31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 16, 2017, Easter
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Play beginning of title song from Beauty & the Beast
Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the beast
Many of you may recognize this as the title song to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which Disney recently released as a live action movie.
If you are not familiar with this tale as old as time, it is the story of a handsome but selfish and unkind young prince. One night, a beggar woman offers the prince a single rose in exchange for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her appearance, the prince turns her away.
The beggar woman warns him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is within. But again, he dismisses her, only to discover she is a beautiful enchantress in disguise.
Because he has no love in his heart, she casts a spell upon the prince, changing his exterior to match his interior, turning him into a beast.
The spell would only be broken “If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the [enchanted rose’s] last petal fell……If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast.
As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?” (Disney’s Beauty & the Beast)
Beauty and the Beast teaches us to believe the seemingly impossible – that someone could love a beast despite his gruff appearance and behavior, and that a selfish and unkind prince could change and learn to love another.
Believing the unbelievable. It’s hard to believe the unbelievable – that someone could love ever learn to love a beast.
The women who had followed Jesus, the women who had come with him from Galilee, gathered on this first morning of the week to perform their final act of service for their Lord. On Friday, they had accompanied Joseph of Arimathea when he placed Jesus’ body in the tomb, but there had been no time to anoint Jesus’ body, to prepare it for burial before the Sabbath arrived. So they returned to the tomb, early on this first day of the week with the spices that they had prepared.
They walked with despair. They journeyed without hope – for despite the fact that Jesus had told them that he was to die and would rise from the dead, they could not see past this moment, see past their pain, see past their sorrow.
As they arrived at the tomb, their sadness and mourning quickly turned to puzzlement and confusion. The stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Jesus’ body was gone. How could this be? What had happened?
And then bewilderment turned straight to terror as two men in dazzling clothes suddenly appeared before them. They were as overwhelmed by the presence of these angels as they were by what the angels had to say.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:5-7)
Yes, they remembered. Jesus had told them so on three separate occasions, but who could ever, who would ever, believe such an unbelievable thing?
The disciples certainly did not believe. When the women shared their story, shared the amazing news that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive, the disciples did not believe them. The women’s words seemed but an idle tale.
Did the disciples dismiss the women’s words because they were women? No, these women were every bit as much Jesus’ disciples as they were. These women had walked with them, eaten with them, listened to Jesus with them, and with every step, supported their shared ministry. The disciples knew Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and the other women. Mary was even James’ mother. The disciples knew them and had every reason to trust them.
So why didn’t the disciples believe? For much the same reason people do not believe the resurrection in our own time. Who could ever, who would ever, believe such an unbelievable thing? When people die, they die. Their life, their story is over, done. Death has the final say.
But does it? How are we so certain that Jesus’ resurrection is an idle tale? How can we know for sure that there is not new life in heaven?
Peter wasn’t sure. He had trusted Jesus enough to follow him. He had trusted Jesus enough to walk with him. How could he not trust Jesus now? How could he not trust these eyewitnesses who had never given him cause to doubt them before?
Maybe Peter wants to believe, but he just cannot – so he runs to the tomb to see for himself, and he is amazed to discover that the unbelievable is true. Jesus is the Christ. Jesus has risen from the tomb. Jesus is alive.
Believing the unbelievable. It’s hard to believe the unbelievable – that someone could ever rise from the dead and that we, too, could be blessed with the gift of resurrection and new life.
If you turn on a baseball game this afternoon or any afternoon, you are likely to see someone holding up a poster with the words John 3:16 on it. People often ask me what it says, and I wonder if they think it’s going to be some words about Jesus judging us, God condemning us, about how we are all sinners who are going straight to the fiery locker room.
Imagine their surprise when I say that John 3:16 is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There are those who focus overmuch on the “everyone who believes in him” part. Focus instead on “for God so loved the world” and on this verse that follows, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
God loves the world. God loves all of creation. God loves you. God loves me. God loves everyone.
How much does God love us? God was willing to sacrifice the Christ, the Son, God’s own self in human form – out of love for us. God was willing to suffer the consequences of our broken, selfish, unkind behavior – all out of love for us.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ – that God’s love has no bounds, that God loves us unconditionally.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ.
But do we believe it?
Do you believe that God loves you unconditionally? Do you know that you are precious to God and that God wants a relationship with you?
Or is there a little part of each of us that can’t quite believe this.
Because we know how we have failed, we know how we have fallen short, reacted in anger, neglected God’s creation and our neighbors. We know ourselves; and we are overly critical of ourselves. And maybe just maybe, we wonder if anyone could ever love a beast?
God knows us, too. God knows us inside and out. God knows what we have done and thought and felt from the moment we were born until this one, and God loves us.
Believe the unbelievable! Jesus the Christ has risen from the dead. God loves us unconditionally. And God’s love reigns now and forever more! Hallelujah! Amen!