Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day – March 31, 2013
May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God be as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen.
No one saw it happen. No one posted it on Facebook or YouTube. There was no twitter or email about it. There were no security cameras at the tomb catching any possible body snatchers in the act. His friends had gone into hiding rather than keep vigil at the grave of the crucified one.
Then along came Mary, faithful, devoted Mary. What she discovered would change the course of history. For there was not just an empty tomb to be found. There was Jesus alive again and speaking with her. The news could not just be pronounced. It had to be shouted and spluttered—to the corners of the earth. Mary, expecting to complete the burial anointing that was hastily begun the day before, went to the tomb of Jesus in the pre-dawn darkness and found it empty—and was greeted by Jesus himself. Thus was huge! Jesus was risen from the dead!
On his eightieth birthday, the great Jewish mystic and scholar, Martin Buber, denied that he was either a prophet or philosopher or theologian. He said simply, “I am only someone who has seen something and who goes to the window and points.”
And so it was with the overwhelming, breath-taking, hair-raising manifestation of Jesus as the New Creation whom God raised from the dead. All Mary and the other women and men disciples could do after that early Sunday morning was to “go to the window and point.” And so they did. Again and again and again. And, through their witness, more and more would look out the window for themselves and believe with life-transforming consequences.
Resurrection. It was the first and most essential creed of the first Christians: the Eastering of Jesus from the tomb, the recognition that God raised Jesus from the dead and to an utterly new and altered dimension of being.
It is my great delight to welcome you here this morning to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus in this treasure of sacred space adorned with beautiful flowers, hearing that story told again, listening to our grand organ and splendid music. At the center of our worship today is the proclamation of the belief that stands at the very forefront of the Christian faith.
There have been many sermons preached about the empty tomb. It is an impressive, convincing image. However, according to some accounts, stealing the body of Jesus was a concern for the disciples as it was for his enemies in the religious and political establishment. In fact, the empty tomb could be accounted for by the somewhat persuasive argument that the body of Jesus was stolen. So, while preachers have relied on the empty tomb to affirm the truth of the resurrection, there are equally strong contentions to convince the skeptic why it does not prove that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
What really convinced the disciples of Jesus that he was truly risen was not the empty tomb. With the Exception of Mary Madgalen, they did not go out and proclaim his resurrection immediately upon discovering it. They went home and locked all the doors out of fear.
No, it was not an empty tomb that convinced them that the resurrection was real, but the fact that, later that day and on other occasions following, they experienced the real presence of Jesus, who was the same person as before his death, now bearing the scars of his crucifixion. What converted the disciples to the belief that Jesus was risen was that he would inexplicably, suddenly appear in their midst even when they were assembled behind locked doors.
You and I are constantly faced with signs of resurrection—sometimes sudden and inexplicable. The Eastering of life did not happen just once on a Sunday morning in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. It happens everyday in all kinds of ways. You may have experienced resurrection in some kind of healing around a relationship or painful memory. You may have had a renaissance in your life that has brought you to a new place—a new church home, a new baby, a new home, a new friendship, a new job or career, even a new perspective on the where life has been unsatisfying. God may be greening your life in other ways—urging you to look at fresh and creative ways to offer your gifts to the community.
The member of a church study group that was discussing challenging Christian beliefs raised the difficulty of believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They found this a far fetched possibility. Life from death? How can that be credible? A woman in the group spoke up, “Well, I do believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. When my husband walked out on me, I could have died. I did die. My life was over. Dead end. But then, by the grace of God, with the support of a wonderful church community and the coaxing of good friends, I came back. I came to life. I got a whole new life. It was a miracle. I believe in the resurrection because I have lived it.”
How might the Resurrection broken through to you? How have you lived it? Every time you bring hope into some desperate situation, every time you plant the seed of joy that shatters gloom, every time you forgive another and restore their dignity, every time you listen to the pain of another and affirm their value and life, every time you feed the hungry, every time you confront injustice—you bring people back from the dead.
What is curious about the events of that first Easter morning as John tells it is that Mary and the others made the immediate assumption that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. They were not imagining a risen Jesus. Their expectations radically affected their reactions. What we expect to see is often what we tend to see. Mary and Peter and the others never anticipated finding an empty tomb. The problem was not in what they found—but rather in what they were looking for.
Might we look past dark places in our lives and see Easter in a magnificent sunrise or sunset, or when we fall in love, enjoy a fabulous meal with friends, tend our garden, listen to wonderful music or read, celebrate our relationships, embrace our kids—in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the places where the gravy soaks and grace shines through,” –all evidence of God’s creative power to give, sustain, and even restore life.
I wonder if our culture does not persuade us to look for the tomb, rather than for the new dimensions, new dreams, new expressions of resurrection around us. It is far is easier to settle for the ambiguity of the empty grave than to embrace the breath-taking mystery of resurrection and live into it.
Today, claim the promise that God will continue to breathe life into the dead zones of your lives, raise you up, and restore you. Sometimes, like Mary on that early Sunday morning, we need to alter our expectations. In that awesome Easter hope and sense of glorious wonder, we proclaim today what has been shouted and spluttered throughout the ages: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!