“All the Difference”
Rev. Todd Buegler
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 5, 2015
Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from our Lord and risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What difference does Easter make? What difference does it make to know that God entered fully into human life? What difference does it make that Jesus suffered death as one of us? What difference does it make that God raised Jesus from the dead?
For an increasing number of people in our country, Easter doesn’t make any difference. Today is only about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and candy coated clichés.
But for others of us, Easter makes all the difference in the world. A couple of years ago, Dr. David Lose, now the president of the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia, wrote a very interesting piece called “Easter is Coming.” I’ve posted it on my blog and have linked to it here. You might want to take a look at it, perhaps even study it a little bit. Here’s how it works. It’s kind of a palindrome of phrases, meaning that it can be read forward or backwards, but with completely opposite results. It’s really clever.
The first half is the non-believer. With phrases like this: “Death has the last word.” “It would therefore be foolish to say that the life and death of a first century Jew named Jesus makes a difference. Resurrection is a false hope. Don’t you see God loves the world is a lie. Money is God.”
But look about halfway down through the poem, at the line in bold print, where it says “what happens if the testimony of the woman at the tomb is true?” Well then everything is turned on its head. The second paragraph uses the same phrases but in reverse order. And it changes everything. We see that “money is God” is a lie…God loves the world, don’t you see? An empty tomb changes everything. The life and death of a first century Jew named Jesus makes a difference” and so on.
In our culture, there are these two clear perspectives…two angles of vision: the paragraph where Easter makes no difference and the one where it makes all the difference. So my question for you this morning is which way do you see things? What difference does Easter make for you if it is true?
Well, I’m here this morning to say that it makes all the difference. It certainly did for those first disciples. When the women went to anoint Jesus’ body on that first Easter, they were a downtrodden bunch. When they entered the tomb a young man in white met them and said “Do not be afraid.” Now this is very important. Throughout the Bible, every time someone starts a speech with “Do not be afraid,” you know that what’s coming is going to be good news.
And this was the best news imaginable. The man said “Jesus who has been crucified, has been raised. He is not here.” And in that moment, everything changed. Everything! The disciples who were hiding behind locked doors suddenly became a confident, dynamic group. This motley band of brothers was transformed from being this handful of defeated and depressed followers to people who spread the Good news around the world. Today there are 2.2 billion Christians celebrating Easter. That’s the difference that the resurrection makes. And that’s the difference that Easter still makes.
Now I don’t claim that the resurrection makes everything in life easy. There is sometimes pain in life. When our son Nathan was just a few months old, we took him to the doctor to get him his first shot. And it was awful; because up until that point, everything that we had done was to protect and shield him, to take care of him. He trusted us!
But on this day we brought him to the doctor and the doctor put this giant needle into his tender, pink skin. Nathan’s eyes got really big, he started to cry, and he looked right at me, as if he was saying “What are you doing? How can you do this to me?” And I picked him up in my arms, and I held him close, I put him on my knee, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Oh, Nathan. I would never do this to you. This was Mommy’s idea.”
There is sometimes pain, and even suffering in life. And even on this day that we celebrate the resurrection, we need to acknowledge that you lose a parent, you lose a spouse…we have a lot of pain in our prayers that we will pray this morning. You get fired from your job, you feel guilty because of something you have done, your health starts failing, you are scared to death.
And then you hear these words today. Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Do. Not. Be. Afraid. And you know that good news is about to follow.
April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman was just a regular guy from Chelmsford, Massachusetts who worked at Costco. His girlfriend, Erin Hurley was running in the Boston Marathon, so he was there to cheer her on. He was near the finish line that afternoon, when a pressure cooker bomb blew up at his feet.
He said “I thought I was going to die right there. I was sitting in a pool of blood…my own blood…and my lower legs were gone.
A famous photo showed the severely injured Bauman being rushed from the scene in a wheelchair, pushed by 3 rescue workers. One of the rescue workers made a tourniquet from a sweater sleeve, an action that has been credited with saving Bauman’s life. And Bauman says he remembers lying on the operating table, being seized with panic. And he says he remembers hearing someone say “Don’t be afraid. We’ll take care of you.” And so they did.
