But by Rev. L. John Gable
April 16, 2017
I don’t know how many times I have read the Easter story in each of the four Gospels, but I noticed something this year in Luke’s telling that I have never noticed before. The whole Easter story, which means the whole Gospel message and all of the great promises of our faith, hang together on one single conjunction, the simple, hardly noticeable, often over-looked, three letter word “BUT”.
Luke ends chapter 23 of his Gospel on Good Friday evening. Jesus has been “crucified, dead and buried” just as the creed tells us. The women left the tomb where they had laid His body in much the same way we left this sanctuary last Friday evening, cold and dark, lights off and doors locked. They went home to prepare the spices for His final burial, the dirty work they would have to return to at the end of the Sabbath day, Sunday morning. There was nothing more they could do. This was the end of the story, and there was no good reason to think otherwise. Jesus was dead and with Him their hopes and dreams and expectations that He was the promised Messiah, and now that He was dead He certainly was not that; nor was He a great prophet for now the things He had spoken of could never come to pass; nor was He even a great teacher since He, and the Kingdom He promised to bring, was the focal point of all of His teachings and those too were nothing but a deception and a lie. The women left the tomb that evening without any hope or expectation that anything would ever change, and the men hadn’t even bothered to go in the first place. Jesus was dead, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
We too have experienced those same kinds of emotions, haven’t we, because we live in that same kind of a Good Friday world? We have experienced loneliness and fear, discouragement and despair. We have set our hopes on people and things which have disappointed. We have felt the relentlessness of depression and addiction. We have faced injustice and inhumanity, prejudice and cruelty, in ourselves and in others, without seeing any means of recourse or remedy. We have felt the broken-heartedness and anger of rejection without any hope of forgiveness; the betrayal of friends without any hope of reconciliation; the horror of violence without any means for peace. We have cried out from the dark night of our souls to a God who feels distant and disinterested in hearing our cries or answering our prayers. We have faced rejection without means of redemption; opposition without recourse or new opportunity; helplessness without any sense of hope. Like the women at the tomb, we too have walked away from the graveside of a loved one and thought “This is the end. Life as we know it will never be the same again and there is no good reason to think otherwise.”
We know what it is like to live in a Good Friday kind of world. That is what the world looks and acts and feels like without God, without Christ, without the promise we gather to hear and proclaim once again today. And if this is all there is then we are without either help or hope in this world.
But look with me at the very first word of the very first verse of chapter 24. Luke writes, “BUT” and that little conjunction changes everything because that simple, hardly noticeable, often overlooked, little three letter word holds out the awesome promise of reversibility, the distinct possibility that there might be another way. That little conjunction holds all of the promise of the Easter day, of the Gospel, of our faith. “BUT on the first day of the week…”
A conjunction is little more than a transitional word used to hold two phrases or clauses together to form a single sentence or thought. The word “BUT” is used, rather than say “and”, when a new idea is introduced, an idea that stands in contrast to what has previously been stated. “BUT” is used to indicate the “possibility of reversibility”, such as “That was then, BUT this is now!” Such as, “He was dead…BUT now He is alive!”
Look again at Luke’s telling. “BUT”, that’s how he begins to tell the story of that first Easter morning, cueing us as listeners that something is different, something has changed, “BUT on the first day of the week, at early dawn they” (meaning the women, the men are still nowhere to be found) “they came to the tomb”, expecting to find it just as they left it, expecting to find that nothing had changed, and why should they? Their hopes, their dreams, their expectations had all died with Jesus on the cross of Calvary. “They came to the tomb taking the spices they had prepared” to complete their last labor of love, the work of burial, nothing more.
“BUT”, we are told, “when they got there they found the stone which had sealed the tomb rolled away and when they went in they did not find the body.” Admittedly they were “perplexed”. This didn’t make any sense. Something had changed, something was different here; they just didn’t know what, at least not yet.
