I am at Dover UMC this Easter morning. (Location of church) The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 10: 34 – 43; 1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 26; and John 20: 1 – 19.
This message was a little different in that it was presented by Nathaniel Bartholomew and Sarah, the woman at the well. Sarah’s parts are in italics; Nathaniel’s parts are in regular print. My thanks to Kathleen Meyerson of the First UMC in Brewster for assisting in this presentation and service this morning.
This is a conversation across the ages. Though spoken by individuals who lived two thousand years ago, these are words spoken across time.
It is just before sunrise that first Easter morning. Outside Jerusalem a lone man sits under a fig tree. It is Nathaniel Bartholomew, one of the twelve disciples, and though we cannot see him clearly, it is clear that he has been crying. As we come closer, we hear him say,
What was I thinking three years ago? How could I have been so foolish as to think that He was the Messiah? Have I wasted these past three years? Why didn’t I just go to rabbinical school like I had planned?
Speaking to the congregation, Nathaniel says, “Two days ago, the Roman authorities, under the insistence of the High Priest and scribes, arrested my teacher and friend, Jesus. We, those called the disciples, believed in our hearts and minds that He was truly the Messiah. Because of what He taught us, what He said and what He did, there was no doubt that He was the Messiah, He was the Christ.”
But now He is dead and I am afraid that the religious and political authorities will be looking for us. Even with Jesus dead and in a guarded tomb, we are still a threat to them.
They are already calling us crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. They have accused us of undermining their authority by saying that we needed to put God before kings and emperors. They have even started rumors that we will steal Jesus’ body from the tomb to make some obscure prophecy come true. No doubt, they will start some sort of rumor that has us destroying traditional family values, of turning child against parent and brother and sister against brother and sister.
I don’t know what they think we will do. They put armed guards in front of the stone and if those guards should fail, they will be severely punished. And no Roman soldier likes to be punished. How could we steal the body? We have no army; we have no weapons. We have nothing; we left everything, our friends, our families, our homes to follow Jesus.
As Nathaniel sits and stares out to the sunrise, a woman enters.
Excuse me, sir, but aren’t you one of the twelve that followed Jesus of Nazareth?
Yes, I am. You look familiar; do I know you?
I think you might. I am Sarah and I met your teacher when you all passed through Samaria. I had come to Jerusalem because I had heard that He was going to be here and I just had to thank Him for what He meant to me.
Oh, yes, I remember you. And I remember that day. But I am afraid that you are too late. Jesus was arrested three days ago and executed two days ago. You best not be seen with me. I fear that they will take you as one of his followers and we are not very popular right now.
But, sir, haven’t you heard? He didn’t die. The message is not dead. Don’t you remember that I was one of those who was hated and despised? Do you think that I would have sought him out this day if He hadn’t changed my life?
Sarah gets up from sitting by Nathaniel and speaks to the congregation, “Remember how needy I was, looking for that feeling of being loved but never being able to find it. I had had five husbands and was living with another man and yet all that managed to do was ostracize me from my own community.”
“Then I met this man, a Jew, the one you call Jesus. He spoke to me though I was a Samaritan woman and I had come to the well alone. It is customary that only family members could address an unaccompanied woman in a public place. But as we talked he acknowledged that I was a part of His family. He knew all about me and then he offered me the water of eternal life.”
“It was almost too much to take in. I didn’t dare believe that this could be the Messiah accepting “me”, this lowly Samaritan woman living in sin. The Lord was inviting me to be a part of His Holy Family for ever. I wanted to believe, but how could it be. I was too unsure of myself so I ran back to the village in order to get confirmation that this was really happening to me.”
“I told those friends that I had seen Jesus and then they told others and we all went back to Jesus, the Messiah, and He taught and preached for three days.”
“I now know who I truly am, a loved daughter of God. Nothing said or done could ever again separate me from the love of my Father.”
“Yes, they crucified Jesus. But He has risen and His Resurrection has prepared the way for all of us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. All of us, think about that. It’s as real today as it was when I met Jesus at the well.”
How many times did we watch and see how such a brief encounter with Jesus would change the life of someone? Even though it changed the lives of the disciples, it never occurred to them that they could or would now be charged with the same task.
