A sermon by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston Salem, N.C.
Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:19-25
In my humble opinion, Les Miserable is the best musical ever done. Recently, Hollywood made Les Mis into an Academy-Award winning movie that has won over a new generation of fans.
The high point (or low point) of the movie is the solo performance of Anne Hathaway, who plays the character Fantine. Fantine is a single, unwed mother who is reduced to a life of hard labor and prostitution to provide for her child. Fantine’s health eventually breaks, and before she dies she summons the strength to sing the most heartbreaking song I know, a song entitled “I Dreamed a Dream.”
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers came at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your heart apart
As they turn your dream to shame…
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dream.
I’ve mulled over why this song is so moving, and I have concluded that on some level it speaks for us all. All of us have dreams. All of us have longings. But life rarely follows our imagined script, and over time our dreams can be ground to dust.
Think of the billions of people on this planet who live in grinding poverty on two dollars a day. Think of the children in the slums of India who die unnecessarily of hunger and disease, and the mothers who weep over their graves. Think of the fathers in Syria who watch in horror as their own government systematically wipes out entire neighborhoods and eliminates entire families.
Closer to home, think of the children in Winston-Salem who go to bed hungry at night. And their parents, many of whom are unemployed, who lie awake at night because they cannot provide food for their own children.
But you don’t have to be poor to have dashed dreams. Imagine what it is like this Easter to be the parent of one of those 20 children gunned down last December in Newtown, Connecticut. Imagine being a veteran of war who struggles daily with PTSD. Imagine living with chronic, debilitating illness in a nursing home and wishing each day you could die.
Or better yet, imagine living a typical middle class life in America. You work at a job you can’t stand, live with a spouse you don’t love, raise children you can’t control, and incur bills you can’t pay.
Once upon a time the world was a song. Then it all went wrong.
Truth be told it didn’t just go wrong last year. Or ten years ago. Or in 19th century France when Victor Hugo penned the novel, Les Miserable.
According to the Apostle Paul, it all went wrong eons ago at the beginning of time, when a man named Adam triggered something eventually called “the Fall.” When God first created the heavens and the earth, the world was a song, a perfect harmony. But Adam and his companion Eve chose to sin against God, and then the world fell desperately out of tune.
From that moment on, women suffered pain in childbirth, and were ruled by their husbands. Husbands found the ground they plowed hard and thorn-infested, and even on their best days their work felt toilsome. Communication with God that was once intimate became indirect and complicated at best. Sin was a constant struggle, and despair a constant companion. Instead of living forever, illness eventually took its toll, and death eventually took us down.
And over time the dreams of God and God’s people turned into nightmares. Even so, God would not let his dream of people living graciously under his reign—his dream of the Kingdom of God–completely die. Every now and then one of God’s prophets would remind God’s people of his ongoing vision for his people. Isaiah was one of these prophets, and when Israel lay in ruins, God used Isaiah to describe the day when God would reverse the curse of the Fall and restore the world to its original splendor.
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
Or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;..
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity…
Before they call I will answer
While they were yet speaking I shall hear.
But when Satan and his cohorts, sin, sickness, despair and death heard these promises, they laughed and said, “Oh yeah, all these good things will happen alright…when hell freezes over!”
And they went right on killing dreams, and turning God’s people into “the miserables”, “Les Miserables”.
But then something unexpected happened. A man named Jesus was born into this world. Later people realized he was God in the flesh. Sin tried its best to bring Jesus down, but failed. After his baptism, Satan tried his best to derail Jesus’ mission, but to no avail.
And then Jesus began doing the very things God predicted through Isaiah. He fed the hungry, serving notice that the curse of hunger would one day end. He cured illness and cast out demons, letting the Devil know that one day all disease would be done. He taught people how to connect with God in an intimate way. And most incredibly he raised dead people from the grave, giving at least temporary hope that death might be dead.
But the powers of evil arranged that Jesus would die on a cross, and thereby guarantee that the dreams of God and all humanity would die one more time. In fact, this would be the cruelest death of all because the fragile hopes of all humanity would die on the cross with Jesus.
And that’s when the greatest surprise of all time took place—God raised Jesus from the dead! Now, for the first time since Adam and Eve, death had been beaten to death.
For the first time in ages, it all went right.
Of course, two thousand years later all is not well with the world…far from it! We still live with the muddy backwash of the Fall. But there is a rising underway that is reversing the Fall, slowly but surely.
Nobody says it better than Paul. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Everything that was made wrong by Adam will be made right by Christ. Christ is raised from the dead, and then those in Christ will be raised at his second coming. Then comes the end when Jesus hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every authority and power.
Think Jesus is just a nice guy?…think again. Jesus will ruthlessly destroy every enemy of humanity, every vestige of injustice, every cause of hunger, every source of pain. He will right every wrong, cure every illness, and send sin and sickness and Satan straight to hell where they belong. And for all we know, hell may indeed freeze over!
The last enemy to be destroyed is death, Paul says. Death will be dead forever, and despair along with it. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
Maybe you’ve always thought Easter was about the Risen Christ assuring that you and your loved ones will go to heaven. And it is! But Easter is so much bigger, so much grander than that. Easter is also about a Risen Christ and a risen world, about the Kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven, about making God’s dreams for our fallen world come true.
Easter says the day will come when the Fantines of this world will not only live
again, but sing again. And this time, I picture them singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
Hell will not have the final word this time—Hallelujah will!
And all creation will stand and say …Thanks be to God!