Now it’s 2 years later. Bauman has married the love of his life, Erin Hurley, and last July, they had their first child, Nora. Talking about that famous photograph, Bauman says “It’s not what most people think it is. It’s not a picture of the bombing. It doesn’t show the explosion, and it doesn’t show me being injured. It’s a photograph of the rescue. The story the photo tells is this: two criminals set off bombs, but hundreds of people risked their lives to rush to our aid. I hope that everyone remembers that the man in the wheel chair in that picture…the one without legs, he lived. He has a wife, and a baby. He’s learned to walk again. He’s going to be ok.”
Now that’s an Easter story; from death, to new life.
And just so, a picture of the cross…and of the empty tomb…it is a photograph of the rescue of the human race. Jesus gave his life to rush to our aid. His resurrection brings all of us from death to new life. And Easter makes all the difference.
When I was a student pastor, I was placed at Mercy and Unity Hospitals in Coon Rapids to do a clinical internship, working with people as they experienced crisis. As I entered the meeting room with my group of students on that first day, I have to admit, I was terrified. Our supervisor, an older, wise, kind of crusty and grizzled chaplain had us introduce ourselves. “Tell us your name, and the thing you’re the most anxious about coming into this internship.” I was sitting next to him so I went first. “Well, I’m Todd Buegler. And I’m most nervous about being the chaplain in a room where they are dealing with crisis or an emergency, and decisions of life and death have to be made…and I’m supposed to be the one who brings a word of hope to that crisis. That’s my biggest anxiety.” “Ok Todd,” said our supervisor as he picked up a clipboard. “I’m assigning you to the cardiac floor and the ICU.” <Gulp.>
He turned to the next student. “What’s your story?” “Ummm…I’m Richard, and I’m most anxious about how to work the copier.”
On my first day on the floor at the hospital, I was walking down a hallway when I heard two of the nurses say to each other “oh good, well here comes a chaplain.” That, by the way, is never a good sign. They explained to me that there was a gentleman in this room whose life was coming to an end. And his family was gathering. Could I be there with them? This was my biggest fear. Right there. “ahhh…sure.” And as I walked towards the door, I could feel my anxiety rising. But as I entered the room and saw the family, standing around the bed in this low, subdued lighting, this strange sense of calm came over me, and it was like I heard this voice. “Do not be afraid.” And I went in and sat with them, and prayed, and prayed, and was with them as their father and grandfather passed from this life to the next.
And late that night, as I left the hospital, I just knew: That was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I love being a pastor. I really do. And I’ve had a blessed career. But it’s not always easy.
We’ve had 37 people somehow connected to Trinity die in the past year. Even Thursday, we lost Norma Schaumburg. That’s hard.
And then there are budgets, and capital appeals, and the occasional unhappy parishioners, and I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but there’s a Sunday every single week.
Now I don’t tell you any of this to make you feel sorry for me. We all have challenges in our lives, and mine really aren’t any worse than anyone else’s. But I bring it up only to remind you that the only the reason that I can do this, the only reason that any of us can do what we do is because whenever I find myself in a tough spot, I hear this voice in my head that says “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised.
What I do…what any of us do, whether you’re a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, a at home parent or whatever, is only possible because Jesus rose from the dead. Easter makes all the difference!
Now Easter is not a promise that your family or your work or your finances will all be ok, or even that your pulse will go on beating forever. It is a promise that the power that gave you that pulse will never abandon you. Jesus says “I will be with you always.” And he means it literally. Always. All the days. Every single day from now until the end of your life, in fact until the end of time. Not just most days, not just good days, not just the days that you’ve done your devotions and said your prayers. All the days.
You may have a bad hair day, a bad mood day, a bad news day, a bad day at the office, a bad day at school…but you never have a bad Jesus day.
Easter is the promise that there is nothing in your past, your present or your future that has the ultimate power to define you. You are defined by the cross made on your forehead at your baptism. You are a child of God, loved beyond measure.
My friends, whatever challenges you face in your life, do not be afraid. The life and death and resurrection of a first century Jew named Jesus makes all of the difference in the world.