The Best is Yet to Be
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
April 16, 2017
Matthew 28:1-11 “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.”
Have you noticed how much the meaning of Easter changes over your lifespan? Likely, childhood’s meaning was wrapped up in the Easter Bunny and Easter morning. I remember, when I was a child, the Easter Bunny in my territory of Memphis had paint by number sets pretty high on the list! Perhaps, for some, there is or was a family tradition of new clothes. I definitely remember the days of getting a new suit and buzz cut with butch wax stiffening the front. I remember little girls getting muffs, gloves and bonnets! For many, Easter meant and means a family re-union of sorts. And now, really to my dismay, school systems tie spring break into Holy Week and meaning it is spring break vacation-time. (It used to be schools were closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday and spring break was at a separate time.)
But as we gain and mature in life experiences, Easter often moves from mere celebration to deeper meaning. That’s been the story of many of us. Some of us have and some of us will, hopefully, even today, capture the deep meaning of the Resurrection. In a phrase, Easter is all about the “best is yet to be.”
You see, no matter where we are in life, physically, emotionally, relationally or spiritually, Easter means the “best is yet to be.” Why? Because Easter is all about hope–real hope–not speculative wishing, but a deep acknowledgement of the fact that we’re all in the hands and heart of a loving God; a God who loved us yesterday, a God who loves us today and a God who loves us in our tomorrows.
The scripture shows this so clearly. The story of Holy Week tells of the most momentous event in the history of the universe through the micro-lenses of ordinary people; people like you; people like me.
I think of Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” likely James the Lesser’s mother, and the trajectory of their lives. The Magdalene’s life had been tortured by seven demons before she met Jesus. Such possession by evil would have been seen as a “deserved punishment” in those days for some dire sinning. Besides being a woman in a time when women were seen as little more than property, folks would have totally shunned her for her seemingly “deserved” demon occupation. In their language, demon occupation could have been the true ruling of a person by evil, emotional illness or physical illness. The point is, after meeting Jesus her life turned around; it was totally transformed.
The other Mary’s life would have been in dark places too, especially Holy Week. Her son, and because she’s on the scene, likely she, had invested deeply in following Jesus. And think how it all came crumbling down around them in a week: the glory of Palm Sunday, the bold cleansing of the temple, the last supper and Judas’ betrayal, the Kangaroo court trial, the scourging and now, an agonizing, humiliating death on the cross. With nothing but death and disaster, the Marys headed to the tomb of death; death of their Lord, death of their dreams, and in a way, death of their hope.
For these ordinary folks, life couldn’t get more dark. And often we find ourselves in such dark places: we give our life to our work, and we’re un-expectedly “downsized” and are too old to be hired; our marriage, started in such bliss, crumbles in the face of an affair, and we’re in a divorce court; the formerly loving, bright eyes of a child now burn with hate, and a life we’d never want for those we love is pursed by them; the rock of our life lies in a bed panting for the next breath. Sometimes, we ordinary people find our lives taken to deep, dark places we never imagined we be like the Marys in our passage.
But then, as for Mary Magadelene and the other Mary, hope comes in the Resurrection; an encounter with the Risen, death-defeating Jesus. Just as the dead coldness of winter gives way to the blossoms of spring, so the Resurrection of Jesus means the best is yet to be, even in the winter-times of our lives.
We have this hope because the Resurrection means forgiveness from our pasts. I’m always fascinated by how what I say in sermons grabs people. A couple of weeks ago, I told the story of a colleague who was treated horribly by a parishioner who had a total change in heart because of a renewal in Christ. After receiving an apology note from her, he responded with three words: forgiven, forgotten, forever. Many told me how that meant much to them, and I think the reason is, we are so often haunted by guilt. But get this, I think we all know that because of Jesus we’re forgiven of our sins and that we are also set free from our guilt. Not only in a legal sense, where we deserve punishment, but also from our carrying such guilt. God wants us to live new lives, forgiven and freed from our pasts. After all, at great cost, God has cleansed us! When we, with great remorse, seek God’s forgiveness, we receive “forgiven, forgotten and forever” grace. We can then live the burden-free lives God wants us to live; not anchored by the failures of our pasts but leaning and living toward the abundant, ‘best is yet to be’ life God wants for us.
