Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Goodbye Has Changed to Hello” (Matthew 28:1-9)
Easter Sunday: April 16, 2017
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What a joy to celebrate Easter with you today, as we are reminded that we serve a Lord who has not only atoned for our sins but also given us the assurance of eternal life.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:25).  Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, and this same Holy Spirit will one day raise all the saints who have gone before from the dead, and will one day raise you from the dead as well.

In his account of Jesus’ resurrection Matthew tells us that early on Easter morning Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James went to the tomb of Jesus with the intention of embalming him for burial, with the intention of saying goodbye.  But God had different intentions for them, and when they arrived, the body of Jesus was not there.  Instead they were greeted by a mighty angel of the Lord who had rolled away the stone from the tomb and struck fear in the heart of the elite Roman soldiers assigned to guard it.  This same angel tells the two Mary’s, “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” (Matthew 28:1-6).

As they are running from the tomb “with fear and great joy” on their way to tell Jesus’ disciples what had happened, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” and in response the two Mary’s “took hold of his feet, and worshipped him” (28:9).  They had come to say, “Goodbye” to the crucified Jesus, but instead the Risen Jesus said to them, “Hello.”

Fifty years ago the Beatles’ album, Magical Mystery Tour, was released, which includes these childishly simple lyrics sung by Paul McCartney to a very catchy melody: “You say goodbye and I say hello—hello, hello—I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello” (from their song “Hello, Goodbye”).

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, goodbye has changed to hello.

There are many sceptics who debunk the verity of the bodily resurrection, and dismiss it as a harmful and misleading myth that gives false hope to the ignorant.  But the bodily resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith.  “If there is no resurrection of the dead,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19).

I am a big fan of the Star Wars films.  I remember vividly seeing each of the seven episodes so far in the movie theater, how old I was and with whom I saw them.  There is something about these films that resonates with me, and apparently millions of other fans too.  I actually have a large Darth Vader PEZ dispenser in my office that some good friends gave me.  When the bishop and I met in my office a couple months ago, he did a double take, but without comment.

In the most recent film, Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens, there is a powerful scene in which the young heroes Rey and Finn meet the legendary elderly Han Solo.  As they discuss the Force, Han Solo vulnerably reveals to them his own past doubt about the reality of the supernatural:  “I used to wonder about that myself, I thought it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo—a magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the like.”

Then there is a flashback to a scene from the first Stars Wars film when a young Han Solo was debunking the Force to an equally young Luke Skywalker, “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything.  No mystical energy field controls my destiny.”  Then the elderly Han Solo turns and looks directly at Rey and Finn and says, “The crazy thing is, it’s true, all of it—the Force, the Jedi—it’s all true.”

And on Easter we celebrate that the resurrection is not “a bunch of mumbo jumbo,” that “the crazy thing is, it’s true”—the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of our own resurrection and being reunited with all our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven, where goodbye has changed to hello—“it’s all true.”  As we reaffirm every week in the concluding words of the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

And this gives us hope in the midst of our earthly sufferings, especially in the face of death.  The greatest case of individual suffering in the Old Testament is Job, who suddenly and unexpectedly lost his children, his wealth, and his health.  As Job, covered in sores, sat in rags and listened to his three “friends” tell him that he was suffering because of what he had done wrong, that it was all karma—even then, when it appeared all hope was lost, Job spoke about bodily resurrection:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).

And in the New Testament the Apostle Paul, writing to the suffering Christians of the church in Rome, many of whom were martyred for their faith, also pointed to the hope of the bodily resurrection: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,” he wrote, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

It all goes back to the power of the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ, a love that led Jesus to the cross where he atoned for the sins of the world, a love that scripture simply says “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), a love that even supersedes death—as Richard Rohr put it in his 2013 book, Immortal Diamond, “‘Love is stronger than death’ is the message of Easter” (48).

Jesus’ resurrection has changed goodbye to hello, and, like the two Mary’s, we too will one day worship Jesus face to face.  The brilliant nineteenth century poet and scholar Christina Rossetti describes this in her poem “We Know Not When”:

We know not when, we know not where,
We know not what that world will be;
But this we know: it will be fair
To see.

With heart athirst and thirsty face
We know and know not what shall be:
Christ Jesus bring us of His grace
To see.

Christ Jesus bring us of His grace,
Beyond all prayers our hope can pray,
One day to see Him face to Face,
One day (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: Rossetti 216).

And the resurrection of Jesus assures us that not only will we see the face of Jesus, we will also see the faces of those whom we love who have already died, yes the people who come to your mind even now—you will see them face to face again too.  This is why when I do deathbed visits, and I have done many, I never say goodbye to the person who is dying, I always say “See you later.”  This is not because I am in denial; it is because of the hope of the resurrection.

One more illustration…in the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, whose father John, a minor league baseball catcher, died when Ray was a young man, before he had the chance to reconcile with him.  Ray is crazy enough to listen to the voices that tell him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farm, and when he does so, many minor league players from the past, including his dad John, show up and play a game.

Afterwards, as the sun is setting, Ray and his father John walk along the edge of the field.  Ray tells his father, “You catch a good game.”  “Thank you,” John replies, and he continues, “It’s so beautiful here.  Well for me it’s like a dream come true.  Can I ask you something?  Is this heaven?”  Ray grins, “It’s Iowa.”  “Iowa?”  “Yeah.”  “I could have sworn it was heaven.”  Ray then hesitatingly asks his father, “Is there is a heaven?”  John grins, “Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true.”  John stretches out his hand, “Well, goodnight, Ray.”  Ray clasps his father’s hand in a long handshake, “Goodnight, John.”  As John begins to walk away, Ray takes a deep breath, “Hey, Dad?  You want to have a catch?”  John nods, “I’d like that.”  Then Ray and John play catch…and goodbye has changed to hello.

So on this Easter morning may the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead quicken your heart and remind you that love is stronger than death, and that when it comes to the hope of the resurrection, “It’s true, all of it”—and one day you, like Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, will worship your Risen Savior “face to Face.”