by Rev. Doug Gray
On the very first Easter Sunday, some soldiers were in trouble: Jesus was missing from his tomb, and everyone thought they did it. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the soldiers were paid off by the priests to blame the empty tomb on the followers of Jesus. These followers knew Jesus was missing already, but not because they had taken the body—a group of them went to the tomb at daybreak and found it empty, others ran to the tomb to doublecheck, and finally, two of Jesus’ followers had actually met Jesus on the road as they walked sadly to another town. When they realized it was Jesus, they headed back (perhaps in the dark) to see the other disciples. They tell their weird story to everyone.
A blonde once went up to a woman on the street and asked, “Excuse me, what time is it right now?” The woman responded, “It’s 11:25 a.m.” The blonde looked confused. She said, “You know, it’s the weirdest thing, I’ve asked that question thirty times today, and everybody gives me a different answer.” Whenever someone asks me what time it is, I not only tell them the time, but I realize how far behind I always seem to be. Maybe you know what that’s like—every day you start with great plans for all you are going to do, and every day you look back and think, “Where did the time go?” In his book, Undone by Easter, the great preacher, Will Willimon writes, “Humanity is that species for whom the past vanishes, the present is an enigma, and the future is unknown. We literally don’t have time. Time has us.” We live moment by moment, but as soon as we have a moment, it’s gone. And we know that all our moments will one day run out, that there will be a moment which will be our last. We will literally run out of time.
Maybe that’s part of why I find Jesus so weird, and so fascinating. Willimon continues, “Only God has a beyond. Only God can do something about our human problem with time. When the Word was made flesh, eternity took time, defeated time’s futility.” Does anybody else think this is weird? The God Who made time, Who is beyond time, comes into time, to take time for us! Wow! Jesus does three things that help them get beyond the strangeness to the person, and these three things can help us too.
First, Jesus says in effect, “Check me out!” You and I sometimes have questions and doubts about God. Maybe some of you here today have lots of questions and doubts about Jesus. That’s good! Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t get after His students for their questions and doubts? Instead, Jesus says to the disciples, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” For the disciples in that room, they had known Jesus physically—touched Him, talked with Him, laughed with Him, cried with Him—and they would know. But more importantly, Jesus had the scars to prove He was the one who died on the cross. If Jesus has really been beyond, then he could have any kind of body, including wiping out the scars. Instead, Jesus keeps the scars. When you check Jesus out, or any other spiritual path, look for the scars. No other religion has scars to show for their love. When we check Jesus out, His scars help us know we can step past the strangeness and come to Him—questions, doubts and all!
Second, Jesus says, “Do you have anything here to eat?” Ghostly images from beyond don’t need to eat. Jesus is for real, part of time with them, able to eat and digest food. Jesus is in effect saying, “See how I am in the world.” So when we are trying to get beyond the strange, we have to look around for Jesus around us. My constant prayer is that as you look at any me or any other member of this fellowship, that you will see people living out the way of love. We are not perfect at it—and neither is any other human being. Awhile back, I had a woman who was a first-time guest, along with her family. As the woman greeted me at the back of the church, she said how much she and her family enjoyed worship with us. Then she said, “It’s so nice to be in a church where people are real…not like the last church we were at. They were a bunch of hypocrites.” I looked her in the eye. I said, “Well I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that we try to act like Jesus as much as we can. The bad news is that we’re a bunch of hypocrites too.” We all fail, don’t we?—to live completely as Jesus did, to love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves? So if you have been hurt by Christians in the past—me too!—I have good news for you! We’re not perfect, but God’s still working on us! By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you can find the real Jesus all around—a young woman giving up her summer break to work as a volunteer for a homeless shelter, an older man fixing things up for his neighbor, a child climbing into the lap of a grieving adult, someone opening their home to a troubled teen, another person listening to the darkness of another’s soul and embracing them with the light they’ve been given. Jesus is all around us in those who are trying. When Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” He is saying, “I am part of the world with you.” Look around!
Finally, “Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” When I was in college, every so often I would sidle up and stand in front of my friend and lean gently on their monitor. I’d chat with my friend for a little bit, and while we were chatting I would quietly unplug their keyboard. When we were done talking, I would walk away and they would be pounding on their keyboard trying to figure out why nothing was working. Sometimes I feel like that in my own life. I’m going along just fine in my day, and then it seems that things stop working. Why is that? I’m pounding on my life, and nothing happens. Often the problem is that I’m not plugged into God’s Word, not plugged into what God wants to say in my life. The beautiful thing about knowing Jesus is that our eyes are opened to understanding what the Bible says. Part of the reason we do Bible study together is that God opens each of our minds in different ways, and through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice, it all starts to make sense.
If this were all to it, then following Jesus would be like all the other religions—believe in someone and do good. What’s different is that Jesus didn’t just offer us some nice, moral teaching—Jesus died for each of us, Jesus rose for us. That’s what Easter is about. The One Who came from beyond time gave up forever on the cross—and so broke the two things that trap us the most—death and time. By the power of God, Jesus rose from the dead so that we could have a beyond too. Easter is not about believing a teaching, but meeting a person. The disciples had doubts that Easter evening, but they knew who was in the room. Amid all the doubts you may have, I invite you to meet the One in the room with us now, Jesus the Risen Lord! In Him, we not only have a beyond to this life, but we have a power and trust and peace and hope that are beyond ourselves in this life. Willimon writes, “We are thereby encouraged not to escape time…but rather to live in time as those who know what time it really is.” What time is it? It’s time for an answer that will not change—in your life and mine, it’s time for Jesus to rise again! He is risen!