Page last updated



Irrational Exuberance
based on John 20:1-18
Neill Morgan

I had a good plan for Thursday. It had been the busiest Holy Week in my memory, full of unplanned events, so I needed a solid plan. I would hole up in my study at home, close the door, turn off the phone, and prepare for the one remaining funeral service of the week on Friday, Maundy Thursday, Sunrise service, and an Easter Sermon. I carved out 8 hours of peace and quiet in which to study. Piece of cake.

I had forgotten one little detail. On Thursdays, our home is over-run with three-year-olds.

There is a prayer of thanksgiving printed in the Presbyterian Worship Book of 1970 that says, “We thank you God, for the exuberance of youth.” When that worship book first showed up in the pews of the church in which I grew up, I thought that was a pretty neat prayer. Of course, I was a youth back then. On Thursday morning, I had about had my fill of the exuberance of youth by 10 o’clock. Our one three-year-old makes it seem like a house full of 3-year-olds, but when two of her friends are over, the place is, to steal a phrase, irrationally exuberant.

I shut the door and reviewed the gospel passage from John. In my study of the passage a few weeks before, I had made some notes about what the passage says. I had written, “the relentless power of life, even in the face of death.” I had listed the powerful death images in these 20 verses: The darkness, the tomb, the stone, the body shroud, and Mary’s weeping, and her three plaintive cries, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

And then, I had made a list of the images of life in this passage: the energetic motion, Mary ran, Peter ran, the other disciple ran faster, the angels, and the question of both the angels and of the resurrected Jesus, “Why are you weeping?”

The story is full of the defiance of death, a relentless refusal to allow death to have the last word. Looking over my study notes, I knew what I needed – an image, an illustration, some event to portray that relentless force of God on the side of life, even in the presence of death. I lay on the floor and put my feet up to get the blood to my brain, closed my eyes. The gears were beginning to turn, the free associations were just about to turn productive. I was on the verge of developing the most clear, the most engaging, the most eye-opening Easter sermon illustration of all time, and the door to my study opened. A loud whisper, “That’s my Daddy. He’s studying, so we have to be quiet.” I opened one eye and looked up at the three faces looking down on me, the object of Tamara’s show-and-tell. They slammed the door shut, shrieked in laughter, and ran away. Poof. There went my thought progression, broken.

I got up, put a little more caffeine in me, and tried to get it going again. The truth is, it’s been hard this week to think of anything but death. The death of my father last month is still fresh, of course, and my grief just beginning to mature. And since then, I have found myself in the company of many friends as we travel this road of loss together – the families and friends of Dick Bell, Ada Lee Crane, Oleta Horne, Julia Kay Thompson, and Idell Bull. The power of death has taken its toll on Covenant Church in these past few weeks, and we cannot deny its force.

But then, that’s not what the story of Easter is about – it’s not about death denial. It’s about death defiance. Because the tomb was emptied, because Christ is risen, we defy death to have power over us. It will not have the last word. Even though we die, we will live.

That’s what I needed, as I sat at the computer staring at the empty screen, some picture of that love that will not let us go, that force of life that will not be defeated, even when we cling to death. I put my fingers to the keyboard, and the image, the Perfect Image, was about to make its way from my brain, through my fingers, to the keys.

The door opened. A three year-old said, “SHHH! DON’T. MAKE. A SOUND!” I turned to see three faces peering through the crack. I curled my lip and said, “GRRR!” The door slammed, the girls shrieked, and ran away.

So did the Perfect Image.

I signed on to the internet, to visit with my preaching friends around the world who post on Desperate Preacher Dot Com. Before I navigated my way there, I picked up my e-mail and read the news from a friend. More weeping, more illness, more death.

Certainly, I had no trouble collecting images of the relentless power of death. I had no trouble imagining what Mary must have felt like walking toward the tomb in the darkness of the early morning, the emptiness in her heart whenever she thought of something and said, “I’ll have to remember to ask Jesus about that,” and then remembered that he was gone, and the tears came all over again.

What I needed was something defiant and fresh on the side of life, something more visually powerful than the dead fence post stuck in the ground that shoots forth leaves, something unstoppable, persistent, and joyful.

I was almost there, just about to make that breakthrough to the point when the dam breaks and the waters flow, and it all seems so obvious and the sermon writes itself, when the door to the study was flung open and Tamara said, “GUESS WHAT TIME IT IS DADDY! IT’S TIME FOR . . . . LUNCH!” Never has there been a child so happy about her grub.

Just before growling at her that there was entirely too much joy and exuberance in this house, it hit me. The prayer in the Presbyterian Worship Book of 1970 is an Easter Prayer. “Thank you, Lord, for the exuberance of youth.” Why would we be thankful for that? Perhaps because it reminds us of the relentless, joyful power of God’s love on the side of life in the face of death.

We are thankful for the exuberance of youth because when the rest of us are barely holding back the tears after the funeral of our loved one, the children are running around laughing, full of energy, full of the joy of living, full of exuberance as irrational as the resurrection.

Irrational, maybe. But real, undeniable, unrelenting, and unstoppable – like the power of God’s love over death.

Thanks be to God. Amen.