A sermon for Easter Day, April 1, 2018
Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
Today is the day of the Resurrection. We celebrate that God has raised Jesus, the Lord of Life, from the dead. In Jesus’ resurrection, death has been defeated, and it is established that the real truth and essence of this world is life—life eternal and life present.
We live in a world where many focus on death. Some even believe that death is the real and final reality, while others use the threat or fear of death to gain power and use it over others. The Gospel is not happy talk or wishful thinking. Our observance of Holy Week, in preparation for this day of the Resurrection, bears witness to the reality and power of death and its servants—violence and fear. The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate assertion of the arrogance of death in this world, and of how people join themselves to it. As Christians we take death very seriously.
“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.” The three women had prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body, because the circumstances of his death had made it impossible to do so before the Sabbath. They were doing what they could to honor him and cope with his devastating death. But the body is not there, but rather a young man, dressed in a white robe, an unusual form of dress, which elsewhere in the New Testament is how the martyrs and the newly baptized are dressed, and he says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The God of life has raised him from the dead, the powers of death have no hold of him. Have courage, you will see him and he will lead you into life.
St. Paul said it to the church in Rome in the epistle we read today: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus always lived in the fullness of life, never fearing the forces of death. We are often fearful. Even at the end of the Gospel of Mark, the women fled in terror and spoke to no one, because they were afraid. But our loving and indulgent God, looks at them with mercy—No. Don’t be afraid, go where Jesus calls you, to Galilee, perhaps, and live life with him, don’t be enslaved by the forces of death.
“The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It takes courage to live life rather than being seduced and intimidated by the forces of death. It is seductive to think that we can protect ourselves or our families by being armed, or behind gates, or to somehow compile enough wealth so that we don’t have to deal with other people—especially THOSE other people. The forces of death use fear to push people apart, increase anger and anxiety. The forces of death tell us never to be vulnerable or to trust…people follow that counsel, and life is impoverished, and our country is torn apart. The hope of abundant life for everyone in our world is traded in for impoverished pursuit of plentiful wealth for me and mine—bought by servitude to those who seek and hold power who represent the powers of death.
It may be that some will dismiss this—“How could we change? We can’t afford to do anything but go along and get along. We have to keep ourselves safe.” Jesus could not afford anything and did not keep himself safe, yet he is the one who is alive. I have lived a while in the grown-up world, and I have seen plenty of fear, and plenty of people accommodating to power, and seeking to ingratiate themselves to the powerful. I’ve seen institutions collapse through pursuing the fantasy that the rich and powerful will save them rather than having the courage to pursue their life-giving mission.
The Resurrection is confusing and hard to understand. It has always been so: the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances tell us that the people who saw Jesus often didn’t recognize him, or were fearful or confused. So it is not a problem of being “modern” that makes the resurrection a challenge, it is a problem of fear and being confused by the power of death around us. If we are fearful, we are in good company, but we are called to leave aside the noise of the powers of death and turn to reality, the reality of life in God.
The resurrection of Christ is the only hard-headed, real-world reality that there is. For the truth underlying our universe, if there is any truth or meaning worth having—the truth is that life is what endures, life is what has meaning. The God who raised Jesus, did so in the midst of tough economic, social, and political circumstances. Jesus did not ignore those circumstances, but confronted them, well aware of what would happen. He was the only one on any side who was realistic about that. He chose to affirm life, and death did what it could, it did what it does—death ended Jesus’ earthly life—yet God raised Jesus from the dead. That is far more realistic than self-pity or fearfulness. Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, where he preached the Kingdom of God, healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out demons and the forces of death. The Christians proclaimed that. Paul, whose writings are the earliest of the New Testament said it thus:
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never, die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Christ is risen, the God of Life has raised him and blessed us as he has from the beginning. Our praises join with the praises of Israel; let us conclude in prayer in the words of our psalm of Israel:
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous.
The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!
The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
I give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.
The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
On this day the Lord has acted;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.