Homily for Easter Sunday, 2014
There is this you tube video – I believe it’s called Jeff Gordon test drive - you may have seen it.
Jeff Gordon is a world famous race car driver. So they set up this prank – he goes in disguise to a car dealer and asks to test drive the chevy camaro. The salesman gets into the passenger side with him, and – well, let’s just say that Jeff Gordon puts that car through its paces. Over the course of their hair raising test drive, his passenger has what we might call a “come to Jesus” experience - he is calling out to God, he is praying, begging God to get him out of that car. When Jeff Gordon finally skids to a stop back at the dealership, the salesman jumps out, ready to call the police. Jeff and the camera crew stop him, they show him the cameras, and Jeff pulls off the disguise. “It’s me, Jeff Gordon – you’re on camera.” The salesman stares for a minute, still breathing hard – then asks “Want to do it again?”
Now that he knew who was behind the wheel, everything was different.
Another story, this one not on you tube, I made it up:
A new neighbor moves in next door – he immediately comes over and introduces himself to the family and over the next few years he becomes great friends with all of you. He is incredibly smart and generous. He tells wonderful stories, he mows the lawn and takes care of the pets while you are away. He is out there shoveling the snow before you wake up so that you never get a chance to start up the snowblower. Just an incredible guy. You see each other just about every day – he is at all the family functions, he shares your holidays with you, you go on vacations together – you couldn’t ask for a better friend.
Then one day you see all these black SUVs pull up, haul the guy out of the house and take him away. What is going on? You are all in shock.
Three days later you get a call. It is your friend – he is calling you from Saudi Arabia. He is fine – actually, he is the new Saudi king. He was hiding out in your neighborhood, concealing his identity while he was completing his doctoral studies. He wants to know your bank account number so he can transfer a gift your way.
When we teach others or talk about Jesus, often we start with the idea that Jesus is God, and then we talk about how he became a man. And certainly, as far as time and space are concerned, we know that Jesus was God before he became man – that Jesus has always been God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
But that was not the experience that the disciples had, was it? For them, Jesus was first a man. For most of them, he was a man who just walked up one day while they were working at their boats. Certainly, he was a remarkable man – so remarkable that they left everything and followed him. They traveled with him and listened to his teaching, they saw him heal thousands of people and feed thousands more from just a few loaves and fish. And over the course of their years with him they became his friends. He saw them at their best and their worst – when they were arguing and grumbling, and when they were praising God for his goodness. It was an incredibly intense three years of ministry that they spent together with him – and they grew to love him as a brother, as a father – and they knew that he loved them dearly.
They had an inkling, they had a notion that he was chosen by God, that he was the promised Messiah – but they were not sure what that meant.
And certainly nothing prepared them for Easter morning. On Easter morning, they were confronted with a most incredible fact: their friend, the man that they had been travelling with, the man who had been so good and generous to them and who they loved, was alive. And not just alive - he was glorified. He was unlike anyone they had ever seen – he was the person of God himself.
Their friend, their teacher, was the God of heaven and earth. Can you imagine trying to comprehend such an incredible discovery? You can understand why they were so stunned - why it took them a long time, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to wrap their heads around what was happening.
Because it wasn’t just Jesus whose life radically changed in the resurrection, was it? Since Jesus was their close friend, since Christ loved them so dearly – the fact that he was the Almighty Ever-living God in the flesh meant a radical change for each of his disciples. They were now friends of God! They had been for a while, but they had not realized what that really meant until they saw that empty tomb. Until the disguise came off, they had not realized who was behind the wheel.
Now what are we to make of this on Easter morning?
Brothers and sisters – too often, I think, we begin with God in the highest, and then try to become his friend by being good. We start with God who is all powerful and the creator of all things, and we try to cozy up to him. That is not what happened to the disciples, that was not their experience, and that is actually not what has happened to us.
No – Christ has never been a distant and remote God for us either. He called each of us by name in Baptism, just as he called his first disciples. He has ministered to us as his friends: he has fed us at this altar, he has forgiven our sins in confession, he has healed us when we have been anointed, and he has sent us out two by two, just as he did those first disciples, to spread the good news of the kingdom. And we have heard his voice – the same teaching that he gave his first disciples. He has given us the same promises, and he has shared with us the same mysteries of the kingdom, and he has told each of us, as he told them, of his great care for us, that he knows every hair on our heads, that he loves us and will never abandon us, that we are not his slaves, but his friends.
And so today, as we come to the empty tomb, we realize that Jesus - who has called us, who has nourished us, who has healed and forgiven us, and who has taught us of his great love for us – that this dear friend of ours is the living God. The bread that we break with him is the bread from heaven! The teachings that he gives us are from the mouth of God! The forgiveness we receive when we confess our sins to him is the mercy of God!
You and I will only understand the full impact of the empty tomb, when we understand that the person behind the wheel is not a distant savior, but is Jesus Christ our dear and beloved friend.