Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day – April 5, 2015
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.
Happy Resurrection Day! What a glorious and joy-filled celebration this is! Orthodox Christians refer to it as “the Queen of feasts,” because like a queen she reigns supreme over every other feast in the Christian year. And what a delight to see so many of us here celebrating the hope that this feast offers us in the resurrection of Jesus.
You wouldn’t necessarily get that impression from Googling images for “Easter.” What you will get are dozens of pictures of colored eggs, baskets full of jelly beans, a plethora of bunny rabbits, little yellow chicks, oh, there was one scrumptious looking Easter bread, but nary a sign of anything I would associate with what brings us together this morning.
Completely lost in the google search for Easter images is any sign of the powerful message we hear proclaimed here today. I wonder if that is not a metaphor about how people’s understanding of Easter has changed. This feast of the Resurrection is all about life and restoration. I wonder if our collective consciousness has been paralyzed by a culture that seems to focus more on taking and harming life than giving or restoring it. We once heard about this being a death-denying culture. Has it, in fact, become a life-denying one?
We don’t have to delve too deeply to extract examples that might support that hypothesis. The inbox of our lives has been flooded with the realities of suicide bombings, the inexplicable destruction of so many lives by a young airline pilot, random, senseless shootings and stabbings in schools and malls and on our streets, the latest at Garissa University in Kenya on Maundy Thursday—the day we recall the new commandment Jesus gave us to love one another as he loves us. Hateful language targeting those who are different abounds—language that is equal to attitudinal death; we’ve seen an attempt to eradicate the rights of LGBT folk and other minorities by allowing businesses to refuse them service. And there is the determination to sell an counterfeit brand of Christianity that is rife with judgment and masks the fact of a God who wants to love us not harangue us.
It’s an exhaustive list we can make, including the abuse of the most vulnerable like children and four legged creatures—none of which speaks much to the restoration of life but rather its destruction. In fact, we live in great uncertainty about life every day. Uncertainty.
Mark’s account of the resurrection that we read in our Gospel today is probably the least dramatic account that we get in any of the four gospels. In Matthew, as the women approach the tomb there is a great earthquake, and an angel descends from heaven before their very eyes, singlehandedly rolling back the stone before sitting on top of it to declare to the women that Jesus had been raised. And as the women are returning from the tomb, they run into Jesus himself.
In every other gospel, the discovery of the empty tomb is followed by a number of appearances of the resurrected Jesus, who arrives on the scene to offer hope and instruction to his grieving and bewildered disciples. But not in Mark. In Mark’s gospel, it all comes to a crashing end with the words: “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Why did Mark end his gospel this way? Even though it’s the earliest of the gospel accounts, it was certainly written late enough that people would have already known the stories about Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his death. Mark certainly would have known those stories.
So why did he choose to omit them? Why did he end things on such uncertain terms? Did Mark want us to sit with the uncertainty of it all because he knew that we need to dwell a bit in uncertainty before we can truly move forward, like these three women—standing at the edge of improbability in the face of the empty tomb?
Why were they afraid? Why did the sight of the stone rolled away frighten them so much? Were they afraid of what they might discover inside and what it might mean? Were they confronted with the reality that everything was about to change; that their entire lives were about to be turned upside down? Did they stand in front of that empty tomb petrified by the stark reality that their lives would never be the same?
If we fully embrace the uncertainty of life, that’s how it goes with us as well. Certainty excludes the possibility for something new in our lives. It suggests that nothing will ever change, that we are solidly entrenched in the routine to which we have become accustomed—and most of us like that. We may not be ready to let go of what was in order to accept what may be— to roll back the stone and discover what’s inside because we cling to what we know, even if what we know doesn’t always serve us very well.
A culture or mindset that is life-taking instead of life-giving keeps that huge rock barricading the tomb beyond which is the promise of restoration and rebirth. Resurrection is life-giving and if we can get past jelly beans, colored eggs, and chocolate bunnies, if we will enter into the deep mystery of why we have come here today, then maybe we can muster up enough courage to ask ourselves where are the stones that need to be rolled away in our own lives? What are we afraid to let go of in order for a renaissance to crop up? In order for God’s light to break through that we too might follow where the risen Christ is leading us? I’ll bet that there are many of us who stand at that empty tomb—whatever that may be for us—afraid to take a peek inside, let alone take the risk of walking through the to find what lies beyond.
If you aren’t really sure what you think of this whole resurrection business and you are skeptical about whether or not there really is new life to be found for you or for this world, that’s okay. Mark’s gospel assures us that it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be hesitant in the face of change, in the face of uncertainty.
Yet these three women who stood at that empty tomb also tell us that at some point we need to step out of our fear and to see what lies beyond it. Here is the good news Mark offers us today: resurrection happens with or without our belief. The three women and all the other characters about whom we hear in the Easter story came to the tomb and left with fear, confusion, and great uncertainty.
Resurrection happened in spite of all that and still happens regardless of our capacity to believe or our fear of it or our inability to roll away the stone on our own. Resurrection happens because resurrection is not about what we do. It’s about what God does.
Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor, says this about Easter: “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.”
Go out into the world today to live fully in hope, to live fully in love and, as you go, may the light of Christ gloriously rising dispel the darkness of your hearts and minds and empower you look to beyond the stone that God has already rolled back for us, and see what new life waits you. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!