Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Michael Patrick O’Malley, Jr. opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. “How many Michael Patrick O’Malley, Jr’s could there be,” he thought, and he quickly phoned his best friend James Finnerty. Did you see the paper?" asked O’Malley. "They say I died!!" Yes, I saw it!" replied Finnerty. "And where are ye callin' from?"
Poor old Finnerty! We don’t expect to get a call from the deceased—nor to read our own obituary. The idea of resurrection is both astonishing and wondrous, but it is not that easy to believe. Yet the author of the Acts of the Apostles in the first reading today recounts how Peter preached to the Gentiles assuring them that “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day.” And we believe that this account was written within 30 to 40 years after the resurrection. The Apostle Paul goes so far to say that if Christ has not been raised and our proclamation of the Resurrection has been in vain then our faith has been in vain. At the center of our worship today is what stands at the very forefront of the Christian faith. We heard the Gospel account that relates the events of that first Easter morning—the story of how Mary went to the tomb of Jesus in the pre-dawn darkness. She came expecting to complete the prescribed burial anointing that was hastily begun the day before. She expected to find a body and instead found an empty tomb. No matter what our personal belief system or faith tradition, this is a compelling story. Still, it’s hard to grasp. Our human experience of death makes it almost impossible to fathom and that was true for Mary and Simon Peter and the other disciple on that Easter morning. The accounts of the Resurrection in the four Gospels should be comforting because they are very frank about how difficult it was for Jesus’ closest friends and followers to understand and accept it. The first Christians were not expecting the resurrection. They did not believe it when the women first announced it to them. They had all scattered and hidden when Jesus was condemned and executed.
The early community that had followed Jesus during his three years of teaching and healing were stunned by their loss and almost paralyzed by fear. All of what they knew to be normal was crushed.
The burial was not normal—few people who were crucified were buried at all and Jesus who owned nothing and was an itinerant preacher was placed in a rich man’s grave. Then the tomb was empty. And they began to see him again, talking with them and eating with them.
Jesus had been transformed, had defeated death and now life for them was changed and they had experienced the restorative power of God. That same restorative power that was responsible for the transformation of Jesus begs us to expect that God’s presence may amaze us by showing up in strange and even alien places and in surprising ways.
An adult study group in a church was in deep discussion about difficult Christian beliefs. Someone brought up the struggle in believing in the resurrection of Jesus. They found this a farfetched possibility. “Life from death?” he asked, “How can that be credible?” A woman in the group spoke up, “Well, I do believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. When my husband walked out on me, I could have died. I did die. My life was over. Dead end. But then, by the grace of God, with the support of a wonderful church community and the coaxing of good friends, I came back. I came to life. I got a whole new life. I believe in the resurrection because I have lived it.”
A Christian monk tells of an encounter he had with a teacher of Zen. As part of a retreat he had a private session with the teacher who sat before him, smiling from ear to ear and rocking gleefully back and forth. Finally the teacher said: “I’d like Christianity. But I would not like Christianity without the resurrection. I want to see your resurrection.” The monk later said that with his directness, what the Zen teacher was telling him is: “You are a Christian. You are risen with Christ. Show me what this means for you in your life—and I will believe.”
Today we will hear these ancient words recited: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” What we are really saying is that we believe that resurrection goes on and on, that God continues to resurrect lives. Every time we let Jesus rise in our hearts, every time we see Jesus in places where we did not recognize him before, every time raise up some oppressed person from “the tomb,” resurrection happens again. The story of the resurrection may sound unbelievable, even outlandish to some and I certainly cannot prove it really happened. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of the historic testimony throughout the ages of countless persons. As long as there is life on earth there will be people talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But mostly I believe in the resurrection because I have seen it in its transformative and restorative power working in the lives of those around me. I see it in how you raise one another up; how you raise up those who may be feeling empty or afraid or who have given up hope, in the ways your lives touch theirs and their lives touch yours.
Easter proclaims that whatever “tomb” we may be in, God can raise us up—for the power that took Jesus through death and beyond has the capacity to triumph over everything that is keeping us in that tomb.
Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor gives us this pearl for today: “By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world.”
That is what Easter life is all about. Always has, always will be. Thanks be to God. Alleluia!