Surprise! Here’s my sermon from this morning. Hopefully it’s a good counterpoint to Friday’s. Enjoy!
Easter Sunday: A Good Start
16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
She was awoken when it was still dark by a sharp knock on the heavy, wooden door. She hadn’t gotten much sleep that night, not after this Passover. She was afraid she wasn’t going to get much sleep for a while now. The grief was too much to bear. She couldn’t stop thinking about him.
It all seems like a blur now, those days that at the time felt like they would never end. Like the time when he fed all those people, or when he walked on water of all things! Or when he taught about love and mercy for the outcast, and when he ate at that tax collectors house, or healed all those people. Or when he met her, and saw her for who she was, and treated her not like the rest of the world did, but as someone with sacred worth, like a child of God. She thought that this was the man who had been promised to come. He said as much himself, and while he tried as much as he could to hide who he was, it wasn’t any good. She knew who he was. Or at least she thought she knew.
She should have known it would come to this though. She should have known, especially after all those times he said he was going to die, and that this was the reason he came. He also said that he would be raised from the dead in three days too, but who knows now. The events of Purification day were too much for her to bear. There wasn’t any coming back from that.
As she joined the other two women, her mind was far from easy. Why did it have to come to this? Why? What purpose did it serve? Her thoughts strayed from her, her feet moved on their own along the twisting path through the slowly stirring streets of Jerusalem. The sun wasn’t out yet, but the night sky was moving from deep purple to a more perfect royal blue, with a hint of yellow in the east where the sun was to rise. As they came to the gate on the edge of town, they passed the hill that he… that he…
She couldn’t bear to think of it. Keep your head down. Keep it together. You’re almost there. You’re almost to the tomb. You’ve got a job to do. You and the other two, you have a job to do. If you truly honored him, you need to do this. If you truly loved him, you have to. Just keep your head down, and keep your mind on what you have to do.
One of them broke the silence, she couldn’t tell which. They were worried about how they were going to move the heavy rock at the door. That could be a problem. But just as they were trying to come up to the logistics of heavy lifting, they had arrived at the tomb. And all talking stopped. Grief was suddenly turned into fear. They peered inside, and instead of a dead man, they found a living boy, couldn’t be more than 18 years old, just waiting for them. And he said the words that will stay with her forever.
“Do not be afraid.”
Her fear remained, but not for long.
This morning, we gather together as witnesses to an empty grave. That which was dead and buried on Friday, has been resurrected and been given new life. We join those women at the sunrise on the outskirts of Jerusalem in shock and awe at the revelation of a risen savior. Death has been defeated. Life has been restored. Sin is no more. And we are filled with a new feeling, one we can’t yet fully name or categorize.
Our journey together in Lent has been one of a great many hills and valleys, wins and losses, profound wisdom and even more profound foolishness at times. For some of us, it has been a season of great gains, of progress, of growth. For others… well, some of us are facing great loss. Sickness, fear, loneliness, uncertainty of how things are going to work out… all of it, we’ve come face to face with it. Some of us have entered into the very pits of hell itself, desperately searching for some kind of hope. Nevertheless, every journey has to have an end, and for Christians, our end is on Good Friday.
And our beginning starts today on Easter.
I talked about how Good Friday was the bad ending, and I stick by that interpretation of things. There’s no getting around the fact that, while death is a natural part of life and that nobody can truly escape it, the death of Jesus is especially difficult to take and understand. However, as bad as that ending was, that was the bad news. Christians are nothing if not the people of Good News, People of the Gospel. And the Good News is, Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!
In Easter, we are given a new start. Rather, we’re given a Good Start. As Christ is risen, so are we. As love is vindicated from sin, so are we vindicated by the risen savior. This world may kill what is good, it may attack the truth, it may reward the oppressor and embolden hatred, but the good news is all that will pass away. All of it will be defeated, and it will be defeated not with further hatred, not by violence, not by evil, but by good. All of it will be defeated by life. All of it will be defeated by love. The old world is passing away, and a new one is being born. In the resurrection, we are given new birth, and not only that, but a new creation.
In being resurrected, Christ has ushered in the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is here and now and alive, really, physically, beautifully alive! It’s a joyous occasion, this Easter morning, because we celebrate the promise of new life in the kingdom, that the circumstances of this world will be flipped on its head. The poor will inherit the kingdom of God. The mourning will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. The hungry and thirsty will be filled. The merciful will receive mercy. The pure in heart will see God. The peacemakers are called the children of God. The persecuted will receive the kingdom of heaven.
And yet, that world is not quite yet either. That world has not yet come. It’s been ushered in, yes. It’s been foretold. It’s been promised. But the kingdom, as much as it is here, it is also not yet here. It has yet to be made real in its fullness. The truth is, the poor are not yet lifted up. The mourning still mourn, the hungry still hunger, the thirsty still thirst, the persecuted remain persecuted, the merciful are still shown no mercy, and the peacemakers get laughed away, and told that coming in peace just makes it easier for them to be killed.
I say all this not to destroy your good feelings and happiness you feel today, but to remind you that we are Easter people, resurrected people, people with new life, new birth, and the Good news. Because we are Easter people, that means we have a job to do. Yes we serve a risen savior, but that’s the point: we serve him. We are servants. And we have a lot of work to do.
Because we believe in Christ resurrected, we have been given a task. We’ve been given the task of spreading the good news. We’ve been given the task of loving God, and loving one another. Everyone. We’ve been given the task of ushering in the kingdom of God as God has revealed it. That means standing in solidarity with the poor. That means feeding the hungry. That means giving without expecting anything in return. That means serving without expecting payment. That means loving people who do not love you back. That means loving your enemies. That means returning evil not with more evil, but Good. That means not responding to hatred with more hatred, as much as we might feel entitled to do so, but by responding to hatred with love.
That means being a family not with just everyone in this church, but beyond the church. That means treating every person you meet as a child of God. That means everyone; no excuses, no exceptions. Even people who don’t believe everything you do. That means everyone who doesn’t vote the same way you do. That means everyone who doesn’t live the way you do. That means everyone who doesn’t look like you. Everyone is of sacred worth. Jesus died for everyone equally, and was raised for everyone equally. As death is the great equalizer, so is the resurrection.
Why do we do this? Why should we do this? Because we woke up this morning and found not a dead body in a grave but an empty tomb and a promise. We woke up this morning to find our God is a living God, made known to us as Jesus Christ. We woke up this morning to the fact that we are alive! We woke up this morning and found joy, and laughter, and pancake breakfasts! We woke up this morning to find new life! We woke up this morning with hope! We woke up this morning with love! We woke up this morning to find that He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Amen! Amen! Alleluia! Amen!