Here is the audio and full transcript of my sermon preached on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 at New Hope Fellowship. The audio is in four parts, for some reason.
Reversing the Irreversible
The whole Easter bunny thing was ruined for me when I was about five years old.
That year for Easter my mom and dad got me a little Easter bunny—a real one. What a thrill to get a real live rabbit. It was soft and snow white with those pink eyes and nose to match. I held it and watched it hop around.
The house we lived in at that time had what we called an atrium. Right in the center of the house there was an open area enclosed by glass with no roof. And in there were lots of plants and patio furniture. And there was this little pool of water built out of rock, raised up off the ground with something like a waterfall coming down. We called it a fountain.
We took my new Easter bunny out to the atrium to let him hop around out there. One of my older brothers came out to the atrium with us. I was five; he was twelve. My brother was standing up on that fountain thing; the bunny was hopping happily around on the ground below.
My brother jumped down off the fountain. And he accidently landed right on my Easter bunny. It killed him—the bunny, that is. My brother survived. And we buried that Easter bunny on Easter Sunday in the backyard.
The writer Philip Yancey had a similar kind of experience when he was about the same age. His bunny’s name that died was Boots.
Yancey wrote this about what happened:
“I could not have articulated it at the time, but what I learned that Easter under the noonday sun was the ugly word irreversible. All afternoon I prayed for a miracle. No! It can’t be! Tell me it’s not true! Maybe Boots wouldn’t really die. Or maybe she would die but come back—hadn’t the Sunday-school teacher told such a story about Jesus?
“Or maybe the whole morning could somehow be erased, rewound, and played over again minus that horrid scene. We could keep Boots on the screened porch forever, never allowing her outside.
“A thousand schemes ran through my mind over the next days, until the reality finally won over, and I accepted at last that Boots was dead. Irreversibly dead.”
That’s a big lesson learned by a five year old. And as the years go on, as we grow through childhood to adulthood, we learn a lot more about that word irreversible.
Failing the test.
The first car accident.
The first broken heart.
The death of a parent.
The decision that can’t be unmade.
The severing of a tie.
We learn a lot about that word irreversible. It’s a painful word.
Kenny Wood is a friend. He has been a brilliant, creative minister and preacher and writer. He has also battled his share of demons over the years.
When he was not long out of college and I was a child in elementary school, he was youth minister at our church.
He showed up at Broadway Baptist Church on my first Sunday back in 2009. Turns out he was living in Fort Worth. The next day he came by the office and left me a book of weekly newspaper columns that he wrote for the newspaper in McAllen in south Texas when he lived there. They are just fantastically written. So good. In one column he told about how many years ago he was arrested for shoplifting.
taken to jail,
Time passed and he pretended it never happened.
Twenty years later, he was sitting around a table interviewing for a job in north Texas that he wanted very badly. His arrest came up in a background check and the committee said, We didn’t know you were a thief.
In his column, he wrote, The choice I made when I was young eliminated the choice I wanted to make when I was older. That was the year I found out that everything counts.
[Kenny Wood, “Bubba,” April 23, 2002]
He could have put it this way: That was the year I learned the meaning of the word irreversible.
It was late Friday afternoon when Jesus died.
It’s hard for us to understand the emotions of Jesus’ followers at this point. They had put all their hopes in Jesus. Now he was dead, and their whole world had come tumbling down.
Even with their eyes closed they could still see the three crosses dark against the sky.
Even with their fingers in their ears they could still hear the sounds that had been made there:
the cry of thirst,
the cries of pain,
the buzzing of flies.
Maybe this whole business of life doesn’t really add up to much. Jesus had made all these great promises and great claims, and a lot of people had placed their greatest hopes in him. But now, he was dead.
It was so… irreversible. If only the whole weekend could be rewound and played back minus the scene of the cross and the death.
Then there was Sunday.
The women go to the tomb to take care of Jesus’ body. Suddenly the earth moves and an angel appears and rolls back the stone. The angel says, Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised from the dead.
As I said earlier, Kenny Wood wrote about his long ago shoplifting arrest in his column in the local newspaper. He got two responses to the column.
A local minister took the time to write: Now I understand why your columns are superficial. You’re a thief. He went on to say how tragic it is that Kenny has such a great opportunity (and forum) to “win people to Jesus,” and that Kenny is “consistently a major disappointment.”
There’s a man who knows the meaning of the word irreversible.
The second response came from a longtime resident of McAllen. She called Kenny on the phone to tell him a story.
There is a house in old McAllen… she told him. A nice brick home on a corner lot. Anyway, somebody spray-painted the word “THIEF” in big, black letters across the front of the house. It was the kind of graffiti you can’t paint over; especially on light-colored brick.
It was like that for years. At least it seemed like years. You couldn’t drive by without being shocked by it, and a lot of locals drove by.
When I read your column last Sunday, that house is the first thing I thought of, so I got in the car that very afternoon to find the house.
Anybody who’s lived in town for long knows exactly where I’m talking about. I found the house and pulled around front. The word was gone. The T-H-I-E and F had been sand-blasted off.
