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Edward F. Markquart

Our Search for the Fountain of Youth

EASTER     Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24

Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.  Praise the Lord!  Praise God for the miracle of Easter.  Praise him with harps and lyres.  Praise him with drums and dancing.  Praise him with loud cymbals and shouting voices for Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.  He is alive and here in this sanctuary whether you believe it or not.  He has conquered death.  At this very moment, he rules.  Then, at the very end of history, when the midnight hour arrives, the trumpets and cornets will sound again, the choirs will sing their hallelujahs, the dead will be raised, and you too shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.  That is the Gospel.  That is the Gospel truth.  And if you hear and believe the Gospel, you know what this Easter morning is all about. 

The Spanish conquistadors were exotic explorers of the 1500s.  These Spanish sailors were brave, daring men of adventure, searching for gold and silver, jasper and emeralds, braving the insecurities of their little bobbing boats in the seismic swells of ocean waves, not knowing what was out there before them in the uncharted seas of a strange new world.  These Spanish conquistadors were adventurous people like Hernando de Soto, Franciso Coronado, and Ponce de Leon.

It was in 1513 that Ponce de Leon began his search for it.  He always wanted to go exploring for it, and now was the time.  He first went looking for it in the West Indies, but it was not there, so he sailed to a land called Florida, hoping to find it thee.  Ponce de Leon was searching for the legendary El Dorado, a land where gold nuggets were as plentiful as the pebbled stones found on ocean beaches.  Near that legendary El Dorado was the one thing that everybody was looking for.  It was more valuable than gold and silver, more valuable than precious jewels.  All of his life, Ponce de Leon and everybody else had wanted to find it.  He was looking for the legendary “fountain of youth.”   He had sailed half way across the world, wanting to taste the waters from that fountain of immortality.  He wanted to drink from those waters and be eternally young, eternally vibrant, eternally energetic.  He wanted to drink from those waters of eternal youth and never grow old and die.  And so he came searching in the land of Florida, near the El Dorado, hoping to find it.  He search and searched and like every person who wanted to find the legendary El Dorado on this side of the grave, he did not find it. 

Deep down inside every person here today is a longing for immortality.  Deep down inside every person is the drive to find the equivalent of the legendary fountain of youth.  Deep within every person is the desire to taste the waters of everlasting life.....for that is the way God made us.  God made every person in the image of God.  We were made for eternity; we want it, crave it, thirst for it, and none of us want to die.  It wasn’t only Ponce de Leon who wanted to taste of the fountain of youth; all of us do. 

Every person here loves life so much, we would like to preserve it if at all possible.  We love the scuttling clouds, the booming surf, the winds that tossle our hair.  We love the sounds of the birds that sing and the smell of flowers in the springtime.  We love it when our eyes caress the mountain tops and when they reach over the endless plains to the sea.  We love to touch the hands of our children...because deep down inside of every person is the desire to drink of the waters of immortality.  We love life so much we want to hold onto it, for that is the way God made us.  We are made for eternity. 

Now, a corollary is also true.  Because God imprinted in us the drive for eternity, each person has an inner resistance to death.  Every person here in this room resists death, resents death, is reviled by death.  Deep down inside, we are afraid of the unknown and the possibility of nothingness.  Deep down inside, every one of us, when the body on the other side of the hospital curtain in our room, dies, we want it taken out as soon as possible.  Deep down inside, every person here has a reluctance to go out shopping for our casket or a gravesite.  Deep down inside, we don’t like to visit the mortuaries, especially the rooms in which there are dead bodies.  Deep down inside, our stomachs churn and our hearts stick in our throats when the doctor says to us “cancer.”  Deep down inside, when you are holding the hand of your dying loved one at the hospital and he or she takes that last breath, your heart panics, and at the last moment of life, your heart suddenly explodes in a flutter of fear because you, like all of us, are so deeply human.  Like the animals, we all have instinctive fears of death.  Like God, we have instinctual longings for eternity.  We are made in the image of God.  We are made for eternity, therefore death and everything associated with it makes us feel uneasy.

