Why I Believe in the Resurrection – March 27, 2016

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas LangNicholas
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Easter Day
March 27, 2016

Acts 10:34-43Colossians 3:1-4Luke 24:1-12

May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen.

The story is told of a conversation with the then retired Episcopal Bishop Daniel Corrigan, one of those mid-twentieth century liberal princes of the pulpit known for his stirring preaching and passionate commitment to social justice . “Bishop Corrigan,” someone asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” He looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”

Welcome to this happy morning, to this festival celebration of the church’s queen of feasts. Easter is a glorious day, complemented by gorgeous spring flowers, sublime music, the sounds of organ and trumpet, and maybe even some decent preaching.

I suspect we have come here this morning from different places in our lives and for different reasons. As far as the Resurrection of Jesus is concerned, my guess is that some of us have come with great faith, some with serious  doubt, some in certainty, others somewhere in the middle but  I would venture to say that all of us are here hoping—hoping that just maybe there’s something to this whole thing; that there is a Power great enough to raise someone from the dead and hoping that Power can overcome  evil and death in this broken world of ours.  I think that within our DNA is an intense longing for something beyond what our limited human minds can grasp.

No matter how uncertain we may be about the resurrection of Jesus, I think there is at least a tiny kernel of hope deep inside us that something’s there, that it’s not a fairy tale—for without hope we have little to live for. Hope is the anchor that keeps us planted in this life—no matter how difficult our life may be. Hope is what gives us the strength to go on when things get grim.

And, while some of us may wonder about the experience of resurrection, all of us are familiar with the experience of the tomb because we are no stranger to brokenness, fear, sadness, loss, defeat, betrayal, and rejection. Alive as we may be this morning, I suspect that most of us have had our share of “little figurative deaths” and know that deep sense of longing to be raised up from their grasp.

Perhaps we have come here today not just because of family tradition or to hear great choirs or to wear our new spring outfits but because the story of Easter is a compelling one. Easter is the grand and ancient metaphor that proclaims that hopefulness can prevail over despair; love can prevail over hate, justice can prevail over injustice and freedom can prevail over oppression, life can prevail over death.

The characters in Luke’s Gospel longed for that to be true. After what they witnessed on Good Friday they thought it was all over. The clan of his male friends abandoned Jesus and hid to save their own hides. But the women had guts. Exhausted from weeping, they crept out early in the morning to properly complete the burial rites for their dear friend, to anoint it with herbs and spices, to say one last “goodbye.”

Each of the four Gospels that tell the resurrection story includes various details about that morning but they all contain words like “amazement,” “terror,” “fear,” and “confusion.” I find these keywords to be very appropriate on this Easter 2016. It is a time in our history that seems to earmark these feelings. Only months after the terrible attacks in Paris, the people of Brussels have been targeted and know the full meaning of “terror.”  The reality that this is not the last of it restores memories of our own encounter of 9/11. “Fear” seems to abound—fear of differences, fear of scarcity, fear of the stranger, fear of government, fear of what we know, fear of what we don’t.  It seems to permeate the political landscape of the nation and, in terms of what has developed in the band of presidential contenders, the world looks on in “amazement.”

Clearly, there is a pall of confusion in the air rife with questions about how to address issues around the economy, gun violence, national security, and the Middle East crises. And, as we mourn those killed in Belgium, as well as all the victims of violence, we can’t deny that poverty, the lack of clean drinking water, and inadequate medical care also kill.

There are sound reasons to doubt, to question, to live with uncertainty, to be fearful. Far too many people live with the effects of the harm that others have done to them or the harm they have done to others. Many suffer the consequences of war and violence, the loss of homes and livelihoods, the destruction of their homelands and loss of their loved ones.

Into this reality comes Easter. “The women were terrified,” says Luke who tells the story this morning, “and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” The women were told not to look for death but to look for life, not to seek evidence of mortality but rather of new possibility. Two of these ancient Gospel accounts of the resurrection offer these four words: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid!

It may be asking too much of us, who live in this age of dazzling technology to believe in something so astonishing and so unbelievable as the resurrection. Yet there is the undisputable and historical reality that these women who went to that tomb, given the obstacles presented by the culture in which they lived and the opposition by the authorities to their mission, were emboldened to preach that Jesus had risen. That message would change the world.

Like Bishop Corrigan, I believe in the resurrection because I have seen it too many times not to. I see it in the care that people in this community give to one another, especially to those most in need of experiencing some tangible modicum of God’s love and mercy. I see it in how you do your part to share the Good News of that love in a broken and hurting world.  I have witnessed transformations in the lives of people which are no less than life-saving and life-renewing. I see it in the cup of coffee you share with a friend in crisis, the refugee kids in Norwalk’s high schools you mentor, the joy you exude when you welcome guests here, the sense of community that is so palpable when we share the sacred meal God has given us in the sacrament of the Eucharist. God has woven resurrection into our daily lives.

Do not be afraid! Be awake to the way God brings energy and new life into your everyday existence. Have eyes-wide-open to God’s signature of resurrection in the signs around you. Don’t dwell on endings. Look for what is beginning. If Easter is merely a wonderful event that happened a long time ago—the way God worked once and never again—then it has little relevance for us. But if it is a once-and-for-all time truth, then we have good reason this morning to sing our “Alleluias.”

Whatever “tomb” you may be in, whatever emptiness you may feel or whatever fear or confusion or even terror is in your heart; wherever you may have given up hope, God can raise you up—for the power that took Jesus through death and beyond has the capacity to triumph over everything that is keeping us in that tomb.

Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor gives us this pearl for today:  “By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world.”

That is what Easter life is all about. Always has, always will be. Thanks be to God. Alleluia!

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