a sermon for Easter Day
Christ died to teach us how to be fully human, transcending our fears with love. God raised Jesus from the dead to fashion us into a holy people, who responds to the pain and terror of the world with love.
Have you ever had an experience that was so amazing that you couldn’t put it into words? Or tried to describe an experience to someone else, only to have them smile and say, “Oh, you’re just making that up!”
During my senior year in college, Rindy and I got engaged. But we agreed that we could not get married until two things happened: a) at least one of us had to have a job and b) our combined income had to be at least $5000 a year. (Hey, we were living off of love.) So I started looking for a job, hoping to find something in the computer industry. Now this was unusual because I didn’t have a computer science degree; I was an English major from Sewanee, a fine liberal arts college.
I applied to dozens of companies but none of them had any interest. After all, what did an English major know about computers? By the time I graduated, I still didn’t have a job. I had just about given up all hope, and Rindy and I were trying to decide what our next step was when something amazing happened. We happened to be visiting my family in Jacksonville when my parent’s home phone rang. It was a call from NCR. “We’d like for you to fly up to Ohio for an interview.”
Now, Rindy and my dad were both there when I received this telephone call. And the joy and the relief I felt was incredible. But when my mom got home from work, she didn’t believe it. The idea that anyone would pay for an airline ticket just to fly her twenty-two year old son to Ohio for an interview was just too fantastic to believe. It seemed to her to be an idle tale.
When the women got up early that morning and walked to the tomb carrying the spices, they thought they were going to anoint a dead man. They fully expected to find the body of Jesus still lying in the tomb. They had seen him crucified. They had watched him die. And they were there when he was laid in the tomb on Friday afternoon just before sundown. Because it happened just before the sabbath, they didn’t have time to give him a proper burial and so now they were going back to give his body a proper anointing.
These women were no shallow groupies. They were solid, respectable women, women of means and influence. Among them were Mary Magdalene, who is the only person that appears in all of the resurrection stories, Joanna, who was the wife of King Herod’s chief of staff, and Mary the mother of James, who was one of the patrons of Jesus and the disciples. They knew the way of the world – that power conquers love; that the poor will always suffer; and that the dead stay dead. But when they arrived at the tomb, instead of finding the broken body of Jesus, they were greeted by two men in dazzling white who ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
One of the things that I like about this particular account of the resurrection is how Luke presents to us all kinds of different emotions. For example, we learn that the women were perplexed when they found that the tomb had been opened. “Perplexed” is the word used to describe Mary when the angel Gabriel came to her to announce that she would have a child, Jesus. Isn’t the same true for us? Don’t we feel perplexed when we see something completely unexpected – when our eyes tell us something that our brains can’t comprehend?
Next, we learn that the women were terrified. Fear is a perfectly reasonable emotion for someone finding two strange men inside the grave of someone you love. The women were afraid and bowed down to hide their faces from the sight. Isn’t the same true for us? Despite our best intentions, aren’t we also afraid of strangers, of people different from ourselves, whenever we are under stress?
The final emotion Luke shows us is disbelief. When the women returned with news that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the other disciples, the men, did not believe them. They discounted their eye witness testimony as an idle tale. Isn’t the same true for us? Whenever we hear a report that conflicts with our preconceived notion of the truth, coming from someone we consider inferior – don’t we tend to discount their story?
Fear and disbelief – these are the emotions the women and men who followed Jesus felt that day. Fear and disbelief are normal responses whenever we are confronted by events which we simply don’t understand. And they are the emotions that many of us are feeling this Easter in the aftermath of several more terrorist attacks this week, one at the airport in Brussels, one in a mosque in Nigeria, and one in a soccer stadium in Iraq. Fear and disbelief are what we feel when we receive the news that someone we love has suddenly become gravely ill.
But if Easter is about anything, it is about the fact that God does not want us to live in fear and confusion. God wants us to live in love. This is why God sent Jesus to live among us – Jesus who had no fear of the powers and principalities of worldly rulers, Jesus who lived among the poor and shared meals with sinners. It was out of love, not fear, that Jesus sacrificed himself for us. It was out of that love, not fear, that he died. It was out of love, not fear, that he gave himself for us, betting against all odds that love is the strongest force in the universe – stronger even than death, stronger even than terror, stronger even than our own disbelief.
Jesus gave himself to show us that it is only when we completely give up concern for ourselves that our lives will ever be worth living, and our deaths will ever have meaning beyond the grave. Christ died, so that we could see that the only way we will ever be fully alive, to be fully human, is to pass through our fear into love – the love we have for our families, the love we have for our friends and neighbors, the love we have for those in the world around us.
Christ died for us so that we might fight fear with love.
The Resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean that the everything in the world is suddenly going to be all right. ISIS is not going to stop bombing innocent people just because Jesus has been raised from the dead. Nobody is going to find a cure for cancer because of the Resurrection; our candidates for political office are suddenly going to become more civil and cooperative with each other. Terror and disease and political silliness has been with us for thousands of years, and I don’t see any sign of it stopping anytime soon.
But what the Resurrection does mean is that God intends for us to be a people that rises above all that, rises above our fears and confusion, to become the body of Christ in the world. God raised Jesus from the dead to form us into a holy people, the kingdom of God, a people that transcends our personal interests to promote God’s interests. God raised Jesus from the dead so that we would know that dead is not the most powerful force in the universe – love is. And it is by sacrificing ourselves for the sake of each other that we become most human and most divine.
By the way, there was one other emotion in the story that day: amazement. When Peter ran to the tomb and saw the linen cloth laying there, he went home amazed. Isn’t the same true of us, when we see for the first time something that’s been true all along. That Christ died for us to show us how to be fully human, transcending our fears with love. And that God raised Jesus from the dead to fashion us into a holy people, who responds to the pain and terror of the world with love.
Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!