We are afraid because we know too much and we know too little.  We know too much about the size of the universe.  We know too much about the endless billions of light years in space.  We know too much about the infinite size of the universe and the smallness of the planet Earth and the smallness of measured time.  We are afraid that all there is to life is the endless cycle of birth and death, billions upon billions of years of an evolutionary chain of life/death/life/death, all happening way before measured time.  On the other hand, we know too little.  We know too little about God and his eternal Spirit.  We know too little about heaven and too little about the resurrection.  We know too little of God’s miraculous eternal love.  Because we know too little, we cannot prove the existence of eternal life and love with God, and that frightens us, or at least makes us nervous inside. 

Consequently, not really trusting in God, not really trusting that there is life after death and on the other hand, having deep drives for eternity within us, what do we human beings do?  We try to create a sense of eternity here on earth, an illusion of eternity in our world.  Human beings create imitation fountains of youth.  What are some examples of these attempts at eternity here on earth?  The pharaohs of Egypt.  They stacked their great piles of rocks and created pyramids. They preserved their bodies by removing their organs and by dehydrating their bodies in salt.  They placed their mummified bodies beneath the pyramids as if by hiding their bodies in subterranean pyramid vaults, death could be outwitted.  Of course, it did not work.  The mighty pharaohs ended up just as dead as their slaves whose bodies were buried and preserved in desert sands. Not really trusting that there is life after death and at the same time having drives for immortality within, what do we do?  We try to create a sense of eternity, an illusion of eternity, here on this earth.  Today we try to prolong life and make life as good and as long as humanly possible.  … Have you been reading what the scientists are doing to prolong and preserve life?  It is predicted that my 2020, we may prolong human life to 120 years of age.  Can you imagine living to be 120 years old?  Getting that wrinkled, that senile, that worn out?  Nobody wants to get that old, wrinkled and senile, therefore drug companies are investing in the skills and genius of biochemists like Johan Bjorksten, the Finnish biochemist, who is developing an anti-aging drug.  Of course, reports say that the formula of this anti-aging drug may not be marketed until sometime in the near future.  So…not really trusting God’s future and yet having drives for immortality within, we try to create fountains of youth here on earth.  If only we can live to 120!  40-50 more years is better than nothing.  Not really trusting in God’s good future and at the same time, having drives for immortality within, we use science to create illusions of immortality here on earth.

Another example of the same pattern.  Have you heard of the more exotic science of cryonics?  It is the science of freezing human tissue in liquid hydrogen at 320 degrees below Fahrenheit.  Scientists drain the body of blood and then freeze it to preserve the body in liquid hydrogen.  Presently, there are thirteen bodies frozen in large gaseous cylinders of liquid hydrogen, so that people are in frozen liquid looking like vertical popsicles. These bodies are frozen in hopes that someday, centuries in the future, when science is more developed, these bodies will then be resuscitated.  We are also now reading about age-reversing drugs.  Not really trusting in God’s eternal future, we try to create illusions of eternity here on this earth. 

What else do we do, we the modern Ponce de Leons?  We wear our wigs. We dye our hair.  We put on facial creams.  We have hair transplants and face lifts. We get busy, busy, busy, trying to become so busy that we forget we are dying.  Immerse yourself in life.  You have only one time around.  Preserve your life.  Prolong your life.

What else do we do? We pursue wealth, reputation, fame, family, and business. We try to leave some legacy so that we will not fade into oblivion so quickly.

All these attempts at earthly immortality fail.  Ponce de Leon didn’t find the fountain of youth and he died, and so will we.  Life eternal is not to be found in the pyramids, not in anti-aging drugs, not in freezing human bodies, nor in wigs, nor in dying your hair.  It is the same for all people.  All people die.  As Thomas Grey reminds us in his famous poem:

     The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
     And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave.
     Await alike the inevitable hour;
The paths of glory, lead but to the grave.

And so…we are left alone.  Not really trusting in God and at the same time, we have longings for eternity in our hearts.  This is what Easter is all about. 

Easter is God’s attempt to convince us that there is life after death.  Easter is God convincing us that death has been destroyed, that there is life beyond the grave.  Easter is God convincing us that there is no need for us to try to create eternal life here on earth.  On that first Easter morning, the women came to the grave, thinking there was only death, and Jesus appeared to them and convinced them and the other disciples that there was life after death.  And that same Power is at work today, for Easter is God convincing you of God’s eternal love and life for you and me.

