In the Name...
He rose from rural obscurity to impact his nation. Crowds gathered wherever he went. Religious leaders denounced him. His values threatened the established culture, yet, there was a sense that a new era had begun with him. But, he met a tragic death. His abused body was laid to rest. Those devoted to him were lost in grief. Then, suddenly, strange reports began to spread. People said that they had seen him, first in one place, and then another. Great news! He was still alive!
Who was this man, who made such an impact, died before his time, yet was reported to live? Who else but, Elvis Aron Presley!
Hey, did I say anything that was not true? Wasn't he popular and controversial? And don't stories circulate that he's still around? Just the facts.
But, seriously. I mean, I don't believe for a moment that Elvis is alive, and I hope that none of you do either. But, these so-called appearances could be a problem for us. What difference, can we say, is there between a risen Elvis and a risen Jesus? Is the Man from Mississippi on a par with the Man from Galilee? Is it intellectually honest to dismiss the Elvis stories, yet, keep the Jesus story?
Fortunately, the answers to these questions can be found when we consider, not the Easter story, but, the Easter experience. Not the Easter story, but, the Easter experience.
In the first place, on Easter morning, the tomb of Jesus was found empty and, to this day, neither friend nor foe has produced the body. On the other hand, nobody suggests that Elvis’ tomb is empty. The best we hear is that an imposter is taking up the space.
And, nobody has ever claimed to have conversed with the Elvis who is sighted at cafes and gas stations. The few who say they've tried report he always shies away or keeps it brief. The risen Christ, however, encouraged the inspection of his wounds, ate and drank with his friends, and organized his followers.
Elvis-encounters leave people wondering, but, Jesus-encounters make people change. We see how this happened the very evening of Easter Day. The news of the morning was confusing, frightening. An empty tomb. Angels. Hysterical women. The terrified disciples were huddled behind locked doors. And then, Jesus appeared among them and said, "Peace be with you." Peace be with you.
Still marked by the wounds of the cross, the risen Christ appeared and filled his disciples with peace. And, then he commissions them to pass this gift on to others. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you". And, from that moment, in a sense, they were resurrected, as well. They burst out of the tomb of grief and self-pity. They had been cowardly and quarrelling. Now they became brave and united, ready to take on the world and conquer it. And, so, it has been for two thousand years. People continue to be transformed by the experience of the Risen Christ in their lives.
Think about it. Why do we believe Jesus rose from the dead? Because we read the book - or saw the movie? No. For the same reason the apostles did. Jesus has stood among us and we've heard him say, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you".
Every time we've offered a prayer, comforted or encouraged someone in distress, provided for someone's needs, or had someone provide for our needs, received comfort or encouragement in our distress, or had prayers offered for us, we have felt the presence and power of the living, Risen Christ.
Why, then, the popularity of these stories about a dead singer who cannot help us, who cannot change us, who cannot bring us peace?
Because rapid social and technological change has made many people's daily lives feel impersonal and unsatisfying. And, at the same time as secular community has weakened so too has the sense of belonging to a faith community. A few years ago, I had a young couple in their 20's tell me they were having trouble finding godparents for their daughter because nobody they knew belonged to a church. Nobody they knew. And this was in Texas!
But, people, deep down, have the need for a saviour-figure in their lives and if they don't have Jesus then they have to create one for themselves. At the end of the day, though, their lives remain untouched, unaided, unchanged, because an idol, by whatever name, is just that.
Each of us probably came to church today because we have met Jesus and we felt it was important to be here. But, Easter is not one day only, or even the church season that lasts for fifty days. Easter is a way of life. Easter is bringing people to Christ and his peace to people. Easter is showing that Christ is alive and well and living in us.
So, how and when do we show that Christ is risen, alive, and at work in our lives? Surprisingly, we often do it best when we feel like we can't or don't want to. When we feel like the disciples that first Easter Day, and want to lock our doors, the doors of our hearts, minds, tongues and hide from life. When we feel broken.
For, God makes great use of broken things. It takes broken soil to plant seeds, broken clouds to produce rain, broken grain to make bread, and it is in the sacrament of the breaking of bread that, like the disciples on the Emmaus road, we meet and recognize Jesus. Being broken, then, is not to be useless. It is the opportunity for resurrection.
Jesus himself is the Easter experience. His resurrection is not an idle tale for supermarket tabloids. It's not even just a fact. His resurrection is a force in the present and for the future. It's about forgiveness, transformation, restoration, and peace.
It's not about Graceland, but, it's about the Grace of God. And that is what and why we celebrate.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
In the Name...