Father Nicholas Lang
May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God be as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen.
The Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church answered the phone one morning: “Hello, is this Father Moore?”
“It is.” “This is Mr. McLaughlin from the IRS?” I wonder if you can help us? “I’ll try. What can I do for you?”
“Do you know a Ted Brown.” “I do.” “Is he a member of your congregation.” “He is.”
“Did he donate $25,000 to your church?” “He will.”
Some things we can just count on, can’t we? Given a particular situation, and the facts involved, you just know the ending of the story. Not so with the brave women who set out early in the morning to complete the ritual anointing of body of Jesus, expecting only to find a corpse when they arrived at the tomb. Nothing else. Just death. Big surprise here!
These women are central to the resurrection story. They are the witnesses of both the very real death of Jesus on the cross and the very confusing empty tomb. Their act of final tribute, bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, becomes an ironic gesture when they encounter the empty tomb. There they stand with the accessories of death in the presence of life. They are shocked by the words, “He has risen, he is not here.”
Churches around the world today will see all kinds of people—some who come with great faith in the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, some who come because of years of tradition behind them or because they’ve been guilted into showing up; some who are full of doubt, some outright denying that such a thing as resurrection is at all possible.
Yet they come—we come—because of a story told every year about how on the first Easter morning some women who had gone out to the tomb of the newly buried Jesus returned to tell his cowering band of friends, his mashugana disciples, the most unbelievable news they had ever heard.
The one common thread that unites all of us is the reality that the resurrection of Jesus is a huge belief to accept—one that may take a lifetime to fully wrap our head around—yet one that is so compelling because of our intense human longing for something beyond what our limited minds can grasp.
The Resurrection is, as theologian Karl Barth once asserted “a call from God into the depths of human suffering and death, “Rise up!” says God. I summon you to life!”
The depths of human suffering and death. We’re all too well acquainted with that. In each of our life stories there is at least one Good Friday chapter—a chapter that tells of our pain, rejection, illness, loss, shattered dreams. We desperately want the next chapter of our story to be one of hope, one of God’s call to life, one of resurrection, of something life-giving.
I had only been your priest for a little more than a month back in 2020. Lent began as usual. I had great expectations for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. We were dreaming about new activities. Then BAM! Enter COVID a devastating pandemic. We were shoved into the tomb. Isolated. Afraid. Some very ill, some who never escaped. But look! We’re back in our sacred space this Easter as we’ve been for quite a while. We have a renewed sense of living again. In hindsight, it seems like a little resurrection.
I don’t think people come to church on Easter because they are looking for Cadbury cream eggs or chocolate bunnies. They’ve come—we come— either hoping something’s here or knowing that there is and hoping to find it. We need Easter. We need to know that there is something to this resurrection event because of the many chapters in our lives that contain sadness, anxiety, loss, and pain.
There’s a Good Friday in all of us and we’re all longing to burst forth from the tomb that keeps us there. We all want to be people of hope, even in the face of death and devastation—especially in the face of death and devastation. Today we want to believe, we really want to believe, that the stone has been rolled away today to reveal the unimaginable: that hope triumphs over hopelessness, love triumphs over hate, justice triumphs over oppression, life triumphs over death.
The strange reality of this day of Resurrection is that when Jesus died, hope died. His closest friends grieved and trembled. Life as they had known it with him had ended. The public was scandalized. The Temple leaders cheered the loss of a huge troublemaker. It all collapsed—for both his followers and detractors.
And so it does for us—in the chapters of our story. The challenge it not to spend too
much time grieving what we have left behind in our “tombs,” whatever that may be, wherever they may be, so that we will allow new grace to flow through us and embrace the truth that this day shouts out to us. Resurrection is a call from God into the depths of human suffering and death, “Rise up,” says God, “I call you to life. I call you to life.” And that is something we can count on.