April 16, 2006
"Cross Eyed: Triumph"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Mark was three years old when his pet lizard died. Since it was her grandson's first brush with death, Grandma suggested that Mark and an older boy in the family hold a "funeral" for the lizard. Grandma explained what a funeral was: a ceremony where you say a prayer, sing a song, and bury your loved one.
Grandma even provided a shoe box and a burial place in the backyard. The boys thought it was a great idea, so they all proceeded to the backyard. Taking the lead, the older boy said a prayer. Then he turned and asked little Mark if he wouldn't like to sing a song. With tears in his eyes, Mark clasped his hands, bowed his head, and belted out "Hit the Road, Jack." by Ray Charles. (1)
That's exactly what Pilate, Herod, the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadduccees, Caiaphas, Ananias and everyone else who had plotted the death of Jesus was singing on Friday. That was their fondest wish. "Hit the road Jesus and don't you come back no more."
They wanted Jesus gone. They wanted Him out of their lives forever. So, they nailed him to a cross and watched him die. Then they sealed him in a tomb and walked away singing to themselves: "and don't you come back no more." They were through. Pilate had washed his hands of the whole affair. Everyone else returned to their places and it was business as usual.
But IT WASN'T WAS IT?
Sure, the day started in darkness but it ended in light. It started in despair but it ended in hope. It started with Tragedy but ended in Triumph. A Cross Eyed: Triumph that shines forth from the Empty Tomb even today. As we continue our journey of Cross Eyed: Faith by focusing on and through the cross, we celebrate a day of Cross Eyed: Triumph.
Look at the Passage. John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
 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 homes.
 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.
Can you imagine how surprised the disciples must have been? It had to be a Gomer Pyle moment, "Surprise, surprise, surprise."
A. Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle Washington, in a sermon titled Astonished and Astounded writes: "There are certain times in life when the word, surprised, is not enough. You need bigger words. On Easter morning, we need stronger words, a constellation of powerful words like astonished and astounded, dazzled and dumbfounded, awestruck and amazed."
The event that day, when the stone was rolled away was so incredible our language can't even begin to encompass the true meaning of that day. We've been trying for 2,000 years. Imagine that, 2,000 Sundays to try and explain what happened that first Easter day. Think of all the pulpits from which that message has been proclaimed. And yet, it still astounds us. It still amazes us.
When the disciples heard Mary's incredible story, they ran as fast as they could to the tomb. They stooped down and looked in. And there they saw the burial clothes lying there and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head rolled up in a place by itself. And they believed.
This morning we come from all kinds of places with all kinds of needs and desires, with all kinds of fears and burdens. Some of us have come running and we're out of breath. Some of us have come because we've been drug here by family or friends or by the force of some need in our lives. Some of us have come because this is what you do on Easter Sunday.
Some of us come seeking hope in a seemingly hopeless world. Some of us come simply to be reminded. But whatever the reason, God wants us to stoop down and look into the empty tomb just like John did. God wants us to stoop down, look in and believe.
It doesn't make any difference what we thought when we first got here. It doesn't make any difference if we don't recognize the Risen Christ at first like Mary. What matters is that we let His light illuminate the tomb so we can see that it is empty. And because the tomb is empty our lives can be full. Because the tomb is empty our lives can be full.
Full of Grace. Full of mercy. Full of love. Full of the knowledge that no matter what we have done, the Son of God offers us forgiveness rather than condemnation; hope rather than despair; and life eternal rather than death. We might have come empty today but we'll leave full. If we stoop, look into the empty tomb and believe
B. Now I have to warn you, there are a lot of things in the world to distract us from the Triumph, power and joy of this day. There are the physical things that would have us focus on them, rather than our faith. There are relationship that would distract us from our primary relationship with God.
And there are lots of other ideas and theologies which the world throws at us to distract us from the hope and the promise of this day. Some of those ideas and theologies were rejected by the early church because they didn't mesh with what the gospels or the eye witnesses revealed about the life and ministry of Jesus. Or they were rejected because they denied the basic teachings both of and about Jesus.
For example here's Mary Magdalene, this is the same Mary who appears as Jesus wife and lover in both Nikos Kazanzakis The Last Temptation of Christ and Dan Brown's DaVinci Code. Both are great novels. Both are great works of fiction. Both authors used ancient gnostic gospels as sources for their ideas. Do you know what the gnostics believed? Or why the church rejected their versions of the gospel?
It's really quite simple. First off, the books that contain these stories of Jesus and Mary, and even the now popular Gospel of Judas, that's in the news, were all written forty or fifty years after the latest date given by scholars to the writing of the actual Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
That's a pretty good reason. But not the only reason. The main reason is that the Gnostics believed that, while Jesus was the Son of God, and completely God, He only APPEARED to be human. They denied the Incarnation. The denied that Jesus was both God and human at the same time.
Jesus only appearing to be human meant he didn't really eat or sleep. He didn't really leave footprints when He walked. He didn't really know what it was like to be one of us.
And to top it off, they believed that Jesus didn't really die on the cross. He only appeared to die on the cross, so we would believe. And He wasn't really buried because He wasn't really dead. And because He wasn't really dead; He didn't really rise from the dead.