Not only that, she said, but an iron cross has been put up in its place.
This woman offered to pick Kenny up so he could see the house for himself. He let her. He met her in front of a restaurant, and she drove him right to the house.
She was right. It was gone. There was no trace of it. From the front seat she pointed at the front of the house and said, It was right there. She traced the word with her finger and said, Gone!
Then she turned to Kenny and traced the word across him, like scarlet letters; and then this elderly stranger looked at him, waved her hand and said, Gone!
He is not here.
What does it mean for our world that Jesus has risen? Fundamentally, what it means is the awesome promise of reversibility. That in the end nothing is irreversible.
No childhood act,
no youthful indiscretion,
no sin or mistake,
no broken connection
not even death
Jamie was showing me in her devotional reading this week a passage by John Mogabgab where he points out that in story after story in the Bible there is this central idea of God making passable what is impassable.
For Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary there are those impossible births which reverse the biological impasses involved.
the woman with a hemorrhage and
the man born blind and
so many others
there are these impossible healings.
For the people of Israel backed up against the Red Sea by Pharoah’s army, there is that impossible breakthrough, where an impassable geographical barrier gives way.
And for Jesus, sealed in a tomb, trapped by a rock and by death itself, there is an impossible triumph.
Easter means that nothing, not even death, is irreversible.
Carlyle Marney said of Judas that the ultimate tragedy of his life was not his betrayal of Jesus but that he did not hold on till Sunday to see what God could do with his betrayal and despair.
On Easter we are confronted with the ferocity of the grace and power of God that relentlessly breaks through everything.
Thinking about burying that little Easter bunny all those years ago. By this time in my life, I’ve buried a lot of pets, sadly. It’s always such a sad thing. My son, Sam, is 22 now, and my daughter, Ivy, is 19, and we’ve buried a few beloved pets along the way.
Way back when Sam was 3 and Ivy was about 9 months, Sam found a little green lizard in our house.
Apparently, he wasn’t in the best of health. He was pretty brown. Where we lived down in southeast Texas, these little lizards were all over the place, and Sam would try to catch them. With this one, when Sam touched his tail, he didn’t run off.
Sam ended up putting him in an empty “Lunchable” box—one with big holes in the top. He put a couple of pieces of macaroni and cheese in there. Sam said, He really likes me. He likes me better than the other ones did.
The next morning, before I’m even out of bed, Sam comes running back to the bedroom holding his lizard, which by now is not only very still but also very stiff. He says, Look, he’s still asleep.
I said, Are you sure he’s asleep?
Sam said, Yeah, his eyes are closed.
I suggested to him that he might be dead. He took the news pretty well. I asked Sam if he wanted to bury him, and he said he did. So a little bit later that morning when we were all dressed, we took the lizard outside to the flowerbed.
I put Ivy in her stroller so she could see. I dug a shallow grave, and Sam put the lizard in, and we covered him up. I asked Sam if he would like me to say a few words. It seemed like maybe a good time to expose him to the idea of a funeral and death.
He said he did want me to say something. Then he said, I gave him a name.
I said, Oh really, what is it?
He said, Walker.
I said, Walker? Where’d you get that name?
He said, I named him after Ivy’s walker.
So there we were: Daddy, three year old Sam, and nine month old Ivy out on the front porch for our odd little graveside service. I intoned in my best preacher’s voice: Walker was a fine lizard. And now he’s in heaven with God.
Sam said, He’s not in heaven.
I said, He’s not?
He said, No. He’s right there in that hole.
I said, Well . . . (How do you explain the concept of a soul to a three-year old? Do lizards have souls?) His inside is in heaven.
He said, Like his stomach?
I said, OK, funeral’s over let’s get going.
Look, it’s hard for three-year olds and forty-three year olds and seventy-three year olds to comprehend. But let me try to spell it out for you:
The tears are right and good, but they are not the last word. Your dead are not to be found in the grave. By the power of Christ they are not right there in that hole. They are alive in the deep heart of God, stomach and all.
On that Friday that ugly word irreversible held sway over Jesus’ disciples. Two days later, when the crazy rumors about Jesus’ missing body spread through Jerusalem, they couldn’t believe it. Literally, they could not believe it. They were adults; they were conditioned by this point in their lives to the meaning of the word irreversible.
Finally, personal appearances by Jesus himself convinced them that something altogether new had broken out on earth. When that sunk in, these same people who had been crushed by fear and despair were soon preaching with great boldness to large crowds in the streets of Jerusalem.
Easter hits a new note of hope and faith that what God did once in a garden tomb in Jerusalem, God can and will repeat for the world. And for us. And for those we love. That is the sure and certain hope given to us this day in God.
What does it mean for the world that Jesus is risen? No childhood act,
no youthful indiscretion,
no adult sin or mistake,
no broken connection ,
no foolish decision,
not even death
Easter contains within it at the core the
promise of reversibility.
Anything, absolutely anything, is possible today.