March 27th, 2016
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
All right, that’s not what the disciples said when they first heard that Jesus was risen. They thought they were hearing an idle tale, something these women, deranged by grief, made up. Ha ha. Very funny, Joanna. Nice one, Mary Magdalene. And of course, James said to his mother Mary, “Ugh, Mom!” They didn’t shout alleluia and they most definitely say “Indeed,” unless they said, “That is an idle tale, indeed.”
I mean think of all the idle tales—take Narnia, for example. It’s a great story, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy, all walking through a wardrobe and ending up in Narnia. Lucy hides in the wardrobe and goes further and further back, and then suddenly feels the branches on her face, full of snow. I love that scene. But it’s a tale, if not precisely and idle tale. I remember once, watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. That wasn’t a bad movie. In fact, as Harry was waving his wand around chasing Tom Riddle’s ghost, I remember thinking, “This is a good story.” And then I remember thinking, “But I know a better story, and it’s better because it’s true.”
In another story, a story that I think is one of the most terrifying stories ever written, a man named the Misfit begins to murder a family. The grandmother asks him if he even believes in God—and he says, that’s the trouble right there. Jesus threw everything off balance: “If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can…” the Misfit says. No pity in the Misfit, just the realization that if Jesus was the Bible says he was, then a lot of things we do don’t really make sense. Either Jesus raised the dead or he didn’t. Either he was raised from the dead or he wasn’t. The Bible is full of stories. But life is more important. We of all people, here on this perfectly fine Sunday morning, are most to be pitied.
Listen to the tales of this world. Arizona held it’s primaries last week, and after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act three years ago, Arizona decided it was spending too much money on polling places and access to the vote. One county cut the places from 200 to 60, and people stood in line five hours to cast their ballot. Now this is no idle tale—this is important. We are in an election year, and our country depends on the voice of the people. We need our government to work, and it’s not working for us. Don’t tell me of a resurrection now—not when voter suppression has found a way to slip from under the watchful eye of the federal government.
Of course, this election cycle is one of the most colorful in memory—imagine if someone you knew said, “A socialist and Donald Trump walk into a bar.” You’d probably laugh and get ready for a good joke. But we know that there is more to this than a joke. There is a way that this election story is told, a way that our nation covers elections. Joan Didion wrote a book called Political Fictions, and it’s shocking to hear how much campaigns focus on the way they look, and what they appear to be doing, rather than doing anything. Americans may have gotten sick of speaking in code, and so they are looking for candidates who really articulate, plainly, what they feel. And we see the better and the worse angels of our nature revealing themselves. Is this an idle tale? It seems so pressing.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” Today we come together around this idle tale of the Gospel, in spite of all the oh-so-important tales that clatter around in our culture and in our mind. They are tales of suffering and glory—but this one idle tale, the kind of tale you might take pleasure in unwinding over an autumn afternoon, this is the one that draws us out of all our other tales. And suddenly, in the middle of hearing this tale, we may discover that we believe it, that it’s true, that just as Christ is raised so many of us will be raised, “and then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and every power.”
All these stories, all these tales. All these pressing crises. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And that’s a beautiful and profoundly hopeful way of looking at the human story. Once again terrorists headline our news, and sometimes it sounds like some of our presidential candidates, with their name-calling and penchant for talking about bombing and torture, are the terrorists close cousins. But I believe, and I think that our human story is the story of our warring needs and desires—the desire and need to be fed, secure, loved, and all the ways we have tried to do that. In centuries past we fought and killed one another over water and arable land, trade routes and shipping routes, out of vengeance and racial hatred. In our own nation, some people completely subjugated millions of other people simply because they could, because of the color of their skin. And at the same time, we formed a republic that still endures, and still gives hope. The story of our nation is of blood and sin and hope. But in the resurrection of Jesus promises to bring an end even to this nation, whose military might and global influence surpasses the wildest dreams of any ancient tyrant. The last power to be destroyed is death—and all our weapons of war will be consumed when God establishes his reign in Christ Jesus. No one shall hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, the Lord God says.
The old form of the Baptismal vows asks, “Do you reject the glamour of evil?” Glamour, like the glamour of the celebrities, is an illusion. It is an idle tale. No other story has the power to change us like the story of the resurrection. No other truth can not only change a life, but change death itself. The disciples did not believe the women at first; but when they all started to believe, they found they had something great: a communion, a church, and its idleness was greater than all the industry of the world.
Together, they told the world what they had seen and touched, the resurrected Christ, and bit by bit by bit, they built a church, a people who believe the idle tale of some Jewish women from millennia ago. All our other tales will end in this tale—all our fears and sorrows, they will find their end. Because this is no idle tale, this is the resurrection of Jesus.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The Reverend John Flack