter: Yes or No?
April 20, 2014
It’s finally Easter! I don’t know whether I’m more excited, relieved, or exhausted. It feels like Lent went on forever this year. Way back six weeks ago, when we started Lent, it was cold and snowy and dreary. And as we finished Lent this past week, it was still cold and snowy and dreary. Maybe Lent has felt like it was a year long because in these last six weeks we’ve experienced all four seasons. But now it’s spring, and hopefully it’s here to stay! I hope your journey to Easter this year has been a meaningful one. Whether you’ve been here 51 Sundays or no Sundays since last Easter, we’re really glad you are here.
But not everyone is here. This is the biggest day for church attendance all year and the second-biggest Sunday for prayer behind the Sunday before the national championship game, and yet there are still folks who stayed home. Maybe they feel church doesn’t have anything to offer them, that the story we just read doesn’t apply to them, and that the God we claim to worship isn’t interested in them. Maybe they don’t believe in God because they think God is behind all the bad things that are happening in the world right now. That’s OK, I don’t believe in that kind of God, either.
That happens a lot, though, doesn’t it? We preached a sermon series earlier this year on some of the Christian clichés we should avoid, things like “Everything happens for a reason” and “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” because those kinds of statements end up painting a very unflattering and inaccurate picture of God. They imply that God is some sort of controlling manipulator, causing bad things to happen in order to teach us lessons. Who would want to worship someone like that?
I believe God has been given a bad rap. Instead of being known as the life-giving creator who resurrected Jesus, God has the reputation as being a curmudgeon, that cranky next-door neighbor who chases kids of other faiths off his lawn and is constantly saying, “No!” I believe God gets that reputation by proxy, because in actuality it’s God’s people, the church, who have a reputation for saying “No.” No drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no playing cards, no going to movies. None of those are in the Bible, by the way. Basically, if it feels good, it’s probably a sin and you shouldn’t do it. The church has the stigma of being a place that says “No,” and by extension, people think of God as doing the same.
To be fair, there are contexts in the Bible were God says “No,” primarily because God was dealing with ornery, hard-heading humans. Thankfully, we’ve evolved so far since then. He tells Adam and Eve not to eat of a particular tree in the Garden of Eden, and we know how that ended up. When the Israelites were wandering around in the desert, God gave them a set of laws to let them know what they could and couldn’t do as God’s people. There were a lot of “don’ts” in those laws, things like “don’t kill,” “don’t steal,” “don’t commit adultery.” It’s sad to think that people had to be reminded of that. It’s even sadder to think that we still need to be reminded of that.
So there are some instances of God saying “No” in the Bible, mainly to save us from ourselves. But we have plenty more examples of God saying “yes.” The Hebrew Scriptures are full of “yeses.” God says “yes” to the creation of the world. God says “Yes” to Abraham’s faithfulness by initiating a covenant of blessing and prosperity. When the Israelites are trapped in slavery and ask for deliverance, God says “yes” and sends them Moses and parts the Red Sea. When the shepherd boy David agrees to stand up to the evil giant Goliath, God says “Yes” and delivers a victory. The God I read about in the Bible is a God who says “yes.”
Here’s the thing: For every time God says “yes” in the Bible, God’s creatures say “No.” God is not the one who gets pleasure from saying “No” to us; we are the ones who constantly say “No” to God. We’re like toddlers who are learning their first words and beginning to test boundaries. I witnessed an epic tantrum in Target once where a sweet little girl in pigtails and a frilly dress laid in the middle of the toy aisle and screamed, “No! No! No!” over and over again while her poor, exasperated mom just stood there helpless. At that point I turned to my wife Leigh and said, “Let’s get a dog.” As soon as we learn the word “No,” we begin to master its usage.
Why? Because saying “No” gives us power. Say it with me. “No!” Now, say it like you really, really mean it. “No!” Doesn’t that feel good? When we say “No,” we are in control. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many, many situations in life when it is very appropriate for us to say “No” and mean it. But when it comes to our relationship with God, I believe we say “No” way too often because we like to think we’re in control, that we really know what is best for us.
