Apr. 21, 2019 – Easter Day – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 21, 2019 in Easter, Sermons

The Sunday of the Resurrection:
Easter Day

April 21, 2019

We have arrived at Easter morning through the path a week of liturgies recalling Jesus entry into Jerusalem, the last supper with his friends, washing their feet, and through his death on a cross and burial in a tomb. Today we celebrate his resurrection from the dead; and the fact that that through his death and resurrection we can experience a love so profound, a forgiveness so absolute, that it sets us free. From the earliest days of Christian life this has been the most important thing to know and to pass on about Jesus the Christ, and we are so glad to be together, so glad you are here, on this most holy day of the year! People wonder if all of this can be true or even relevant these days or whether it matters at all. If that’s you, you are not alone in that wondering. Life experiences and world events can cause us to doubt and question, be angry with God or with God’s church; if so, again you are not alone. Even lifelong Episcopalians and most ardent Christians have wrestled with this, and no matter how smoothly we say the responses in church, how well we know scripture or sing hymns, this mystery of faith is sometimes just that; a real mystery.

In Luke’s telling of the resurrection even those most faithful and closest to Jesus were perplexed and unsure that first Easter day. Frankly the ‘big reveal’ of an empty tomb didn’t directly inspire much spiritual confidence or certainty! There is turmoil and confusion after the women see the tomb is empty, disciples doubt each other’s words and what they’ve seen, they run and look for themselves only to come away bewildered —and then go home. What does help us to know and believe this truth is our own lives, our own experiences of resurrection. When we’ve been amidst death and endings and tragedy, or we felt a kind of death in ourselves, and then somehow through no power of our own, we find ourselves coming into new life on the other side of it all. Yes, resurrection happens to us too, not just to Jesus, and today we are reminded to see life through that prism. As we do, the power of resurrection becomes real to us, gives us trust and faith in Christ Jesus. When we see our lives this way we can endure when those awful times come again, when the beloved dies, when the cathedral burns, when Sri Lanka churches are bombed on Easter and whenever the world looks bleak. The way is before us and it doesn’t depend on screwing up courage or having ‘enough faith’ — we seek God’s love and power and find them revealed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

So, first of all, resurrection isn’t like those ambulance stories of ‘coming back to life’ with a shot of epinephrine or a defibrillator. Nothing suggests he was in the tomb healing from a death-like state of unconsciousness. Those are edge-of-life situations one hopes to recover from, when we pray one is going to awaken, to spare us from ‘the worst that can happen.’ And that’s the thing; resurrection is from the midst of that worst-that-can-happen, death, pain, and horrendous loss. This is the setting in which we find resurrection truth. If your Easter preparation included Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday you heard the painful details of Jesus’ violent death, how authorities conspired to eliminate him, how one of his own betrayed him and his most fervid disciple denied him – three times, and all but a handful of faithful women deserted him, staying close even as he died. In the end they were all devastated, perhaps ashamed for their failure to stand by him, weighed down by their grief at this unthinkable loss. Oddly this is where it begins, amidst pain, loss, and grief in our own lives. We have had our share of recent deaths here, and probably in each of your own lives too. What we have in common with those who grieved for Jesus is the powerlessness we feel in the face of it, and the devastating finality, — be it the end of a relationship, the giving up of a long dreamt goal even, the death of one you love, Whether caused by our own selves or by others, by accident or cruel intension, it stuns us, knocking us over with the finality. We try to deny or turn away, but soon learn that’s worse; there is no way back out or around it, only into, through. Grief is what loss demands and it is daunting exhausting work.

It changes us, doesn’t it? We can name stages of grief; we just can’t evade them. I’m not sure where Mary and the other women were in that process as they carried their spices for his burial ritual, maybe just putting one foot in front of the other, doing what was expected of women of their day, but then something unexpected; the stone is gone! That stone is like all of those things which keep us tied down to our loss, and once gone an unexpected void or lightness begins. We might ignore or disbelieve it, thinking there’s no opening through ‘solid rock,’ or that absence can make us feel more uneasy than joyful—think of how disoriented the women were at seeing the stone moved – then to enter and find it empty! From “perplexed” to “terrified” bowing their faces to the ground when the two in dazzling white ask why they seek the living among the dead. They came to prepare a body, and there’s no body! Now what? It’s hard to process new information in shock or grief, hard to trust our own perceptions and minds. Did we really want to find that stone moved? Are we ready for burdens lifted, even if not as we planned?

