EASTER SUNDAY, Year A, 3/27/05
six year old came home from his first time ever visit to a church and his skeptical parents asked him how it was; “It was just great! This Jesus was a space traveler and he got evaporated because he was the good guy, and his friends were all crying and stuff, but he came flying back from another galaxy, and...” His Mom and Dad interrupted asking, “Tommy, are you sure that's what the preacher said?” “Well, not exactly, but if I told you the stuff he really said, you would never believe it!”
The Easter event makes a fantastic story... That's why it's called, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It is so out of this world that only God could have thought it up.
John believed after seeing the empty tomb. He was the only Apostle to live to an old age and die a natural death, and he never recanted his belief. Mary Magdalene believed it happened, for she talked to him in the garden on that first Easter morning. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus during his trial and crucifixion, came to believe in the resurrection because he saw the empty tomb and later talked with Jesus many times prior to His Ascension. In fact, history records that none of those thousands who actually saw the resurrected Jesus ever recanted even though many were tortured and promised pardon if they would just say it wasn't so.
These first century folks believed because they saw the Lord alive after having seen him dead. “Seeing is Believing!” As rational folks they believed that Christ was resurrected because they saw him alive with their own eyes. Our scientific approach to evaluating what we will believe has taught us to believe what we see, or touch, smell or taste. If we can't find evidence for it, or if “experts” can't prove it, we tend to not believe a thing is true.
A Vacation Bible School teacher encouraged a ten year old boy to wash his hands before snack time and the little fellow grumbled that he did not need to. The sweet teacher said, “You had better wash the germs off because Jesus might be watching you.” The young skeptic retorted, “Germs and Jesus that's all I hear around here—and I haven't seen either one of them yet!”
Actually, the child's complaint is about where many of us fit because we have learned the simple practice in life to believe what we see.
These friends of Jesus believed what they saw. They saw the Empty Tomb and they believed. However, Peter and John did not seem to know what to do next; so they “went back home.” (v. 10, NLT) Their response was similar to the two unnamed disciples whom Jesus caught up with walking along the road toward Emmaus. “Some women from our group have been telling an amazing story about the tomb of Jesus being empty,” however these two walking along the Road to Emmaus, seemed more interested in going on home to check their e-mail, or to hide. Not until after they had arrived home and were eating supper with Jesus did they recognize him. “Suddenly their eyes were opened.” (Lk. 24: 31) They had seen him dead, but now they saw him alive. Like us, they tended not to believe until they saw a dead man raised. One wonders if they had totally missed hearing the story about “Lazarus coming forth from his tomb.” Or, had they been dozing when Jesus repeatedly included the concept of eternal life into his many sermons. “..everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn.3:16) “Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish.” (Jn.11: 25) And the list of references to resurrection goes on and on. So, why did the Apostles and disciples not get it? “Why were they so seemingly slow? Perhaps, they were a lot like us, “Seeing is Believing!”
But, we go on and ask, “Why does it seem that they did not believe in Jesus' Resurrection, even after seeing him alive?” These two guys who broke bread with him back home in Emmaus did not seem that overjoyed.
Perhaps there is a deeper level of seeing that we need. Friday night there was in the night sky the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which annually marks the lunar date of Easter, hanging bright in a clear sky, and I wondered if we saw it. Many noticed it and some knew its annual message; but did we really catch on- did we see it? Is there some similar perquisite to seeing spiritually?
Just as “Seeing is Believing,” also, “Believing is Seeing.”
Secular folks sometimes make leaps of faith. We have read recently of newfound planets circling around stars in far away solar systems. There was an assumption that other stars would have planets orbiting them, since our Sun has its planets. So, astronomers and other scientists have announced the existence of these planets, the idea being that there may be life out there just waiting to be discovered. However, astronomers cannot actually see these too far away planets, they are just assuming because of magnetism and rotations that they are there- unseen. In other words because they believe in their math and science, they can believe what they can't see.
Their leap of faith sounds familiar. The Church has operated on this kind of hope, faith and “Believing is Seeing” process for two thousand years. Our leap does not seem so out of step with the “pure sciences.”
Believing as a result of proof does not seem so convincing sometimes. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John saw the tomb empty and still could not think of anything else to do but to go home. Later, after spending days with Jesus, they became convinced and preached the Resurrection with power; however, were they any more convinced than we, at this celebration of The Greatest Story Ever Told? After all, “Believing is Seeing” too.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor