Happy Easter, everybody! It’s a beautiful day, thank God, and you all look phenomenal in your Easter best. It seems we have something to be joyful about; something, or perhaps better, someone, to celebrate. The Sunday of the Resurrection reminds us once again that Jesus has indeed conquered death, that His resurrection is the hope of our immortal life with Him. Easter reminds us that Jesus didn’t do the wondrous things He did for His own sake, but for us.
Immortal life has been in the new, by the way. Despite all the other things going on the world, humans are still preoccupied with death. I read a Newsweek article that said that “Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, plans to live to be 120. Compared with some other tech billionaires, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. Dmitry Itskov, the “godfather” of the Russian Internet, says his goal is to live to 10,000; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, finds the notion of accepting mortality “incomprehensible,” and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, hopes to someday “cure death.” It’s hard to believe, though, since the human quest for immortality is both ancient and littered with catastrophic failures. Around 200 B.C., the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, accidentally killed himself trying to live forever; he poisoned himself by eating supposedly mortality-preventing mercury pills. Centuries later, the search for eternal life wasn’t much safer: In 1492, Pope Innocent VIII died after blood transfusions from three healthy boys whose youth he believed he could absorb.”1
Obviously these guys don’t get it; and note that they’re all dudes, right? Ponce de Leon’s wife Leonora most likely just shook her head when he took off for the fountain of youth. Death is, whether we like it or not, part of human life. And we are here today because death is, somehow, part of the life of God as well.
That’s because Jesus Himself did not avoid death. He died and then – and this is why we’re all here today – rose from the dead. As the rector of St. Thomas’ 5th Avenue put it, “But the Resurrection of Jesus is not the resuscitation of a corpse – if it had been, Jesus would have had to die again. The Resurrection is the breaking into time and space of God’s immense power and love. Suddenly, in a world of broken promises, of violence and sin, there is hope – hope for something greater and far more fulfilling than…the cheap lure of immortality in this world. Immortality for the Christian is to be caught up into the love of God;” it is to know that to the faithful life changes, but never ends.2
Not that it always feels that way, and it certainly didn’t feel that way for Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” on that first Easter morn. St. Matthew tells us that the two Mary’s went to Jesus’ tomb before the Sun even rose that day; St. Mark says they went to anoint the Body of Jesus, but Matthew says they just went to see the tomb, to be close to the Lord. Mary Magdalene we all know; the “other Mary” wasn’t the Mother of Jesus but rather her sister-n-law, Mary wife of Clopas, and so Jesus’ aunt by marriage. The Marys went supposing they were visiting the dead; instead they meet first a mighty angel, and then the Almighty Himself. It’s like God was thinking: this whole Resurrection thing is too much, it’s more than a little bit frightening; let’s have an angel tell them what’s happening before they run into the guy who was dead a few minutes ago.
How did the Mary’s react? Fear, of course, and trembling. They did better than the supposedly tough soldiers who were guarding the tomb – they just passed out and fell on their faces. The Mary’ were fearful, but what else were they? Filled with great joy. They fell on their faces too, but to what? To worship the risen Lord.
The Marys probably didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they believed in God and they believed in Jesus. If they had any doubts about who Jesus was and is after His death, those doubts were answered by His resurrected life.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything. How have we reacted to the risen Lord? We have all somehow met Him – again, that’s why we’re all here – and we believe He is the Son of the Living God. But as John Wesley put it, It is one thing to believe that God is God, but that the moment of conversion comes when you sense that God is God pro nobis, God for us, God always reaching out for us.
And so the the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything, for us, if we follow Him. The Resurrection makes it possible for us to love in the midst of hate, to have hope in the midst of darkness, to be courageous in times of fear and uncertainty. In His death, Jesus has indeed destroyed death, and His rising to life again has won for us true immortality, everlasting life in Him.