Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Easter Day, Apr. 17, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Apr 17, 2022 in Easter, Feast Days, Sermons

Easter Day

Apr. 17, 2022

Alleluia! Alleluia! The world needs Easter right now, more than ever. Considering all that is happening and all that you and I carry in our hearts today, and knowing how long we have waited to come together like this, it is gloriously good to proclaim our Alleluias! While we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with great fanfare and flowers and joy we know it isn’t necessarily so for those in critical need or deep grief, people of the Ukraine or any war torn place or under great threat. The hope dawning in Christ’s resurrection also emerges in small quiet ways. Ways that sneak up on us when we are in dark times, because resurrection is not so much a single historical moment or even a grand annual event. It is a process —of seeking, finding, living, and welcoming it however it comes.                                             

For the past week we have been immersed in recalling Jesus’ suffering, death, burial in the tomb, and so if the angel asked us ‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’ We might be tempted to say ‘because that’s where we are!’ Those women had followed Jesus all this time, had shared his last days, were at the cross when he died, and at the tomb when his body was laid there. They left to prepare burial spices and ointments to use that morning when the Sabbath was over. All of this we can imagine, we can picture in our minds. Anyone who has buried a loved one knows moving through the necessary steps amidst grief is not so different today. We stand at the columbarium or cemetery and know we are where many have been buried and many have grieved. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Because often that is where we are. That is where we left them. That is where we expect their bodies to be, just as those followers did.

To step beyond fact-certain reality and into Resurrection faith has dared and defied people ever since that long ago morning, when the tomb was found empty. They told the Apostles this news and were met, not with joy, but disbelief. Their words were an idle tale, folly to say that He had risen. As Luke tells it, only Peter took their proclamation seriously enough to see for himself. Even he did not know what to make of it, so he took his amazement and returned to where he was staying. Can any of us can be quite sure what our reaction would be to such a thing? We do know that they came to believe, each in their own time and way. Last night we read the resurrection account from John’s gospel, where only Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb that morning. Each of the gospel writers tell us as it was known to them. I happen to like this morning’s telling from Luke especially because the women gathered that morning, this body of his followers came together to share their work and their grief, and instead shared the resurrection of our Lord! Imagine their common bond after that morning.

We too experience the risen Christ in community. It is what we do here today as we honor the holy feast of Easter. It is what we do this morning, baptizing two children, Colin and Victoria, into the the death and resurrection of Christ, and welcome them into the household of God. We gather this morning with those we love and some we have never met. We gather as people who believe and some who do not, and many still wondering —wandering, all of us here seeking. Like those first witnesses to the empty tomb, we too enter Resurrection faith each in our own way, as will Victoria and Collin (or Cauliflower as his big sister calls him).

Some come to this day having decided the tomb is a dead end, the stone fixed in place by doubt, injury, or for lack of proof. The proof that he is risen is right here next to you, right there within you. Our Lord reaches out to be with us in times as dark and difficult as the past two years have been, in the consuming day to day uncertainty. He longs to be present with us in despair amidst war, poverty, need, and brokenness, and longs for us to turn towards him. Showing us to stop seeking the living among the dead, and to know that the stone is not forever. To see the tomb as it really is; empty! Christ calls us forth in moments both small and grand, to know that he is risen! His triumph over death itself is given to us as surely as God’s love is true.

All of us experienced being told to shelter at home two years ago as the pandemic spread like wildfire. We endured and adjusted, we saw it take a heavy toll on many, and we also found some unexpected blessings. Sadly for some their confinement became more of a tomb than a shelter. Even with the rock rolled way it can be terribly hard to come out into bright light, higher noise levels, and so so many many people. My daughter and granddaughter and I went to a small farmers market not long ago. We feasted our eyes on beautiful produce, colorful flowers, sounds of laughter. And then my (almost 4 year old) granddaughter held her head covering her ears and started to cry. In genuine distress her eyes squeezed shut, she crouched down to the ground becoming as small as she could make herself. She was distraught. It was all too much. Has anyone else felt a bit that way as we began emerging? I know a number of people are rightly staying in for various health reasons, and I am delighted that you join us from home each week. I also know some fearful to venture out, the idea of being in even a small group of people producing great anxiety. Our Lord is with us even if safe shelter becomes a tomb, —and I hope we can remember that he emerged from his tomb into into new life. Christ’s love can be felt through a call or visit with a friend, a meaningful note, by a warm greeting when you come to church, be it for Easter or for a work party! Many find his presence as we give of ourselves and serve in ways which help us be Christ for each other.

This theme of seeking and finding Jesus flows throughout Luke’s Gospel; shepherds will find the baby in a manger, the Magi will find him by following the star, Mary and Joseph couldn’t find the boy Jesus, they search until they find him in the temple. Jesus’ opponents seek to find a way to trap him, we read of a shepherd who finds his lost sheep, a woman finds her lost coin, a father’s lost sons are found, and so on. So for the group at the tomb to seek and not find him is significant. But did they seek him raised up as he said, or his crucified body? They came to carry out a straightforward task of tending his body. They were unprepared for emptiness. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asks. It is really less a question than it is an answer; he is among the living! He has been raised!! And so they told.

Not believing isn’t the same as not questioning. Questions are always welcomed here, and often an invitation to a deeper spiritual life. We can have our doubts and still act to confirm, deny, or explore them. I point this out because when the disciples thought it “an idle tale” or mere folly, they were unbelieving. The word here is ἀπιστέω (apistéō) which means more than disbelief – it indicates one not even willing to be persuaded. Only Peter, who three times denied even knowing Jesus, was open to wonder if the extraordinary news Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of James, and the other women told could somehow be true. Even a sliver of hope can keep us from being immobilized by despair. 

We can understand their response. We’ve all experienced some failure of hopes and dreams. Who here has never felt empty, inadequate for not succeeding, unable to seek or find joy? It can be as though a stone blocks the entrance to our souls! An obstacle to friendships, love, well-being, beauty, even light. Take heart and dare to hope though, for it is in the darkness of the earth that a grain of wheat dies so to be risen —new and green to produce many more grains. Those unlikely brown crinkly bulbs go into the ground and are raised up as the beautiful blooms we are surrounded with. Hence the tradition of lilies, tulips and other bulb flowers in Eastertide. 

Today we bear witness to that great Alleluia Truth; that by the love of God, who raised Jesus from the grave, we can always experience and share new life and love. For with Christ, nothing is impossible.

Let us pray.

Help us to believe Lord, that endings are but beginnings and that graves are but doorways to a new life. For you are the Lord of the living and the dead. Amen.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.