Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Easter Sermons

I heard two Easter sermons yesterday. One was chaotic: it involved a spontaneous play with people drawn from the audience playing different "witnesses" on Easter morning. Because the actors had no idea what was going on or where the play was going (or even which Gospel account was being drawn from) it was awkward and drawn out, and the point was weakly made and ill-defined. Sometimes it was even hard to hear what was being said over the crying babies and fighting toddlers who were kept in the service, and made it sound more like the middle of a food court, than a church service.

The other sermon could not have been more different. It was eloquent and logical. It used beautiful images and funny stories and was, overall, tightly argued. The points were strongly made and were fairly convincing. The church, moreover, was silent and attentive, and the preacher made the most of his polished craft to draw everyone along.

Yet, for all their dissimilarities, the two sermons shared more than they differed. Both were trying to do something entirely foreign to the purpose and meaning of Easter: they were both trying to prove scientifically that the most logical explanation for the empty tomb accounts in the Gospels is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Let me explain why this is a problem: Dead people don't come back to life. It is impossible. And as Sherlock Holmes said "How often have I said to you [Watson] that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" Sermons or apologetic arguments that try to prove that the resurrection happened end up supporting the skeptic's case, since it is never more logical to think that the impossible has happened rather than the very implausible. A fainted, beaten man, without water or food moving an incredibly heavy stone and then overcoming a crowd of guards? Still more probable than the dead being raised. The disciples stealing the body and then refusing to deny the story under torture and execution? Still more probable than the dead being raised. Actually, any story at all, no matter how improbable, is more probable than the impossible story that we have: that the dead are brought to life, and that the crucified Jesus is the risen Lord, conqueror of death, and the locus of the hope of the world.

So let's not try to prove it! Proclaim the impossibility! (Madeleine L'Engle called it "the Glorious Impossible") Revel in the fact that the wisdom of God looks like foolishness to men, and let the people work out for themselves how to deal with their scientific concepts and logical dissonances once they realize they have just met someone who they thought died two thousand years ago! For Easter, at least, let us put aside the weak excuses we tell the world to try and make us look clever and logical, and simply celebrate that the impossible has happened. If I look like a fool for doing so, then I look like a fool. Like David, I will gladly say "I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

...Let's party!!


Tim said...

I had a conversation with a non Christian friend last week about proving Jesus' existence. I argued that proving he exists won't change your life. One has to find the reality of Jesus in one's own life. That's what it truly means to believe.

Bethany said...

Yes. Proclamation is often stronger than proof, but encounter trumps both. What is that verse in James about "Even the demons believe, and tremble"?