I don't know about you, but in my mind, that's an awful lot of "wasn't and didn't reallys" for someone to swallow and still maintain their belief in Christ as the Savior. Besides that, it doesn't really match up with what the other Gospel writers and people like Paul and Peter, James and John all have to say as eye witnesses.
There are those who would claim that the church has perpetrated some secret cover up of the true events of that day. The only cover up was put out by the perpetrators of Jesus' death. If you'll look at Matthew 28:11-15 (NRSV)
Basically it says, the guards scattered, a few of them went and told the high priests everything, who called a meeting and came up with a plan: They bribed the soldiers and told them to tell everyone "Jesus' disciples came during the night and stole his body while we were asleep." Don't worry about getting in trouble for sleeping on duty, we'll square that with the governor. The soldiers took the bribe and that cooked up story is still going around today.
But we believe and know differently don't we? We're here because we believe and know differently.
A. Well, So What? Does it really make any difference. Absolutely, or you wouldn't be here. It makes a great deal of difference.
You see, we live in a Good Friday world, a world filled with suffering, anguish, pain, sorrow, sin and death. It gets played out around us every single day. Sometimes it gets played out in our own lives. That's why the message of Easter is so important. It reminds us that we're Resurrection People, People of the Rolled Stone, People of the Empty Tomb. We are Easter People.
Easter reminds us that Good Friday doesn't have the last word. God has the last Word and that Word is Jesus. Jesus raised from the Dead, with the promise of eternal life for all who follow Him.
Jesus, full of hope.
Jesus who through God's Holy Spirit, wraps us in God's Love, Mercy and Grace.
Jesus, whose strength fills us and fuels our souls.
Jesus who walks with us and even carries us, if need be, when we go through that valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus who gave His life for us so we could experience the weightlessness of forgiveness and both the joy and hope of resurrection.
B. In the movie, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the Great Lion Aslan sacrifices himself so, Edmund, one of the sons of Adam, might live. It's dawn. Morning is coming. Lucy and Susan, Edmund's sisters have spent the night crying over the dead body of Aslan.
As the dawn begins to break, Lucy notices mice all over Aslan's body. Susan reacts with revulsion, but Lucy sees that the mice are gnawing at the ropes the White Witch used to bind Aslan. Eventually the mice cut through the ropes and they fall away.
Finally, when they can cry no more, Susan tells Lucy that they should go. Lucy says, "I'm so cold."
They get up and walk away, but suddenly there is an earthquake and a terrible cracking sound. The girls turn around and see the Stone Table broken in two and Aslan's body nowhere to be seen. They are confused. They want to know what has happened. As the sun rises in the east, they look up, and suddenly, with the rays of the rising sun glittering in his mane, Aslan emerges, resurrected.
The girls are overcome with joy, they shout out his name. Aslan comes down to greet them they're all laughing. But practical Susan has to ask, "But we saw the knife, the Witch..." But Aslan interrupts, "If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she may have interpreted the Deep Magic differently. When a willing victim, who has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor's stead, the Stone Table will crack and even death, itself, will turn backwards."
Susan tells Aslan that they'd sent word of his death to Peter and Edmund who've gone to war. Aslan says he'll help, but that they won't go alone. He has the girls climb on his back, they'll have to ride. And just before he leaps into action, he tells them to cover their ears and he lets out a tremendous roar.
In real life, I don't think it was a mighty roar that the world heard. It don't think it was a shout of joy or the Hallelujah chorus. I think what the world heard and felt was the deep rumble and thunder of God's laughter. It may have even been the laughter that rolled the stone away. I think God laughed because the joke was on sin and death. They were defeated. They were defeated and they still don't know it.
They want us to live in Good Friday when we're the Easter People, the people of a Cross Eyed: Triumph. And that's the difference it makes. The Tomb no longer frightens us. For we have been forgiven and we have be given the promise of eternal life. And once you've experienced the weightlessness of forgiveness you can face anything.
Chris Moretz decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina alone at home. After the worst of the storm had passed, his house was flooded and destroyed. Chris needed to let his family know that he was still alive. But they were in Tucson, Arizona, and there was no way for him to contact them. So Chris painted the message on the roof of his home: "C. MORETZ IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON." Also included was the phone number of Chris's brother, Gerard.
Gerard said, "Going 36 hours not knowing if he was OK puts things in perspective. As those hours passed, I certainly saw many images on the news that were very disturbing. Unfortunately, you tend to imagine scenarios that don't have a happy ending. You're trying to balance that with being hopeful."
Some hours passed, but then Chris' rooftop message was shown on TV and posted on some web sites. Chris' family began getting phone calls from all over the country telling them Chris was alive. (2)
We live in a Good Friday World but we are the Easter People. We look at the world Cross Eyed with Triumph in our eyes. Through the Cross of Christ we see a world which is illuminated by the light shining forth from the Empty Tomb.
For the early church the message was simple, "JESUS IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON." For us the message is the same, "JESUS IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON."
Live your Cross Eyed: Faith. Live the Cross Eyed: Triumph of this day. Wrap yourself in the weightlessness of your forgiveness and the hope of resurrection. Wrap yourself in the Grace and Love of God. Be the Easter People. "JESUS IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON."
1. Lois Wyse, YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE WHAT MY GRANDCHILD . . . (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994).
3. www.SermonNews.com, USA TODAY "Desperate message triggers calls from across USA" , 08-31-2005, Emily Bazar
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