John 20:1-18

There are two kinds of sports fans in life, the people who head for the exits when time is running out and the deficit seems insurmountable, and the people who stick around to the end, no matter how bleak the situation appears, hoping for a miraculous comeback. No matter the sport, there always seems to be a certain moment that proves to be the time of reckoning for the fans in attendance, whether it be a costly turnover, a failure to execute a score, or a momentous score by the opposing team—the proverbial nail in the coffin. In the moments following, those in attendance are faced with a choice, stick around and see what happens or head for the exits and beat the traffic. Often times, rather than stick around and hope for a miraculous comeback, fans take the easy way out and leave, which sometimes leads to some comedic images of fans running back into the stadium or peering in through glass doors when not allowed re-entry.

Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII Parade from Flickr via Wylio

© 2014 Jeff, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I’m reminded of the 2015 NFC championship game when the Seattle Seahawks made an improbable comeback to take the lead and eventually win the game against the Green Bay Packers. Seattle is known for the devoted fans, called the “12th man,” yet many of these fans subtracted themselves from the formula and were forced to watch the game outside the stadium with their faces pressed against the glass doors denying them reentry.  Nearly the same thing happened in the 2013 NBA Finals when the home team Miami Heat found themselves down in the final seconds versus the San Antonio Spurs with the situation looking dire. Rather than wait around in hope that the home team could pull it out, countless fans left the arena, only to turn around when the improbable comeback happened. News coverage of the event showed humorous images of fans running back towards the arena and banging on the door hoping to be let back in. Apparently having a reputation for being fickle, Miami Heat fans did nothing to repair that impression in those moments of doubt.

Have you ever stayed around to watch an improbable comeback, whether on sports or on TV? I remember back in 2010 when the Colorado Rockies mounted a miraculous comeback of their own, scoring 9 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. Two different groups of my friends attended that game, and both decided to stick around for the end of the game and were rewarded by witnessing the amazing comeback. What is it that prompts someone to stick around when hope seems lost? Is it blind devotion? Dedicated loyalty? A belief in the miraculous? Or something else? I wonder what it is because I don’t have it! Countless times when the team I’m rooting for is trailing, I turn off the TV or change the channel! Do you remember the 2009 Denver Broncos season, when they started out 6-0 under new coach Josh McDaniels then proceeded to lose 8 of the final 10 games? I was able to get free tickets from my work to go see their home game vs. the Chargers. To this day, it’s the only regular season NFL game I’ve attended. But if you remember that year, after starting off so well, the Broncos had lost 3 in a row, with this game against the Chargers being the fourth in a row after they got beat down 32-3. Attending the game with Corinna, not only did we not stick around in hopes of an improbable comeback, we actually arrived late too. But please don’t tell my previous employer as that would be just ANOTHER thing to hold against me!

Though we didn’t witness any amazing comebacks, we did experience a small miracle of our own. At some point in the 3rd quarter Corinna realized her cell phone was missing. We did the usual pointless exercises of looking around our seat, retracing our steps, even going to stadium security in hopes her phone had been found. Fruitless in our search, we headed back in from the concourse, through the tunnel, and leaned against the railing to watch some more of the game. Looking down by chance I noticed Corinna’s phone lying at the base of the railing, inches from falling down into the tunnel below. We were shocked to find it, having already come to terms that it was lost and gone forever. The game having been a dud and not wanting to press our luck any further, we left shortly thereafter, happy for the small miracle of a found cell phone!

Today is a day we celebrate “the greatest comeback of all time” we might say, a miracle bigger than any other miracle, the resurrection of Jesus after his brutal death on the cross. Yet if we remember the story, Jesus’ own fans or followers, the disciples, were hardly the most hopeful bunch themselves. When things got difficult, rather than trusting in the words of Jesus that he would die and then rise again, nearly all the disciples ran away scared, with Peter even denying knowing Jesus on three occasions, and Judas selling out Jesus in order to avoid the same fate. The first day of the week when Mary found the tomb empty, the rest of the disciples were apparently sitting at home defeated and depressed. When he heard the news from Mary, Peter took action and ran to the tomb alongside another unnamed disciple.

