A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
May 5, 2019
Today’s lectionary references several Collects, and may help us to discover anew the meaning of Easter. Here’s what our Prayerbook says:
O God, who through your only begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: ….Grant that we may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit.
Easter itself occurs on the Day of Resurrection. It is what our faith is all about. It is about endings and new beginnings. It is about victory over the grave. It is about the triumph of eternal life. And it is about God’s loving action of raising Jesus from the dead. The Easter narrative is a compelling story, and it is the Good News we are both moved and called to share with others.
From generation to generation the essential meaning of Easter has been told over and over for thousands of years. It is a narrative with staying-power, and there are many different accounts. One of my favorites is by a monk who has developed a shrewd sense of irony in terms of what happened that first Easter Sunday. Prior Aelred of St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan, has written:
One of the curious things about the Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus is that when people who knew him before his crucifixion see him after his Resurrection, they do not recognize him right away. They don’t seem to be afraid, and they don’t react as so many people in the Scriptures do when they encounter an angel of the Lord; expecting to drop dead. No, they recognize Jesus as a human being - they just don’t recognize him as Jesus.
The Prior continues:
We could come up with all kinds of theories as to why Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus as he stands before her in the garden as told in John’s Gospel. She is obviously deeply upset, her eyes full of tears, and her imagination full of fears of death and grave robbers. She is so single-minded in her search for the dead body of her Lord, that even a meeting with a pair of angels becomes uninteresting unless they can give her the one piece of information she wants. … Where is Jesus?
Good Question. Where is Jesus?
That sets the stage rather well for the whole Easter season. Most of us understand to a fair extent the basic sequence of events that constitute the Easter narrative. It starts with the entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; then continues with the mockery of a trial, the crucifixion, the grave, the rolling away of the stone, the surprise of the women bearing spices, the recognition that the body is no longer in the tomb, the spreading of the news that Jesus is risen, and so on. All these are generally known fundamentals of resurrection theology, and do not constitute new information.
But where is Jesus?
When we tell the Easter story, what seems to be missing is why God would carry out his most important work in the world in such a fashion. There’s something perplexing not only about the physical resurrection that gives us pause, but the symbolic meaning behind the resurrection that makes us think twice about human-life here on earth. It’s what our Prayerbook catalogues as a concern for us on “this planet earth our island home,” a place which we all inhabit, and a setting where we all are intended to dwell peacefully with one another – at least that’s the hope.
But let’s back up for just a moment, and reconsider Mary Magdalene’s confusion. If I understand the scriptures correctly; Mary Magdalene, and the other people at the grave as well, are looking for the same thing all of us are seeking – a personal encounter with the risen Christ, the man who in earthly form was named ‘Jesus.’ But where IS Jesus? The pain and preposterousness of that question and the hope of that desire, especially in light of the presumed risen Lord, is what makes the reality of the resurrection so incredible.
Think of it this way.
-Jesus died for our sins. Yours and mine.
OK. True enough.
-Jesus has risen from the dead in order to show us the way to eternal life.
OK. Fair enough.
-A transforming event has been introduced into human history for our minds, and our
brains, to consider.
OK. That’s mysterious enough.
-And yet, here it is in completed form:
God is so faithful that He disclosed His final Word to all humankind by revealing the victory of life over death. ….You can’t top that!
What we all want during these 50 days of the Easter season leading up to Pentecost, is what we have been waiting for during the prior season of Lent. In our fasting, prayers, and penitence, we have searched for the love of the Lord. We have prayed for the “peace which passes all understanding.” And we have sought to know the risen Christ in our hearts so that we can legitimately proclaim the Good News, and thereby hold out genuine hope in a world that is beset with corruption, hypocrisy and deceit.
But take note: Christians sing a new song. Christians shout, “He is risen” because the old order has died. Christians affirm the “New Jerusalem” is at hand, and the endorsement of God’s love has become an integral part of our accepted faith. For those who are willing to believe, and in turn risk the easy answers to faith, Christ is revealed in his resurrection, a very complicated yet fundamentally authentic action of God. Who else could pull off such a feat? This Easter truth carries forth our heritage and identity from age to age, throughout all time; and during this Easter season we proclaim its message once again. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.
Briefly then; one final thought with a little twist, suggesting a different way of understanding this Paschal Mystery. It’s true; Easter is about “life” yet it is not about natural life. This isn’t physics, or rocket science, or biology, or even brain surgery that we all affirm, admire, and respect.
No. As Christians we believe instead, ‘Real-Life’ is God’s gift to each of us; it is our earthly existence and capacity to exercise free-will and judgment. God’s life, or perhaps said a better way; God’s purpose, is disclosed when God’s love is integrated with our own lives. In fact, as Christians we believe we can see the face of Christ in every person who ever lived. What a gift our lives then become when we witness to that Easter truth! Death is not the end, and failure is not the final word in God's reign. Through the resurrection of Jesus we have a gateway to larger, more abundant life.
We are encouraged by the church, therefore, to work with God; and go tell others what we have experienced.
Where is Jesus?
He is in our hearts, mind, and soul as we continue to seek Christ’s love in the unexpected places, and among unpredictable people.
The Bottom Line is this: Christianity offers forgiveness for the past, strength for the present, and hope for the future. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.