The Road Beyond the Cross – April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday!
Isaiah 12:2-6, Luke 24, 1-12
Easter! April 16, 2017
In 1843, Charles Dickens published his wonderful story called “A Christmas Carol.” And if you remember, he began that story by telling us that Jacob Marley was dead. In fact, as he put it, “Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.” “Mind you,” he said, “I don’t mean to say that I know what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile, and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for! You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was dead as a doornail.” Then he added, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate!”
I’ve always loved that beginning. And I thought this week that there’s a similarity in the story of Easter. Jesus Christ was dead! He was dead as a Roman nail in the cross! We must distinctly understand that – or nothing wonderful can come of our story!
After our Lenten theme of “The Road to the Cross,” I thought what better thing to talk about today than “The Road Beyond the cross!” Back on Good Friday, the disciples didn’t think there would be such a road! Neither did the Romans! Neither did the Jewish leadership. They thought they were done with this Jesus, once and for all. They thought he was gone for good! And we would see their frustration, throughout the book of Acts, that he was not!
I think Luke’s version of the Easter story reflects all of that. He begins the story of Easter morning with these words. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” That’s what the angel asked the women who came to the tomb of Jesus. That seems to me very “Dickens-like!” And that question is everything! With Jesus dead, there would be no “Road Beyond the Cross.” But without Jesus dead, nothing wonderful can come of our story!
Easter is the first stop, the first milestone, along the “road beyond the cross.” There would actually be quite a long “road” to come. At first, there were 40 days where Jesus appeared to his disciples, appearances that changed the lives of those men, and the world. Oddly enough, the Gospel writers refer to that time, but not a whole lot is said. As important as those days were, they don’t tell very many of the stories. (Wouldn’t it be amazing to find a manuscript somewhere that told us more about those days!)
The “road beyond the cross” would go on from there. It would go on past the ascension, past Pentecost. It would wind it’s way through the early days of the church, and span the many years of the next two millennia. And that same road would eventually come right up to our door here! Think about that!
If you’re a Hobbit fan, you know that Bilbo Baggins went on a long journey. And when he went on that first and greatest adventure, his adventure with the dwarves to the lonely mountain, the long road he traveled through the wilderness, the road he traveled “there and back again,” was the same road that went right into his home town and practically right up to his door. All of his adventures were somewhere along that road.
That’s a great image Tolkien gave us! And we’re on a similar road. All of our history, all of our “adventures” in the church, (or misadventures!) have taken place along that same, long “road beyond the cross!” We can look back at what came before, and we can think of all the people who have walked that long road. We can think of that “Great crowd of witnesses,” as Paul put it. And that’s a good thing to do!
But none of that, none of the whole long history of the Church would happen, without this one, most important milestone on the “road beyond the cross” – The resurrection! That’s what we celebrate today! Jesus was dead, or nothing wonderful can come of the story we read today!
And wonderful it was! Unbelievable, one might say! Because that’s exactly what the disciples did! They did not believe it! They knew Jesus was dead! And it was almost a cruel mockery of their sorrow and their utter devastation, for the women to come back from the tomb and tell such a story! Here in Luke’s account it says that the disciples thought the women’s story to be “an idle tale” – a fairy tale – “and they did not believe it!”
Here also in Luke’s account, the angel tells the women to remember. Remember the “road to the cross,” he told them. Remember way back along that road how he said that he would be “delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified,” and be dead, (Dead as a door nail!), “and on the third day rise!”
That’s the wonder of this story we read today! That’s where the “road to the cross” led. But it didn’t end! After Easter, the road could now continue. But it wouldn’t always be an easy road. There would be great difficulties along the way. There would be times of uncertainty, of making mistakes, of wandering off of the road. And there would be great joys, great victories. There would be times of great mystery, and times of great understanding. There would be times of decline, and times of amazing growth. There would be many times to rethink the direction of the road, as well as times of wondering why we were on that road in the first place.
It’s all part of that same, long, wonderful road. But none of it would happen without this day, this celebration. None of it would happen without this first and greatest milestone!!
Jesus was dead! That must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story. He was! But he is no longer! Hallelujah! Amen!
We praise you, our risen Lord! We thank you for inviting us to walk the road beyond the cross with you. We thank you for guiding us, inspiring us, and urging us forward on that road. We thank you for that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and who surround us even now. We thank you and praise you and give you glory! Amen!