In India there are are some interesting shelves lining some of the roads. They’re called “soma tongas.” Soma tongas are for people who are walking along the roads carrying heavy burdens on their backs. In essence, they are rest stops. When people are tired, they stop, take their heavy packs off, and place them on the “soma tongas” shelves and rest. Easter means that! Our “best is yet to be” is when we live out and act on his words that he came to take all our burdens, even the burdens of our pasts, the burden of our sin and guilt, on himself. Why, new Christians in India often refer to Jesus as their “soma tonga,” the one who gives them rest from their burdens. Easter means we can release the burdens of our past failures, sin and guilt and move into the next meaning of this day.
You see, the Resurrection offers hope because it means a new direction in our lives; the best is yet to be. That new direction is one of following the footsteps of Jesus. Where the world, and our worldly-fallen nature, would have us follow our own desires to look out for number one, ourselves, the Cross and resurrection mean such inclinations have been defeated for us. When Christ is the living Ruler of our lives, we live for God and others.
William McClain, the preaching professor of our United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary, for many years, told of traveling to Korea. In Seoul, he met a tailor named Smitty Lee. He was fascinated by the name “Smitty.” As you’d guess, that’s not a common first name for Koreans. So, he asked him how he got his name. Smitty told him that in the Korean conflict, an American soldier named Smitty Ranson, from Virginia, had saved his life. He went on to explain that among his people, if a person saves your life, you take their name. So, from that time forward, he took the name of Smitty. That’s the very same with the Risen Christ. He has saved our life for eternity and we take the name, Christian, which means “those on the way of Christ.” It means we follow Christ, belong to Christ, and put Christ, love of God and neighbor, over all our selfish ways. The Resurrection offers hope because it means a new way of living that stretches into eternity. It means, for our daily living, the best is yet to be.
Finally, we have this hope because the Resurrection means a new destination for our souls. One of the evolving realities of Easter comes our way when we’ve had someone pass away. The faith-filled certain hope is of Jesus overcoming death and opening the gates of heaven for eternal life. For many of us, who’ve experienced a loss in our lives since last year, like my family with my father, this takes on a whole new meaning this Easter. My deepest belief and faith is that because of the Resurrection, our loved ones live on with and in Jesus.
In ministry, your pastors are often with families and folks at their passage from this life, where we die, to the life where no one dies. It can be tough, and it also can be beautiful.
Our beloved brother Bob Ralls is an example. 36 hours before he made his great transition, I visited him. He was watching the Masters in Augusta and at the same time speaking of his faith and assurance of heaven. He even wanted me to proof read his much re-written obituary; one that his two sons, both Phd’s had worked with him on. (Mark with a Phd in theology from Princeton in systematic theology). What could I add? But the family subtlety let me know that a most important pass-through for Bob was his Christian faith community’s, Christ Church’s leader, me at the time. He had such an assurance.
Then, I was with another family, just this week. Their mom was moving from this world to the next. Her priest gave her last rites and she was somewhat aware of that. But then, later in the evening, with great clarity, she looked at each person in the room, individually and told them how beautiful they were and went on to say, “I can see forever. I can see eternity. It’s so beautiful, I can’t believe it! It’s so beautiful.” Not all of us get that kind of gift from God, but this family did.
What a comfort it is to know that because of the Resurrection, we have the sure and absolute hope, which is really knowledge and assurance, that our loved ones, who placed their hope in Christ, and we ourselves, have such a destination!
Easter, it means freedom from our pasts, a new direction for our today and a glorious destination for our lives forever. This is why we worship. This is why we follow and love him.
Share with your group your earliest Easter memories.
Share with your group any Easter traditions you keep.
Share with your group how Easter gives you hope.
Share with your group how Easter comforts you.