Practicing Resurrection: Easter Day

Practicing Resurrection: Easter Day

Year C, Easter Day
April 17, 2022

Year C:    Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26;John 20:1-18

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Alleluia! Christ is risen!

I can’t repeat that enough in our church today. It is a joy to stand in this church and proclaim that truth today. Last year we were blessed to celebrate Easter Day at Shrine Mont. Today, we are blessed to celebrate Easter Day in our churches for the first time since 2019.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

I’m sure you savor the significance of this Easter Sunday. The glorious proclamations have been made; we have heard the triumph of the Risen Lord. We sing favorite hymns. What is there left to say or sing on this Sunday?

We read the Gospel of John, in which Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. Mary has broken through her fear so she can tend to the body of her teacher and friend. All gospels’ accounts of this moment vary on some points. But what is consistent is that Mary Magdalene is either the first or in the first group of women who go to the tomb.

Mary finds the stone has been removed. She had gone to the tomb that morning to attend to Jesus’ body. This was the last, loving service Mary could do for her Lord. She had witnessed Jesus’ death. She knew that there was no time for a proper burial. Her beloved Lord was dead. But, she could at least perform this last act of love for him.

Likely, her first reaction was not to think about resurrection but that someone had entered the tomb and stolen the body. However, after an encounter with angels and one she thinks is a gardener, Mary realizes that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Resurrection. Priests have been trying to proclaim and explain Easter for nearly two thousand years. In today’s world of instant audio and video coverage of an event, perhaps Mary or one of the other disciples would be on Tik Tok or Twitter to give us live coverage from the tomb for all to see and hear. That might help us get through the various stories and traditions handed down over the last two thousand years. All four of the Gospels contain significantly different, yet somewhat alike, 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.

I wonder, though, would we agree on the resurrection even with live coverage? Would we agree that it happened? Would we agree that this resurrection occurred?

What does resurrection even mean? If I ask people what resurrection means, the answer is usually something like: “it’s a church word.” Sometimes people use it to say they’re going to “resurrect” an old sweater or set of dishes, but resurrection as a noun is about Jesus, it’s about Easter, and it’s about church.”

So, what does Jesus’ resurrection mean for Easter people in the 21st century?

Nora Gallagher is an American writer, and in one of her essays, written after her beloved brother died, she talks about “practicing resurrection.”

“Practicing Resurrection.” What a wonderful phrase.

Nora Gallagher wonders whether we spend too much time in church discussing whether we believe in the resurrection or do not believe in the resurrection. By doing this, she thinks, we may miss the point.

“When I think about the resurrection now, I not only wonder about what happened to Jesus. I ponder what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They hid after the crucifixion but walked back into the world after the resurrection. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers and healed the sick. It was not just what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them…what if the resurrection is not solely about the appearances of Jesus, but also about what those appearances point to, what they ask? Like everything else, maybe resurrection in our lives needs to be practiced.”[1]

“Practicing Resurrection.” It seems a perfect way to remember that we are set free to live and love in God abundantly and joyously.

In so many ways, it does seem like people are longing for the practice of resurrection in their lives—a spouse whose husband or wife died at a much too early age; a person struggling with a new career at mid-life fears their ability to cope with new challenges; a colleague who falls into a deep clinical depression and struggles to live through the day with little or no energy.

In so many ways, people are longing for new life.

When Mary, Simon Peter, and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, return to the tomb, they must have been in shock. Mary speaks with angels – there’s no indication in John’s gospel of their answer, but suddenly a man Mary believes to be the gardener appears. It is only the second time he speaks to Mary, using her name, that she understands that this is the Risen Jesus.

Then Jesus tells Mary to go to her brothers and proclaim what she has seen.

Mary and the others would have to tell the rest of the disciples this. Christ is risen from the dead, and now they need to change from people performing rites for the dead to apostles who bear witness to the resurrected Lord. They needed to change from people who are fearful and frightened to people who boldly proclaim that God’s life is stronger than any death, that God’s love is stronger than any hate, and that God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.

The good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. This belief, this truth, this resurrection, changes everything. Cruelty is not the last word. Sin and evil are not the ultimate powers of the universe. Death does not get the final laugh. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Forgiveness, love, and life are the absolute realities of the world. Jesus Christ is risen today. The power of God is stronger than any tomb. Jesus Christ has risen.

The good news of Easter is not only that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and lives now but also that the power of the resurrection can transform our lives now as well. New life is possible now, here, today. But for that to happen, we need not only to be reminded of resurrection but also to practice resurrection.

In Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, he tells a powerful story about practicing resurrection. He tells a story that took place in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was still in jail. Wallis was at an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of St. George’s, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was presiding when the notorious South African Security Police broke into the service. Wallis writes:

“Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders…After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power but reminded them that he served a higher power than their political authority. Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the police, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and an enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and a boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security forces that surrounded the cathedral and greatly outnumbered the band of worshippers, we leaped to our feet, shouted the praises of God, and began dancing. We danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military forces who, not knowing what else to do, backed up to provide the space for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa.”[2]

Is it possible to practice resurrection in our own cities and streets? Like those first women who came to the tomb, like Archbishop Tutu, can we practice resurrection in our own lives?

The promise of Easter is that we can. But, if resurrection is to be a reality for us other than on Easter Sunday, we are at least in part responsible for it.

If we do not meet the resurrected Christ in our own lives, where else are we likely to meet him? We meet him when we are called upon to have the courage amid heartbreak or pain, by the needs of others, or by breaking the bread. Then we are reminded of the truth of the resurrection over and over again.

The truth of Easter is that the promise of new life doesn’t just await us in the future, but that we can live new lives, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.

Amen.

[1] https://www.noragallagher.org/practicing-resurrection.php

[2] Jim Wallis, God’s politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it. (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005), cf. pp. 38, 347.