Easter

My friend, His Excellency Sean Rowe, the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania has a catchphrase of sorts. He almost habitually, though he is very serious, but he almost habitually says “It’s a great day in the Kingdom of God.” His Excellency says that to congregations, individuals, anyone he comes across, “It’s a great day in the Kingdom of God.” And indeed it is, a gorgeous morning for the Sunday of the Resurrection. So let’s stop for a moment and think about what have done, seen and heard this morning.

The priest, in this case, me, I walked out and shouted “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” and on cue y’all responded, “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia” and we said these things with some enthusiasm and conviction. “But nevertheless we often say those things as though it’s the most natural, logical, obvious thing in the world. But real resurrections are not quite so tidy. What’s more, reports of real resurrections are not so easy to take, either. The first disciples chalked up the world’s very first Easter sermon—delivered by the women to the disciples—as sheer nonsense. But we would have, too.”

Philip Yancey once tried to get at the surprise of Easter by telling a story about a funeral he had attended for a friend. He called his friend “Rick” and Rick had been a good friend but had died, and at the funeral, Rick did exactly what the dead guy at a funeral is supposed to do: nothing. But Yancey tried to imagine what would happen if, after the funeral and on his way to the car, suddenly Rick came up to him and said, “I’m back!” The odds of running away screaming seemed high to Yancey. But devout Christian though he is, Yancey like most of us would admit that although the physical presence of a resurrected Rick would startle if not stupefy, merely hearing a report of Rick’s return to life would surely be written off as sheer nonsense.”

And that’s how the disciples felt on that first Easter morning. Nonsense, they said, Jesus is dead and you girls are out of your minds. St. Luke tells us that the testimony of the women, the words of the Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women, seemed to the disciples like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter thought twice, and he got up and ran to the tomb; and when he got there, he stooped down to look inside, and he saw the linen cloths, the shroud that the Body of Jesus was so carefully wrapped in, he saw those cloths laying there by themselves; and then, after running to the tomb, he walked away, dumbfounded, marveling to himself at what had happened.

But is was still nonsense, still an idle tale. The disciples believed in the the general resurrection of the dead, that at the end of time all the dead would be raised. Apparently many of Jesus’ disciples believed the same thing: Martha, sister of Lazarus even said so. After Lazarus had died, when Jesus showed up on the scene, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” your brother will be resurrected. Martha said to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Yes Lord, said Martha; she believed what Jesus had told her even though right then what He had told her could not have made any sense. I am the resurrection? Sounds like nonsense. What does that even mean?

It means that when we run with Peter to the tomb, we walk away dumbfounded. We don’t have the benefit of two angels arrayed like lightning. We don’t have the benefit of an empty tomb, of seeing the shroud laying by itself; what we have is the report of a resurrection. And in just having the report, we might think that report to be an idle tale, nonsense; we might look at those who tell us that they themselves have seen and experienced this Jesus and write them off like the disciples did to the women so long ago. And I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

Because if the Resurrection happened, if Jesus did what He did and is now out of that tomb and seated at the right hand of the Father, if Easter is really Easter, it means that God loves us with such fire, such passion, such longing, it means that He loves us with the kind of love that immediately changes your life. If the Resurrection happened then we would have to respond to that kind of love, that kind of power and life. If the Resurrection happened then our whole lives would be re-oriented; the post-Resurrection life is one of constant adventure, a life of trusting in the Unseen; a life of seeing the old made new and the lost being found; a life of finding tombs empty and the dead alive. Nonsense, some will say, but I say Alleluia, Christ is risen. It’s a great day in the Kingdom of God.

Quotes taken from This Week

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