Easter 1a, April 20, 2014

April 21, 2014

The Biggest Bang Theory
John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

I’m so glad you’re here today for our Easter celebration! Because what we are talking about and celebrating today is not just a theological concept – it’s a working theory. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is like believing in gravity. You don’t really know how it works, but you know to work with it. Trusting in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead can have as much impact on your daily life as regular hand washing. It will keep you alive and well – regardless of how sick you may become. If you can learn to trust that Jesus was brought back from the dead you are equipped to deal with anything that may come your way on any day. What we are celebrating today is the good news that we are living in a world that is cherished by God. It’s not a world that is unharmed by some evil forces that I don’t quite understand, but God is larger than those powers of darkness, and God has given us a sign of that truth.

Now I realize that the truth we are talking about today doesn’t come with any kind of evidence that would hold up in a court of law. Nobody thought to save any DNA samples from Jesus of Nazareth before he was crucified that we can match up with the man who Mary Magdalene initially mistook for the gardener. I’m sure somebody is working on the Jesus DNA project, but I don’t think they’re going to find anything. There may be some Jesus DNA out there – he freely shared all kinds of tears, saliva, and blood during his earthly ministry. He didn’t keep his DNA to himself, but if you are looking for that kind of proof of his resurrection you’re going to be waiting a long time.

All we really have are these stories of what Mary Magdalene and others encountered when they went to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week after his crucifixion – along with what we have experienced in our hearts and accepted in our heads. We don’t have proof of what transpired, but we do have a powerful working theory. And often a theory is good enough.

I want to talk about The Big Bang Theory for a moment – the scientific theory not the television show. I’ve never actually watched the show by that name – I know some people who love that show, and I’m sure there’s probably a sermon illustration to be found there, but I can’t speak to the wisdom of that show. I have, however, seen a few episodes of the new Cosmos series, so I feel equipped to speak with great authority on the origin of the universe. That show has provided me with a profound understanding of the Big Bang Theory.

And here’s the way I understand it. Before there was this universe as we know it that’s occupied with billions of galaxies – I didn’t really know what a galaxy was prior to watching that show, but I now know that a galaxy is a distinct gathering of billions of stars and other stuff that swirls around a nucleus and that there are billions of galaxies with who knows what else swirling around – and before there was all of this there was just this one mass of energy and stuff, and then it exploded. It exploded and it created all kinds of matter and light and gas. And the truth is that we are still moving away from the point of that initial explosion, but it’s been long enough for some stability to take hold. This is the essence of the Big Bang Theory.

Now in order to portray the amount of time that has transpired since that initial explosion of matter, the creators of the Cosmos series proposed imagining that the history of the universe has been packed in to one year. If you think of the big bang happening on the first second of January 1 and now as the stroke of midnight on December 31then each month represents a little over a billion years. Within this time frame our planet didn’t fall in to orbit around the sun until about mid-September of the year. And the first humans, as we know ourselves to be have only been around for about 2.5 million years ago, so we didn’t show up until about an hour and a half ago. And in this cosmic scale of time, Jesus would have been born about 4 seconds ago.

It’s a large picture to get your mind around. Speaking of this big picture in an Easter sermon would not have played out well for a preacher in Italy in the 1600s, and you may very well be wondering why I would speak of such things today, but my thinking is that what we are doing in worship today is to try to get a grip on the big picture of reality.

And I don’t find this big bang theory to be contradictory to my belief in God as the creator of the universe. I don’t consider the Bible to be a scientific manual. The Bible doesn’t answer the question of how the universe was created, it addresses the question of why it was created, and I understand it to say that the world was created in order to reveal the glorious loving nature of our God. It’s entirely believable to me that our God would have set the universe in motion with a big bang – that sounds to me like a good way to get it all going. It may well be that this is the second time God packed everything together before setting it off. It may have been the billionth time. These are questions that will be hard for us to answer.

But the mechanics of the universe don’t provide us with the answer to the most important question that we need answered. The most important question for us is why God does what God does, and I believe Jesus provided that answer for us. Jesus was the embodiment of God, Jesus was the embodiment of love, Jesus revealed the way in which God intends for this world to be, and Jesus was hated for doing this by those who wanted their own kingdoms to prevail. Jesus was killed by people who didn’t want the truth of God’s design for the world to be known. And that was a dark day for the world.

You would think that the God who is able to pack together all of the matter and energy of the universe into a single point before blasting it out in to every direction and dimension – you would think that this God would have been able to keep the savior of the world from being crucified in such a graphically horrible way. You would think that God would have spared the most righteous man who ever lived from suffering a painful and humiliating death. You would think God could have done this differently. Yes, this is what we would think, but God doesn’t want us to think like that. God knows how we are inclined to think and God wants us to think differently. God doesn’t want us to think the way to solve our problems is to overcome our enemies with overwhelming force, so God didn’t do what we would do, and God wants us to take note of what did happen.

God allowed Jesus to die, but God didn’t allow his death to be the end of the story. What we have is this story of resurrection. The story is that his followers didn’t find Jesus to be in the grave – they found him to be in their midst. And by doing this God didn’t just act in a way that would keep Jesus alive – God acted in a way that would provide us all with the courage and the grace to deal with death and everything else. God provided us with some information that can enable us to deal with whatever happens to come our way.

The big bang theory tells the story of how the world was set in motion, but an even bigger bang happened for us when Jesus came back to us from death. Because what this story reveals is the way God feels about our world. God doesn’t want this world to be ruled by the self-serving and heartless powers that so often take charge of our planet. But God’s kingdom won’t be established on earth through an act of conventional warfare. God’s kingdom is built on the power of self-giving and self-sacrificing love, and that’s what this resurrection story is all about.

To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is not just an act of suspending logic in order to belong to some kind of a religious club. Certainly there is an aspect of supernatural disruption to this story of Jesus being raised from the dead, and those who are able to believe this enjoy the fellowship of a beautiful community, but the really hard thing to accept about this story is what it calls upon us to do. It’s not just a story that challenges our intellectual capacities – it’s a story that challenges our interpersonal relationships. It’s a story that calls upon us to allow our lives to be ruled by love. It’s a story that dares us to believe that God really does rule the universe and to live as if we trust that the power of love will one day prevail.

That’s not an easy thing to believe, but if we will believe it we will find our way to abundant life. It doesn’t mean we won’t encounter suffering and death. It doesn’t mean that we will overcome the evil powers that seem to thrive so well on this planet, but it does mean that we have become citizens of a more cosmic community. To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to believe that there is a world that is not ruled by the physical and biological and political boundaries of this planet but by nothing less than the mind of God. Our feet are on this planet, but our souls are invited to abide with God.

The Big Bang Theory is really interesting, and it’s very revealing of where we have come from, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ – what I am now calling the Biggest Bang Theory – compels us to think about where we are going. If Jesus was only born 4 seconds ago on the cosmic calendar then we are facing a brand new situation here on earth, and it’s exciting to think of what may happen over the course of the next few seconds. God has provided us with some powerful new information – and it matters what we do with it.

The good news is that we aren’t alone in this new endeavor. Jesus is alive and well, and we can be guided by his presence. In fact we can become his presence. This is our challenge – this is our opportunity! This is some information we are invited to incorporate in to our lives on a daily basis. Doing this will have a powerful impact on the people you encounter here on earth, and it will enable you to abide in the most lasting community that the universe will ever know – the kingdom of God – the one that will continue to abide even beyond the next big bang.

And thanks be to God for this. Amen


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