Texts: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
It is this suspicion of ours, this inability to believe that news this good could ever be true, that crucified Jesus. The priests and Pharisees and religious leaders heard of a man who claimed to be the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, but instead of listening to him, they had him killed for blasphemy. What he claimed was simply too good to be true; it must be a lie. We couldn’t afford to take the chance that he was wrong.
Paul writes today to a group of early Christians who had expressed doubts about the truth of a literal resurrection of the dead. Like the disciples on Easter morning, resurrection seems to them too good to be true: an “idle tale,” a naive superstition dreamt up by some unsophisticated provincials over in Judea. Are we that different? How often do we read what is written in the pages of scripture and dismiss it as the product of ancient sensibilities that were not as knowledgeable or advanced as we are?
But Paul is not just passing on some “idle tale.” He writes, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died, [was buried, and] was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve… to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor 15.3-8) Paul is writing about a personal experience with the risen Christ, a moment in time where resurrection became a reality for him. To dismiss his testimony is to call him a liar, a fraud, an unsophisticated ancient, not versed in the ways of science.
It is perhaps because of this that we can no longer even agree on what truth is; we live in a world of alternate facts, where your truth is just as valid as my truth. If everything is equally true, nothing is true. Our failure to believe in the very idea of truth—any truth—is enough to drive us to helplessness and despair. We grasp at straws, looking for anything that can promise us stability, anything that can offer us hope—or the illusion of hope. We place our trust in weapons or in wealth; in social constructs and in powerful people—none of which truly have the power to deliver us from what we ultimately fear: death.
Paul writes about his own experience with the risen Christ to make the point not only that resurrection is true, but also that only the One who raised Jesus from the dead is capable of rescuing us from what we fear. He isn’t trying to found a new religion or be remembered throughout history; he is writing because he wants to offer us hope—true hope—which will not disappoint us. He wants us to know that this hope comes in “believing”—that is entrusting ourselves and our lives—to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection—and of our own.
For resurrection, you see, is about more than just life after death; it is about finding new meaning in our lives, about experiencing the abundance and fullness of life that our Creator has always intended for us, and which Jesus comes to offer us. It is about realizing that, with God’s help, we can and will survive those things that we can only imagine will destroy us: things like deep grief, or serious trauma, or rejection by a family or community. Resurrection is about recognizing all the false idols to which we turn, praying for safety or success, and seeing that true fulfillment can only be found in the good news that Jesus brings.
This is what Paul learned. He found that following Jesus—even when it meant suffering, pain, rejection, and ultimately death—gave his life new meaning. He was no longer living for himself, but for the siblings that God had given him. He experienced the fullness of life that comes only from living like Jesus did, giving himself for others in love rather than fearfully living only for himself. It was Paul’s experience with the risen Christ that helped him to see the world with new eyes, and that is that vision of the world that he is hoping to share with the Corinthian church.
The resurrection of Jesus is just the first glimpse of what God is even now bringing into being. He is the firstfruits, Paul writes; the down payment. The risen Christ is the first drop of rain before the flood of God’s justice and peace. Our celebration of Easter is not a denial of the very real power of death that is still so present all around us; instead, Easter is a hopeful proclamation that death’s power is coming to an end.
Our world is still ravaged by war, economic instability, political polarization, and climate change; we still struggle with broken relationships and grieve the deaths of those we love; but just as on Ash Wednesday we know that Easter is coming, so also on Easter we know that Jesus' return and God’s reign are coming. We may not know when or how, but we trust that the promise is true because the One who promises is faithful. He said he would rise from the dead—an impossible dream, too good to be true—and he kept that promise. Because the Crucified One lives, we know that not only will we share in his resurrection as he promised, but so will all people and all creation: just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Like the women who saw the empty tomb, we are witnesses to this good news: Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) As witnesses, we have been given new eyes to see the world: to see that the homeless man on the street corner begging for change, the politician spouting vitriol, even the terrorist with the suicide vest strapped to his chest are just frightened people like us, in desperate need of good news to save them from all the hopelessness and hate in which they are drowning every day—and we have been given just the message they need to hear: Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And he waits around every corner to show us the hidden reign of God that is even now breaking out of the ground to send up its first tender shoots.
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) This is no idle tale, no naive superstition, no false hope. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) and God’s never-ending reign of justice and peace is at hand. Our human sinfulness may bring death to the world, but Christ, the firstfruits of the grave, has come to bring life and immortality to light. He has come to destroy every ruler and every authority and power that lays claim to us, to reign until he has put all these enemies under his feet; and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
We will not be believed; we may not even believe it ourselves all the time. We are not asked to believe, but only to trust: to trust the One who created the earth and then was born into it; to trust the One who suffered death only to walk out of his tomb. We gather today to be reminded of this new life, of this news that is too good not to be true. We testify to one another so that we can testify to the world: Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) and because he lives, death has lost its sting.