Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The colonial American statesman, scientist and publisher Benjamin Franklin doesn’t appear often appear in an Easter sermon, though he does appear occasionally in the Easter offering plate. Franklin is, however, the author of one of life’s most memorable quotes and undeniable truths. “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” The phrase was written by an 83- year old Franklin, in French, as a response to a scientist in Paris Jean-Baptist Leroy inquiring about the state of Franklin’s health and his writings. Franklin was actually describing the completion of a monumental work. He wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” It is an enduring phrase, perhaps, because it so fits our experience of life.
Even in the ancient world, people accepted Franklin’s truth. For Jesus’ disciples, death and taxes were undeniable realities. There were required offerings to the temple in Jerusalem, in addition to the Roman taxes. As for death, it was a daily encounter of life- as well as form of punishment for anyone who questioned the authority of the Roman government. One experience, however, was just as unknown in the ancient world, as it was Franklin’s Revolutionary America, and that was the resurrection. So it’s no wonder that the disciples doubted and considered the news of the women running from the tomb to be an idle tale.
Yes, even though Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection, no one expected the news that day that God had raised Jesus from the grave and that he had defeated death and the devil. No one was shouting, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed,” or singing, “Hallelujah.” Instead, we read that when Jesus’ disciples heard that their friend and Lord had been raised to life, they refused to believe. Absolutely no one, upon hearing the news of Jesus’ resurrection said, “I knew it. Just like he said!” For most men and women, even faithful followers, there were only two certainties in life- and the resurrection wasn’t one of them. But that’s all part of our amazing and surprising Easter story. Faith in the resurrection comes slowly, but when it comes it changes everything.
It should be no surprise that the women who went to the tomb were merely seeking the dead among the dead. They two believed in the certainty of death and taxes. They had prepared the spices and perfumes for the final rites of the dead. With tears and gentle hands they would wash the wounds, and anoint the body. These were the women who loved Jesus as a son, a brother and a teacher. Together they had journeyed with him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and while, they were there they became the unsuspecting witnesses to his death. Their hearts were torn as they stood at the foot of the cross and listened to his final words. The last sight they remembered of that Good Friday was the lifeless body of their beloved Jesus hanging, bloodied on the cross. At nightfall a wealthy follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea came, and removed the body. He wrapped their Master in a linen cloth, and carried him to a new tomb. Their hopes and dreams had faded, and they were without joy.
The women were startled when they discovered that Easter morning that the stone had been rolled away, and they were perplexed at the sight of two men standing before them in dazzling apparel. The words of the two men seemed strange, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And then the angel’s message struck them, and they remembered Jesus’s words- and then slowly everything changed.
Unfortunately, the disciples in Jerusalem refused to believe the testimony of the women. They too had seen Jesus’ lifeless form on that cross on that long, fateful Friday afternoon. His heart had stopped, his breathing stopped, the blood no longer flowed in his veins…and as it had been throughout the ages, so it was again. Nothing is certain, but death and taxes. For the disciples, death was the last word and they just could not believe the women. Jesus was gone. The good news of the women was too good to be true. It was certainly an idle tale.
Perhaps, that is your thought as well this Easter Sunday. Although you wouldn’t say it today publicly, or at family gathering. It’s easy to celebrate the promise of resurrection on a glorious Easter morning. But what about tomorrow when the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and your spirit sinks, where is the resurrection then? Where is the hope of the resurrection when you work night and day in a thankless job and you find yourselves deeper in debt? Where is the resurrection when your child gets caught in an ugly cycle of drugs and alcohol and you watch them slip away? Where is the resurrection when you wake up one morning and realize nothing matters to you anymore? Where is the resurrection when at the end of life your family and friends are all gone and you are left alone to negotiate in a world that does not honor its old ones? Today, in principle, the resurrection is important… and you know it will be in the hour you prepare for death, but you’re afraid on Tuesday morning it will seem like an idle tale.
The disciple Peter knew these doubts as well. He may not have been convinced that the women had found the living among the dead, but cautiously and curiously, he got up and ran to the tomb. Somehow Peter was spared the temptation to dismiss the report of the women. Perhaps it was his experience on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured before, or perhaps it was witnessing some miracle or another. But instead of snickering, Peter went running, and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. He found what he probably already knew was to be true: the tomb was empty. For Peter’s life, just as in your life and mine, the resurrection takes an action. We can have all the knowledge of the historical resurrection, but without an encounter of the mystery of the Risen Christ in our soul, the resurrection is simply the academic task of seeking the dead among the dead. It takes an act of curious and perhaps doubtful conviction. Faith, you see, in the resurrection comes slowly, but when it comes it changes everything.
On that first Easter morning, the disciples remained steadfast in their doubts. But step by step, the Holy Spirit challenged them to question their questions and to doubt their doubts. The same will be true for you. If Christ had destroyed death- what other marvelous things will he do for you? A new beginning, a renewed strength, a hope for the future, the promise to see that someone you love and lost in death. We all come to the tomb with broken hearts, broken lives, and broken relationships. We all come to the tomb with the hope that life can be different. We have all tripped along life’s pathway and our hearts have fallen to the ground, shattering into pieces. But even now Jesus is doing another marvelous thing. He is there on the path waiting to greet you, to pick you up, to wipe away your tears and to begin to mend your heart.
My friends, Benjamin Franklin may have acknowledged part of the life’s reality, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” But he also encouraged those who knew him to keep tending to the journey of faith and seeking an encounter with the resurrected Lord. He wrote to his own daughter, “Be a good girl, and don’t forget your Catechism. Go constantly to meeting – or church … and live like a Christian.” To meet the living Christ, you have to put aside your doubts and go to where he has promised to appear.
Faith in the resurrection may come slowly, but when it comes it changes everything. Happy Easter! And if Benjamin Franklin appears in the offering plate, we will all be truly blessed. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.