“Suddenly two men dressed in dazzling clothes stood beside them” and naturally “the women were terrified, so they bowed their heads to the ground, BUT the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, BUT has risen!” That is the “BUT” of the Easter story that changes everything; that is the simple, hardly noticeable, often-overlooked conjunction on which the whole Gospel message and all of the great promises of our faith hang and hold together: BUT… He is not here, He is alive!
Friends, that one, little word makes all the difference in the world. Everything changes because there is a “BUT” to the Easter story. If there is no “BUT” to this story then there is no resurrection, no faith, no hope, no promise of the forgiveness of our sins, no everlasting life, no gift of salvation. Without the “BUT” of the Easter story we are as Paul writes to the Corinthians “a people most to be pitied because we have believed in vain.”
BUT friends, hear and believe this Good News of the Gospel, there is a BUT to the Easter story and that simple, little conjunction changes everything! That “BUT” links together the “before” and the “after” of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried, BUT on the third day He arose again from the dead”, and because He lives, we shall live also.
Add that simple little conjunction to any of life’s greatest challenges and disappointments and everything changes:
We say, “I feel alone and afraid”, BUT God promises “fear not I will be with you.”
We say, “I am broken and ashamed”, BUT God offers His healing touch.
We say, “I am disappointed in myself and others, BUT God gives a hope which never fails.
We cry, “I have sinned”, BUT God says “I forgive you.”
We cry, “The world is torn by violence and war”, BUT Jesus offers the way of “peace that passes all human understanding.”
We suffer injustice and inhumanity, BUT God promises reconciliation and redemption. As Paul writes, “We are afflicted in every way BUT not crushed; perplexed BUT not driven to despair; persecuted BUT not destroyed.” II Cor. 4:8-9.
We know we are lost, BUT Jesus shows us the Way; confused, BUT Jesus leads us in the Truth; dead in our sins and trespasses, BUT Jesus offers us new Life.
Since the beginning of this year I have stood at the graveside with eight families from Tab, Tuesday will be the ninth, and have suffered with a congregation I love who lost their 37 year old pastor, leaving a wife and four children. Friends, without the “BUT” of the Easter day I confess I would have nothing to offer, nothing to say, no comfort or hope to give. BUT because of the “BUT” resurrection I can claim with them the promises of Jesus when He says, “Whoever believes in Me though they may die, yet shall they live! For whosoever lives and believes in Me will never die, but will have everlasting life.”
Admittedly, this “BUT” stands in stark contrast to the prevailing view of the day, then and now. Cynics and skeptics in every age affirm the ancient teaching, “No life lives forever and dead men rise up never.” That is the very reason even the disciples failed to believe the women when they came to tell them the Good News. What they were saying just didn’t make any sense. Death and new life hardly fit together. The difference was just too great, the news too good to be true, so Luke tells us, “BUT these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them.” Many, still today, hear this Easter message in much the same way. “Say what you want, preacher! Believe what you want, Church! Nothing has really changed and nothing ever will.”
But there it is again, that little conjunction in verse 12. “BUT Peter”. “BUT Peter got up and ran to the tomb; and looking in he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” Something prompted him to get up and go to see for himself, and on that “BUT” of inquiring faith the Church was founded and that community of faith continues still.
On that BUT the gates of hell were breached and the fear and threat of death was destroyed.
On that BUT the promise is given of the forgiveness of our sins and of life everlasting.
On that BUT hope is restored that this is not all there is to life; that those who die with Christ, will also one day rise to live with Him.
On that BUT we stake our claim with Job that “I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last He will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed then in my flesh I shall see God.”
On that BUT the hope and promise is assured that one day the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
Friends, the whole of Gospel and all of the great promises of our faith rest on the “BUT” of the Easter story. We know the experience of Good Friday, BUT now it is Sunday! Jesus was dead, BUT now He is alive, and because of that simple, little, hardly noticeable, often-overlooked conjunction, everything has changed! Thanks be to God! Amen.