In the 1840’s, there was living in England, an unhappy young woman named Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s mother died and her tyrannical, brutish father forced upon her the duties of raising her seven younger siblings. He also forbid her to marry. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Elizabeth began to feel ill and severely depressed. She withdrew into her room, where she hibernated like a bear in winter. But, Elizabeth was a bright and talented girl and as many bright lights do, she eased the pressure of her suffering by writing. She wrote beautiful, but sad, poems. One of them was a poem about her best and only friend: her dog. She even managed to get a small collection of her poems published. They circulated around London and they caught the eye of a young man named Robert, who was himself a poet. Robert was so moved by Elizabeth’s poetry that he wrote to her, praising her work and asking to meet her. She ignored him. He wrote again. She ignored him and so he wrote her again. He continued to beg to meet her and she continued to deny the meeting because as she saw it she had no life and nothing to offer. “Why would any man want to meet me?” She thought. “ I’m nobody worth meeting.” But finally Elizabeth consented to Robert’s request. They met. And when their eyes met something very beautiful happened. Elizabeth and Robert fell in love. After that Elizabeth’s poetry changed. She ceased writing sad poems about her only friend her dog and she began writing poems about love and hope. Maybe you’ve heard this one. Some think it’s the most beautiful love poem ever written in the English language.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seem’d to lose
With my lost saints,-I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life-and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
I call to mind that beautiful sonnet on this Easter morning because of the last line, “and if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” Some may dismiss her feelings as a good example of gushing sentimental romanticism. But I don’t think so. Saint Paul was not a romantic poet. But he’s the one who said, “Love never ends” (1 Cor.13.8). He meant that in light of Christ’s resurrection, the odds that Elizabeth and Robert would continue to love one another with an even greater love beyond the grave if God so chooses are better than good. Christ’s resurrection is a promise from God that that is exactly what will happen. The resurrection of Christ is an affirmation that everything we have ever believed in our hearts about life being eternal and love being sacred is true. Life is eternal and love is sacred. God made it so.
The resurrection of Christ says to a depressed and hopeless world that life is not just a heartless competition among the fittest for survival. Life is not just a meaningless dog eat dog struggle. We are not just animals driven by instincts beyond our control. The doctrine of the resurrection affirms that you and I are living souls. We have the body of a natural animal but there is a part of us that is supernatural. There is a part of us that natural evolution cannot account for.
Every one of us, I imagine, has stood at the grave of a friend. You’ve seen the corpse in a casket or the ashes in an urn. That heap of ashes is full of carbon and copper, magnesium and salt and dozens of other minerals and chemicals. And that dead corpse cannot talk or laugh or sing or smile or tell a joke or cry or whisper,“ I love you”. And in that moment you know. That’s when you know in your heart that there is more to life than a physical body. A human being is not just a bundle of blood and bones and nerves. A human being is a person. A person is made of mind and heart and soul. A human being has a brain, a brain that you can weigh and measure and see. And a person has heart that is made of flesh. But a person also has a mind of her own and a stubborn will of his own. We have a moral conscience and that is not just a brain function. Neither is the human love of beauty or the universal desire for peace. Everyone has big dreams and ideals and things that really matter to you and you alone. We all have our ideas and plans. We strive for them and glow with pride when we succeed. We cry when we fail. The mountains and the seas, the clouds and the trees don’t do that. My friends you can operate on a person’s chest and take a man’s heart out but you’ll never see what’s really in that man’s heart until he opens his heart up to you. You can operate on a person's brain but you will never get inside that person’s mind until you listen to her and try to understand what she’s thinking and feeling. You can take tissue samples from every part of a person's body and study them under a microscope in depth but you’ll never in that way see who that person is. Science for all its marvels can never explain a human person.
