Some of you are familiar with the name Tony Campolo. He is a sociologist – and a well-known author and speaker. In his book “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming,” he tells a wonderful story – it’s a story that I heard Tony tell some years ago when he was a guest speaker at our synod assembly. It’s a story that has been told so many times, that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of you may have already heard it. Well –you’re going to hear it again.
It’s “the story of a black Baptist preacher in the inner city of Philadelphia who preached a sermon Tony says he'll never forget. Tony preached first. He was ‘hot,’ so ‘hot’ he says, that he even stopped and listened to himself. He sat down and said to his pastor: ‘Pastor, are you going to be able to top that?’
“‘Son,’ said the black pastor, ‘you just sit back, ‘cause this old man is going to do you in.’ Now Tony says that in this black church of which he as a white man is a member of – in this church the people in the pews shout encouragement. If the preacher is struggling, someone will shout, “Help him, Jesus!” But if the preacher says something really good, they will shout, “Preach brother! Keep going brother!” And Tony says, “White people never yell, ‘Keep going, keep going.” I know – in this church – you’re more likely to look at your watch – and mumble, “Stop pastor. Land the plane pastor. Land the plane.”
But on this particular day – it was a Good Friday service – and Tony says, “…the old guy got up, and I have to admit, he did me in.” For an hour and a half the pastor got the whole congregation worked up by repeating one phrase over and over again: “It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'.”
Tony said, “I've never heard anything like it. He just kept saying it. The congregation was spellbound by the power of it.”
“It's Friday. Jesus was dead on the cross. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
“It’s Friday. Mary’s crying her eyes out. But Sunday’s coming!”
“The disciples were running in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. But that was Friday. Sunday’s comin’”
“The Devil thought he had won. But it was only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.”
“It's Friday and evil has triumphed over good. Jesus is dying up there on the cross. The world is turned upside down. This shouldn't happen. But it's only Friday. Sunday's comin'.”
“He kept on working that one phrase for a half hour, then an hour, then an hour and a half. Each time he said, 'It's Friday,' the crowd began to respond, 'but Sunday's comin'.”
“I was exhausted,” Tony said. “At the end of his message, he just yelled at the top of his lungs, “IT’S FRIDAY!” And all five hundred of us in that church yelled back, “SUNDAY’S COMIN’”
“It was the best sermon I've ever heard. The old preacher was saying it and the people were with him. It was powerful,” Tony said. “It was personal.”
Folks – Sunday’s here – and Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] Ah – see? Even Lutherans can shout back to their pastor while he’s preaching. Well, at least once a year, anyway! Amen? [Amen] Hey, Pastor Becca, it works! I think we’re getting used to your amen’s when you preach. Even I’m loosening up, and can get an amen response! Preach it, brother!
Well, whether you’ve heard Tony Campolo’s story before or not, there is a story that you have heard before. And it is the reason why we are all here today. What we call the Easter story – the Day of Resurrection story – is THE single most important episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples. A moment in history that changed everything.
As Luke tells the story, a group of women came to the tomb at early dawn – on Sunday morning – expecting to find the body of Jesus. On Friday – the day that Jesus died – they didn’t have time to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial. So on this first day of the week – they brought spices to do just that. And what they found was an empty tomb. And two angels – two angels who reminded them about what Jesus had told them – that on the third day, he must rise again.
It was now the third day. They went to the tomb to anoint the body with spices, and discovered that Jesus had risen.
By the way – do not – DO NOT overlook the fact that it was women who were the first to discover the empty tomb. Do not overlook the fact that it was women who were the first to proclaim that Jesus is risen from the dead. I say that, because skeptics and the critics like to say that the resurrection of Jesus never happened. That the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus is a fairy tale – a tale manufactured for who know what purpose. I seem to be telling you this every year now. If the resurrection of Jesus is a lie – then those who manufactured this lie would never – never – have written it to say that it was women who were the first eye witnesses to the resurrection. Never. In those days – the testimony of a woman was not accepted. Hey, ladies! That’s just the way it was. So because of this – if the resurrection is just a story – a made up story – then those who made up the whole thing would have told it in such a way that Simon Peter or the disciples would have been the first eye witnesses at the tomb, but not a group of women. In all four gospels, it’s women.
And even the disciples didn’t believe it at first. Luke says that they thought it was “an idle tale.” And even today, the skeptic will say the same thing. It’s an idle tale – a fairy tale. The resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened. But if it never happened – then just what exactly did happen? Because something must have happened. If it never happened – then how do you explain it away? Let me tell you – every effort I have ever read about or heard about to explain away the resurrection is so full of holes – they all simply fall flat on their face.
So yes – something must have happened. Listen! The greatest piece of evidence for the resurrection is in its power to change lives. Here’s what we know. Within weeks following the death and resurrection of Jesus, his disciples were transformed. These men and women were changed. They were changed from scared and depressed men and women, hiding from the authorities – into bold and magnificent preachers and teachers – proclaiming all that they had heard and seen and experienced – men and women who spread the Good News of Jesus risen from the dead – taking that message all across the world. Ten of the original disciples were executed for their beliefs. Their lives would have been spared if they had just denied that Jesus rose from the dead. But they would not. They could not. No one is going to willingly die for something they know to be a lie. Nobody! They simply could not deny what they had heard – and seen – and experienced.
So, you can make of this whatever you want. The first witnesses were women. The disciples to a person refused to say it was a lie. And there can be only three responses to this. You can doubt that the resurrection ever happened. You can be in a place where you’re just not sure. Or you can believe it.
But wherever you are right now – this one thing cannot be denied. Not only were the lives of those first women and men changed – but the resurrection still has the power to change lives today.
And that’s Good News. It’s good news because –as you know – life is full of Good Fridays. We’ve all had Good Friday’s in our lives. Failure. Being bullied. Loss of a job. The breakup of a marriage. Unpleasant relationships that we just feel stuck in. And maybe the darkest Good Friday of all – the loss of a loved one. And that’s why I am happy to tell you – that even though it might be Friday for you right now – you just wait. Sunday’s comin’!
Just over a week ago – Pastor Becca and I were called to the home of Linda Zielinski – two days before she died. We prayed the prayers for the dying – as I have done numerous times for many in this congregation. And I will never forget – Pastor Becca had brought her oil stock with her – and anointed Linda on her forehead – making the sign of the cross – and saying these words, “Linda – child of God – you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit – and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
In the depths of her – and Bob’s – and her family’s Good Friday – we remembered together her baptism – and recalling the promise of resurrection – we in essence proclaimed that though it was Friday, Sunday’s comin.’
Let me tell you. Linda’s life was transformed years ago through Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. And what’s more – I know that my life has been changed. And so many of you have told me how your lives have been changed. That’s the power of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference. Offering hope even in the face of death.
Hey, listen! Listen good – ‘cause I’m about to land this plane. Even in the darkest of your Good Friday’s – here’s what I want you to remember. Sunday’s coming! And even though we are a mostly white – and very Lutheran congregation – you can talk back to the preacher. Amen? [Amen] So get ready!
It’s Friday! [Sunday’s Coming!]
Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed!]