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This month marked the anniversary of my father’s death.

It’s hard to
believe the number associated with that anniversary is getting so
large. If Dad had a guardian angel, it had to be one that was on
probation and was never allowed to work again after that
assignment, because as a guardian angel he was incompetent. He
was born the eighth of nine children of an alcoholic father on a
subsistence dirt farm in Arkansas just as the Depression was getting
underway. I really don’t think they noticed the Depression. His father
died when he was seven, throwing the family into chaos. He was not
raised, simply allowed to grow up amid the chaos. Dad never
seemed to have much luck when it came to matters of safety and
health. As a boy he had been bitten by a rabid dog and had to
undergo those very painful treatments in order to not get the
disease. As a youth it was a rattlesnake that had done the biting. As
a young man a horse had thrown him right over the horses neck and
head and he managed to land face-first. As a young father he was
shot in a hunting accident and lost an eye. A bit later he and his son,
meaning me, had stretched a long strand of barbed-wire with a
tractor and were lifting it to nail it to the top of a post when it snapped
and it tore through our hands, slashing them and our bodies. That
time, I got to join him as he made one of his regular, periodic visit to
an emergency room.

With no education beyond the grade, and no special skills or training,


Dad was going to need a lot of luck to know any kind of vocational

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success in his life. I’m sure it is clear by now such luck was not going
to be forthcoming. He was willing to work hard, which is good,
because he always did have to work hard for minimal pay.

As he grew older, and real health concerns began to arise, he could


count on things going their very worst, with triple coronary bypass
coming at age 50. That was followed by disability. He would always
manage to pull through whatever crisis he faced, but only after things
had gone about as badly as they possibly could. The last time, he
had gone in for what seemed like fairly routine surgery. As usual,
things did not go well. There were complications during surgery. He
survived the operation, but he never left the hospital again. He lived
on, suffering greatly, for several weeks.

I was living in another part of the country at the time, and I was
unable to be there. I checked in regularly, but none of us knew how
serious this was going to turn out to be. I asked Mom, “Mom, is Dad
going to die?” She said, “No. I’ve asked the doctors, and they say
that he’s having a tough time but he’s going to come through this.” I
was going to get over there as soon as I could. Dad even told
people, “My son’s coming. He’ll know what to do.” On the morning of
the day when I was finally going to make the trip, the phone rang.
They were taking him to emergency surgery that would either save
his life, or not. It was all or nothing. They put him on the phone.

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Knowing his own luck in times like that, he wanted to say good-bye.
He had done that before. “You’re a great son,” he said. Trying to
remain positive I said, “Well, you’re a great dad, too. I’ll see you in a
little while.” And we said good-bye, and they hauled him off to
surgery, and I got in my car and headed for Cleveland. It was six or
seven hours away, and there was a March snowstorm in Ohio that
year, which made the trip even longer. When I walked into the
hospital Mom met me. “We lost him,” she said. He was sixty-three.

I’m not the only one here with a story like this. If you have lost
someone close to you, you know how it is. You think about how
wonderful it would be had they managed a few more good years. Or,
at other times you wish the structure of the universe could be
changed enough so that they could come back for just a short visit –
an afternoon, maybe, or even for just a half-hour. How wonderful
even that would be.

But it doesn’t happen, of course, and we know it is not going to


happen. We may not be able to count on much in this world, but
there is one thing we can always count on. The dead stay dead. As
much as we might wish for it to be otherwise, the dead stay dead.

On that day they realized it, too. Death had reared its ugly head
suddenly in their lives. They had unexpectedly lost someone they
loved deeply. To make his loss even more painful, it had not come

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by way of an accident, as it is when most young people like him die.
It had not been illness, either. He had died of politics, politics mixed
with religion, of all things. He was the victim of a contrived, state-
sanctioned homicide.

He had died late on a Friday afternoon, just before the beginning of


the Sabbath at sundown. There wasn’t time to prepare his body, to
do the embalming. That would have to wait. He was taken down
from the cross where he had died. Perhaps he was washed a bit,
because, oh my, what an awful mess they had made of him. He was
wrapped in a shroud and laid in a borrowed tomb. Imagine that. A
borrowed tomb, of all things. After that those who loved him were left
with nothing more to do but go home, and, like the rest of us, to
grieve, to weep, and to think of what might have been.

