The late Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock tells a story about preaching on an Easter Sunday in the church of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, GA, Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Incidentally, Ebenezer is a Hebrew word that literally means rock or stone of help—keep that in mind.) The pastor of the church was Joe Roberts. It came time for Fred to preach and he climbed into the pulpit, paused for a moment and just as he was about to launch into his sermon, Joe Roberts began to sing. His singing picked up some intensity and soon other ministers in the congregation joined in, and then the pianist and the other musicians and before you knew it, everyone in the congregation was singing.
Joe Roberts held up his hand at one stage, stopped the singing, turned to Fred Craddock and nodded. Fred then preached his Easter sermon. After worship, Fred wrote that he asked Joe whey he started singing. Joe said, “one of the other ministers whispered to me, ‘He’s going to need some help!’”
“He’s going to need some help!” Fred then mused on that very idea as an Easter message. You see, Fred was a quiet, shy man. He was not a fiery speaker. He didn’t thump the pulpit. He stood very quietly and as he collected himself to preach, that might have been interpreted as nervousness or shyness or being unsure. When Craddock gets going, though, he carries a powerful message in his storytelling and his preaching. “He’s going to need some help.”
Well, we all do, don’t we? Need help from time to time. I know I do. The women at the tomb that first morning, early, needed help. They were asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Indeed, why do we look for the living among the dead?
Absolutely, there are times when we don’t recognize God in ourselves—for God is everywhere and in all things. Neither do we sometimes recognize God in others or in situations. We can dehumanize ourselves when we’ve made mistakes and feel isolated and alone—we can hear that internal critical voice that tells us that we are worthless and give it way too much authority. We can disagree with others and when they don’t see things our way, dehumanize them and even demonize them. It is sometimes difficult to see God in our midst—in our lives—when we’re looking out through our prejudices, our biases, our privileges, our beliefs and assumptions, our fears, our sense of self. All of those filters and lenses are cleared away with the resurrection and we are invited to see with new eyes.
That’s the help we need. We all need this help. We need reminding that life is precious. We need to be shocked into the gift of resurrection. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide Anglican Church, Rowan Williams once wrote that the apostles preached Jesus crucified and risen not as a matter of giving information, but that they are “agents, that the things that concerned Jesus have concerned and will concern them. In other words, the story of the resurrection is not an informational story but is an invitation to participate in the gift of resurrection.
That’s all the help we need. The resurrection is in us; the living God lives in us and through us and is in every atom and DNA of life. In a moment of crisis, the timely intervention of a friend can come like a burst of resurrection. The intervention of an unknown woman in Khartoum in the Sudan this past week was a burst of resurrection; she stood on a platform among a crowd of protesters singing songs of revolution and change. She wore white and became an icon of peaceful protest. Sudan has historically been a society that has repressed women. Resurrection happened or is happening in the Sudan as the army concedes to protesters. Omar al-Bashir has fallen and there is fierce pressure to have a civilian government. Resurrection bursting forth. As a further sign of resurrection, the Manatee, the Giant Panda, Snow Leopards, Peregrine falcons are among 16 species that have come back from being endangered because of the hard work of conservationists.
Resurrection happens. We are called to pay attention, and sometimes we need help to see more clearly the gift of life. We need to be helped to see the life of God dwelling in each of us. We need help sometimes to see the power of love to change us and the world. We need help sometimes, and encouragement to see that we can do anything. Like the story of the tired elementary school teacher who decided to scrap a lesson plan and talk about what the children wanted to do when they grew up. They went around the class and it came time for a small boy to speak up; he said, with a timid and shy voice, “I want to be a lion-tamer. I want to be in the circus and make those lions jump through hoops.” Everyone looked at him like he was crazy. How could he do that? Realizing that the others were doubting him, he said, “Well, of course, I’ll have my mamma with me.”
Well, why not be a lion tamer? The resurrection story is ours to live out and gives us the gift of courage and hope, and enables us to live with love in the midst of doubts, struggles and challenges. That’s the power of life. That’s the power of resurrection. The risen Christ is with us in our living! Alleluia! Amen.