The Promise of Easter – Easter 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Sermon Text

Christ is risen! The darkness of the past is washed away in the light of Christ’s glory. The fullness of God now dwells with the fullness of man in glorified flesh. Scars stand on his wrists, on his feet, and side – eternal reminders of the pain he was willing to suffer for each one of us. Christ who is seated at the right hand of God, Christ who walked among humanity, Christ who lives within each of us, Christ the Lord is risen today.

This rising was not just a return to life, it was not like Lazarus or Jarius’ daughter or any of the other’s who Christ raised in his life. This is the resurrection and in resurrection, the dead person is brought to life, but they are brought to life as glorified and perfected humanity. Christ left the tomb as the same Christ who had died, but, being raised, the flesh of Jesus was now somehow changed. When the disciples saw him, it did not take them long to recognize him, but there was still something profoundly different.

The promise of the resurrection is that, like Christ, we too shall one day be raised in glory. That we, in joining the body of Christ which is the church, are promised that though we die, we will one day rise in a resurrection like Christ’s. The promise of unity with Christ is the promise of rebirth, of something new and profound within our life. What is interesting, and perhaps terrifying, about this resurrection is that while we are promised to enter into glorified, eternal life – it still requires that we die.

Christ suffered on the cross and after laying in the tomb, he has Risen. This death defeated death once and for all, but it did not remove the reality of death from the present age. Jesus’ time within the tomb, and his subsequent resurrection serve for us as examples of what shall be for us, that after we spend our time in the grave Christ will bring us up out of the pit and as flesh and spirit usher us into the New Kingdom, the New Heaven, the New Earth.

The Early Church was ready for Jesus to rush back to bring them into the glory of God. They anticipated that Jesus would come and raise up the dead and that those who were still living would then be somehow raised up while still alive to join in the glorified body of Christ. Then, slowly but surely, the disciples began to die. Stephen’s martyrdom shook the church, but nothing shook the church like the death of James the brother of John. No one imagined a disciple would die, Jesus had said, after all, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Maybe, then, Jesus really meant, “Some.” There would be suffering, some would die, but the resurrection would save us all. Then, more died. Slowly but surely, more of the twelve died. With each passing the church became more confused about what their new kingdom would look like, it seemed to them that Jesus should have come and saved them before any of this happened. Peter was gone, Thomas was gone, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thaddeus, Andrew, Philip, Simon Zealot, and finally after many years, John died on Patmos. Even Paul, the last called apostle was beheaded in Rome, and in his final days, he wrote the book of Philippians, a meditation on what the kingdom would be without the first generation of believers.

Easter, it turns out, is a complicated season. We live in the tension of the reality of the resurrection, we celebrate that God has risen us to better things and promised us the life eternal, but we also acknowledge death. We look forward at the life to come, at the eternity that begins today, but we are all too aware of the darkness the lurks outside the light of our paschal candles. There is death, there is sickness and decay, and if we let ourselves, that darkness will encroach upon us and consume the Joy of the resurrection. It crouches at the doorstep, and we must overcome it – we must overcome it or descend into despair. We are not people who mourn as those without hope, but what does this hope mean? What is Easter in the shadow of fear?

We live out the crisis of the early Church every day. The promises of the resurrection seem far off two thousand years down the road. We live in such a way that death seems overwhelming sometimes. Just today, worshippers gathering to celebrate the resurrection were killed by bombs in Sri Lanka. Most strikingly, a picture of a statue of Jesus covered in blood has been circulated. The image of the resurrection combines with the reality of death, and we are left throwing our hands up and crying, “Why God! How Long O’ Lord!”

To come to the celebration of Easter and not to acknowledge the baggage we bring to the table is to deny some of the deepest parts of ourselves. We must be willing to unpack the losses we have taken, to share with God whatever comes forward. Do not suffer in silence what God is willing to listen to. The beauty of Easter is that before the resurrection came the tomb, that Christ has full knowledge of what it is to suffer and die. Christ does not tell us that this life will be easy, and honestly being Christian should mean that life becomes more difficult for you, but Christ’s command is one of experience – not of despotism.

The passage we read from Isaiah tells us that one day there will be a new Jerusalem. There will be a place where there is no more sorrow, where everything will grow into its fullness and that all things will be well. This was not told to people who were in a good place in life, they were in exile, foreigners in a foreign land forced there by powers they had no control over. The people suffering under the oppression of Empire, the greed of nations, were being told that one day they would return to their land and live a good life. They or their children would return to something better, one day. What is important though, is that God places this work immediately, “I am about to make things new.” Elsewhere in the same book, we see God add to this declaration, “Even now it is springing up! Do you not perceive it?”

It is not always easy to see the promise of Easter, but we stand as the church and we are the testament to its existence. The Saints who went before us, and those who live among us today, all testify that God is risen and working among us. We see Christ in those who suffer, we see Christ in those who heal, we see Christ in the sunrise, in every blooming flower. Whatever brings the revelation of God into our lives, that is something sacred and holy. Because the reality is that we are a people surrounded by death, we see far more suffering than good. We are the disciples, waking on Sunday and being roused from sleep. We hear the call of the women, “He is not here, but he has risen!” and we rush to the tomb.

We stand among the dead, unsure of what is going on. We know that we stand today in a tomb, but here where there should be the chief victory of death, God dead on a slab, we find a folded piece of cloth. The evidence of the resurrection is right in front of us, the spices that had been mixed with the cloths initially hang heavy in our nose mixing with another, unpleasant smell.

Here we have a choice, to sit in the tomb and mourn, “They have taken my Lord!” Or to join in the chorus of those who have already left, who made their way into the garden full of life and already said their praises of a risen God. We enter into the garden and cry our hallelujahs, we live in the uncertainty of a life forever transformed, a world where death doesn’t have the last word anymore. This is the day, this day, Easter day, that the Lord has made completely new. Do you perceive it? Let us rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. For we now know that entering into death, we are born to new life. Dying to ourselves, we are born to Christ. What was has passed away, the new is here. Praise God. Amen.

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