Early on a Sunday morning, just as the sun is about to rise, a group of women go to the tomb of their friend to anoint his body. They go to pay homage to the one they call Teacher. They go to grieve and to begin the process of healing their souls. But, of course, they arrive on that first Easter morning to find an empty tomb. The stone rolled away. The body of their friend gone. They stand there a moment frozen with fear, when suddenly two angelic figures appear and announce that Jesus is risen from the dead just as he said he would. The women rush back into the city of Jerusalem, they find the other disciples and the women declare everything that they have seen and heard.
Now I want you to notice what does not happen next. The disciples do not say, “Wow, this is amazing news! This is the beginning of movement that will change the course of human history?” They do not say, “Let’s get ourselves organized and make sure we have a plan for how we are going to share this good news with the world.” They do not say, “Let’s form a committee, start a capital campaign, and build the first church right here in Jerusalem.” They do not say or do any of those things, because they do not believe. They think the testimony of the women is simply an idle tale!
My friends, on that first Easter morning, the first proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ was met with skepticism, disbelief, and confusion.
And guess what? Not much has changed in 2,000 years. For many people in our world today, any talk about God or the church or religiosity in any form is often met with skepticism, disbelief, and confusion. It’s not that people don’t want to believe or that they don’t believe anything. It’s that they have hard time reconciling the truth of the resurrection with the reality of their lives and the reality of the world in which we live. Because, let’s face it, when we look at world around us, we see war and violence. We see division and animosity even within families. We see sickness, disease, and death. And so, it’s hard for a lot of people to believe the Easter proclamation that the powers of darkness have been dispelled and the power of death has been defeated. It’s hard to believe in the promise of resurrection, when so much of what is happening around us seems to be pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Just as with the disciples 2,000 years ago, there is more than enough skepticism, disbelief, and confusion to go around.
So, if we go back to the story of that first Easter day what was it that brought those first disciples from a place of skepticism and disbelief to a place of acceptance and belief? What happened for them? What made the difference? Well, to put it simply, they had to go and see for themselves. Peter is the first one to go and run to the tomb to see for himself with his own eyes that all of this was true.
Now you might be thinking this is just about men being men. They’re not going to believe the testimony of these emotional women. The men need to go and check things out for themselves. They need proof. They need to remain in the control of the situation. And, sadly, I think there very well may be some of that going on in this story. But I think there is something much deeper going on as well. You see, the women had an experience. And it was their experience that gave birth to belief. It was their experience that allowed them to embrace this new reality. It was their experience that began to change them from the inside out.
And so, no matter how powerful and compelling the testimony of the women must have been, for the other disciples, the story was not enough. They needed an experience. For Peter, when he ran and saw for himself that tomb was empty, all of sudden, the news of the resurrection was no longer just information, it was now revelation. This news of the resurrection was no longer just an event, it was now an encounter. The news of the resurrection was no longer just a doctrine, it was now an experience. And it changed his life.
In the church today, I think we are often heavy on information, events, and doctrine and light on revelation, encounter, and experience. And yet those are very things that people are searching for. Programs and events, information and teaching are all important, but people are longing for an experience. They are longing for an encounter with something real and true, something that has the capacity and the power to change their lives.
Many of you know that I grew up in the church. In fact, I was probably the churchiest kid you’ve ever met. I sang in the youth choir. I volunteered at church dinners. I was a trainer of master acolytes. And I had portions of the Book of Common Prayer memorized at the age of nine. (Which is probably why I didn’t have many friends.)
But the fact that I was immersed in the life of the church, did not mean that I was immune to skepticism, disbelief, and confusion. Because it doesn’t matter who you are, we all struggle and wrestle from time to time when it comes to walking the walk of faith. When I was a freshman in college, I made an appointment with a priest to talk about my struggle. We went for a walk, and I shared about my doubts, my fears, and my confusion. I remember sharing my desire that God would become real in my life. The priest offered some very wise advice and prayed with me, but I didn’t really feel like anything had changed. Until later that day. I was helping to lead a youth retreat, and we were singing some songs. Now there was nothing particularly special about that day. The music was not particularly moving. There was no high-powered preacher. Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever. But when I closed my eyes, I saw Jesus. The resurrected Jesus, full of life and power, full of unconditional love, full of grace and truth. And the presence and power of the Risen Christ washed over me and filled me in such a way that it is still with me even now as I stand before you. I can’t explain to you what happened in that moment, but it was as real as each of you sitting here in front of me today.
Now I share all of that with you, because that was the time in my life when the news of the resurrection was no longer just information, it became revelation. It was no longer just an event, it became an encounter. It was no longer just a doctrine, it became an experience. Now were skepticism, disbelief, and confusion dispelled for good? Of course, not. There are always new struggles and new challenges. But there are also new encounters and new experiences of God’s grace and power and love.
And so, this morning, my prayer for you this Easter is that you will have an experience of the power of the resurrection in your life. In the midst of all the struggles that we face. The challenges of financial uncertainty and broken relationships. The burdens of depression, disappointment, and disillusionment. The hurdles of anger, anxiety, and addiction. In the midst of all of that is going on in our world today. May you have an experience of God’s promise to make all things new. May you have an encounter with God’s love. that by the power of the resurrection, God will become real in your life. And when God becomes real in your life, nothing is ever the same again. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!