Easter Day: April 21, 2019
Year C, Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
At the time of this posting, there was no recording of this sermon. The text is below.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today we have heard one of the Easter Morning Resurrection stories from John’s Gospel. It begins with a solitary figure walking through darkness. Mary Magdalene has broken through her fear in order to tend the body of her teacher and friend. All gospel accounts of this moment vary on some points. But what is consistent is the days and that it is Mary Magdalene who is the first to go to the tomb.
When Mary finds the stone has been removed, she jumps to conclusions. Her perception of what has happened is that someone has entered and stolen the body. But the author does not tell us if she entered or even looked into the tomb. Did she really know that the body of Jesus was not there? What the text tells us is that she ran back to tell Peter what has happened.
Mary, Peter, and John run back to the tomb. They indeed find the tomb empty. At this stage, they probably believed they were dealing with a grave robbery, not a Resurrection. Mary stands weeping outside the tomb and when she bends over to look in, she sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been. After conversing with the angels, Mary Magdalene turns around and sees someone she does not recognize. She assumes he is the gardener and asks where the body of Jesus has been taken, so she may reclaim it. Jesus then says: “Mary.” She turns and at last recognizes him and says in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Presumably, as she is about to embrace him, Jesus says “Do not hold on to me – (or alternatively) do not cling to me – because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus then tells her to go and tell the disciples he is ascending to the Father. She does as she was told. But it is unclear to what extent the disciples believed her or fully understood the implications of what she reported.
Preachers have been trying to proclaim and to explain Easter for nearly two thousand years – and this preacher for only six of them. Today we live in an age of instant electronic transmission of both news and information, in an era of constant video and audio coverage of everything – just so we can be sure that we get it right. Isn’t it true that even with video and audio evidence available to us, we would probably disagree on the Resurrection? Did it happen? How did it happen? Who was there?
I think it is even more difficult for us in age of high definition streaming to really grasp the life circumstances or the mindset of people in a period nearly two thousand years ago where all communications were entirely rooted in oral transmission, shared memories, and story-telling in families and early churches for months, years, decades, or generations before anything got written down. All four of the Gospels contain significantly different and simultaneously repetitive accounts of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and there is further accounting of those Resurrection appearances in the Book of Acts and in the Fifteenth Chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which we heard read this morning.
For me, what is most striking – indeed most convincing – is that faithful women followers and a small band of disciples (and arguably the women were both) – who had witnessed the truly traumatizing public execution of their beloved teacher on that not so good Friday – and who were undoubtedly cast into a period of extreme grief, fear, anxiety, confusion, or despair – would within days or weeks be drawn back into an ever-growing community of followers who believed – to the very core of their hearts, minds, and souls – that the crucified one had risen from the dead and they were called to proclaim both his resurrection and his Gospel to the ends of the earth.
There are of course nuances and complexities inherent in the news that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead on Easter Morning. At first, many of his disciples simply could not believe it. They doubted and discounted the women – unreliable witnesses that women are – who were the first to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Christ in most of the narratives.
But one by one, as today’s and other Eastertide Gospel readings indicate, the disciples and other early followers of the Resurrected Jesus came to believe that he was risen and was calling them to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations of the earth. Gradually, their eyes, hearts, and minds were opened as they glimpsed his empty tomb, or as they conversed with his him, now resurrected, as they broke bread with him, or as they touched or were touched by his wounds, or as they would see Him ascending into Heaven.
Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And Christ lives within us and among us even now. Jesus Christ overcame the powers of sin and death that we all might be born anew. We are redeemed, our sins are forgiven! Even when we stray and become separated from our best and truest selves, from our neighbors, from our enemies, or from our God – again and again – forgiveness, reconciliation, and love are repeatedly and continually offered to us because there is truly a wideness in God’s love and mercy.
Easter is a doctrine, but more than that, it is an experience. My friends, there are many Easters in our lives. They often come when they are least expected.
Like the disciples who encountered Jesus at a meal on the Emmaus Road or at breakfast on the shore, we, too, can and do know the Risen Christ, who we encounter each time we share in the breaking of the bread at God’s Holy Table. But to say that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter is also to proclaim that we can and do encounter Christ and Christ’s resurrection in our own daily lives. We can experience the love which he made known in his life, death, and resurrection.
Love ultimately triumphs over the powers of sin and death, once and for all! Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
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