Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Easter Sermon, 2014
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen!!
The Lord is Risen Indeed!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is the Day of the Resurrection. And the world seems somehow to have been remade, to have become very new. Things are different today; they seem fresh, perhaps more beautiful. In our churches, we adorn our altars with Easter lilies. The Easter colors are everywhere apparent. The clergy wear white in observance of Eastertide. Change is all around us. We notice the differences. And we ourselves seem remade, as if all the world and we who live within it had been recreated. Almost overnight. Our senses are engaged in a new way on this very unique morning, the day we have been waiting for during the long journey through Lent – and, perhaps for all our lives. Easter is the central event in our Christian faith. We know this. It is a very special feeling we have on Easter Day. Trust that feeling. Because it is real. It is real because of what God has done. The God of our creation has taken upon himself all the burdens of our sinful nature so that we may truly live. We can sense the beginning of a new life. We experience that life in the essence of our being, as if a memory once lost has been recovered, a memory that is always there.

 

Memory is part of who we are. It makes us unique among God's creation. It is a precious gift given to us by God. We visualize and understand the past, bringing it present and making it live; just as we do today, in the experience of that first Easter Day so long ago.

 

Yes, that first Easter. That first morning. Do we remember that day? It is part of our consciousness, part of who we are. The gospel writers help us remember what that day was like, a day when we stood at the doorway of an empty tomb and stared in wonder at what the dawn revealed to our eyes. That day was very different from the Easter we experience on this particular morning in April, 2014. But the evangelist helps us understand the memory of that time, a memory we recapture each year at Eastertide.

 

St. John begins his gospel when it is still dark. It is a dangerous time. Yet Mary Magdalene makes her way to the tomb. She knows that the tomb is guarded and that the stone over the face of the tomb is secure. She sees that something is wrong; things are not as they should be; the stone is rolled away. She runs to Simon Peter and the disciples known as the Beloved Disciple. She tells them breathlessly that “they have taken away the Lord.” And she had no idea where they had taken Him. Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the sepulchre. They look in. Then, we hear the very specific details of what they see: linen clothes, a napkin wrapped by itself. Very specific details. Things that only an eyewitness would see and remember. Once they had seen these things, they went away to their own homes.

 

And that is it. That is Easter morning. That is the first Easter morning told to us by St. John. A first memory of Easter Day. Early morning. An empty tomb. Mary Magdalene. Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Linen clothes and a napkin folded by itself. They are details. But details such as these may be enough to bring up the most profound memories and the deepest realities.

 

But those details, by themselves, do not bring us to Easter. They are simple details, largely unremarkable in themselves. St. John's story of Easter morning would not be worth remembering, except for this: it is what happens to the Beloved Disciple. He came first to the sepulchre. He looked in, he saw what was there - and he believed. He knew what it was there; he knew what those simple pieces of cloth in that empty tomb represented; he knew what had happened. How he must have struggled with that understanding, with the knowledge of the resurrection. He had seen with his eyes the reality of the eternal life promised by God and understood this truth with the wisdom of his heart. And he was the first one, the only one who knew on this Easter morning that Christ had risen from the dead.

 

It is this that we celebrate on this particular morning. We celebrate the belief in the resurrection with great joy. With pageantry and music, with songs of praise, with prayers of thanks to God for showing us the way to eternal life.

 

But we remember that first Easter morning seemed so unremarkable. Great events are often like that. They are understood in their fullness only afterward. Belief in the resurrection came slowly to the disciples. Gradually, over time, they came to realize what it was that had happened on Easter Day. The importance of the events that occurred beyond their immediate understanding were revealed to them slowly. But the importance of that day grew in their knowledge and understanding until they realized the overpowering truth of God's love, a love that overcomes death and transcends the grave.

 

I often wonder how many times Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple talked about their experience of Easter Day. I suspect they did so often, relating the remarkable events of that time to each other and to their growing family of believers. And like the good stories that are part of every family's history, they are brought back again and again, rich in detail and deepening with time. And we bring back the memories of Easter Day here in this place and at this time.

 

Each of us, on this day, looks into the empty tomb. It is the not the first time we have done so. Today, we look inside one more time. We see the specific objects that are there; simple things from our own lives. They bring back memories; memories of people we have known and loved; but also the memories of those things we have feared; they are jumbled together, those memories, as we look into that space. But, above all, we meet again the memory that is always with us, the memory of the God of our creation; a God who will never abandon us; a God who loves us with such a fierce commitment that He will overcome all things – even death – to bring us safely home; to bring us back to Him.

 

And on this Easter Day, as we remember the Resurrection that has happened. And as we have come to know - again and again - with growing awareness, of the love that surrounds us. And to know, with the greatest of joy that death is overcome and life eternal is affirmed for all time. And once again, on this particular day, call out with joy:

 

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen!! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!