EASTER C

DATE OF SERMON: 
Sunday, March 27, 2016

EASTER C RCL

WE’RE SURROUNDED BY JOY TODAY.

WE GREET EACH OTHER WITH “HAPPY EASTER”,

“BLESSED EASTER”, OR

THE TRADITIOANL:

“CHRIST IS RISEN” AND THE JOYFUL RESPONSE:

“THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA.”

WE RING OUR BELLS AND JOYFULLY SING OUR ALLELUIAS.

THE AIR IS FILLED WITH JOY

AS WE TRY TO WRAP OUR HEARTS AND MINDS

AROUND THE ASTONISHING GOOD NEWS

THAT CHRIST IS RISEN—

THE VICTORY OVER SIN AND DEATH IS WON.

YET, AS EDMUND STEIMLE POINTS OUT,

THE INITIAL RESPONSE IN THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNTS

OF THE RESURRECTION WAS NOT JOY.[i]

STRANGE AS IT SOUNDS TO US TODAY—

THE FIRST RESPONSES TO THE EMPTY TOMB AND

THE NEWS OF THE RESURRECTION

RANGE FROM SHOCK TO FEAR, TO TERROR, AND AWE.

IN FACT, THE ONE THING CLEAR IN ALL THE ACCOUNTS

IS THAT THOSE WHO COME AND FIND THE EMPTY TOMB

EXPERIENCE CONFUSION AND PUZZLEMENT,

AND EVEN FEEL FOOLISH.

HOW COULD IT BE OTHERWISE?

AFTER GOOD FRIDAY,

AFTER SEEING JESUS WHO THEY CHERISHED,

WHOSE EVERY WORD THEY CLUNG TO,

WHO MANY OF THEM LEFT EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW—

IN WHOM THEY PLACED ALL THEIR TRUST AND HOPE

DRAGGED BEORE THE AUTHORITIES, STRIPPED, WHIPPED,

CONDEMNED, PUT TO DEATH,

AND LAID IN A TOMB—

HOW COULD THEY FEEL ANYTHING NOW

BUT CRUSHED, AFRAID, DISAPPOINTED?

AND NOW THE TOMB IS EMPTY—THE BODY GONE—

AND THEY CAN’T EVEN GRIEVE THE LOSS

OF THEIR TEACHER, THEIR LEADER, THEIR FRIEND,--

THE ONE THEY HOPED WOULD BE THEIR SAVIOR?

WAS IT AN ILLUSION ALL ALONG?

IT MUST HAVE SEEMED SO, FOR

THEY WERE LOST IN CONFUSION AND FEAR.

EVEN AFTER THE TWO MEN IN DAZZLING LIGHT

ANNOUNCE THE RESURRECTION TO THE WOMEN

WHO COME TO ANOINT HIS BODY—

ALL THEY ARE ABLE TO DO IS RUN HOME

AND TELL THE DISCIPLES WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN TOLD.

THEIR PUZZLEMENT REMAINS—

FOR THE IDEA OF JESUS BEING RAISED FROM DEATH

IS SO FAR OUTSIDE THEIR EXPERIENCE

THEY CANNOT YET GRASP THE FULL IMPACT

OF THIS STUNNING REALITY.

WHEN PETER, HEARING THIS, RUNS TO SEE FOR HIMSELF—

FINDS THE LINEN CLOTH AS THE WOMEN HAD TOLD HIM—

YET ALL HE DOES IN RESPONSE IS GO HOME—

AMAZED YES—BUT NOT YET COMPREHENDING

THE PROFOUND TRUTH STARRING HIM IN THE FACE—

UNSURE STILL WHAT IT ALL MEANS.

THE SUBSTANCE AND DEPTH OF IT ALL

HASN’T FULLY PENETRATED THE HEARTS AND MINDS

OF OUR LORD’S CLOSEST FOLLOWERS.

IT IS JUST TOO MUCH TO TAKE IN ALL AT ONCE.

AND WHAT ABOUT US?

HOW DO WE GET TO THE REAL SUBSTANCE OF EASTER?

