A Sermon for Easter Day – Year A – 20 April 2014

John Edward Miller, Rector

 If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. –  Colossians 3:1-4

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:1-18

The Collect

 O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

  “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Easter is about the power of God – the power that transcends all other powers. God is love, and love is God’s power. God creates, redeems, and sustains the world with the power of love. Unleashing love’s ultimate force, God raised Jesus from the dead. And love prevailed; it proved to be stronger than death, greater than the power of annihilation. That is the pivotal point of Easter. When God raised Jesus, everything changed. God’s power ushered in a new state of affairs in this world that he loves so fully.

Easter proclaims that God’s love has dominion over death. On the cross the power of death had done its worst. Jesus died, and about that there is no doubt. But death could not hold Jesus; because of God’s love he is alive, and his Spirit is with us and in us, giving life to our mortal bodies. Therefore on Easter we have come to celebrate, generation after generation, because we rejoice in the truth of this astounding claim. We sing our alleluias of praise, hear God’s word of love, and take the holy sacrament to our comfort, knowing that the power of love is at work in us. We are becoming what God intends us to be, his Easter people. The resurrection of Jesus blazed a trail – a new way of being that is ours to accept and to follow.

So it’s not simply that we’re celebrating an ancient miracle. We have gathered as Easter people – people of the promise of new life. We worship because we believe that God’s Easter has a now dimension as well as a then. We have come together in the well-founded belief that the resurrection of Jesus was not a one-time event. We are persuaded that Easter marks the beginning of a new way of living for those who trust in the goodness of God, the presence of God, the power of God, even as they come face-to-face with the terror of death.

Easter demonstrates a love that will not let us go, a love that is not defeated by death. We rejoice because we know in excruciating detail that God’s love for us has no limits. That is the message of the Holy Week just past. In Christ God has rendered himself vulnerable to the worst that our human condition has to endure. For our sake, he suffered shame, treachery, betrayal, and execution at the hands of brutal men. His death is God’s own taste of death. But that solidarity in suffering and loss is not the final word. On Easter Day the word is life; God is the Lord of the living.

What that means is that we also share in the resurrection to eternal life. For us, Easter Day is the invitation to claim and to activate our gift of new life in Jesus Christ. Easter is the day that the Lord has made; it is first day of our new life. But that life is not business as usual; it is marked by radical transformation made possible by the power of resurrection. By the grace of God we are being raised with Christ to a life that seeks the things that are above, where Christ is, rather than being pulled down by the gravity of self-gratification and of things that are perishing. Even now God is busily working to remove the massive stone that separates the living from the dead, the awful stone of grief, of loss, of dark finality. God is love, and his will to resurrect us is relentless. The process of resurrection at work in the present, as well as in the past, in the future as well as in the present. We Christians are a people who trust the re-creative power unleashed in Christ’s resurrection. And we trust its availability even as we trust its relevance.

The Church would not exist if the resurrection were nothing more than wishful thinking or pious delusion. None of us would have come to church today to hear again an idle tale that had no footing in reality. We have come to affirm what is real – the power that takes what is dead and brings it to life, and the power that takes what is languishing in darkness and leads it to Christ, who is the light of the world. That is, we hold that resurrection is not solely tied to the idea of death. Our Easter hope does not exclusively lie in a realm of eternity beyond time and space. Easter is also about transforming the world for which God gave his only-begotten Son. That incomparable gift was offered so that those who believe in him might have eternal life – now and then. Easter faith believes that God’s love makes possible life before death, and a life that surpasses death. We trust in the resurrection of the body, the whole human self, and in the life everlasting. Our God is the Lord and Giver of life, both now and in the world to come.

On Easter Day our thoughts inevitably go to loved ones that we have lost. Their death has affected us deeply, leaving an empty space in us that cries out to be filled. We cannot fill those voids by our own actions, and we cannot depend on our memory alone as the place where they live on. Nothing that we can do will gloss over the abiding awareness of loss. Moreover, our memory famously fades over time, adding frustration to grief. Nevertheless, we are not helpless. Easter reminds us that it is God’s action that redeems us from the power of death, and it is God’s remembering that finally saves our beloved ones.

Easter powerfully declares that God loses nothing that is precious to him, including our selves, our loved ones, our dreams, and our accomplishments for the good. While our most durable monuments crumble, that which is worthy, just, and loving about our life is never lost in God’s eternal life. I believe that God’s infinite capacity to re-member us – to put us back together when we and the people dear to us are disintegrating – eternally recreates us as whole, vital, distinctive selves who are present to God and one another in the communion of saints. This belief is beautifully expressed in the Prayer Book’s burial service. We say:

Remember thy servant, O Lord, according to the favor which thou bearest unto thy people, that increasing in the knowledge and love of thee, he may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

That prayer has given great comfort to those who grieve. It comes out of the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life that God gives us in Christ Jesus. His rising from the dead, to which Scripture attests, is a lens through which faith sees everything. The truth of Easter and the truth about our future in God are made real by foretastes of God’s resurrecting love in the now. From time to time our Easter eyes glimpse the power of resurrection in our very midst. Those experiences confirm our venture of faith, and form the foundation on which we build our expectations for eternity.

St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians presents an inspired witness to this sacred truth. Although he is writing from his prison cell, Paul still exudes confidence in the Easter Gospel. He emphasizes the here-and-now dimension of resurrection life, saying, “. . . you have been raised with Christ.” The apostle’s message urges every Christian – then and now – to  claim the Easter miracle as his or her own. Paul tells us to accept what we have been freely given in Christ, and grow into the promise of our baptism. He challenges us to be transformed by what you see and feel and hear of the risen Lord, and attain the full stature of Christ.

Whenever we witness an act of compassion, whenever we receive the grace of forgiveness, whenever we are relieved of fear and loneliness, whenever we are uplifted by a spirit of giving that expects nothing in return, whenever we feel the influence of a love that is patient and kind, that is not jealous or boastful, that is not arrogant or rude, whenever we experience life-restoring hospitality, whenever we are healed in body and in soul by outstretched hands of mercy, then we have been touched by the power of God, and realize that, by believing, we have been raised with Christ.

On this Easter Day, we sing our Alleluias because we have tasted the first fruits of eternal life. We rejoice because we know that the first Easter is the ongoing power of new being. It is a process that is here and now. Resurrection is what the God of love is about in every moment of life. Because we are the people of hope who feel Easter’s power, we entrust our selves and those whom we cherish to God, who is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Preserver of that life which is eternal.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! . . . How about you?”

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may it always be so. Amen.

[1] The Burial of the Dead, Rite I, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 488.