Pinch Myself

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Easter Day
April 1, 2018

John 20:1-18

Some days I’ll just be driving down the road or sitting in my office, when suddenly it hits me. And I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming – did the Houston Astros really win the World Series? Did that happen? I mean, the L-astros? The dis-astros? I’ve been following this hapless team since college and we’ve been through some tough times. Could it be, could it really actually be, that the Houston Astros won the World Series? I just have to pinch myself.

I have to pinch myself – when I look out there on our campus and I see the giant machines, the busted up parking, dirt everywhere. Am I dreaming? We’ve been working on this together since 2013, some of you have been dreaming about it since before I was born – could it really actually be happening? We’ve talked and prayed and prayed and talked and raised money and had town hall meetings and we did surveys and small group meetings and updates. We had our ceremonial groundbreaking nine months ago. I just have to pinch myself. Is this for real?

Mary Magdalene just has to pinch herself. “Am I dreaming? Is this for real?” She had thought that surely, surely this man was sent from God. Surely this was the time, this was when it was all going to come together, and God would finally do something. Like the hopeful fan on Opening Day who thinks this could be the year. Like generations of parishioners at Holy Comforter who’ve hoped, planned, and prayed. 

Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus’ deeds of power, the healings, the incredible teaching – she had experienced firsthand his justice and mercy. But then to her horror, she saw Jesus die; a brutal and torturous death on the cross. As was the custom, she goes to anoint the dead body with spices and perfumes. But to add insult to injury, on that first Easter morning it seems that some grave robber has come along and stolen the body of Jesus. Her grief is compounded and all she can do is weep.

But in this beautiful, little unassuming moment, she sees Jesus standing there. She doesn’t recognize him at first. She thinks he’s the gardener. It’s too good to be true to think that it could really be him. She has to pinch herself. “Am I dreaming? Is this for real?” Finally it’s the sound of his voice, gently calling Mary name that makes her realize that it’s all true and even better than she could have imagined. 

By all means, pinch yourself. You’re not dreaming, it’s real. Somehow, some way, in God’s wildness Jesus has been risen from the dead. It’s doesn’t make any sense. Think about it – Christians make two completely absurd proclamations on Easter. First of all, we say that God died on Good Friday. Come on, God is not supposed to die. I mean, if you were going to invent a religion, you wouldn’t have your god die. That’s just not supposed to happen. And on top of that, we make the absurd proclamation that this man, this God was raised again from the dead. Come on, dead people don’t get up. It just doesn’t happen.

But then again, the Houston Astros aren’t supposed to win. This church has served us for thirty-five years. But you pinch yourself and it’s true. Jose Altuve really did throw out that final grounder in Game 7. I’m really seeing a bulldozer on our campus. Jesus Christ actually has conquered death. 

But it’s not just that it happened. No, it’s what it does for us now. You and I are no longer imprisoned by sin and the grave. The resurrection of Jesus bursts open a whole new world of possibilities. It means that joy is going to win out over despair. Grace will win out over condemnation. Justice will win out over oppression. Life, life will win out over death. It means that even in the darkest hour – even when you get that diagnosis, even when your last check bounces, even when your whole world comes crashing down, it’s not over. Easter means that God is not done yet.

Now don’t think I’m Polly Anna. By no means. I don’t buy into that old lie that if you believe in God then God will make you rich and successful and powerful. I’ve never seen it work that way. Easter does not mean that you will never be sick again, that you will never go broke, that you will never die. Just look at the first disciples, those followers of Jesus who were with him on that first Easter day. Peter and Andrew are crucified themselves. James was killed by a sword. Bartholomew was skinned alive. John dies an old man, isolated and alone. Just because Jesus has been raised from the dead, and just because we’ve celebrated this morning, do not think that life will be great from here on out. We must not be so naive as to think that everything is magically better now. It’s not. Children are starving. Systemic injustice has its grip on the most vulnerable in our communities. Tens of thousands of people are hooked on pain pills, are shooting each other, are taking their own lives. Depression, disease, and brokenness lurk behind every corner – even in this Easter world.

All that darkness only shows that God is not done yet. God is not done. Easter does not mean that everything is suddenly better. What Easter does mean, is that there is hope. Following the risen Jesus means we live with hope. Hope that one day, God will in fact make everything right. Hope that one day, every child will have a full belly. Hope that one day, humans won’t be so terribly cruel to each other because we all see each other as beloved children of God. Hope that one day, one day, death will not have the final say. It’s as if today, Easter, is this little glimpse of the future. Of what God intends to do in the fullness of time. What happened on that first Easter was more like Opening Day than it was Game 7 of the World Series. That first Easter was more like groundbreaking on construction than it is paying off the final mortgage bill. Easter is something to hang on to, so that in the midst of the despair that we know will come again, we can remember that God is not done yet. God is not done yet.

And I just have to pinch myself. Am I dreaming? Could this really happen? Can I really live with this hope?

Can we live with hope even when we read the most terrible news headlines imaginable, as we did on Ash Wednesday? Can we live with hope even in the midst of so much turmoil and chaos in our world? Can we live with hope even when our plans don’t work out, when we’re betrayed, when we’re lied to, when we suffer? Can we live with hope?

I tell you that, for me, it’s the only way I can live as a Christian. Living with Christian hope means acknowledging that yes, the powers of darkness are alive and well, Christian hope acknowledges the fear within us. But Christian hope is also believing, trusting, that God is not done yet. Just as God did something at Easter two thousand years ago God will do something again.

Go ahead. Pinch yourself. You’re not dreaming. God is not done yet.

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