HOW DO WE PENETRATE THROUGH

THE CHOCOLATE EASTER BUNNIES, THE COLORED EGGS,

AND THE BLOOMING FLOWERS OF SPRING

TO THE DEEPER REALITY OF THIS DAY?

HOW DO WE GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER?

STRANGE AS IT MAY SOUND,

I THINK WE BEGIN TO GRASP THE SUBSTANCE OF RESURRECTION, NOT BY RACING PAST THE CRUCIFIXION—

BUT BY STANDING UNDER THE CROSS

AS WE PEER INTO THE EMPTY TOMB.

IN SAINT MARK’S GOSPEL

THE FIRST EXPESSION OF FAITH IN RESPONSE

TO THE PASSION OF JESUS

COMES NOT FROM THE DISCOVERY OF THE EMPTY TOMB,

NOT FROM THE MESSAGE OF THE ANGELS

THAT HE IS RISEN—

NOT FROM THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS—

NOT FROM THOSE CLOSEST TO HIM—

BUT FROM A ROMAN CENTURION

WHO HEARS JESUS CRY OUT IN DESPAIR:

“MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?—

THEN UTTERS A FINAL CRY AND DIES.

EVEN AS JESUS HANGS THERE DYING—

EVEN AS HE CRIES OUT IN DESPAIR—

THIS SOLDIER, ASSIGNED TO CARRY OUT

THE EXECUTION OF JESUS CRIES OUT IN ASTONISHMENT:

“SURELY, THIS WAS THE SOND OF GOD”—

NOT WHEN HE HEARS OF AN EMPTY TOMB—

BUT WHEN DARKNESS COVERS THE SKY—

AND THE TEMPLE CURTAIN IS SPLIT IN TWO.

SOMEHOW THIS CENTURION HEARS THE VOICE OF GOD

CRYING OUT IN DESPAIR AND DEATH—

SPEAKING A WORD OF LIFE AT THE VERY MOMENT OF

HIS DEATH—

INDEED FROM THE VERY DEPTHS OF DEATH’S DARKNESS.[ii]

THIS SOLDIER HEARS THE VOICE OF GOD—

AND REALIZES SOMETHING EARHSHATTERING IS AFOOT—

THAT SOMEHOW, HIS FATE AND THE FATE OF ALL THINGS

IS AT STAKE IN THIS MOMENT

AS GOD BREAKS INTO THE WORLD THROUGH

HIS SUFFERING, DYING SON.

HERE WE BEGIN TO GRASP THAT WHAT JESUS DOES

ON THE CROSS TRANSCENDS

ALL THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS,

HIS OWN DISCIPLES, AND ALL THOSE

STANDING AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS.

IN MARK’S ACCOUNT FAITH DOES NOT FIRST COME

IN THE “—DIVINE ACT OF POWER AT THE RESURRECTION—

BUT AT THE CROSS OF THE ONE WHO HAS BEEN FORSAKEN

BY GOD.”[iii]

THIS CONFESSION, COMES NOT FROM THE LIPS

OF A PIOUS JEW, OR A DISCIPLE OF JESUS,

BUT FROM A GENTILE—

A ROMAN SOLDIER LIKELY IN CHARGE

OF THE EXECUTION SQUAD THAT PUTS JESUS TO DEATH.[iv]

IN THE CENTURION’S CONFESSION OF FAITH

ALL DISTINCTIONS BREAK DOWN—

ALL THE USUAL BARRIERS STANDING BETWEEN

HUMANITY AND GOD ARE TORN AWAY—

AND IT BECOMES CLEAR THAT THE DEATH

OF THE SON OF GOD IS FOR ALL PEOPLE.

HERE IS THE FIRST RECOGNITION THAT THIS DEATH

IS FOR ALL CREATION—

AND THE CROSS BECOMES, NOT AN ISOLATED EVENT

IN A NARROW RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY—

BUT A UNIVERSAL COSMIC EVENT

TRANSFORMING ALL CREATION.[v]

WHAT GOD IS DOING HERE IS REAL AND MATTERS,

NOT TO A FEW DISCIPLES, NOT TO JUST THE JEWISH PEOPLE,

BUT TO ALL OF US

REGARDLESS OF RACE, CREED, OR SOCIAL STANDING.

