There’s a chance you’re here this morning because this is just what you do on Easter. It’s what you’ve always done. As certain as death and taxes, if it’s Easter, you’re at church.
There’s a chance you’re here this morning because someone forced you to come. Maybe someone dragged you out of bed and bribed you with the promise of a really good breakfast/lunch afterward. If that’s you, I’ve been there, too. I know that feeling. Be careful. Sometimes you take that chance and end up a pastor. I’m just saying.
There’s a chance you’re here this morning because you’d heard about The Local Church and wanted to see if the hype was real.
There’s a chance you’re here because something stirred within you in the last little while, and maybe you can’t yet explain it, but here you are, and well, we’ll see what happens.
There’s a chance you’re here because you live close by, and this was convenient. We’re glad you’re here.
There’s also a chance that you or someone you know will be struck by lightning. It’s true. Those odds are 1 in about 1500, by the way. Not terrible. Not great.
There’s a chance you’ll win the lottery. Those odds are about 1 in 300 million.
There’s a chance you’ll catch a foul ball at a baseball game — something I’ve never done. I’ve come close. Those odds are 1 in 835 — so not bad.
There’s a chance you could win a gold medal in the Olympics, and those odds are 1 in 662,000. Slightly worse than the odds of catching a foul ball. Just slightly.
This one may be too soon for some of you this weekend, but there’s also a chance you’ll be audited by the IRS, and those odds are 1 in 220.
But here’s something even more amazing: The chances of you being born — with all that had to happen to make it just so — those odds are 1 in 5.5 trillion. The chances of you being born are 1 in 5.5 trillion.
I can’t even wrap my head around that.
It reminds me of that classic scene from the classic 1994 film Dumb and Dumber — (which is definitely where you saw this Easter message going) and maybe you haven’t seen the movie, but there’s a chance you’ll know this scene.
Lloyd, played by Jim Carrey, is professing his love to Mary, and straight-up asks her, “What do you think the chances are of a girl like you and a guy like me ending up together?” Mary looks at Lloyd and responds, “Not good.”
But Lloyd presses her for the odds. So he says, “Not good like 1 out of 100?” And Mary responds, “I’d say more like 1 out of a million.” And that’s when Lloyd’s eyes grow big and he smiles from ear to ear and says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”
And it’s that unbridled audacious relentless hope that defines this day and, in particular, the resurrection story as found in Luke’s gospel — Luke’s narrative retelling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
We left off on Friday night with Jesus dead and buried — many of his closest friends and followers having betrayed him. Abandoned him. Rejected him. The dust is settling in Jerusalem after a heck of a few days. A coup was held off. An imposter-king was neutralized. And it seems as though things can get back to normal with Pilate and Herod still in power and the Roman Empire still intact.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came to the tomb with burial spices in hand. They come expecting to find a corpse. They come expecting to tend to the lifeless body of Jesus. But instead, they find an open tomb, and this leaves them perplexed. Confused. Dumbfounded. And when they boldly go inside, they find two men in dazzling clothes who ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Such a great question.
The men proceed to tell the women that Jesus is not here but has risen and beckons them to remember — to remember — Jesus’ words and his actions, their own experience with him. Remember how he told you the way this was going to go down.“ Remember,” the men say.
And the women start to do just that. They begin to remember. And it’s this memory that compels them to sprint back to the others — the apostles — and share the news. They don’t have to be told to go. Their memory sends them running.
And when they get back to the others and tell them what they’ve seen — about the empty tomb and the angels and that haunting, piercing question, the men blow it off, thinking it to be an “idle tale.” Classic.
A few things to note here. First, in Greek, the word used for “idle tale” actually implies something a bit stronger than that. It’s the same word from which we get our word, “delirious.” In other words, the men don’t think it’s merely fantasy. They think it’s utter nonsense. They think the women are delirious.
And this is probably, at least in part, because in those days, as you might imagine, women were not well regarded. They were seen as just slightly more important than property, and so, as you might imagine, their testimony wasn’t highly regarded either.
So that’s likely at play here. But, I mean, even if that wasn’t a thing, you get it right? Resurrection does sound ridiculous. We’ve heard it so many times that perhaps it’s lost its punch, but imagine you hadn’t heard this story before. Imagine you watched him die. Imagine the ending came to pass just as you expected it would.
In a world where the only things that are certain are death and taxes, there’s little chance of a man coming back from the dead.
In a world where there’s a certain order to things — a certain way the natural world runs its course — there’s little chance of a disruption that might turn that natural order upside down.
I mean, you get it, right? Have you ever seen someone come back from the dead?
Look around. It sure does seem like might makes right. That brute force trumps compassion. That the ones with the most toys win.
It sure does seem like this is all there is.
It sure does seem like the bombs will keep falling.
It sure does seem like there’s no end in sight to systems of oppression and injustice that just keep maintaining the status quo, stripping bodies and souls of their dreams, their future, their life.
It sure does seem like your future is set.
It sure does seem like death gets the final word, and there’s little chance of any other possible outcome.
An idle tale, indeed.
But notice Peter — Peter, the one who wears his heart on his sleeve. The one who denied Jesus three times leading up to the crucifixion. The one whose shoulders are so heavy from carrying so much. The one who likely woke up with bags under his eyes from all the tears thinking it would be just another day without his friend. Just another day of putting the pieces back together. Just another day waiting for things to be different.
For Peter, the women’s testimony hits different. He hears it, and he doesn’t brush it off as an idle tale. He lives in the same world as the others do, but he hears the women’s excitement. He hears their confusion. He hears their bewilderment at the empty tomb and the amazement of the two men in dazzling clothes and the questions about looking for the living among the dead and whether it could all be true.
He hears it, and as he rises to his feet, you can almost imagine a smile breaking across his face as he exclaims, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”
And that’s all he needs, really, to take off running to the tomb. All he needs is the possibility of something different. Something new. The hope that it could be true. The chance that Jesus is alive.
In a world where resurrection seems like nothing but an idle tale, Peter runs toward it. He runs toward resurrection. That chance is all he needs to chase after it.
So if you woke up this morning thinking today would be just another ordinary day with another ordinary Easter service proclaiming an idle tale that seems hard to believe, you’re in good company.
But I wonder what it would mean for you, for me, for us to give it a chance — and to run toward resurrection with an audacious and unbridled hope.
Because if Jesus is alive, then there’s good news for the poor.
If Jesus is alive, that burden you’ve been carrying is lifted giving way to something new.
If Jesus is alive, the worst thing isn’t the last thing, and grace abounds.
If Jesus is alive, mercy and compassion are stronger than hatred and bigotry.
If Jesus is alive, that grief that clouds your vision will clear to reveal a joyful future.
If Jesus is alive, death is dead and love has won.
If Jesus is alive, your life has more purpose and possibility than you could have ever imagined.
We crave the known and quantifiable. We chase after the certain. The women at the tomb have no hard answers. They haven’t yet seen Jesus with their own eyes. But that doesn’t stop them from proclaiming the resurrection.
And for Peter, all he’s working with is a chance — a possibility — and still, he takes off running toward it.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a chance worth taking.
Happy Easter, friends. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!