Easter Sunday 2019: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12
We all love a good comeback story, don’t we? And a couple have struck me in different ways recently. Last weekend, we saw Tiger Woods winning the US Masters. An immensely talented golfer, winning major tournaments as a young man, and then a period of more than a decade when things didn’t go so well, and he’d kind of slipped from view. Until last weekend and his return to form! And why was it so gripping? I love the explanation from the sports reporter on the radio on Monday morning. “We all love a comeback story,” he said, “We all love a redemption story. So many TV executives would have been sitting in front of their TV screens praying – and their prayers were answered.” (Actually, I think there’s a further sermon in those very words – but that’s for another day!)
And then on Monday evening just six days ago, we had the news from Paris of the terrible fire at Notre-Dame. Watching the tower collapse and the flames engulf the roof space, well, things looked very desperate. But to wake up the following morning and hear that the external footprint of the building had essentially been saved – in its own way, that’s comeback! To know that they came back from within 30 mins of complete devastation. And with the promise of an even fuller comeback as part of the reconstruction.
For each of these events, cast your mind back to how you heard the news. On TV, online, by text, verbally perhaps? How did you take the news in? With joy, elation – or despair, sorrow? To what extent did you even believe it? Because the question is once we’ve heard it, digested it, what do we do with that piece of news? How do we respond?
This morning we celebrate the greatest story ever told. A story of comeback. Of the risen Jesus defeating death. But one that was greeted with not a little disbelief. For the women who had gone to the tomb and found it empty didn’t get it at first. I love that, because isn’t it a really very human response? They were terrified, and had to be reminded by the angels that what they were seeing now with their own eyes was fulfilling what Jesus himself had told them earlier on in his ministry – that he would indeed suffer, be rejected, killed and on the third day raised again (Luke 9:22). And then you can almost hear the “wow – it really is true,” when it says, “Then they remembered his words.” And news like this – well, like any piece of gripping news you can’t keep it to yourself. You simply have to tell others.
But the response they in turn get is equal disbelief. The apostles thought all this was “an idle tale, and they did not believe [the women].” “What, Jesus risen? Not in the tomb? Get away with you!” But for Peter – the one who denied Jesus three times, remember – there’s enough of a seed sown to make him just that tiny bit curious. Enough to make him get up and check things out for himself. It’s that little something that causes him to think – “what if this so-called ‘idle tale’ really is true?” Maybe Peter, too, recalled Jesus’ earlier prediction.
Coming to terms
Because for me, this is isn’t about Peter being motivated to go and check out the tomb for himself out of some sense that the doubters might be right – and wanting to confirm and prove that sense. Instead it’s the flipside: about being inspired by possibility and potential. The sorts of possibility and potential that come from him having spent time with Jesus, much of whose day-to-day business was showing in so many situations what you thought was final wasn’t actually the end of the story. Stories of healing, feeding miracles, overturning the status quo – lots of little comebacks in their own right, if you like. That in every sense possible there is with him the fullest of life.
“If Jesus had said this, is it not just worth going and having a look?” Peter might have said. And from this, we get the turning of possibility into reality. Because this is the stuff that good comeback stories are made of. Being taken right to the edge, to the limits. To think that Tiger’s form a couple of years ago might have closed the door completely on further success; or that those first images of a burning Notre-Dame would inevitably lead to total collapse. It’s not the end of the story.
And surely the most extraordinary journey is that of cross and comeback. Three days earlier, Jesus took on the burden of humanity’s sinfulness once and for all, dying on a cross. But that’s not the end of the story. Even at this darkest moment there’s still possibility and potential. And it’s the key to Easter, because only with Good Friday does Easter make sense, otherwise there can be no comeback.
The greatest comeback story
And this comeback story is one that needs repeated retelling, and in fact bears repeated retelling. Because long after the events at Notre-Dame have been reincorporated into the history of that place; long after – dare I say it – we have even forgotten Tiger’s return, we will still be telling this comeback story.
If Peter couldn’t get his head round the news first time round, he soon does, and knows it must be told again and again. This is not some simple “idle tale!” In our first reading from Acts, it’s Peter who gives us a summary of the Gospel perhaps just four or five years after Jesus’ resurrection. If you ever wanted a concise summary of everything that Jesus did and why he came, then read this (Acts 10:36-43).
And the reason this comeback story needs retelling because it’s a microcosm of the wider salvation story. It becomes our story. Especially today, when we shortly come to baptise Florence and William, we remember that this story becomes theirs as well, as they turn away from what has gone before and open themselves up to the reality of new life here and now. Florence and William, the story of Easter is also your story. And for us all, it means that Jesus’ death and resurrection don’t remain a historic event but are interwoven into our own lives. He knows us in the darkest moments, but shows us, too – just like the glinting cross appearing through the smouldering debris of Notre-Dame – that the endpoint of darkness is light and life.