April 9, 2023

The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ

Easter Sunday – April 9, 2023

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen, indeed, Alleluia!) I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator; God, our risen Redeemer; and God, the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer. Amen.

     A blessed Easter to you all! No doubt for many of you your day started with looking for hidden Easter eggs and treats around your home before dressing up to venture to Church. New outfits, Easter baskets, and happy greetings on Easter Sunday morning are typically followed by gatherings throughout the day with family and friends. That’s because people love to celebrate Easter – after all, regardless of one’s religion or beliefs, Easter marks the end of winter and offers the promise of warmer days ahead, of new growth and life. And I think it sad that for many, Easter is just another sign of Spring – nothing more, nothing less.

And yet, the scriptures tell us that Easter is far more than a springtime festival, more than a single day like Groundhog Day that comes and goes – or a celebration of an event from history that is nice to remember, but has no impact in this century. For followers of Jesus Christ, for Christians throughout the world, however; Easter is an ongoing source of grace, new life, and hope!

See, ever since humankind was banished from Eden, we have been hopelessly stalked by death. There is no escaping it. It is as inevitable as the taxes we will pay this week. And just like we try to avoid taxes, we will do anything to avoid death. We even mask it referring to someone not as having died but having “passed away,” or “entered into rest” and so on. We will do anything to keep death and any mention of it as far away from us as possible. Death scares us. Yet, try as we may, we cannot avoid it. Friends, Easter proclaims we no longer need fear death.

The fulfillment of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ we celebrate this morning proclaims that “death and the forces of Evil that appeared to even overwhelm and capture God incarnate – Jesus Christ himself, - when it appeared that not even God could protect his own Son from the ambitions of evil men, and the inevitability of death” – when, in the words of St. Augustine, “The devil jumped for joy and rejoiced thinking himself death’s commander when Jesus died on that cross” – at Easter, death and the forces of evil were completely shattered: Those yawning gates of hell we sang about moments ago slammed shut as the earth shook and an angel appeared to some perplexed and frightened women at a now empty tomb saying, “Do not be afraid … Jesus is not here; for he has been raised … as he promised.”

See, Easter proclaims that in the darkest moments of Good Friday when Jesus uttered those words, “It is finished” he wasn’t saying that he was finished. It was the curse of Eden, it was everything that led to our estrangement from God, it was the stench of death, and the utter grip of evil on humanity – all of that was finished – and new life marked by atonement, our “at-one-ment with God,” – that was accomplished. For in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, separation from God and even the finality of death itself was defeated … obliterated … forever. Easter proclaims a new creation – a new creation made possible through that resurrection of Jesus Christ – a new creation immersed in, and committed to upholding, fostering, and sharing God’s love, mercy, justice, grace and forgiveness to and with one another and everyone we meet.

Nevertheless, one of the downsides of having heard the Easter Story over and again since – for many of us – our birth, is that many Christians have become so used to this story that it has become just something nice to remember, but has no lasting impact on us. Easter no longer shakes our world like that earthquake Matthew described years ago.

And that’s what happens when we focus solely on an empty tomb and not the rest of the story – the story of how the lives of those first witnesses to the resurrection were turned upside down, shaken, and forever transformed. Those witnesses began to see the risen Christ in all sorts of places: in a garden, in a locked upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on a beach cooking breakfast. Easter happened again and again as Jesus kept coming back appearing and speaking to them just as Easter continues to happen again and again as the risen Christ appears to us and, through us, continues to appear in this world today. I know that is true because I have seen the risen Christ – seen him alive in you and with you, and countless others. Let me offer an example:

     As some of you are aware, the lives of several family members and our many friends in Arkansas were utterly shattered by the tornadoes that ripped through the South just over a week ago. Some of your families and friends experienced similar losses. In the midst of that absolute carnage, the risen Christ has appeared again and again. People have seen an incredible outpouring of not just financial support to those in need, but practical assistance as hosts of unknown, unnamed, volunteers have stepped in to physically clear the rubble and restore some sense of normalcy and community for those affected. In many ways, those volunteers are the resurrected Christ present to those in need, the resurrected Christ in their midst and our midst. See, every time we stop what we’re doing or where we are going in order to help someone in need; when we clothe the naked; feed the hungry; visit the lonely and sick; when we welcome the stranger and offer shelter to the homeless, we see and serve not each other, but the risen Christ – and, in turn, those whom we help see the risen Christ present and alive in you and me.

But even far greater, that same resurrected Christ continues to change us and all who will believe, change us from within – shake up and challenge how we think, how we live, and continues to transform our priorities, our values, our goals, and our hopes so that even when a precious loved one dies, when we lose our jobs, when storms wreak havoc, when someone we love disappoints us or abandons us, when we’re facing our own mortality, and we don’t know where to turn, Easter proclaims “Do not be afraid!” Those yawning gates of hell are closed, and heaven’s doors forever opened. That is the Easter promise, the Easter truth that is the basis of the Christian faith.

And here is the irony and harsh reality of that faith: there can be no Easter without Good Friday; there is no resurrection without death. Easter, the Christian faith itself, ultimately points us to the cross and forever urges us to examine how we choose to live so that we may be the resurrected Christ in this community and the world. Otherwise, Easter does become just another day in the week – a fantasy, something to make us feel good but, with no lasting impact on who we are, and how we think and live. But Easter can be more and is more than a date in history. It is about what happened to those who found that tomb empty on that first Easter morning and saw the risen Christ then, just as it is about those who continue to find that tomb and our own tombs of death and despair empty, and see the risen Christ alive in us today.

Easter recognizes that we – and all humankind – were once hopeless with no way to redeem our relationship with God or with one another, death stood before us as the ending of all that we are and ever could be. But in and through the resurrected Christ, through Easter, like prodigal daughters and sons, humankind was welcomed into the presence of God then, just as we are welcomed into that presence right now, welcomed into the life-giving, continuously transforming presence of this resurrected Christ at work in the hearts and minds of all who believe in him. Yes, Easter is more than a sign of Spring. It is a way of life-changing, death-changing hope. 

    Beloved, hear the good news – the world-shaking, earth-quaking, life and death transforming - good Easter news of God: Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!) By God’s grace may the risen Christ be made known throughout the world, known to us and through us this Easter Day and every day of our lives. Amen.