A guy is at the pearly gates, waiting to be admitted, while St. Pete is leafin’ through this Big Book to see if the guy is worthy of entering. Saint Peter goes through the books several times, furrows his brow, and says to the guy, “You know, I can’t see that you did anything really good in your life but, you never did anything bad either. Tell you what, if you can tell me one REALLY good deed that you did in your life, you’re in.”
The guy thinks for a moment and says, “Yeah, there was this time when I was drivin’ down the highway in the Black Hills out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker and smacked him in his face, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground. Then I yelled, “Now back off or you will all have to answer to me!” St. Peter was impressed…”When did this happen?”
“Just a couple minutes ago… “
This story is typical American humor. It’s funny as a joke but deadly wrong as theology. One doesn’t get into heaven because of good deeds! One enters heaven by excepting the invitation of God as issued in his Son, Jesus, The Christ! It is that simple.
The sermon this day is a continuation of last week’s sermon and let me pick up the central idea from it, namely the mystery of the cross: that what we cannot will into being we can allow/surrender into being. What could never be accomplished by arrogant force – force is useful for some things but is ultimately useless in the most important things such as relationships. You can will people to eat but you can’t make them hungry, you can will togetherness but not intimacy and you can will people to fear but never to love.
Today we have an option: will we choose Love of Power or the Power of Love? Which is it to be? Jesus chose the power of love and willingly died on the cross that by his death the power of love is released into the world in a new and immediate way.
This is the Easter story. John records that Mary of Magdala and the other women on the first day of the week, after the Passover came to the tomb. This first day of the week was now first in a whole new way, so much so that some call the day of the resurrection the eighth day of creation, the when all was redeemed.
There the tomb was empty and then Mary encountered Jesus who told her to tell the disciples that he had risen! Peter witnesses to the resurrection in his sermon recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised him up on the third day!” Paul picks up the story when he writes to the Christians in Corinth, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve…”
Today I am here to tell you that I am, as Robert Farrar Capon puts it, at the end of the long relay race that stretches back to that garden on the first/eighth day of the week to April 5, 33 AD, 1976 years ago, saying the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Peter.”
“Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and other extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate sightings of millions of swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.” From the Prologue of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
No one expected to find an empty tomb in the middle of history. Oh there was some talk of resurrection at the end of the age but here and now. Not likely, not likely at all. But it only takes ONE resurrection to change that. Just like one black swan put paid on the notion of all swans being white. So far there only white and black but some live in hope for other colors.
The resurrection is like the discovery of the black swan – no one expected to find a black swan but when they discovered it then all the previous empirical data is canceled. Now people can either reorganize their thinking about the colorization of swans or they can deny that there is such a thing as a black swan and go on the offensive to put an end to such nonsense or one could embrace the new situation as expanding human knowledge and experience.
And yet we don’t get it! As the woman said to a friend of mine, “If Jesus could only see how his church has turned out he would roll over in his grave.” No, No, No, he is risen. And if he is risen we will rise. Let us continue the relay race of the good news until he comes again that we will be with him.
All things are passed away, behold all things are new. This is Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, the Eighth Day of Creation.