April 21, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Christ is Risen, Almost"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118, Acts 10:34-43, Luke 24:1-12

These words seemed to them an idle tale.

On Wednesday of this week, I was walking across the parking lot at Lowes and I saw someone I hadn’t seen for a while.  I was excited to see her, so I called out, “Christ is risen!” to which she responded, “Christ is risen, indeed!”  And then, at nearly the same moment, we both added “Almost!”

“Christ is risen, almost!”  What my friend and I meant as we greeted each other in the parking lot was “Easter is on the horizon!”  It was Holy Week and the end of Lent was in sight.  But it wasn’t Easter yet.  We still had to get through the betrayal of Gethsemane and the agony of the cross before we could celebrate the joy of the resurrection.  There is no Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  So, on Wednesday of this week, the best we could do is say, “Christ is risen, almost!”

“Christ is risen, almost!” seems like a good title for our gospel reading this morning.  We all gathered here today to celebrate the resurrection, yet no where in this reading do we encounter the risen Christ.  There is the empty tomb and those two mysterious men in dazzling clothes, who ask the women, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he is risen.”   But the women run in terror from the tomb and, when they tell the disciples what they had seen, the disciples don’t believe them.  “You’ve been inhaling too much of that myrrh,” you can hear them saying.  Peter wants to see for himself; but he does exactly what the two dazzling men say not to do – he goes looking for the living among the dead.  He runs to the tomb and sees that it’s empty.  So, then he goes home and that’s that.

Fortunately, the Gospel of Luke and the story of the resurrection doesn’t end at this point.  The risen Christ does appear to the disciples later in the Gospel.  He appears to two disciples who are on the road, making the ten-mile trek from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus.  Their faces are downcast with grief and their eyes are filled with tears, so at first they don’t recognize Jesus.  But when he sits at the table and breaks bread with them, then their eyes are opened, and they see the living Christ.  Then Jesus appears to the other disciples and again he eats with them and he shows them the wounds in his hands and his side.  And each time Jesus appears, he repeats the words of the two men in the tomb, “Do you not understand that the Son of Man must suffer, and then enter into his glory?”

I think the point the Gospel of Luke is making is this: for Christ, suffering was a necessary step in reconciling God and humanity.  God in Christ experienced the fullness of human suffering.  But beyond suffering there is life.  Ultimately God is a God of life, a God who rescues from death.  So, we encounter the living Christ, not in an empty tomb, but in the world, on the road, and when we break bread together.

“Christ is risen, almost!” is a good description for how our world experiences the resurrection.  There is still suffering in our world and everyone of us is aware of it.  Easter doesn’t rescue us from suffering.  So, the word “almost” seems like a necessary qualifier to our Easter joy.  And to a world that has become so jaded and so cynical that hope seems like a foolish venture, the message of the resurrection does seem like an idle tale… something to ignore… don’t get your hopes up… better to be realistic.

If that’s how your feeling, I urge you to take seriously the words of the two dazzling men.  Don’t look for the living among the dead.  Be open to the possibility that the risen Christ will appear to you in the world as you go about your life.

This past week, I encountered the risen Christ in all the worship services I attended.  Every year, on Tuesday of Holy Week, the Lutheran pastors in Southeastern Pennsylvania gather to renew their ordination vows.  While my colleagues and I were sharing the Lord’s Supper we sang to each other the words of Christ to his disciples: eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry; eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.  As I heard these words coming out of the mouths of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I was acutely aware that I was hearing the voice of the living Christ.  Christ is alive in these people whom I love and was speaking to me through them.

And then in this congregation, when we gathered on Maundy Thursday to wash each other’s feet, I saw the hands of the living Christ holding the feet of our congregation, washing them, caring for them, loving them.  And on Good Friday, when one of our members became ill during the noon service, I saw the living Christ reach out to comfort her.  Christ ran to get her a cold towel for her forehead, Christ called the paramedics, Christ spoke words of assurance to her.

I see the living Christ in Upper Darby.  It’s important to note that the resurrection is not just for individuals; it’s for communities.  In Isaiah, when God says that God is about to do a new thing, the new thing that God plans to do is to resurrect a city – Jerusalem – a city that had been destroyed by war, whose people had been carried away as slaves.  God planned to resurrect Jerusalem, to gather its people together and make it a living community once again.  I see the resurrected Christ in this community, whose diverse population embodies the diversity of the Kingdom of God.  When voices in our society say no to immigration and no to refugees, here we have a community that is being made alive by the people who are gathering here from all over the world.  I saw the risen Christ here in Upper Darby during the week following the massacre at the mosque in New Zealand.  At a candlelight vigil, Christians, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and non-believers gathered in front of the mosque on 69th Street to show solidarity to our Muslim neighbors, to show that love is stronger than hate and life is stronger than death.

Christ is risen!  Not almost… Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Christ Lutheran Community Church

Christ Lutheran Community Church