Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Easter Day, Mar. 31, 2024

Posted by on Sun, Mar 31, 2024 in Easter, Feast Days, Sermons

The Sunday of the Resurrection:
Easter Day

Mar. 31, 2024

This IS an Alleluia! day, isn’t it?! We are alive with it, not just in this room but in the rooms of all who gather online—it is all one sacred space in this celebration, and it is God’s gift that we are here in whatever form or place on the path one is. The risen Christ gathers us with love so great it broke the bonds of death. That is what occurred the first Easter morning too, (although perhaps with less noise and color, and certainly fewer people).

Mary Magdalene was there first and found the stone had been moved. She did not raise her arms and proclaim Alleluia! He is Risen! No, she had seen him die, she saw his body laid in that tomb and sealed with a stone, and now it was open. She assumed what we would, that someone had taken his body. She ran to tell those closest to her, the other disciples, knowing they’d share her consternation. Two of them came running, John stopping at the entrance. (One doesn’t usually enter a tomb without pause) and Peter, who does go right in, and they see he’s gone. Were the empty linen wrappings confirmation of theft, or evidence of his rising? … They went home.

It occurs to me that this variety is something like us. We might go to the garden or sacred place not expecting any surprises and then something calls our attention. Could it be there’s something to this? We find ourselves trying to learn more, though from a distance. Others will go right up to the threshold. They even look in—some step back, others dive right in. What is this faith story all about? We draw closer, if not the first time, perhaps the second or twentieth. Even as one finds their feet on sacred ground of belief it means paying attention, checking our certainty. Just in case someone really did just take him away… 

We meet Jesus, and the saying goes Jesus meets us where we are. Mary is standing nearby heartbroken and crying. Through tear-blurred eyes she looks into the tomb and sees angels—angels that John and Peter didn’t see! She turns around and the ‘gardener’ asks whom she is looking for. He calls her, “Mary!” And she knows. Her world which had turned to ash is upside down again; hearing him call her name was all it took. Resurrection looks right at you and calls you forth. Can it be any other way? We cannot code or program it, no one can fully explain the way into faith. The only thing Jesus does to authenticate this crazy impossible reality is stand before us and call our name in the quiet of our hearts.

So she does as you or I would; reaches to embrace her beloved companion. What a cold-water shock to hear, “Do not hold on to me” —and then he tells her to go away —to go tell the others; “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

I’m still stuck back at “Don’t hold on to me..” Why not? How could you tear yourself from his presence? Personally I suspect the gospel writer edited out Mary’s fierce and forthright response here. She was not known to mince words. And why come back only to send her away? Still, she went. And perhaps that’s the reason Jesus came to her first, to call her forth to tell.

Anna Carter Florence, a favorite preacher and teacher of mine, puts it this way; “You go from seeing resurrection to confessing your faith to grabbing it with both fists. And the next thing you know, the emphasis is shifting from my Lord — to MY Lord; mine!” Then she points out what we all have seen lately, that “there sure is a lot of that going around, people suffocating other people with their own clenched confessions.” Their own way of claiming Christ and Christianity as theirs and their way only. With so many attempting to co-opt both Jesus and scripture for their own devices, and declare themselves the only ones who are right—to the exclusion of everyone else—aren’t we back to wondering who has taken him away? How apt that Jesus’ first post-resurrection teaching is to stop holding onto him. 

You can see the risen Christ, but you can’t cling to him. “You can confess your faith in Jesus, but you can’t own him.” The resurrected Christ we celebrate today cannot be usurped, no matter how one tries, because Jesus meets each of us, as we are. This is how we know as Mary did. Where we learn what we hold most dear, what we are willing to live for, and to die for. Not just what we say we value or care about; but what beliefs we live. No words can speak so loud.

Mary does go, and the first thing out of her mouth is “I have seen the Lord!” Then she tells them of Jesus’ message. She doesn’t just ‘say’ she has seen him, she proclaims it first hand. Jesus said to go and tell them, but when Mary does so it is much more —because she has seen him. The Greek word isn’t just tell. It is ἀπαγγέλλω apaggelló (ap-ang-el’-lo) Yes, you hear an ‘angel’ in there! Angels are messengers. The prefix is apó, means properlyfrom, and it intensifies angellō, so that her announcement is heard as from the original source. What is proclaimed is original experience.

I have seen the Lord. It is the church’s first sermon. She has let go of her own need to grasp hold and go back to what was, and it frees her to testify to what she knows and believes. No seminary degree or public administration course, no promise that anyone will listen. Living her faith doesn’t rely on what others say or do or if they believe her or not. She does it because he called her to do this, and living her faith says more than any explanation. 

A long time ago there was a book called The Alleluia Affair, and it begins; 

Jesus pulled his legs free. The rusty nails that held his feet captive fell clinking below the Cross. It was not difficult now to free his left hand then the right one. He slid easily down from the full-size wooden cross in the sanctuary of an urban church in Indianapolis. Next he walked into the adjoining parish hall. He passed by Catherine Coombs of the Altar Guild, who fainted. Jesus washed up in the men’s room and got the blood off his body – and left the building walking towards the city center. It was a hot day so he felt okay in his loincloth. Jesus had a bit more difficulty disengaging himself from a gold professional cross in an Eastside Manhattan church, yet within just a few moments, he was free. He borrowed a soiled vestment and headed south towards Rockefeller Center.

At first people thought the Jesuses were being stolen, like Mary Magdalene’s fear “They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” Then it happened in another church and another. Jesus was getting down from crosses all over town and showing up in cafes, on buses, sidewalks, universities, and parks, and people began talking with him, coming to know him. They offered him meals, clothes, a haircut and medical care. Friendship. And they began offering these things to each other.

Some saw people’s change of heart and were suspicious, they sought a reason or an ‘influencer’ yet they found it was ‘only Jesus’. Small scrolls began appearing in odd places with Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” “Love your enemies” and “Lo, I am with you always.” The resurrection was alive right in front of them, in them. Jesus was recognized in his various appearances, and soon people saw him in each other, and compassion grew. Even in the face of increasing attempts to thwart them, Jesus continued and the people opened, bloomed.

Then a sweeping edict tried to quash this obviously false testimony, so folks met privately for prayer and Communion. Resurrection was now a reality in their lives and happening now. In an attempt to stamp out this suspicious trend a small group of authorities caught and sentenced a young ‘offender’ to death. But a strange thing happened at the appointed hour; thousands of people flooded the streets and up to the planned site. They called out in defense of her, saying “Crucify us! Crucify us!” Even with guns turned on them they kept at it; “Crucify us!” “Crucify us!” … No one was crucified that day. The last scroll they found was in that town square. It read; Alleluia!! 

For no one has stolen him and no one ever can. He is risen, he is loose in the world. We cannot contain or control him but we can know him, share the Communion of his body and blood in the bread and wine. Our lives can testify louder than any false prophet, any social media influencer, any wave of cultural apathy or skepticism. Our lives speak resurrection.

Go and tell what you have seen, and live what you believe. Amen. Alleluia!

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 9:00 AM on Tue., Mar. 31, 2026.