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Ronald G. Luckey: 'Well, what can you expect?'

Jesus is alive, and that means everything we have come to expect is up for grabs. Even the unexpected, says a Lexington, Ky., pastor.

April 24, 2012

Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. This sermon originally was preached on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, at Faith Lutheran Church, Lexington, Ky.

Mark 16:1-8

It’s been my experience that when hope falls flat on its face, we all say pretty much the same thing:

“Well, what can you expect?”

You’ve said it. I’ve said it. My hunch is, every language, country and culture on the face of this planet has a similar phrase.

“Well, what can you expect?”

It’s an expression of being resigned to the way things are -- usually said with a sad shake of the head and a weary shrug of the shoulders.

“Well, what can you expect?”

Somebody who has disappointed you a hundred times before lets you down once again.

“Well, what can you expect?”

You pick up the newspaper and read about what Congress is doing or -- more likely -- not doing.

“Well, what can you expect?”

A family prays for the one they love to get well, and it begins to look for a while like he or she might make it: “I think he’s actually going to lick this thing! Our prayers are being answered!”

And then, suddenly, things turn south. And in the dead quiet of some hospital room after all the machines stop beeping and the doctor has left the room and the Kleenex box is passed around, somebody over in the corner says:

“Well, what can you expect?”

Whenever we dare to hope that life will be different for a change, that the way things have always been is going to be different now; whenever we risk thinking there just might be something new under the sun after all …

Maybe the good don’t always die young. Maybe miracles do happen. Maybe the weak won’t always be at the mercy of the strong.

Whenever we dare to hope, only to have life turn out like it’s always turned out …

“Well, what can you expect?”

I am absolutely convinced that that is what Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome were thinking when on that Sunday morning a long, long time ago they went to that grave.

I know exactly what they were thinking. They had in their hands proof of what they were thinking. St. Mark says they “bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.”

You don’t do that for someone who’s alive. They knew what to expect.

Someone would probably meet them at the cemetery gate and say, “I sure am sorry about your friend.”

And they would say, “Well, what can you expect?”

They knew what they’d find: a stiff, cold body wrapped in a shroud. He’d been dead since Friday afternoon, so they probably carried handkerchiefs to cover their noses and mouths, because they knew what to expect.

They expected to feel all the anger again at the Romans for doing this to this innocent man they loved. They expected the grief to come flooding back once they uncovered his body and saw him lying there.

They knew the sad drill. They would make their visit. Pay their respects. Do the anointing with the spices they’d brought.

And walk away, knowing what they’d always known: You’re born; you die. You try to do the right thing like this man did, and look what it gets you.

And for Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, life would go on as it had always gone on.

That’s what they expected.

The last thing they expected that morning when they went into that tomb was “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.”

And the last thing they expected him to say was, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus … who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

They weren’t expecting that.

But that’s what happened. And the church has been telling this outlandish story ever since. A story about something we never expected to happen in a million years … happening.

I know some of you may have a hard time believing this story. There was a time in my life when I only half believed it. But I do believe it now. I believe it as much as I believe I’m standing here this very moment.

I’ve seen too many people go to their deaths absolutely at peace because of this story not to believe it. I’ve seen too many people, when the world has taken away everything dear to them, live with a defiant joy because of this story. I’ve seen too many people like that for me not to believe it.

I do believe that God did something amazing back there in that cemetery a long, long time ago. I don’t know how it happened or what it looked like when it happened. Even the four Gospel writers can’t agree on the details of what happened.

But I do believe -- like they believed -- that Almighty God raised a dead and decomposing Jesus and, in that incredible act, reversed the order of things.

So that now the river runs backward -- from death to life, from war to peace, from tears to joy.

I do believe that. I’ve put all my eggs in the Easter basket of this story. As far as I’m concerned, God’s train stops here at that empty tomb or it stops nowhere. In fact, if there’s no Easter, there is no train, and no tracks, for that matter.

Call me gullible, but I’ll keep telling this story. Because “Jesus is alive again” makes all the difference in how we live our lives, overcome our fears, handle the past and face the future.

Easter makes all the difference in the world to young parents walking away from a tiny grave. Don’t tell me it doesn’t. I’ve seen it too many times in my ministry.

Easter gives people eaten up with the need for revenge the strength to forgive -- not because they have the strength but because the risen Jesus lives inside them.

Easter gives people holding on to sobriety by their fingernails the hope that if God can raise Jesus from the dead, God might even be able to raise drunks when they fall.

This resurrection story helps the guy who just got out of jail and keeps getting turned down for a job because of his record. Easter keeps this guy getting up in the morning and continuing to search for employment, because he knows this story shows that God has a pretty good track record for handling desperate situations.

Easter gives us hope that the way things have always been will not always be.

Jesus is alive.

Easter is about more than a fortunate Jewish rabbi being raised from the dead. It’s about the whole world being raised from the dead when he was raised.

And that means one day God will bring to pass a world where no father will ever abuse his child and no child will ever abuse his father; a world where no mother will ever again watch her children go to bed hungry; a world where nobody will point a gun at anybody else; a world where no woman will ever be assaulted or insulted by a man, where no mother or father in Africa will die of AIDS, leaving orphaned children.

Easter says that everything we have come to expect is up for grabs now. Because now we know who’s in charge around here, don’t we?

That young man in that tomb said that Jesus is alive. As far as I can tell, that means you can expect most anything now. Even the unexpected.

Isn’t it so.