In part that was because the disciples and the early followers saw society as others saw society. It was a society that sorted and separated people by an elaborate system of purity codes. These purity codes created no-trespassing zones of untouchability that had particular impact on the chronically ill, the disfigured or handicapped, on women, on foreigners and those of different ethnic groups and origins. Anyone with an unorthodox or questionable lifestyle was also on the wrong side of the boundary lines created by these codes.
Through these codes the religious and political authorities sought to control the minds and bodies of the people. It always seemed that many individuals were one step away from being driven from their home, declared an outcast or told that because of some obscure violation of the religious law, they would not enter heaven.
Crucifixion was a punishment, not just for the victim, but for all of society. It was a reminder of what would happen if one questioned political authority.
As long as one stayed within the boundaries, one was fine. But it was often difficult to tell where the boundaries were or even what the boundaries were.
But the Resurrection changed all of that. In a world that saw death as the final defeat, Christ defeated death. He let the authorities do their worst and, by the power of God’s love and truth, vanquished those who sought to defeat Him.
In defeating death, Christ unmasked the illusions of the powerful, exposed their lies and showed them for what they truly were then and are still today.
With the Resurrection, those who follow Christ do not live in fear; it is those who would have used fear as a weapon who now live in fear.
The Resurrection offers a new vision of the world. It is a vision that says God’s love and truth are more powerful than any fear can ever be.
The world today in 2010 is not that much different from the world of that First Easter. It is a world of increasing economic hardship and diminishing resources. It is a world divided by race, creed, lifestyle and economic status. It is a world where violence, both domestic and foreign, seems to increase every day.
It is a world in which the word Christian has become synonymous with hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, and conspicuous consumption. There are those today who will say that the Resurrection never occurred or that is was a hoax or a conspiracy.
It is a world where an individual can feel powerless and helpless. Many times, they turn to those who offer fear, who say that the answer is found in hatred and violence, in powerful armies and fences and walls around the countries, in keeping those not like us outside and keeping God for themselves. But it is the same fear that the religious and political authorities used to kill Christ.
We have felt every emotion that the disciples and first followers felt that First Easter. We have felt the joy of Palm Sunday, the confusion and shock of Maundy Thursday, and the sorrow of Good Friday. We have felt that fear of Peter when he denied Christ three times. We have been uncertain about the presence of Christ in our lives, just as Thomas would express his own uncertainty. And people today wonder, just as so many wondered two thousand years ago, if any good could ever come out of Nazareth.
But the Resurrection changed all that; it gave Light to a world of darkness. In this New Light, the gloom would be driven away and bring a new sense of hope to the disciples and the early church.
No longer would they cower in fear. Instead they would hear the words of Christ and go out into the world.
First Mary Magdalene and then Peter and John would tell us that the tomb was empty. Later that day, the First Easter, as we gathered together, Jesus would appear to us. Seeing Him that night would only confirm what the thoughts in our mind told us were true.
And Jesus would tell us to go and tell others. We didn’t have a story written down then but we didn’t need one. It was a story that we saw take place; it was a story that we lived and which lived in our hearts and our minds.
We knew that Christ was alive and that is and was the story that we would tell from that day on. It is the story that we bring to you today.
It is a story of hope instead of fear. It is a story that fear cannot stop; it is a story that can stop fear; it is a story of love and inclusion rather than hatred and exclusion. It is a story that brings people into the kingdom, not prevent them from entering.
We live in a world that will not always accept this story. They want to see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and the wound in his side. But to demand proof that cannot be supplied is to ask for a God that works in a world of fear and earthly power, in which salvation is found in ritual and law.
With the Resurrection comes a new life, in and with Christ, not of Christ. It is a life lived as proof, not merely spoken of as something that happened two thousand years ago.
This was a conversation that began two thousand years ago It is a conversation that continues to this day and will continue as long as there are believers to tell the story. It begins today as it began two thousand years ago.
Together THE TOMB IS EMPTY! CHRIST HAS RISEN! CHRIST LIVES, NOW AND FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS, OUR MINDS, AND OUR SOULS.