April 16, 2017 Rev. Dr. Buz Wilcoxon
Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia!
Our triumphal holy day! Alleluia!
He is risen, indeed! This is the great truth of the Christian message. The good news that transforms all our darkness into light, our hate into love, our death into life. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the return of life into every cell of his deceased body, is the foundation upon which all of Christian faith and witness is built. And yet, amidst the joy and celebration, part of the deep deep mystery of this day, is that no one was there to see it happen. No one saw his still heart begin to beat again, no one heard the air rushing back into his lungs after three days of lifeless emptiness. This is the single most important event in all of history, in all of creation, but no living being was there to witness it occur. We don’t have “indisputable video evidence” of the event. We only have the aftershocks to tell us what occurred before the dawn on that first Easter morning.
Imagine, if you will, a body of water, a large still lake, so calm and still that it seems like one solid piece of glass. Have you ever seen water like that? So glass like that the reflection of the sky seems as if it were the real thing? Now, imagine that suddenly, unexpected, when no one is looking, a large rock is thrown into the middle of the lake. You didn’t see it happen, no one saw the original event, but you know it has occurred because of the ripples that it produces. Many expanding ripples running through the water, that is no longer calm at all.
That’s precisely what happens in the gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection. The event itself, the wonder beyond all wonders, occurs without any witnesses, but the ripple effects that it causes are what we do see. The first ripple comes from the earth itself with a great earthquake shaking things loose. This mystery of resurrection produces a tectonic shift in the ways of the world, birth pangs of the new creation.
Then we see another ripple, a break in the boundary between heaven and earth. For an heavenly messenger is sent down, descending like a bolt of lightning to our world. In Matthew’s gospel, every time an angel appears it is always at nighttime in a dream, until now. Now, in light of Jesus’ resurrection, this angel appears in broad daylight in real life, proclaiming a real message that will shatter everything we thought about reality.
He speaks to the women, these two named Mary. They cannot believe what is before their eyes, but oh what their eyes have seen these past few days. When all the male disciples turned their backs on Jesus and ran for the hills, these women stayed with him. They were there to witness him being nailed to a cross. They were there watching as he spoke his final words and breathed his dying breath. They were there when his limp and lifeless body was taken to the tomb and buried. Oh what their eyes have seen, already. And now they are here, in the place of death, and they meet this angel who tells them that Jesus is not here. “He is not here,” where he is supposed to be, where we expect to be. He is not here in the grave, he is not where we think all stories end. He is not here in the place of death, because he has been raised from the dead! So, the angels says, go tell the others. Go tell the good news!
The next ripple in the waters of reality occurs. The women run from the tomb with a holy mixture of “fear and great joy.” They run to tell the story. To tell the story of the empty tomb, but on the way they see him with their own eyes. Along the road, they meet their master, their savior, face to face. It really is true, he is risen, he is risen indeed, and they fall down and worship him. They touch him with their own hands, only daring to touch his feet, reaching out in hope and in fear to feel his body for themselves, to feel the good news, to feel resurrection life. Can you imagine what this experience must have been like? The story only gives us three measly sentences about the women meeting the risen Christ. For an encounter like this transcends our language, words are simply not enough. With an echo of the angel’s words, Jesus sends them on their way, on their holy errand, to go and tell others what has happened.
The ripples from this resurrection continue to spread and flow. The message is proclaimed first to the dense and fearful disciples. Their community that was scattered gathers back together. And together, they will meet Jesus as well, face to face, before he leaves them.
Then more and more ripples. As this truth of Christ’s resurrection, this message of God’s triumph over death is spread through the ancient world. The ripples begin to grow and grow larger and more powerful into entire waves of transformation. In the wake of Christ’s resurrection, lives are changed, people are gathered together, outcasts are welcomed in, empires are overthrown.
On and on through the ages, the ripple effects of that Easter morning continue to spread and flow into our lives today, throughout our world today. These waves of resurrection, tides of transformation, flow and crash into all places of brokenness in our world: all places of war and violence, into all systems of injustice and oppression, into all relationships of abuse and betrayal, into all prisons of darkness and sin, even into the presence of death itself. The death-conquering love of God, the transformational kingdom of God, the new creation which begins on that first Easter morning continues to spread and wash over our weary and broken world. And it washes over each and every one of us as well.
For which of us has not faced the dark shadow of death? We have had our hearts broken by painful news around the world of our fellow human beings, brothers and sisters created in God’s own image, being slaughtered by the forces of violence. We have been overwhelmed with sorrow as we speak a final goodbye to ones that we loved so dearly, to ones who taught us who we are, to generations that modelled life and truth to us. We have been knocked speechless by tragedy when children or others far too young have been taken from us far too soon. We have sat in silence and fear for our own lives, when a new diagnosis comes: cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, the decay and failure of our bodies. For ourselves and for others near to us and unknown to us, we have walked through the value of the shadow of death. Many of us this very day may feel like we or someone we love, or our whole twisted world is stuck in that valley with no path out of it. That’s why this truth of the Easter message still matters in our world and in our lives
A century and a half ago, the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins found himself one day overwhelmed by these feeling of darkness of in the face of death, terror, and tragedy. Off the coast of England there was a shipwreck and all the passengers aboard died. Among the group were five nuns, who were fleeing their homeland as refugees, seeking religious freedom on other shores. This senseless tragedy sounds like the kind of thing we might read about in our news today. Well, Gerard Manley Hopkins found himself in a dark place when he heard the news of the wreck and the nun’s death. He had not written a poem in over seven years, but he as he struggled to find a way through this valley of the shadow of death, he put pen to paper and composed perhaps his greatest masterpiece. At the end of the poem, after he tells about the ship’s sinking and the nuns’ dying he turns the attention of his heart and mind to Jesus, to the hope of resurrection that is so much stronger than the moments of darkness and tragedy in our world. In the poem, he prays that the light and love of the risen Christ would spill into his own life and the lives of his countrymen. He prays, “Let him Easter in us.” Let him Easter in us. Easter—not as a day, a noun, but as a verb, an action that the risen Christ continues to perform in us, living again in us. “Let him Easter in us!” Let those ripples of truth, those waves of transformation wash over us and change us.
As those who have heard the truth—whether for the first time or the thousandth time—as those who have heard the truth that Christ has conquered death, may we be set free to live, to really live as people of hope instead of fear. May we be set free to risk sacrificially, to give generously, to love wholeheartedly, to forgive graciously, to laugh joyfully, and to sing triumphantly that “Jesus Christ is risen today!” This day, and every day “Let him Easter in us!”
To God alone be the glory!
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’