The resurrection of Christ says that the reason that the natural sciences can never fully explain a human being is because a human being belongs to God. God raised Jesus from the dead. God did this for him because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was in this world as the perfect representative of humanity; therefore, what God did for Jesus by raising him from the dead God did for us all. The resurrection of Christ means that you and I are of infinite worth to our Creator. We really are. And I don’t’ mean we are because we have become baptized Christians. Christ came into this world to save sinners. Every human being is a sinner. The only thing that Christians have going for them is that, if we’re honest, we admit our corruption and we admit that we are undeserving of God’s grace. And that means as Christians we know that we have no more claim on God's love than anyone else. I mean that every human being is of infinite worth to God. And therefore, every human being deserves to be treated as one who is of infinite worth. The resurrection teaches us to humbly regard others being better than ourselves and to serve each other with the highest regard. Look at the people around this room. Who do you see? You know who that person beside you is? That is the very person that Jesus Christ died on a cross to save. By raising Jesus from the tomb, God made it clear to a world that had lost its faith in humanity that human beings matter. We do not deserve to be treated like slaves or like objects to be used or manipulated. Human beings are not just like other objects in nature. Human beings are the reason why there is a universe.
Do you ever wonder why we’re here? We haven’t always been here. Once there was nothing. The greatest scientific discovery of the last century was that the universe has not always existed. Once there was nothing, and then suddenly something about the size of head of pin only smaller appeared and then, " Bang! "From it came a flash of light and a few billion years after that, that light condensed into stars. And a few billon years after that, those stars broke up scattering minerals and rocks and chemicals all over the place. And a few billion years after that, some of those minerals, rocks and chemicals came together and became planet Earth. And a few billion years after that Elizabeth Barrett fell in love with Robert Browning and inspired by the hope that love brings, she came out of her depression and wrote the world’s finest love poetry.
Now if you don’t believe in God, you believe that all of this happened by sheer chance; that life and love and poetry is all an accident of nature. You believe that given enough time, say fourteen billon years, give or take a billion, light beams that appeared spontaneously for no reason out of nothing will inevitably turn into beautiful women who fall in love, marry the man of their dreams, move to Italy and write Sonnets from the Portuguese. In other words, if you don’t believe in God, this universe is an absurd enigma, a freakish accident, a cosmic farce, a grand stellar stage on which a drama is being played out that has absolutely no meaningful plot or purpose to it whatsoever.
But if you believe in God, then it all makes perfect sense. Young women fall in love and some of them write beautiful poems because God has made us for that purpose. God has given us life so that we too might experience love. We aren’t here by accident. We were made for beauty, peace and love. Why would God do such a thing on such a grand scale? God would do this because God himself has a heart of love (1John4.8). Love empties its heart, shares all it has. That’s what love does, it gives itself away.
And I think that deep down everyone, even the most militant atheist, knows this. Life is not absurd. Life is a beautiful journey. And if will not run from it but dare to forgive and sacrifice and give our hearts and souls to those we meet along the way, we can live into the true meaning of life and find the happiness we seek.
That’s what the resurrection of Christ is about and that’s why I’d say to those of you who doubt that God raised Jesus from the dead, I don’t think that your doubts go as deep as you think they do.
Have faith in God, because God has faith in you. Especially on those days when you are feeling depressed, when you think you don’t matter, when you feel like a failure and that nothing you ever do counts for much. When you’re feeling down or defeated like the only friend you have in the world is your dog, don’t look down at the ground. Look up. Look up at Christ on the cross. Look into his empty tomb. See him ascending on the clouds of heaven. He did that all for you and for me. We are the reason that Jesus Christ came into the world and redeemed us from sin. We are the recipients of a love that never ends. God is in love with us.
The resurrection of Christ is to God, what that beautiful sonnet was to Elizabeth Browning. That sonnet was her way of telling her husband how much she loves him. And the resurrection of Christ is God’s way of showing humanity how important we are. The resurrection of Christ is poetry, to be sure, but it’s the divine poetry of ultimate reality. If you want to know why there is a universe and why we are in it, the answer is right out in the open. It's no secret. By the resurrection of Christ, God has made His purpose in creating the universe fully known. We are made to live eternally with our Creator and love is sacred. “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15.12) Jesus said. By raising Jesus from the dead after his ignominious crucifixion, God revealed that those words about love were not just the idle poetry of a blasphemer; they were and forever are God’s word. Love is the very reason for life.