The connection between the large stone moved away, and release from what we are weighed down by is worth reflecting on. Does anyone remember the character of old man Stamatis in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin? (My thanks to Bp. Marianne Budde for linking these stories!) He was deaf in one ear since childhood and greatly troubled by it. He gets a crippling earache and the doctor comes, pulling him into the bright light of a window he’s just opened, and quite upsetting the household; Stamatis’ wife is sure too much light is bad for you. There on the windowsill between dim room and sunlight he looks into the dark recesses of Stamatis’ ear and removes what first appears to be a small stone—in reality a dried pea, embedded there with wax and dirt and age since the old man’s childhood. Stamatis can now hear! The ‘miracle’ is at first thrilling, then completely disorienting. His head feels cold, hollow, watery, all at once. Noise is overpowering now that he can hear fully. His own voice booms as does his wife’s nagging which he’d not heard before. Thrust into a new world and unwilling to adjust, he soon returns to the doctor begging him to put the pea back in, that he might return to his old life.

Sometimes we hang onto the familiar comfort of our stone – whatever it is in our lives. Forced to live in new ways and aren’t always sure how. The women emerged from their turmoil when reminded of Jesus’ promise, and run to tell the others the good news. We expect a happy ending, but new life is not necessarily easy life, and the other disciples don’t believe them. When did it change for the women? When they accepted the rock was moved? When they went all the way into that place of death and saw it for what it was; for what wasn’t there? Perplexed, then looking, listening, they learn what sends them back out. Think of how very different that onward-looking view is! Maybe the biggest step is to see the stone is gone, let go of what impenetrable obstacle you think blocks your way. That’s what resurrection asks us to do; let go of the safety of our familiar burdens and deadening perspectives. The haughty anger, self-pity, pessimism, fatalism, what we’ve learned to erect over a lifetime. Like the women, we have to go past the stone, and see the emptiness of searching for what isn’t there. Only then can we turn around into the new life before us.

They knew resurrection – not because they’d been told but because they found it in themselves. That the others thought them crazy didn’t make them doubt what they knew and had experienced. They entered that tomb in death’s finality and mourning and left it in resurrection awe. Having doubt doesn’t make you unfaithful, it should lead to more seeking, asking. Earlier I asked; did it really happen? Is the resurrection true? It is. Not only because it is ‘in the bible’ or we’re in church, but because we who have lived it find it imprinted on our hearts. I’ve lived it and I’ll bet so have you, in ways large and small, —resurrection is real. I think of those whom I look up to; ordinary people who have had the worst thing happen to them and still they enter that tomb, turn around and come out into the light to tell—no, to live— the good news of resurrection. We pattern this after our Lord, who suffered, died, was entombed and rose for us. Again and again, we move from death into life. Some whom I’ve known through their last days are people who have repeated that pattern of moving from death into life many times, and I see how they trust it will be true at their own death too. None of us are finished creations yet, and we all carry our warts and wounds, fears and failings as we navigate this all too often ‘Good Friday world.’ Yet awful as it is to face that pattern repeatedly, it also serves to show us the path of life we will take.

Which brings us to the other starting question; is a 2000-year-old resurrection day still relevant? Does it matter? Again, yes. Emphatically yes! It matters to our lives in this moment and in this day, this month, year, this family and this world. Believing the resurrection isn’t about getting into heaven someday, it’s part of who we are—and Resurrection people are at their core loving and passionate, giving and forgiving, generous, humble and joyful; they change the world we live in. You can name the ones in history who have changed the world with Divine love and forgiveness, shown paths of peace and tolerance, crossed barriers we thought were ‘cast in stone.’ Today you are called to be resurrection people, who change our world perhaps quietly, one person or one moment at a time, one school or company at a time, one family or one community at a time. You do so by being willing to go into that tomb when things look hopeless, past the once insurmountable stone now gone, and finding no future in caring for what is dead and gone discover within yourself that resurrection is happening; God’s grace and mercy, forgiveness and love flows through you and into the world. Then with your own life you also spread the good news that The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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