I would like to share an incident with you. In our younger years, my wife and I were living near Chicago.  One evening we were attending an outdoor concert in a park near downtown Chicago.  It was Aaron Copeland’s tribute to the United Nations, and none other than Marion Anderson was singing.  It was simply a beautiful night.  We were outside; the stars were bright; the night was balmy.  There was an elderly Jewish couple sitting next to us, and we were having a delightful time with these strangers.  It was one of those rare perfect evenings.  During the concert, Jan and I were holding hands, very much in love.  It was one of those perfects nights for young love.  This past weekend, I was thinking about and remembering that night in Chicago, and in an unexpected flash, my mind raced into the future and a vision of our coming death.  In my mind, I saw us in a hospital room, two old people, Jan holding my hand, as my bed was wheeled out of the room and down the hall to surgery.  And slowly and suddenly, I quietly slipped away into death.  Jan was momentarily alone.  And Easter is God convincing her that there is an eternity.  Easter is God convincing us that there is eternal life for us today.  Today you will be with me in paradise.  She will cry for the loss that she has experienced.  She will be thankful for all the years we spent together.  But underneath it all, she will have hope, a sure and certain hope of our resurrection in Jesus Christ.   Easter is God convincing us that there is life after death, that there is eternity for our loved ones.

Another story.  There was a young American author who had written a short story that was a masterpiece.  Like so many young authors, he borrowed a plot from a more famous, older author.  He borrowed this plot but wanted to improve it and change it.  The young author was a realist, not a romantic at all like the older author.  He took the plot of the older author and he wrote it more realistically, so he thought.  One day, the older, professor-author invited the younger author to come and read his new, revised story to him.  The plot was this:  It was a story of a son of a poor widow who lived in a village in Pennsylvania.  One day, the young boy set out for New York to seek his fortune, and as he left home, his mother said to him:  “Johnny, you are going to New York but I want you to remember one thing.  If life ever really gets bad for you in the big city, I want you to know you can come home and there will always be a light on in our house for you. There will always be a light in the window of our house to remind you that you are always welcome home.”  According to both versions of the story, Johnny went to New York and he had a very horrible experience.  Life went from bad to worse, and the bottom dropped out and he ended up penniless and friendless.  He finally remembered:  “I’ll go home.  There will be a light in the window for me.”  But…in the new version of the story, the young man returned to his village in Pennsylvania and he came up over the crest of the hill, and his house was dark. There was no light in the window.  Slowly, the old professor rose quietly to his feet and spoke softly but firmly to the young author:  “You put that light back into the window. I don’t like your story the way it is.”

That’s what Easter is all about.  It is when you and I come up over the crest of the hill at the end of life and we come to the other side of death, the house of eternity is not going to be a house of darkened windows and deserted emptiness.  When you and I come up over the crest of the hill and into the house of eternity, there is going to be the brightest light in that window because of the illuminating Presence of Jesus Christ.  Easter is God convincing us that the heavenly mansion is going to have a million lights in it.  The mansion will be filled with God’s glorious light. That is the Gospel!  That is the Gospel Truth.

In conclusion, there is a story told by my teacher, Dr. Morris Wee, one of the finest pastors many of us have ever known.  He said:  Two beggars sat on a corner begging, each with a placard, a sign, and a tin cup.  One of the beggars received more attention than the other.  The sign of the first beggar read:  “I am blind,” but the sign of the second beggar who gained the most sympathy said:  “It is springtime and I am blind.”  … To be blind to eternity is bad, but to have it Easter morning and be blind?  To have it be Easter morning and still attempting to foolishly find the fountain of youth here on earth?  To have it Easter morning and not really trust that God has intended for us to live eternally in forever kingdom.  To have it Easter morning and not to believe that there will be a million lights lit for the heavenly mansion.  Why, it is like living in springtime and not seeing the beauty of it all.

Easter is God convincing us of the sure and certain hope that our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our sons and daughters, and all those who have died in his name are with him.  That is the Gospel.   That is the Gospel Truth.  So, bring out the trumpets.  Bring out the cymbals.  Bring out the shouting voices because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead by the eternal powers of God.  Amen.

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