The Easter Roller Coaster

Sermon for Easter Sunday

You know when you ride a roller coaster they’ve got these cameras that take your picture at just the right moment? Right there at the exact moment when the track starts to go down. You and your friends are giddy with anticipation, really felling it, ready for the whole thing to just rush down the hill. You really lose all capacity for reason at that moment. This primal instinct takes over, your adrenaline is rushing, and you can’t wait for what’s going to happen next.

That’s the moment that the camera is there to capture. To get that look on your face. Now, once you get off of the roller coaster, you’re shepherded through the gift shop and to that kiosk where you can laugh at how crazy you look, and perhaps take the moment home as a souvenir print for, like, $14 or something absurd. Maybe you know where the camera was and made silly face, but most often the expression on your face is this combination of terror and delight. This feeling of both unbridled joy and complete and utter panic.

In other words, probably close to looks that were on the faces of those poor women who came to the tomb on that first Easter morning.

Let’s take moment to put ourselves in their shoes. Mary, Mary and Salome were there to bury Jesus. They had brought spices to anoint his body and lay him to rest. This was the end of the story for them. Jesus was this great teacher, prophet, healer. He taught love in a time of cruelty, peace in a time of great violence.

But the powers of this world could not abide that type of talk. So the powers killed him. Hung him to a tree.

I mean, what more was there to expect? It’s like a flat stretch of track—predictable, really. This is what happens to people who speak out of turn, who challenge the way things are. Everything must come to an end, and while it was a really fun ride while it lasted, it was time to get back to the old routine.

Except what they found was not what they expected to find.

What I really love about the way Mark tells this story is the sort of matter-of-factness of the whole thing. There’s no great earthquake, no flashy lights, or smoke and mirrors. It’s stark and jarring in its simplicity.

The stone is rolled away. The women go inside. There’s a man standing there but it’s not Jesus.

“Oh yeah, you guys are looking for Jesus, aren’t you? Yeah, he’s not here, he’s been raised. No big deal, really. No, not a Walking Dead scenario, trust me….but, you know, just the whole world order turned on its head … But seriously, ladies, don’t be alarmed!”

Well, let’s just say that the two Maries and Salome did exactly what they should have done in that type of situation. They backed away slowly…and they got the heck out of there.

Because, really, if we’re really honest with ourselves—99 percent of the time, that’s what we’d do too. You see, this story has been told so often, we’ve heard it so many times that we seem to think its normal. Jesus dies on the cross, and he comes back. Yes, that’s the way it is.

But, I don’t think for a minute that any of us, myself included, really grasp the true significance of what this story is telling. I don’t know if we’re really ready to confront resurrection in its fullness.

How often do we hold onto our old ways of doing things? How often do we hold onto bitterness, anger, doubt, insecurity—really because it’s the path of least resistance? It’s often more fun to have enemies rather than do the hard work of reconciliation. It’s safer to assume that that body will stay in that tomb, because that’s what we’re used to.

In our heart of hearts, we are not prepared for the new reality that God confronts us with on this Easter.

But neither were those women. The story ends with them running away in fear, as if frozen in time at the top of that roller coaster. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

But here’s the thing—in spite of all the obstacles in the way, in spite of our fears and our reluctance, our callous hearts and stubborn minds, in spite of the fact that we run, God always finds away. The word always gets out.

It did on that first Easter and it does so today.

God’s love and mercy transforms us, even though we are flawed and broken. You don’t have to be a perfect, cookie-cutter Christian to experience God’s affirming love. You don’t have know the Bible by heart, or pray for hours on end, or come to church every Sunday.

Because like the first witnesses of the resurrection, we too are a little terrified, standing on the threshold of something totally new, totally unexpected. We too are filled with the awe and wonder with what God has done and what God continues to do in our lives.

Every single one of you has been touched in some way by resurrection, by the new life and wonder that we see in Jesus. You are here because somewhere down the road, you encountered the Risen Lord—whether that was through a loved one, or the pages of scripture, or some chance encounter with a stranger.

And for those of you here for the first time, I invite you to stay with us, to join us as we wrestle with both our fear and amazement, our questions and our doubts. As we lift up one another in both grief and celebration. And as we experience together the unbridled joy…and the holy panic that comes when we place our lives totally in God’s hands.

The moment on the top of that track is a white-knuckle experience. Peering into the empty tomb of our lives and our world can be exhilarating all the same. When we feel that rush, we feel alive…because we don’t know what’s going to be around the bend, we don’t know what surprises God has in store.

Whenever God gets involved, the rules are changed. The expected need not apply. The word gets out—Love has won. Peace has won. Beauty has won. Hope has won. Life has won.

Because Christ is risen. Amen.