Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Day

John 20: 1-18

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (I Cor. 5)

Friends: Grace and peace to you, blessings, joy--all the riches of God’s favor, on this First Morning of the world.  And as we remind ourselves every year, the ancient and traditional greeting of this day and season.  Christos anesti! Christ is risen!  And the reply,  Alithos anesti!  He is risen indeed!  Century after century among all languages and peoples and nations:  Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!

Easter blessings, and in abundance.  Wonderful to see you.   Choirs singing, trumpets ringing.  Welcome Happy Morning!

There if of course so much to say on Easter Day.  C.S. Lewis has a cute story about walking to the village church on Easter morning behind a family with a young girl of maybe 4 or 5 who is singing to herself, “chocolate eggs, and Jesus risen!”  If we were silent, the rocks and trees and rivers and seas would need to shout the news.  In every language.  And what the truth is, the truth that we would know and proclaim not just this morning but every morning of our lives, and today of all days it must be presented with clarity:  to say simply, that the story we have heard is true, and that it matters, that it makes a difference.  Whether we’re hearing the story for the first time this morning, or whether we’ve known it almost by heart all our life long. That’s the one key thing to know, the “take away,” the bottom line. Why we’re here today or ever.  What the preacher had to say.  What every preacher needs to say this morning, or else keep his mouth shut.

That the story we have heard this morning is true. Not only true the way a poem or a powerful symbol can be true. Though like a poem, and like a powerful symbol, this story can and does reach down deep into our imagination, gives shape to our waking thoughts, fills our dreams. But true in the real, bright, historical light of that Sunday morning. Stunning. Unexpected. Disorienting. Because it didn’t just seem to happen.  It happened. What God did.  The stone, rolled away. The tomb, empty. And then Jesus was with them.  Not a ghost or a vision or a vivid memory, but real and alive.  Transformed, radiant, but alive, as real as any of us. All true. Risen from the dead. 

And that it makes a difference.  I sometimes say about the spontaneous and natural first response to the Easter acclamation, “Christ is risen from the dead,” might be something like, “Wow!  Lucky for him!”  Everybody else we’ve ever known who has died has stayed dead.  How great for Jesus!  But what we announce today, the news of Easter doesn’t end with the unexpected report that the one who died has risen from the dead.  It’s not simply news about the reappearance of Jesus after his burial.  It instead a proclamation, to announce the complete and utter and once and for all defeat of the enemy.  Crushing the Serpent’s head.  Jesus is the “first fruit,” as St. Paul says, “the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.”  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  The Cross of death now a sign of his victory, and with clarity, our victory, in and through and with him.  And so, choirs singing, trumpets ringing.  Easter morning.

At the beginning of our story God makes Man from the dust of the earth and then settles him in a garden.  Remembering this morning back in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis.  The very beginning.  Lush and fertile, watered by cool streams and flowing rivers, planted with beautiful trees bearing rich and nourishing fruit of every kind.  Eden: earthly paradise. Where God came in the cool of the evening to walk beside our first father, in perfect accord and communion.  Giving names to the animals and caring for the abundance.  So beautiful. 

But then as we read in Genesis Chapter 3 the Serpent enters the picture, a cold chill of winter and darkness, rebellion, lies, guilt and shame. It all happens so quickly we can hardly catch our breath.  Adam and Eve in a storm of regret and bitterness are expelled from the Garden, the entry at its eastern gate blocked by angels, cherubim, and a bright, flaming sword.  The wages of sin, loss, grief, suffering, disease and death.  Estrangement and alienation.  The whole long history of the world.  And although we sometimes try to paper it over, the whole long history of our lives.  But then, now, this Easter morning,  through the Cross the way is opened, the stone rolled away.    God acts, for us.  Welcome, happy morning!

Thinking about the Garden this Easter Day—hard not to do as we have before us the 20th chapter of St. John.  Mary terrified and distraught, running frantically from the Empty Tomb.  Until she finds herself in a quiet place, green and well-watered.  Peaceful.  Where she can stop and catch her breath.  I can’t help but think of that beautiful Isaac Watts hymn:

Christ hath a garden walled around,
A Paradise of fruitful ground,
Chosen by love and fenced by grace
From out the world's wide wilderness

And oh, that garden, before us this morning.  The sweet scent and texture of spring.

Awake, O wind of heav'n and bear
Their sweetest perfume through the air:
Stir up, O south, the boughs that bloom,
Till the beloved Master come:

Step by step with Mary.  Confusion, fear.  The message for her in that Empty Tomb, that nothing will ever be the same again.  And then the rustle of leaves, the wind in the trees, and the one who comes unexpectedly, quietly, but who knows her name.  “Mary.”  And in that breath of a moment, light and life, yearning, hope.  All fulfilled, and overflowing.  A future and a meaning and a love deeper and wider than any she could ever have imagined before.  Above and beyond.  With him, in the shade of the Garden, as it was in the beginning.  Perfect.  Is now, and will be forever.

That he may come, and linger yet
Among the trees that he hath set;
That he may evermore be seen
To walk amid the springing green.

Choirs singing.  Trumpets ringing.  What Mary ran to tell the others.  As it had been made known to her in the garden.  As he had come to her. This is the truth spoken to us in every baptism, and as our minds and hearts are opened to hear and receive his Word, and as we are incorporated into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  Christos anesti.   Easter.  There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

May it be all blessing for you. Healing. Renewal. This joyful Eastertide, away with sin and sorrow. Opening our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts. The first morning of the world.  The freshness of the First Garden, again for us.  The first morning of our new life in him. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

1 comment:

Al Mann said...

Beautiful, meaningful sermon, Bruce.
Al Mann