HERE, IN THIS STRANGE PLACE BENEATH THE CROSS

WE BEGIN TO GRASP THAT THE POWER OF THE RESURRECTION

LIES, NOT SIMPLY IN A MAN WHO WAS DEAD

WALKING OUT OF A TOMB ALIVE—

BUT OF GOD DESTROYING THE POWER OF DEATH—

AND RAISING ALL CREATION TO NEW LIFE.

JURGEN MOLTMANN PUTS IT THIS WAY:

“THE GOD OF FREEDOM, THE TRUE GOD,

IS THEREFORE NOT RECOGNIZED BY HIS POWER AND GLORY

IN THE WORLD AND IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD,

BUT THROUGH HIS HELPLESSNESS AND HIS DEATH

ON THE SCANDAL OF THE CROSS OF JESUS.”[vi]

IT IS PRECISELY HERE—IN THE SANDAL OF THE CROSS—

THAT THE POWER OF THE RESURRECTION

BREAKS FORTH—

IT IS HERE, BENEATH THE BEAMS OF THE CROSS

OF THE CRUCIFIED GOD

THAT THE SUBSTANCE OF EASTER BURSTS FORTH—

AND THE EMPTY TOMB MEANS SOMETHING

BEYOND WHAT WE CAN COMPREHEND.

IT IS HERE WE BEGIN TO SEE THAT IT IS NOT SIMPLY

ABOUT US AND OUR TICKET TO HEAVEN,

BUT ABOUT THE REDEMPTION OF ALL CREATION.[vii]

FOR WE WHO ARE TOUCHED BY THIS EMPTY TOMB

ARE TRANSFORMED TO BE AGENTS OF CHANGE

IN THE WORLD—

PROCLAIMING THROUGH WORD AND DEED

THAT CHRIST IS RISEN—

THAT IN AND THROUGH OUR HUMAN EFFORTS—

WE ARE TRANSFORMED INTO

“A COMMUNITY OF HOPE GATHERED AROUND THE LOVE OF GOD AND OF NEIGHBOR.”[viii]

THEN, THROUGH US EASTER FLOWS OUT FROM THIS PLACE

INTO THE WORLD AROUND US.

CHRIST IS RISEN, THE TOMB IS EMPTY,

LIFE IS AVAILABLE,

GOD’S TRANSFORMATION IS FOR EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING.

HERE, AS THE CRUCIFIED GOD

IS LIFTED HIGH ON THE CROSS RISES FROM DEATH—

ALL ARE DRAWN INTO THE LIFE OF GOD—

HERE ALL ARE TOUCHED BY THE PROMISES OF JESUS

THAT HE WILL LOSE NONE THE FATHER GIVES HIM—

AND HE WILL RAISE THEM UP ON THE LAST DAY

AND DEATH SHALL BE NO MORE.

LET US LIVE IN THAT PROMISE THIS AND EVERYDAY

AS WE AWAIT THE COMING RESURRECTION[ix]

WHEN ALL THINGS WILL BE MADE NEW—

FOR TRULY—

THIS MAN IS THE SON OF GOD. AMEN.

 

 

[i] Steimle, Edmund A., DISTURBED BY JOY, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, ©1967, page 82 (Disturbed by Joy appeared originally in the March, 1965 edition of Union Seminary Quarterly Review.

[ii] Nelesen, Marc, A MATTER OF LIFE IN DEATH, in Journal for Preachers, Volume XXXIX, Number 3, T. Erskine Clark, & Walter Brueggemann, editors, page 34.

[iii] Moltmann, Jurgen, THE CRUCIFIED GOD, New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London, © 1974 SCM Press, page 193

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., page 194

[vi] Ibid., page 195

[vii] Simpson, Timothy F. in WE ARE CALLED TO BE AN EASTERING PRESENCE, in Journal of Preachers, cited above, page 18.

[viii] Ibid., pages 18-19.

[ix] Ibid., page 19.