Easter Faith

“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 

I do not know if you are like me, but this word from Paul rings truer for me this Easter than perhaps any other time in my adult life. 

  • The last two years of losses in our family, both my parents and Lynn’s mother…

If Christ has not been raised our faith has been in vain. 

  • The disruption caused by the pandemic of Covid 19…

If Christ has not been raised our faith has been in vain.

The disruption of the inability to hold General Conference of The United Methodist Church

  • If Christ has not been raised our faith has been in vain. 

The political rhetoric of this country which seeks to divide rather than unite the United States, and now a war in Ukraine. 

If Christ has not been raised our faith has been in vain.

On Easter, I’m drawn to John’s gospel for the telling of the resurrection story. 

In particular, I’m drawn this year to the beloved disciple who enters the tomb after Peter, sees Jesus’ linen wrappings lying about, and believes. He doesn’t need a sermon. He doesn’t need an explanation. He simply believes. 

I wish John had said more about what he believes or how deeply he believes or even some word about the journey he traveled to belief. 

Maybe it’s simply that he recognizes that God has vanquished death. 

We are left to wonder. 

However, I hesitate to speculate. My Old Testament seminary professor, Dr. Max Miller, admonished his students, “speculation about the Bible is cheap.  I don’t recommend it.” So I won’t speculate on the beloved disciple’s model of believing. 

What scripture says is this: “he sees and believes.”  

This is to say, he steps into the truth of his experience. He trusts his experience.  

Without speculation, wonderment, confusion or doubt, he walks into faith. That’s all. Nothing more. Nothing less. 

As pastor Debbie Thomas has written about this moment:
I love the way the beloved disciple’s story honors the gap between faith and understanding, because it’s a gap I know so well.  I believe but I don’t (yet) understand. I believe in the resurrection, but I don’t understand death’s ongoing cruelty.  I believe that Jesus reigns, but I don’t understand the elusive nature of his kingdom. I believe that all things will be well, but I don’t understand why they’re not all well now.”

One of the first sermons I ever preached was rooted in this idea that faith and doubt go hand in hand. As a young adult, I was reading the works of  Fredrick Buechner. I remember well reading Buechner’s  now famous quote that “doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. If we don’t doubt, we are either dead or asleep.” This notion ran counter to all that I had been taught growing up about faith and doubt. Yet, his words rang true. 

I later learned that doubt was not the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Learning this was also an important turning point in my faith journey. 

So Paul, and the beloved, strengthens me this Easter Day. 

Here’s the truth of it: I believe in the resurrection because I have experienced it and I have witnessed it. 

The truth is this: resurrection roots us. It places us in the community of all those who for over 2000 years have gathered this day to celebrate the resurrection. And when we open our eyes to see where God is raising us from the self defeating experiences of our lives, we see God is in the resurrection business. 

I love the way Poet R.S. Thomas describes the process in his poem, “The Answer”: 

There have been times

when, after long on my knees

in a cold chancel, 

a stone has rolled

from my mind, 

and I have looked in 

and seen the old questions lie

folded and in a place

by themselves,

like the piled graveclothes of love’s risen body.

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

With all that has been lost across these last two years, I’ve need to see with resurrection eyes. 

I’m helped by remembering that all our endings are not final. 

Indeed, new life comes, just two days ago, my niece gave birth to a baby boy. We are reminded, life cannot be stopped. 

In every ending there is a beginning. 

In every single one of them, we are held in the arms of the risen Christ. 

We may stumble out of Easter doubting, fleeing, and maybe even falling. 

We are held, rooted in scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love. 

If Christ has not been raised our faith has been in vain.

He is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Bishop William T. McAlilly