I wonder what prompted Peter’s sudden devotion. Let’s remember this was a man who had fallen asleep when Jesus asked him to stay awake and pray the night of his arrest, this was a man who had foolishly pulled a sword to attack the arresting officers when Jesus was willing to go quietly, this was a man who had denied knowing Jesus on three different occasions that night, this was man who had for all intents and purposes left the stadium when the deficit seemed too large to overcome. So why did he run to the tomb that morning when Mary told him the news? Maybe he was worried the body had been stolen. Maybe he doubted Mary’s words and wanted to see for himself. Or maybe he had an inkling of hope that Jesus had risen from the dead, and he wanted to suspend, if only for a moment, the guilt and despair he had in order to go and see for himself if the miraculous had occurred.[1]

Yet if Peter was the sports fan who left the game early and missed the great comeback, Mary was the sports fan who stuck around and was rewarded for her loyalty. Remember that Mary had been at the foot of the cross, watching Jesus suffer in agony during his brutal crucifixion. Yet she was apparently the first to return after he had been entombed.  What prompted her to stick around? Maybe she was worried someone would steal his body? Maybe she was just walking around in a stupor, not sure what to do next? Or maybe, she was holding out hope, not yet ready to give up. Today I would invite us to imagine that beneath all their guilt, shame, and sorrow there was a small sliver of hope within Peter and Mary that compelled them to look for signs of life when things seemed dead and lifeless. And this, I believe, is what being a Christian is all about.

So often we can get the message that being a Christian means being eternally optimistic, always walking around with a smile, never letting the pressures of life weigh us down. Putting aside the fact that even the most positive people have moments of discouragement and doubt, we should remember that Jesus, the person we follow and look to as our example for living, exhibited every human emotion including anger, fear, sadness, and discouragement. Being a Christian isn’t about having it all figured out or always walking around in a state of unending bliss. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we never experience doubt, discouragement, or even times of despair. It simply means that we choose to keep on keeping on, even if sometimes in fits and starts, acting and believing as if something good can happen, that new life might be revealed.  Being a Christian means not being immobilized by our grief, guilt, despair, discouragement, mistakes, misdeeds, misfortune, and mishaps. Being a Christian means not letting the pains of life defeat us because we know by the power of Christ’s resurrection, new life and resurrection is also possible for us as well.

We are then invited to become people of the resurrection, to seek to live lives that overcome dead places. And being people of the resurrection means believing that despite the greed, selfishness, and injustice in our world, we continue to act in the faith that God can bring new life. Being people of the resurrection means believing that despite seeing places where there is selfishness, division, and doubt, God can faith and unity. Being people of the resurrection means believing that when people act in attitudes of scarcity and insufficiency, God can change hearts to abundance and generosity. Being people of the resurrection means “bending toward hope in the face of destruction and death.”[2] Being people of the resurrection, trusting in God’s ability to bring new life when all seems lost is not a choice to take lightly, nor is it the safest, but it is the choice Jesus made and invites us also to choose.

I believe in resurrection, I believe in comebacks, because I’ve seen it in my life, I’ve seen it in this church, and I’ve seen it in this world. God is always bringing new life to people and places seeming lost and hopeless. And Easter celebrates this very thing; that God brought about life when all seemed lost, that Jesus conquered death. As people of the resurrection, let us live in faith that Jesus can bring life to parts of our world that seem irreparable, to the parts of our community that seem irreconcilable, and the parts of our lives that seem unredeemable. As people of the resurrection, we have faith that Jesus has overcome all that seems hopeless.

 

[1] Jane Anne Ferguson, “Bending Toward Hope,” Sermon-stories.com <http://sermon-stories.com/bending-toward-hope/#more-739> (accessed March 26, 2016).

[2] Jane Anne Ferguson, “Bending Toward Hope,” Sermon-stories.com <http://sermon-stories.com/bending-toward-hope/#more-739> (accessed March 26, 2016).

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