God says to Adam and Eve, “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” “No! You can’t tell us what to do.” God says to the Israelites wandering around in the desert, “I’m your God.” “No you’re not! We don’t like you. This Golden Calf we just made is our God.” Later God says to the Israelites, “You don’t need an earthly king, you have me.” “No! All the other nations have a king, we want one, too!” I just wish God had said, “Well, if all the other nations jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?” God says to God’s people through the prophets, “Please follow my laws so we can have a good relationship together.” “No! You’re not the boss of us. We’ll do whatever we want.”
The problem here is not that God says “No” to us; it’s that we say “No” to God. No, I won’t give up my Sunday mornings. No, I don’t have time to do those things at church. No, I need my money to pay for things I want. No, I don’t want to be nice to those people. No. No. No. And yet we expect God to say “Yes” to us every time we want something.
Does this have anything to do with Easter? Yes. I believe God got tired of all our “Nos.” It was clearly obviously that we were not capable of following God’s instructions, that we were going to insist that our way was the right way, and we were willing to lie down in the middle of Target and scream “No!” to God’s call for us to love each other, to respect each other, to take care of each other. And I’m sure it grieved God to watch us suffer the consequences of our stubbornness.
So God, rather than wipe the slate clean and start over, rather than continue to knock God’s head against the wall in the face of our hard heads, God did something amazing. God sent us the biggest “Yes” in the history of the world. Jesus is God’s ultimate “Yes” to us. Jesus is a “yes” to all the promises God has made to us about love and grace and forgiveness and eternal life. It’s more than ironic that Jesus’ name in the Hebrew language is “Yeshua,” because he is God’s greatest “Yes” to us.
And yet…what did we say to Jesus? Here is God made flesh, dwelling among us, healing and teaching and showing us what God is like. If there was ever someone to whom we could say an emphatic “Yes!” it would be this guy, right? Right? No. We questioned him. We arrested him. We mocked him. We spit on him. And on the cross at Golgotha, as we hammered nails into his hands and his feet, we said, “No. No. No.”
But this day, Easter Sunday, is a reminder God’s “yes” is greater than our “no.” No matter how much we say “no,” God never gives up on us. God’s promises to us are good, they have no expiration date, even when we turn our backs. Jesus is not only a “yes” to God’s promises, he’s God’s “yes” to each one of us. Think of all the questions we ask of God to which Jesus is a “Yes”: Do you know me, God? Do you love me, God? No really, knowing what I’ve done, do you love me? Am I forgiven? Is there a purpose for my life? Is there life after death?
The resurrection shows us the answer to each of these is “yes.” One writer said that Jesus is God’s “grand consummating affirmative.” We do not worship a fickle, wishy-washy God. We are imperfectly human, and sometimes we are unfaithful to God. But God is never unfaithful to us. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve run away. It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve behaved. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve questioned and doubted and given up. Through Jesus, God says “Yes” to you.
So then, as we stand in front of the empty tomb, as we soak in the magnitude of the “Yes” God has said to us through the resurrection, we are faced with our own ultimate question. Will we say “yes” to God? Doesn’t matter if it is for the first time or the millionth time. Today, this Easter, will we say “Yes” to God? That’s dangerous, you know. When you say “No” to God, that means you’re still in control – or at least you can think you are. But when you say “Yes” to God, it opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. Saying “Yes” to God means joining God on this grand adventure of making God’s kingdom real here on earth. It means partnering with God to make a difference in this world, starting with your life. Saying “no” is control; saying “yes” is freedom.
Will you say “Yes” to Easter? Will you say “Yes” to letting God’s love guide your thoughts, actions, and decisions? Will you say “Yes” to being more like Christ tomorrow than you were yesterday? Will you say “yes” to committing all that you have and all that you are to God’s purposes? Will you say “yes” to reflecting God’s radically inclusive love and unending grace to the people around you, especially to those who least deserve it? And, when you have that moment of weakness in the coming days and you say “no” – because we all know it’s going to happen to every one of us – will you say “yes” to coming back here next week for worship, so that you can be reminded of God’s “yes” once again?
God knows who you are. God knows what you’ve done. And God knows your true worth. God knows your infinite value. God has looked at you and said, “You are my priceless child!” God has looked at you and, through Jesus, has said, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” What will you say?