The Feast of the Resurrection + A The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
16, April 2017 All Saints’ Hampton Parish, SC
Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-18
Christos Anesti the orthodox say to one another on this day. Alithos anesti is the reply given by the other person. The >79 Prayerbook gives us an English translation.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen and the reply The Lord is risen INDEED Alleluia ! Lets practice the Easter greeting this morning. Alleluia, Christ is Risen@ AThe Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Good news. We all LIKE good news. But do we understand how good this news is? Even the disciples, Jesus= closest friends Peter and John says that Athey did not believe for as yet they did not know the scripture that he would rise from the dead.@ (Jn. 20:9)
Sure our culture sees Easter as commercially B and not the Feast of the Resurrection! But it is still difficult even with bunnies and baskets, bonnets and bow, baby chicks and chocolate, to divorce ourselves completely from the events that the Christian Church has proclaimed for two millennia. Those events have transformed human history and the world.
Easter: a pagan word, yet it connotes a profound mystery, an earthly transformation, a metamorphosis from what was, frail weak and limited to another mode of being: power, transformation and Resurrection! Former Franciscan Priest, Brennan Manning once said that God didn’t redeem humanity to make “nicer men with better morals, but brand new creations. “ That is what the resurrection from the dead accomplished.
The cross is the meeting place between God and humanity. However it is profoundly more. At the foot of that cross is a level playing field. No earthly riches, no important earthly family, no position or fame is of any import. The cross of Christ was and is the grand equalizer and what is the point of that equality? Forgiveness…forgiveness. Coupled with that fundamental principle is the other and the two go hand in hand: recreation. Resurrection makes these two principles necessary to Gods salvation of humanity possible. It takes us the heart with this immortal verse about the heart of our God. Perhaps you’ve heard it? “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This verse so moves everything that is perhaps the best known Bible verse in the world. At St Paul’s in Savannah, where I assist, below the great crucifix, the carved figures of Jesus on that cross and Mary and St John at its feet staring up at their dying son and friend, and below the figures in large gold letters we read: for God so loved the world. The world is filled with so much pain and suffering that people are filled with fear and despair. That has not changed, however when the disciples and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that morning and found it empty, the remaking of the world was initiated. Jesus did not rise from the dead to make new life possible, as was said by The Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus was raised from the dead to make new life actual for those who believe.
Through this resurrection all of God=s salvific strains of grace have gone into motion. We say in the creed and in the Baptismal Covenant, Awe believe in the resurrection of the body.@ That is no small statement. How many religious faiths around the world believe in the Aresurrection of the dead.@ It is a bold claim of the Christian faith. But it is not a rejoinder of that faith, but rather it is the core of that faith. In the Nicene Creed, the creed normally used in the Mass, we say Awe look for the resurrection of the dead@. Are we nuts? Or do we know something that many in the world do not? Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have testimony and the experience of two millennia of people who claim that the receiving of this man=s free offering into their personal lives and histories has changed their lives forever.
What do we claim about this man Jesus of Nazareth who we have the temerity to call God=s Messiah for the whole world? We are not saying that God reanimated the cells in the body of the dead Jesus. We are not saying that Christ was raised as in the stories of Lazarus being raised. Christ is raised to die no more. We are not saying that our immortal souls live on forever. That pales in comparison to the resurrection. We say we believe in the resurrection of the BODY!
Resurrection is a statement about the character of God. It states that He does not and will never stop loving God=s creation. It says that Jesus Christ is the victorious one who has conquered death. The disciples did not believe in the resurrection because they believed in Jesus@ says theologian Martin Marty, Athey believed in Jesus because they believed in the RESURRECTION! A If you take the Christian faith seriously, it will inevitably lead you to Easter.
Without Easter Christianity falls. Paul said Aif there is no resurrection your faith is vain.@ There are many good proofs as to why one would believe in it, but this is not the time for such proofs. Many seeking Aproofs@ are more seeking information than faith. Many who seek information, even if convinced would not believe in Christ. And this Christ demands an answer to His claims.
In a new motion picture, award winning Chicago Tribune journalist has a life jolting experience. He and his pregnant wife and their daughter are out at a restaurant when his daughter begins to choke on something. The film opens with him receiving a promotion and his family of three (soon to be four) seemingly enjoying all that life has to offer a young upwardly mobile family. However, a crisis in a restaurant leads to an encounter with a follower of Christ and the course of Lee’s life forever changes. He and his wife are both professed atheists, however the encounter with the nurse who saves their daughter shakes her to the core. The woman said, “I wanted to go somewhere else for dinner, but something told me to come here”. As an addendum she says that God told her to be there. This begins the wife’s search.
Lee is determined to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. He exerts great effort and talks to a number of experts in different disciplines. He talks to skeptics and believers. Meanwhile, his wife is drawing closer to Christ and embracing her new Christian faith. This isn’t what Lee bargained for and he’s angry and tortured. What is displayed in the film is sometimes ugly and for good reason, this all happened. Furthermore, to go from atheism to belief is not something that will or should happen cleanly. Lee is conducting an investigation and it is not going as he thought and that ticks him off, especially at his wife, who now has a relationship with someone else…Jesus. In a dramatic scene at the office one of Lee’s colleagues, responds to his sarcastic despondency saying: “at some point you have got to ask yourself, how much evidence do you have to have?” In the basement workshop, where he has charts and chalkboards and interviews and questions as well as evidence he had gathered over approximately two years, in exasperation he says: “ok God, you win!” and the story of his redemption begins which would eventually take him to a status of a world class proponent of the Christian faith. I have been through that same struggle in my own teen years and finally gave up and chose what seemed the most authentic and genuine thing: Jesus.
Today and every day we are confronted with the same choice and the same evidence. Will this Jesus be the center of our lives for this life and the next, or will we protest and refuse. But for those who know him and celebrate him, today is the day that changed the world. Alleluia, Christ is risen: the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
In the Name of the Father and of the glorious and risen Son
and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN