April 5, 2014, Easter Sunday – It’s Who We Are
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Last night, we began the celebration of Easter in the dark, when we kindled the new fire and lit the Paschal candle that signifies our new life in Christ. Ir was appropriate that we began the celebration of light in darkness, because the light and joy of Easter are all that much more bright and glorious because they are borne of the testing of Lent and the sadness of the Last Supper and the pain of the crucifixion and the lonely silence of the tomb. The collect for Friday that we pray at Morning Prayer says that this is the way of the cross – that our Lord “went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified.” In the mysterious wisdom of our God, true joy was borne out of pain, and glory and light and life were borne out of the pangs of death.
If you’ve never been present at the birth of a baby you might think of babies, when you think of them at all, as tiny, clean, soft, sweet-smelling, wonderful little creatures wrapped in blankets. And they are. Babies are awesome. But birth is not a magical process of spiritual enlightenment. Birth is sweaty and bloody. Birth is messy. And it hurts. Above all else, birth is real. Without the birth, there is no child. Either he or she has been born, or not. Either there is a new person in the world, or there is not. And when a new baby has been born, it is a most wonderful reality, and your life is changed forever. You are not who you were before the birth, and there’s no going back.
People love to use birth as a symbol for Easter – and it’s a good symbol. Springtime and eggs and chicks and baby bunnies and caterpillars hatching into butterflies; people love all those pretty symbols. And the Resurrection is absolutely a new birth, but if it’s a real birth, it isn’t pretty symbols. It’s every bit as solid and tangible and messy as the birth of a child. If Easter is real, if the Resurrection really happened, then our lives have been changed forever. We are not who we were before we encountered the risen Christ. We are no longer just children of Adam and Eve, scraping a living in the dust. If the Resurrection really happened, we are Resurrection people, children of God, born of the real sweat and blood and pain of the cross, brought forth solid and real, heart pumping, air moving in and out of lungs, physically all there, walking on real feet out of the tomb. Forever changed. And there’s no going back.
Paul said it in his no-nonsense way when he wrote to the Corinthian church: if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in useless. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact, Paul affirms, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus did walk out of the tomb. And because he lives, we will live.
A writer named John Updike wrote what is one of the very best Easter poems ever written – at least I think so:
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Today is not bunnies or chicks or eggs or butterflies. It’s not life renewing itself in the springtime or good memories living on in our hearts. Today, the morning of the Resurrection, is life – or it’s not.
We are Resurrection people, and this morning we are gathered here to affirm the solid reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ walked out of the tomb and left it empty forever. On a certain day in history just outside the city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, death was dealt its death-blow. On that day life began a slow and certain victory march that will transform this creation completely into the glory and joy and good it was created for. That is our hope. That is our joy. That is our life. That is who we are, in Christ.
When a child is born, there will certainly be the day-to-day realities of diapers and feeding and sleepless nights, and later illnesses and celebrations and arguments and all the things, some good and some bad, that make up the life of a parent. But it all begins, it all has its meaning, in the central reality of that inescapably real birth. Once a parent always a parent, and we wouldn’t trade it in for all the restful nights and clean houses in the world.
I use childbirth as an example, because it’s the thing I know from personal experience, but also because Jesus himself used it, when he comforted his disciples at the Last Supper, saying, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
We all know, that just like the life of a parent, Christian life is no bed of roses. The narrow way is not the cushy way; we can all testify to that. But the central reality of who we are never changes, no matter what happens. In good times and bad, in sorrow and in joy, the astonishing and wonderful truth is that we belong to the one who walked out of the tomb. We are Resurrection people, today and forever, and thanks be to God, no power on earth can take that joy from us.
Because it is true: he has risen. Alleluia!