A sermon for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Mary Magdalen went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”
Today is the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. On this day, God has raised from the dead, the one that the powers of this world had killed, and he brings us life and freedom from death and oppression. Today he brings us into eternal life.
If we are doubtful, confused, and muddled in this life and don’t know what to think, then we are in exactly the position of those first disciples, like Mary Magdalen, to whom Jesus first appeared. She saw Jesus, and she thought he was the groundskeeper. She was so pre-occupied with her own grief, that at first she couldn’t recognize that she was talking to her teacher, the Lord of Life.
When you read your Bible closely, and read the accounts of the resurrection, there is always confusion and doubt at first. It’s not because Jesus wasn’t actually there. The confusion, the doubt, the grief, the despair – those were all what the people to whom Jesus appeared were feeling. The Resurrection of Christ is here today but it takes conversion to see him. And when I say conversion, what I mean is giving up those things inside all of us—doubt, grief, despair, hatred—those powers of this world that grab hold of our spirit, and keep us from seeing the truth.
This morning we are baptizing Savannah. And I’m going to break off from my sermon for a minute to say this: This is my second Easter I have had the pleasure of worshipping with you as your priest. And the number of beautiful children I have been asked to baptize—and even more important, the way this congregation upholds their children and their young people—has been a true joy to witness.
Which is going to be the main point of the rest of my sermon. It’s no accident that we are baptizing Savannah on Easter. Her parents asked me when their daughter could be baptized, and I said, “On Easter.” I’m usually not that definite or directive, I can let a lot of rules slide when it seems helpful. But the church baptizes on Easter, because we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection. It’s not just a vending machine where you get the right credential. Together, we are converted into the Truth, by being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.
Let’s open up our prayer books to page 302 and the pages that follow. I want us all to go through this together, because this is serious business. We are all called, not only the godparents, but all Christians who take responsibility for being baptized into Christ—we are all called to support this child and her parents so that she can be brought up in the Christian faith and life. This means that we have to be the Church, and live our Christian life in our daily work and society, so that there will exist for this child and others who will be the Church of the 21st century, a Christian faith and life to grow up in. We are called to live in the Truth, and not give into the real forces of evil that exist in this world.
The rest of the baptismal service is about how we do that. We renounce the spiritual forces and evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. These aren’t demons like spooks in movies or on TV. Likening these evil powers to TV shows is one of the ways that we avoid living in the truth. Destructive spiritual powers exist in the real world and they are—what? They are the behavior of real human beings who are acting in their own self-interest and who usually, are telling themselves they aren’t doing these things. That they’re not behaving with prejudice—even hatred—toward their neighbor because of the color of his skin, or where she went to school, or what country he was born in. Other people are destroyed by that kind of behavior, and nobody takes responsibility for that kind of evil human creation. Christians are called on to renounce those things, to renounce hatred and racism, and prejudice; to renounce disrespecting others because of where they come from, or their education, or social status. Doing this is not simple, it’s not a matter of saying it one time and then forgetting it. Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness is a lifetime affair, we discover the workings of those powers in our environment and in ourselves over and over throughout our lives.
If we are truthful, we recognize that we do not have the power to defeat those powers, even in our personal lives, let alone in the society around us, where we see manifestations every day in the news. Fascism and terrorism feed on one another, and neither our anger nor our fear can do anything but help them grow. The power that can defeat the forces of hatred, death and destruction is the grace of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In him, God has the courage that we need to live honestly and with care for all God’s children.
If we continue on pages 304 and 305, this is the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, this is how we persevere in resisting evil, this is the Good News that we proclaim, this is how we seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human person. Christ went through everything that we go through, that any one of us goes through. He died. Real death. He was, from beginning to end, a human being from God’s perspective, entirely human, entirely the incarnation of the love of God. His heart was filled with the truth, and he could see the forces of death and destruction—and he loved all those people, yes those who were allied with the forces of death against him—yet he took not those powers of wickedness into his heart. The word courage is derived from the word for heart—in Jesus, God has the courage for all of us, to live and to reject those forces of evil all around us, and have life. To celebrate and rejoice in that gift of life.
In conclusion, I will share the end of a sermon that is over 1500 years old. It is attributed to John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople. His last name is a nickname that was given to him after he had been preaching for a while. It means, “Golden Mouth.”
Enter all of you therefore into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!
He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah proclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!