Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Easter Day, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

“Alleluia. Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia!”

 

Let us pray: O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection has delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

It is Easter Day; the Day of the Resurrection. A day when we celebrate the victory of life over death. A day we celebrate because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This particular day represents the center of our faith as Christians. Even more, it IS the Christian faith. Without Easter, Christianity would simply be one religion among many, one spiritual discipline among so many others in the marketplace of religious commodities. But what God did on this day two thousand years ago, marks our faith as unique in all the world. It is unique because of Jesus Christ, God among us.

 

Easter is the celebration of God's victory. We know this. We are made aware of this in many ways over the course of the year. And we celebrate this reality with much greater emphasis at this precise moment in time. But what is it that we see and hear on this very important and necessary day? We see Easter flowers for one. They are a welcome change after the barren altars of Lent. We see bright vestments of gold and white. We hear the familiar Easter hymns and the gospel messages of growth and renewal. It is Easter and these sights and sounds warm out hearts and give us joy in the wonder of the season and in the magnificence of God's creation. It is a life-affirming time in our year, a time of great spiritual rejoicing.

 

But it was not always so. On that first Easter, so new it hadn't even received its name, the sights and sounds were very different. The Gospel reading from St. John is filled with detail, but there is very little sense of joy in that reading. The alternate reading for this day, a passage from Mark's gospel, is even more somber. It ends with an expression of fear. Why, on this of all days, were the disciples filled with fear? Couldn't they understand that the most wonderful event had taken place? Couldn't they understand that the resurrection had happened; that death had been overcome? No, they couldn't. How could they? They were mourning for the loss of Jesus. They were filled with guilt because of their feelings of betrayal. They saw what they saw through eyes that had become knowledgeable about many things in this world. Though they traveled with Jesus for many days and years, they often couldn't see who He was. They certainly couldn't see with the eyes of God. Their vision was limited. But as the light of day grew brighter on that first Easter Day, they began to see, however dimly, that something had changed. And they began to see with the eyes of their hearts.

 

When we read the Gospels, we are often struck by the fact that miracles happen when Jesus is present. When Jesus is at the center of a particular story, whether it is at Cana of Galilee or at the Last Supper, a miracle takes place. All the great painters knew this and placed Jesus at the center of their works of their great works of art.

 

But what is at the center of today's Gospel readings? Jesus is not present at all. He does not appear once in the Gospel readings that tell the story of that first Easter morning. And what is the center of these Gospel reading? The center of this scene is the sepulchre. Instead of Jesus, a tomb occupies center stage. A tomb. A burial place. But this is not a normal tomb; the tomb we see here is an empty tomb. In that place of death, there is nothing at all.

 

Why, then, are the disciples fearful? They are afraid because Empty Tomb suggests danger, it suggests grave robbing. It is beyond their understanding to imagine anything else. They see what they see. They know what they know.

 

St. John, of course, is writing about events in the past. He has the gift of hindsight and he can see clearly what those early disciples could not. The disciples don't have the gift to see into the future; the resurrection is a mystery to them. St. John is well aware of the unbelievable nature of the Resurrection. But he can see with the wisdom of hindsight. The disciples did not have the gift of foretelling the future – or even discerning the reality of their present lives.

 

Many have tried to foretell the future. Just about all of them have failed. Years ago, I recorded a book on tape. I spent six long and grueling days sitting before a microphone in a tiny room reading aloud a book written in the Nineteenth Century. It was not particularly well written, this book, and the grammar and syntax made it very difficult to enunciate. It was the only book on tape I ever produced and I prayed never to be invited to take on another task like that ever again. Praise God, my prayers were answered. But this experience gave me a great appreciation for all who read for books on tape. And every time I listen to one, I say a silent prayer for the brave narrator. And I also think: “there but for the Grace of God go I.”

 

The book I recorded was called “Looking Backward,” written by a man named Edward Bellamy. Although the book was written in the 1890s, it told the story of a visit to the year 2000. The visitors from the Nineteenth Century were amazed at all the advances. Some of these inventions, though imaginative, seem actually pretty silly to our wise third millennial eyes. We see things much differently than Edward Bellamy did. It is hard to be a prophet.

 

The irony of Edward Bellamy's book is that it is not a look backward, but simply a fiction. It has no basis in reality.

 

St. John takes a look backward in his gospel. He sees clearly what the Empty Tomb means. He sees clearly that the disciples were fearful. He knows that they were confused and in mourning. He could see with his mind's eye the sunlight on that first Easter morning. And he knew that Jesus had risen.

 

The Empty Tomb is at the center of today's gospel. It is at the center of our celebrations today. And as the light filters into that space reserved for the dead, we know that something profound and earth shattering has taken place. Into a place of all fear and loss, of sadness and despair, life has come again.

 

Jesus has risen from the grave. And what is it we see when we look into that Empty Tomb, a place of our fears. We see, if we are willing to take the great risk of looking into the place where our deepest fears lodge themselves, that there is indeed nothing there. When we, some day ages and ages hence, look back at this time, we, too will reflect with wonder on the fears we once buried in the lost corners of our lives. And we will know, too, that on this particular day – this Easter Day - we were released from the bonds of sin and death. And we will rejoice with every fibre of our being. Rejoice in the love of a God who has given us the ability to see – to truly see – the hope of eternal life on this glorious Easter Day.

 

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!