"Shouts of Joy" Easter Sunday       Matthew 28:1-10, March 23, 2008
 
More and more, people are obsessed with death and the supernatural. Years ago, a movie came out called 'Ghost.' Not a spooky, grotesque ghost, but a beautiful love story with an attractive, life-like ghost.
 
Maybe you have noticed the increase of TV programs dealing with the supernatural the last few years. Programs like the X-Files and Ghost Whispers, not taking into account the numerous horror flicks shown at theatres.
 
However, if you want to get the shock of your life, don't look to the movies - look to the Resurrection. God terrifies people by destroying death. The first and dominant emotion of the witnesses to the Resurrection was fear, if not sheer terror.
 
Some might say that the Crucifixion is the true horror story. They certainly have a point: The death of Christ is a gruesome event. At noon on Good Friday, darkness comes over the whole land, and Jesus cries out from the cross,"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
 
At the moment of his death the curtain of the temple is torn in two, the earth shakes, and rocks are split. One of the soldiers pierces Jesus' side with a spear, and at once blood and water come out.

This is an agonizing, violent, bloody, dark and destructive episode. However, for sheer shock value, Easter morning has the crucifixion beat, hands down.

The Resurrection makes us scream in terror or shout for joy because it is so completely unexpected. Death by crucifixion was cruel but common, while the Resurrection is unique and frightening.

Think about it. On Resurrection morning:

• An earthquake strikes with incredible force.
• An angel looking like lightning in snow-white clothes throws away the tombstone.
• The guards shake violently and drop like dead.
• Tombs open, and the inhabitants awake and leave their tombs like dead men walking, and wander into the city (27:53).
• Jesus, who was dead, "suddenly" pops up in front of the visiting women and speaks to them! (28:9).
• The women who witnessed this were seized with "terror and amazement" says Mark (16:8).
 
Fear. "Do not be afraid." Fear and great joy. "Do not be afraid." What an emotional roller-coaster ride - certainly as many ups and downs as in any good thriller. Which of us would not be afraid if our world was turned upside down by the resurrection of a friend we knew was dead and gone? The Resurrection is scary because it shocks us with new and unexpected life. New life. Eternal life. That, of course, puts our earthly life into sharp focus.

The Resurrection unnerves us because it is a truly shocking tale. However, unlike ghost movies, this suspenseful Easter morning is the real deal. If you were to make a movie out of it, it should be a documentary. The Resurrection contains powerful proof of God's victory over death, not the subtle symbolism of so many horror movies.

What films have frightened you over the years? Jack Kroll writes in Newsweek "Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man are the unholy three of horror movies….Frankenstein's collage of body parts is the embodiment of man's arrogant desire to write his own book of Genesis. Frankenstein has new meaning in our age of genetic splicing and artificial intelligence.
 
Dracula is Death as seducer; he sucks our blood to take us to a perverse immortality. The Wolf Man wrenches us back to our supposed origins in the animal world of pure instinct, reversing evolution with its burden of consciousness and responsibility"(1)
 
These philosophical insights may be interesting, but in the Resurrection, we do not see any metaphors for the madness of humankind. Instead, we see simple proof that God has the power to raise the dead to new life. What can be more shocking?
 
The Gospel witnesses attest to the fact that Jesus' body was raised, not just his eternal Being. They touch him and hold him, verifying that Jesus was raised as a whole person, not as a metaphor of truth and goodness and immortality. The Resurrection is not an image of divine victory over death - instead, it is rock-hard evidence that God has won this battle. He has won the war for Jesus, and won it for us as well.

In fact, here is where the Resurrection parts company with horror films. In those movies, the horror is often that someone will not die (or, returns from the dead) to destroy the living. Jesus' resurrection from the dead was because he had defeated death. He returned so that we might live. Horror movies portray man's desire for life after death, but most horror movies portray those who came back from the dead as those who want to destroy the living.

Are we ready for new and eternal life? The prospect is scary because it means that our lives have eternal significance. Death can no longer be viewed as an escape, an end point, or an eraser for a lifetime of errors. But through the reality of resurrection life, we find that God moves us quickly from screams of shock to shouts of joy. He did it with the two Marys, and he can do it with us. New life might frighten us at first, but it quickly becomes a reason to shout for joy.


 
1.)        The first thing to shout about is that the Resurrection gives us power for living. As Christians, we now share the power of resurrection life, power that can support us through failures, firings, divorces, illnesses and even death. Easter shows us that there is always new life beyond the pain of loss, disappointment and death.

2.)        The Resurrection also makes us shout for joy because it leads us to a new place.
Jesus wants us to have a joyful future - as individuals and as a church - and tells us not to fear, because he is with us always.
 
Moreover, in the end, we can shout for joy because Jesus said he went to prepare a place for us. The following story brings out the reality of this fact.
 
In his book, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, tells of his conversation with Dr. Gary Habermas, professor of theology and philosophy and author of numerous books and articles. The question Strobel posed concerns the importance of the Resurrection for Christians.
 
He assumed he would get a stock answer about its centrality to the faith. And he did. But he got something more. Habermas went into a reflective mood in which he referred to the death of his wife Debbie in 1995 of stomach cancer. This is how Strobel describes it:

"I sat on our porch," [Habermas] began, looking off to the side at nothing in particular.... My wife was upstairs dying. Except for a few weeks, she was home through it all. It was an awful time. This was the worst thing that could possibly happen."

He turned and looked straight at me. "But do you know what was amazing? My students would call me ... and say, 'At a time like this, aren't you glad about the Resurrection?' As sober as those circumstances were, I had to smile for two reasons. First, my students were trying to cheer me up with my own teaching. And second, it worked.

"As I would sit there, I'd picture Job, who went through all that terrible stuff and asked questions of God, but then God turned the tables and asked him a few questions.

"I knew if God were to come to me, I'd ask only one question: 'Lord, why is Debbie up there in bed?' And I think God would respond by asking gently, 'Gary, did I raise my Son from the dead?'

"I'd say, 'Come on, Lord, I've written seven books on that topic! Of course, he was raised from the dead. But I want to know about Debbie!'

"I think he would keep coming back to the same question - 'Did I raise my Son from the dead?' - until I got his point. The Resurrection says that if Jesus was raised 2,000 years ago, there is an answer to Debbie's death in 1995. And do you know what? ...
 
If the Resurrection would get me through that, it can get me through anything. It was good for A.D. 30, and it is good for 1995; it is good for 2008, and it's good beyond that.... I believe that with all my heart. If there is a resurrection, there is a heaven. If Jesus was raised, Debbie was raised. And I will be someday, too. Then I'll see them both."(2)

 
We have new life through faith in Christ. The Christian life has a beginning, either at baptism or at conversion depending on your theology. It has a middle; that's our faith journey as we learn and grow in our knowledge and experience of Christ in our lives. Finally, it has an end, that is, an earthly end. The end of our earthly Christian life and journey is merely the beginning of eternal life with out end.
 
Many here have lost loved ones . . ., which is sad, because we miss them. Nevertheless, we can shout for joy because we know we will see them again. In a Kansas country cemetery there is a gravestone that reads: “Margaret Replogle Shore, 1921-1977, Thanks for stopping by. See you later.”(3)
 
Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
_______________________________________________________________________
(1)  "Monster Mash," Newsweek Special Issue, Summer 1998, 79.

(2) -LeeStrobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 241-242.
 
(3) Thanks to WesleyTaylor, The HilltopChurch, Tualatin, Oregon.
 
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