Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ
(Easter Day)
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings:Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

From Psalm 118, “On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” I speak to you in the Name of God the Father, God the risenSon, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    Happy Easter! You know, it just wouldn’t be Easter if I didn’t begin this sermon with those words echoed for two thousand years; those words that proclaim the greatest act of God’s grace in human history: Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen, indeed, Alleluia!)

     Christians throughout the world will gather this morning to celebrate Easter Day. The day when, the Psalmist says, the Lord acted. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And with that news lives were changed then and can still be changed today.

     The writer of the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul, in his letter to the Church at Corinth, tell us that on Easter day, just like the Prophets and Sages of the Old Testament had foretold, everything, every sin and evil thought that separated us from God – even death itself - came to an end when and because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. All those horrors of Good Friday, that agonizing death of Jesus that came about because of my sins, your sins, and the sins of the whole world, came about because only God’s ultimate act of love could redeem us, were forever forgiven when Jesus rose from the dead and, in so doing, his doing, we and all who believe were restored as children of God once more. How is this possible? It is possible only because, as the Psalmist said, God himself, acted. This day of vindication and blessing, of victory and exultation, this day of new life, the Psalmist says, “is the Lord’s doing,” and it is marvelous in our eyes.

     And yet, for all their knowledge of the Old Testament prophets and having sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from him, our gospel lesson this morning tells us that the news of Jesus’ resurrection – and when I say “resurrection” I mean his physical, bodily, in-the-living-flesh resurrection, not just some spiritual metaphor – the news of this resurrection was met by skepticism and doubt among the very people whom Jesus described as his closest friends. In fact, Luke tells us his disciples dismissed the women’s words as “idle chatter.” (Not much has changed in two thousand years.) And even though Peter decided to go check on his own and found the tomb empty just like the women said, he responded by going home, amazed mind you, but skeptical. It will be days before Peter will see the risen Lord for himself and share a meal with him. It will be days before Thomas will see those wounds in Christ’s hands, feet, and side. In fact, these men will not believe these “idle words” as they called them, until they see Jesus for themselves.

     Two thousand years later, many people still greet the news of Easter with skepticism and doubt. They are desperate for proof that Jesus lives, that Jesus is risen, that Jesus truly is the Messiah and redeemer of the world. For only with that proof will they be able to believe what those women proclaimed by faith “He is risen.” Only with that proof, will they believe, as Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “that in the resurrection of Jesus God has broken all the vicious cycles of death and sin in which the world finds itself.”[1]For many today seeing is the only path to believing.

     The amazing thing is proof of the resurrection can been seen around us every day. Earlier this week, we watched in stunned horror as the roof of the 800-year old Notre Cathedral suddenly burst into flame. Of all the pictures of this tragedy that circulated on the internet, there was one that really touched my heart, one that, to my surprise, showed nothing about the fire at all. No, it was picture of young people in Paris kneeling on the pavement and praying as they watched the cathedral burn. My guess is that many of them are not churchgoers, if the data are true about church attendance in Western Europe. But what I saw in that picture was the power of resurrection’s hope: hope for new life in the midst of ashes. Here at home, three historic African-American Baptist churches recently burned to the ground in Mississippi. Unlike the accidental fire in Paris, these fires were set by an apparent White-Supremacist. And yet, even though the source of these fires was very different from that in Paris, what began as carnage turned to joy as news of a sudden increase in donations poured in to help these communities rebuild. Again the power of resurrection emerged: that resurrection makes it possible for new beginnings to rise from ashes – even the ashes of our own lives, ashes of our own doing.   

     That was Peter’s experience. In our reading from Acts, several years have passed since the women announced the resurrection and Jesus, himself, appeared to the disciples. Peter, the onetime skeptic has now become Peter, the zealous evangelist. He tells the crowd that on that day at Jerusalem years ago, Christ rose from the dead and while skeptical at first, the resurrection eventually transformed him to the core of his being because Peter, the man who had denied Christ – Peter the brash and unruly disciple often chided by our Lord – had found that the promises of God were true: In the resurrected Christ, he found forgiveness. And Peter discovered for himself that the vicious cycle of sin and death was, in the words of Christ himself on the cross, “finished” and finished forever. For Peter, the resurrection had become more than an idle tale, idle chatter. It had become a way of new life. And that happened, beloved, because on this day the Lord has acted. And so must we.

    The challenge for Christians in the midst of our glorious Easter Day celebrations, is to realize that people still need proof of the Resurrection. They need to see it, see Jesus, with their own eyes. They need to know that the resurrection was and is more than an event in human history. And they will only see that and know that, if the resurrection changes us to the core our being: if they see Jesus alive and at work in us changing how we think and choose to live; how we choose to seek and serve the living Christ in everyone we meet. As St. Teresa of Avila said so well, we need to remember that “Christ has no body now, but ours. No hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks into the world. Ours are the feet by which he walks to do good. Ours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.”[2]

    Beloved, on this day the Lord has acted. Let us choose to act as well. Not only today, but every day. To be as Christ in this community and nation. For in so being, we will not only rejoice in the Lord’s doing, but in seeing the risen Lord in us the whole world will grasp the depths of grace, mercy, forgiveness and joy in Christ’s rising the dead; and with us proclaim, this is indeed, “the Lord’s doing” and it is “marvelous in our eyes” … and in our lives. Amen.

 

[1]Walter Brueggemann, Easter Imagination, 2013.

[2]Prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)