Easter - 2022c

Old Testament - Isaiah 65:17-25

New Testament - 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

 

Love Still Conquers All

 

INTRODUCTION:  Last week, while watching the Addams Family Musical at the high school, a song caught my attention. You see, at one point in the show there is a lovely little scene between Gomez and his daughter Wednesday. 

 

With Wednesday torn over whether to marry a boy named Lucas Beineke, Gomez tells his daughter what most older souls seasoned by years of living know all too well - that life, more often than not, is a complicated mixture of good and bad, highs and lows, and yes, beauty and tragedy. Or as Gomez sings in a song called Happy/Sad: 

 

Life is full of contradictions, every inch a mile.

And the moment we start weeping,

that's when we should smile.

 

In every Heaven, you'll find some Hell.

And there's a welcome in each farewell.

 

Like the author of Ecclesiates, Gomes understands there is a give and take to life. While one day might be filled with blissful joy, the next might bring with it sorrow and profound loss. Or as Ecclesiates likes to put it, there is a “time” for all things.

 

And yet, despite living in such a contradictory and confusing world, Gomez is also sure of one thing: that love, in the end, wins. Or, again, as he sings to Wednesday:

 

Right and wrong, who's to say which we should refuse.

All we know, love survives either way we choose…

Love still conquers all.   

 

ONE: Of course, if we were to try and boil the New Testament down into a short little phrase, well, it’s hard to find a better summary than those four words from Gomez’s song: love still conquers all. 

 

Yep, distill the stories of Jesus’ life and Paul’s assorted letters from the New Testament down to their essence and the message, I think, is pretty clear and digestible. Love, we’re assured again and again, eventually overcomes all things.      

 

You see, here is the thing, for our earliest ancestors the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was really a pretty simple and uncomplicated story. The idea, in short, was as follows: Because of Adam, humans had been consigned to a languishing world of decay, disorder, and yes, death. Prisoners in a world we did not choose for ourselves, humans were trapped in a state of misery, loss, and corrosion. We were, for lack of a better term, in hell.

        

But, then, in an amazing display of love, Christ entered our flagging, broken world to set us free from our imprisonment and bondage to death. Purchasing our freedom from the “household of death,” Christ released us from our bondage in order to heal and restore us to our true estate. It was a story of victory and triumph over death itself.  

 

Or as Paul likes to put it in our readings from 1 Corinthians this morning, “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

 

“In pursuit of those he loved,” writes one man, “[Jesus] invaded even the very depths of that hell we have made for ourselves and one another - in the cosmos, in history, in our own hearts - so as to drag us to himself.” The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, in other words, is a tale of relentless, gracious, rescue. 

 

Or to use Gomez words to his daughter Wednesday, “Love still conquers all.”

 

TWO: Now admittedly, we hear Gomez claim that “love still conquers all,” and we have to wonder if maybe he isn’t a snake oil salesman in disguise. 

 

After all, it can be hard sometimes to see the signs of love winning, right? We look at the bombed out images of Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine, and it’s just easy to have our doubts. Throw in the various other reported atrocities the Russians appear to be committing, and it’s only natural to wonder about such grand and lofty proclamations when it comes to love winning. 

 

Or as the Presbyterian writer Anne Lamott put it in a Facebook post about a week-and-half-ago: “God, what a world. What a heartbreaking, terrifying freak show.” To which she later added, “Really, to use the theological terms, it is just too frigging much.”

 

Several years ago the Police Department in Saint Petersburg, FL found itself in the midst of a tough, tough period. After going thirty years without a single fatality, the Police Department lost three officers within the span of a single month. After the third officer was shot and killed, several of his colleagues gathered outside the local hospital to salute his body as it was being taken to the medical examiner’s office. 

 

As they were dispersing, a newspaper reporter asked one of the officers for a commnet. “We live in a fallen world,” said the officer as he turned and quietly walked away. We live in a fallen world. Well, that about sums it up, right? We do live in a fallen world.

 

THREE: But here’s the important thing to remember. As much as we’d like it to be, Jesus’ resurrection was not a magic bullet that instantaneously changed everything. Jesus’ resurrection, in other words, was not like throwing a light switch thereby immediately making everything bright, right, and good. 

 

Instead, his resurrection put into motion a chain of events that will one day, some day, lead to the destruction of all unruly powers and forces in the world. Like that lone domino that topples into the one next to it setting off a cascading effect, Jesus’ resurrection set off its own kind of a reaction - a reaction that will ultimately culminate in all things being restored.

“Then comes the end,” says Paul, “when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” And the last of the unruly powers to be destroyed is death. But the whole endeavor? Well, it just doesn't happen overnight.          

 

As many of you probably know, J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings is laced with religious imagery.

 

A devout Catholic, it was only natural for Tolkien to weave religious concepts and ideas into his writing. In fact, Tolkien was so devout, he apparently often worried about the state of his good friend’s soul, C.S. Lewis, who was a member of the Anglican Church. 

 

In his famous story, Frodo Baggins and his good friend Samwise Gamgee are tasked with destroying an evil ring against great odds.  

 

Toward the end of the story Frodo and Sam have finally finished their task. Having thrown the great ring of power into the river of lava at the bottom of Mount Doom destroying it, they sit trapped on a little pillar of rock as the mountain crumbles and lava slowly rises around them.     

 

Frodo states the obvious to Sam, “An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We’re lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.” The two hobbits, exhausted, then slip off into sleep. 

 

But while they sleep, Gandalf’s giant eagles come and carry the two away to safety. When Sam finally awakens from his slumber, he sees Gandalf for the first time in months. “I thought you were dead!” Sam proclaims. “But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?” 

 

Well, that about sums up Easter, right? Eventually, everything sad is going to, finally, come untrue.

 

FOUR:  No wonder Paul, then, in other places and letters can prattle on about rejoicing in all things. For as far as he is concerned, the victory over our admittedly fallen world has already been won.

 

Yes, life is full of tragedy and loss and sorrow, but none of those things, as far as Paul is concerned, have any final, lasting affect or even force. Their days are numbered and it is just a matter of time before they are vanquished once and for all. Or as Paul says in Romans, “For I reckon the sufferings of the present time to be of no worth before the coming glory that will be revealed to us.”   

 

In his acclaimed documentary series The Civil War, Ken Burns tells of the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. With 50,000 plus veterans in all descending on the sacred grounds of Gettysburg in the early days of July, people were worried old grudges and disagreements would once again flare.

 

But despite such concerns, it was decided the climax of the gathering was to be a reenactment of Pickett's Charge. And so as Confederate veterans made their way across the open field to the Union veterans, who were positioned behind a stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, the gray coats let out a collective yell - their famous rebel yell.  

 

But this time, instead of firing their rifles, the Union veterans flew across the stone wall and began running toward the Confederates - and upon reaching them, warmly embraced their former enemies.  "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms,” said President Woodrow Wilson in a speech given soon after, “enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten…”

 

CONCLUSION:  Well, widen such a story to include all of life and even the cosmos itself and we have a nice little encapsulation of Easter. 

 

One day, someday, the tragedies, sorrows, and trials of this life will be vanquished once and for all. The battles and struggles will be long past, and the quarrels and feuding all but forgotten. Why, even death itself will be, well, put to death.

 

For Jesus Christ is risen and because of that “everything sad is going to come untrue.” 

 

Or as Gomez likes to put it when trying to console his daughter Wednesday, 

 

Right and wrong, who's to say which we should refuse.

All we know, love survives either way we choose…

Love still conquers all. 

And now to our God, to the one that created, that sustains, and that rules the worlds, be our words of praise, thanksgiving, and honor this day and forevermore. Amen.