4/20/2014 sermon: Scientifically explaining Easter

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday

Scientifically explaining Easter

I want you to know, right from the start, that my self-appointed task for this day is scientifically explaining Easter. You ready?

Sydney Harris cartoon

A Sydney Harris cartoon that went around some years ago showed a man standing at a blackboard in a classroom or a laboratory. On the board the man had written a very complicated mathematical formula, with calculus and differential equations, with all sorts of strange hieroglyphics thrown in for good measure. And right in the middle of the formula there were these words, “Then a miracle occurs.” A man pointing at these words says, “I think you should be more explicit in step two.”

I have been thinking about this cartoon during Lent this year. I’ve been asking myself what, exactly, makes this cartoon funny. Maybe the humor is due to our need to quantify everything mathematically, precisely, our need to know “how” and “why” and to be rational, scientific. Maybe this cartoon is funny because we know that ultimately the greatest truths elude our ability to quantify them in a scientific way.

Take Easter, for example. We are gathered here today for many reasons, no doubt. Maybe this is just what you do on Sunday. Maybe you are here to make wonderful music. Ultimately, though, today we remember, re-call, re-live the greatest miracle the greatest mystery, of human history. That mystery, we Christians say, is the day that one person who had been three-days dead, once again became physically present with us, in the flesh. The same, but different. Recognizable, but at first unrecognized. Appearing to and eating with some—with those who believed in him—but not visible to others who did not believe.

On this day, Easter—the Jesus-is-alive-again day—Christians believe and rejoice and find eternal hope. Christians everywhere and throughout time, hope for their own life ever-lasting. Those who cannot perceive the risen Jesus scoff and demand scientific explanations. Yes, Easter is that point in the science of creation where all we can explain is that “then a miracle occurred,” and that all there is has been changed forever.

Ivan Filichev, Resurrection, 2012 (click to visit site)

So if you came today hoping for a scientific explanation, proof, of Jesus’ resurrection, you may leave disappointed. I am going to fail in my self-appointed task of scientifically explaining Easter. Science, you see, is only the quest to discover HOW God does the things that God does. Yet we Christians affirm that what is truly important about Easter is not the “how” or even the “why” of Jesus’ resurrection. We Christians know that we can only point to THIS day-of-all-days and share what things were like BEFORE, compared to what things are like NOW. We can only explain our own experience, explain what our lives were like before we perceived the miracle of rebirth, versus what our lives are like after.

So let’s start with Jesus’ time. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand Jesus and cowered in fear when he was crucified. That was their before. After Jesus rose again, they understood Jesus so well they preached the risen Christ “to the uttermost parts of the world,” they preached Jesus to a world that killed them, also. And those disciples stood tall—claimed Jesus’ life and claimed Jesus’ death as an honor. Their fear was gone; the miracle of Easter had changed them forever.

So let’s look at the Romans, who thought Jesus-followers were just another cult, so insignificant to the world order that they could be ignored. In the synoptic gospels the first witness to the miracle of Easter was a Roman soldier who was present at Jesus’ death and marveled, “Truly this is the Son of God.” The miracle that is Easter reverberated throughout the Empire, reordering reality until just the Emperor himself was compelled to acknowledge the miracle that is Christ Jesus.

So let’s look at the Jews, who rejected God himself, because God-in-the-flesh didn’t follow our understanding of God’s rules for our lives. After Easter, and very quickly, the Jews had to contend with all of us Jesus-followers. A famous rabbi named Gamaliel said (and I paraphrase from Acts chapter five), “Leave them alone. If they are of God they cannot be stopped, and if they are not of God, we have nothing to fear.”[1]

That was then. The first disciples were powerfully changed by the Easter miracle, the Romans were changed, and the Jews were changed. A miracle had occurred, one they couldn’t explain scientifically, but one that had reordered their lives.

What about us? How are WE changed by the first Easter day? Do we perceive the risen Christ and recognize that Easter has changed everything forever? Do we name our reality BEFORE and AFTER, and give thanks for the miracle of our transformation?

Science, after all, requires keen observation and comparison of BEFORE and AFTER to discover what, exactly has taken place. Scientifically explaining Easter, then, requires each of us to testify about what, exactly, is different in our lives before and after our experience of the resurrection, our experience of the risen Jesus.

We at Resurrection—by our very name—define ourselves by the reality of Christ’s return to life. This is the lens through which we perceive our lives here on this earth: life, death, and new life. This is the lens through which we have re-visioned our life as a parish. This is the scientific reality that we claim: “Then a miracle occurred,” and all of creation is forever changed.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!)







[1] Acts 5:34-39

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