Rev Eric ShaferEaster Sermon - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. 


Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed!

There’s an old saying, perhaps you’ve heard it. It goes something like this: “Want to make God laugh? Tell God your plans!”

My favorite story about well-made plans going awry is this true story told to me by my friend, the Rev. H. George Anderson, former ELCA Presiding Bishop. It is such a well known story that you, too, may already have heard it. It is Bishop Anderson’s “East Orange train story.”

In the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when Bishop Anderson had just graduated from Yale Divinity School and begun teaching at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, he was invited to keynote a Luther League gathering on a weekday evening at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey.

Anderson was new to Pennsylvania, but he had heard that one could take the train from Philadelphia to East Orange and on to New York City, so he decided that he would take the train from Philadelphia to New York City early in the day, have a day in the city, and then get to East Orange via the train in his way back from New York to Philadelphia.

And that is what he did. Anderson got up bright and early and took the train from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to Penn Station in New York City. He noticed that his train did indeed stop at East Orange, so his plans to stop there on his return trip appeared to be in place.

Anderson had a wonderful day in New York. He spent most of his time in the library and actually lost track of time. Thus, he was running late when he got to Penn Station and grabbed the first train he saw that was bound for Philadelphia, just getting on in time.

When the conductor came through to collect the tickets, Anderson presented his ticket to East Orange. The conductor made a face and informed Anderson that he had caught an express train, one that did not stop in East Orange.

Anderson was horrified. Hundreds of young people, Luther Leaguers, would be waiting for him at Upsala and he would not be there. He poured his heart out to the conductor. The conductor thought for a moment and came up with this idea.

Indeed, the conductor said, this train does not and will not stop in East Orange, but it does slow down while going through the East Orange station. If Anderson would go to the very first train car and, as the train approached the station, he would jump off the train, onto the East Orange station platform, running in the air as fast as he could, he should be able to get off the train in East Orange, maybe without even falling.

So, grabbing his briefcase, Anderson headed for the first train car. As the train approached the East Orange station, he was ready. With a little push from the conductor, Anderson jumped from the train, running as fast as he could. He ran and ran and did not fall down.

The train sped through the station as Anderson was running. He made a good landing onto the platform and kept running so that he would not fall. Finally, just as he thought he could begin to slow down and the last train car was about to pass by, a huge burly arm reached out from the train and pulled him back on board.

A big man with huge arms, still smoking the cigar which had him outside of the train car, looked at him and smiled and said, “I saw you running to catch the train and thought I could help you get on!” The train quickly sped up and headed toward Philadelphia. Anderson never made it to speak to the Luther League that evening in East Orange!

Sometimes, even well-thought out plans go awry.

Today’s gospel lesson from St. John tells the story of that first Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene had a plan that morning. She would go to Jesus’ tomb and anoint his body with oils and spices, so that, frankly, his decomposing body would not stink so much. Mary headed to the tomb, our text tells us, while it was still dark, expecting to find Jesus’ body. But, God had other plans.

And that, my friends, is the story of Easter, pure and simple. We are all going to die someday, hopefully not too soon, but 100% of us will die. And death, by all human measures and standards, is the end of life. But, God has other plans for us.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has offered the promise of eternal life with God to all who believe.

It is as if we are running toward death and God pulls us back on the train to eternal life with God.

We all know how things in our own lives can go differently than we had planned. But, as Christians, we also know that God has other plans and those plans can include a few surprises, new directions we were not expecting, new problems, challenges and opportunities, but all with the Easter assurance: God is in charge. Christ’s death and resurrection changed everything eternally for those who believe. Our eternal life with God is assured.

It is Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene did not find Jesus in his tomb. God had other plans. You and I may find God laughing with us when our human plans appear to go wrong. But, we know that God has other plans for us, good ones, plans beginning and ending with eternal life in God’s loving embrace.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Christ’s resurrection brings other plans for humankind. Thanks be to God.


The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California


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