A Sermon for Easter Day March 27, 2016
by Louise Browner Blanchard, Interim Rector
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. Psalm 118:23-24
It’s the question that signals that everything has changed. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The women who heard it were dutiful and faithful followers, and they hadn’t been about to abandon Jesus once that he was dead. They’d been with him since his Galilee days. In fact, two of the women, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, were among the many people he had cured there. Afterward, they joined the other women and the 12 male disciples as the journey continued through Galilee and then to Jerusalem. Jesus had praised them for both hearing and doing the word of God. They certainly weren’t going to let go of him without a fitting farewell.
They likely witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion on that awful Friday afternoon, but that wasn’t the end of it for them. They were there as Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross and wrapped it in linen, and they followed him as he laid it in the tomb. They saw how the body was laid. They were determined to give Jesus a proper burial and began to prepare spices and ointments for anointing his body.
As faithful Jews, they rested on Saturday, the Sabbath, but very early on Sunday, they returned to the tomb with the spices. It was open, and they went inside. They were puzzled to find no body, and they were terrified when two men stood beside them. Then came the question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the men asked. “He is not here, but has risen,” they said. They reminded the women that Jesus had told them that this was going to happen when they were still in Galilee. He had told them that he would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again. The women remembered, and they realized that everything had changed.
Specifically, what they realized was this: as horrific as it was, the crucifixion was not the end of Jesus. It was not the end of what he had taught them, or how he had lived, or who he was. What had felt insurmountable—the seemingly overwhelming combination of the force of the Roman Empire, the depravity of Herod, the amorality of Pilate, the corruptness of the chief priests and scribes, the betrayal by Judas, the gutlessness of Peter, the faintheartedness of the other disciples, and death itself—had been defeated. Defeated by the fulfillment of a promise: “On the third day I will rise again.”
In that aha moment, the women recalled what Jesus had told them. And they believed. They believed not only that he was risen, but that he was somehow alive among them. And because they believed, they understood that his work was not finished, and neither was theirs. “Why do you look for the dead among the living?” The crucifixion was not the final answer; as real as its horrors were, it was no match for the love of God for his son and for us. That transformative love led to the resurrection, and the resurrection required a response. “Why do you look for the dead among the living?” Jesus wasn’t dead, but alive. The women’s response was to proclaim it by word and deed.
It would take a bit longer for their fellow travelers to comprehend the truth, but eventually, they, too, would respond to the living Christ. He continued to feed them and guide them, and let them know what his resurrection required from them, too: to continue as he had taught them…to not be afraid…to heal…to bring good news to the poor…to love God, one another, and their enemies…to remember that as they do to the least, they do to him…to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin in his name. In the face of force, depravity, amorality, corruptness, betrayal, gutlessness, and faintheartedness, those are the weapons. In the face of death, those are the weapons. Life, not death, is God’s will for us. Do not look for the dead among the living.
Like the people who accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, we have traveled together to this resurrection day. Throughout Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and especially this past tumultuous week from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we have looked toward the promise that is fulfilled today: Jesus Christ is risen. Death is not the final answer. The powers of darkness have not prevailed, and they won’t, no matter how overwhelming they may seem. God’s love ultimately redeems and resurrects. And as today’s Easter Gospel reminds us, that is not the end of the story. Given the good news of the resurrection, how will we respond?
The question could not be timelier. We face daunting challenges on nearly every level. But the point of Easter is that God’s will is life, not death, and life will prevail. Death is redeemed, and life is resurrected. As followers of Christ, we are charged not only with proclaiming that good news, but with living into it. We vow to do so in our baptismal covenant when we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We undertake to do so in the post communion prayer of thanksgiving when we say:
And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
Challenging? Of course. But we have over 2,000 years of experience to remind us what was true then is just as true today: that God redeems what the world destroys, and hope never dies. That is the Easter promise, and it is good news indeed. Our job is to live into it and respond to the resurrection.