In the early morning after the ending of the Sabbath at sundown


Saturday, some women went to the tomb. They were not going there
to see if he was still dead. They were going to finish the job they
could not finish on Friday. They brought with them the spices needed
to finish the embalming. They brought the spices they knew they
would need because, well, the dead stay dead. But love lives on,
and they loved him, and they went to do the only thing there was left
to do for him.

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Is there anything more horrifying than what greeted the women that
early morning – an empty tomb? Perhaps not, but that is what they
found. No doubt their immediate thoughts were something like, “Now
what? It wasn’t enough that they killed him, they had to steal his
body, too?” But Matthew tells us they were greeted by an angel who
said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I know you have come seeking Jesus,
who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen. Go and tell his
disciples that he is risen from the dead.”

Matthew says they did what the angel had told them to do, going
with fear but also with “great joy.” Hearing the news the disciples
came running, and they saw that the tomb was indeed empty. They
even saw the burial clothes lying in the tomb exactly as they would
have had they still wrapped a corpse, except they were empty, lying
on the tomb’s cold stone.

When the disciples left the empty tomb, John, in his telling of the
events of that morning, says that Mary Magdalene, one of those who
had been there first that morning, lingered at the tomb. She was still
weeping, still peering into the empty tomb, no doubt having a hard
time believing what she had heard, even if it did come from angels,
because, well, because the dead stay dead. Suddenly she was
aware that she was not alone. She turned quickly to see a man
standing there. She thought he must the caretaker of the garden
where the tomb was located. I mean, come on, it couldn’t be HIM, of

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course, because, well, you know. So she said to the man, “Sir, if you
have taken his body, tell me where you have laid it, and I will come
and take it away.” But then Jesus said, “Mary,” and then, suddenly,
beyond all human experience and possibilities, she knew who he
was. He was alive.

Well, what are we to do with this story? Are we to actually, literally,


believe it? Let’s face it. It does sound like one more ancient legend,
and it just doesn’t make sense in the only way we’ve been taught
things needs to make sense, which is scientifically. For something to
be scientifically true it has to follow scientific rules. It has to be
subject to experimentation. It has to be repeatable. And Jesus’
resurrection doesn’t fit that scheme. It isn’t subject to
experimentation. It is not repeatable. As we know, the dead stay
dead, one hundred percent of the time, no matter what. All this
presents us modern, sophisticated, 21st Century types with a serious
conundrum.

I believe in science. I believe God created the heavens and the earth
and all living things on the earth and I believe an evolutionary
process is how it all happened. Again, I believe in science. If I
develop a malignancy I am going to want a lot of people praying for
me, but I also am going to want the very best-trained, most gifted
oncologist modern medicine has to offer. I do believe in science, but
I also believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I may not know exactly

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what happened that morning, and I certainly don’t understand it, but I
still believe it. In fact, I have literally staked my life on my belief in the
resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When it comes down to it, I am
a minister only because I believe in the resurrection of Jesus from
the dead. If it didn’t happen, well, I need to quit. I love my work, but if
the resurrection did not happen then Christianity is bunk and I am a
fraud, and I would rather be unemployed than a fraud. The Apostle
Paul felt the same way. He said, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead
we are of all people the most to be pitied. But! Jesus did rise from
the dead.” (I Corinthians 15:19f)

I believe in the resurrection, and I believe it matters more than we


can even possibly imagine. The message of Easter is that God is a
God of surprises, and we can never tell what God is up to, that
nothing - Nothing! - is beyond God. Who knows? Somebody might
even come back from the dead! You can’t put anything past God.

Some of you are living in a very dark place. Perhaps you are even
living in the valley of the shadow of death, wondering if you will ever
learn to live again after the loss of someone who meant the world to
you. Perhaps you’re waiting to call the doctor, to learn the test
results, or maybe you’ve already heard that the biopsy wasn’t good.
Perhaps a relationship that means a lot to you is falling apart. Maybe
financial concerns are keeping you awake at night.

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I will not tell you to just ignore your problems, that they are not real
or that they’re no big deal, that everything is going to be hunky-dory
here on the Good Ship Lolli-pop. “Don’t worry, be happy.” What I
can tell you is that because of Easter we can never afford to give up
hope, for we can never tell just what God might be up to. With God,
the dead do not, in fact, always stay dead. With God, we cannot
even allow our own deaths to intimidate us, for the Risen Christ has
told us, “Because I live, you also shall live.” (John 14:19)

Easter matters. Perhaps it matters more than anything else in


life, because it gives us the hope and strength, we need to face
whatever life might toss at us, even death itself. We can go on. All
because, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”