Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
With these words the Church has rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for nearly two thousand years. The proclamation is not new, but the exhortation of the proclamation is one of continual renewal and eternal hope. And although none of us were direct witnesses to the resurrection, we believe Jesus rose from the dead because of the testimony of those who were there, the disciples and the women who found the empty tomb. The Gospel this morning bears witness to these events and is for us an eyewitness account of the great miracle of Easter. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and some other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles and thus, culminated in the Easter Resurrection story.
The story of Easter began in the far distant past. Before the Cross of Calvary, before the Manger in Bethlehem, before King Solomon and before King David, the prophets foretold of a great deed that God would accomplish in order that mankind might be freed from sin and death. The writings of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah and others were told and retold for over 20 generations before the actual event took place. And then, when it did, almost no one had a clue about what was going to happen. Chief among these were the scholars. . . the priests and the scribes who were the clergy and the lawyers of the day.
Although they had prided themselves on knowing the letter of the law and every verse in scripture, they were totally unprepared for the coming of the Messiah for whom they were waiting (and are still awaiting today). They thought they knew the story inside and out, but they were wrong. They were wrong because the Messiah that they wanted to believe in (a Messiah that would come as a conquering king) did not fit the profile of a suffering servant. The priests of the day wanted deliverance from the Roman Empire. They were looking for justice, not forgiveness. They were looking for vengeance, and not mercy. But when Jesus came, showing mercy, forgiveness, healing and compassion, it was too much for them to bear. In their own ignorance they sought to destroy Him, not because he was a man who claimed to be the Messiah, but because he wasn’t the one who fit their expectations of a vengeful and jealous Messiah who would destroy their greatest enemy which, at the time, was Rome.
They basically got the story wrong, but because they did, they fulfilled the prophets by sacrificing the Lamb of God on a cross for all our sakes. Jesus did not come to defeat the Roman Empire. He came to defeat sin and death. By dying on the cross he became for us a perfect and sacrificial offering for all our sins, and that is why we call him Lord. Because, by his sacrifice we have been released from sin . . . by his resurrection we have been delivered from death.
These last three days, beginning with our Lord’s death on Good Friday and ending with His resurrection on Easter are a commemoration of His life and death, they are about confrontation between darkness and light, they are about our rejection of God, our deliverance through God and our redemption by a God who loves us beyond our ability to understand. Easter is for the Church, and for us, a nexus where the spiritual and the physical worlds mysteriously become one for a brief moment in time. That mystery being that once we were lost, alone and chained to our sins, but today we are delivered, redeemed and restored to a God who loves us.
That is why it is so important for all of us to know the story of our deliverance. Over the course of a year, we hear at church about 160 Chapters of the Bible. But that leaves out thousands of Chapters we will never hear if we don’t read them for ourselves. Christians today are woefully shortchanged when it comes to hearing the whole story. Depicted above the tabernacle are the three Mary’s from the Bible – they are Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary, the sister of Martha. These are people we should all know about, but do we? When we sponsor a child in Baptism, we promise to bring them up in the Church’s teaching and fellowship. Part of this ‘bringing up’ is in retelling the story, the whole story, over and over until it is second nature to all of us. But how can a child learn from his sponsor, if his sponsor doesn’t know or share the story? This is the responsibility we all share in bringing our children to Christ.
In today’s world, when kids think of Easter, they think of chocolate eggs, and Bunnies and little marshmallow chicks and butter lambs, because that is what Hallmark and others want them to think about. And that isn’t a bad thing as long as they know that that isn’t all there is. There seems to be a pervasive conspiracy that is slowly eroding what the church regards as a Holy Day with what the world regards as a Holiday. Kids think of Easter as a time of eggs and bunnies instead of the New Birth that the eggs and bunnies represent. They think of Gouls and Goblins at Halloween instead of the Hallowed Saints that the Holy Day of All Saints represents. And they think of presents and Santa Claus instead of the true gift and meaning of Christmas. These are the kinds of things that children should be taught by their parents and by the Church so that the story can continue.
In these end times, it is important for all of us who are left to never be disheartened by the world. God loves us for who we are, he is the one person able to look past our faults and value who we are as a people. He values our courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles. He values our unity in the face of adversity and how we will sacrifice everything, even our lives to save another. He values our candor and our humor and our uncontrollable urge to spiritually persecute ourselves for our mistakes and our failures. He loves our creativity and our skill and our ability to love. And that is why he went to the cross, willingly, sacrificially, and on our behalf.
Our God is a sacrificial God and creation has inherited His sacrificial nature. His need is for us is to take on this sacrificial nature full time. To live a sacrificial and baptismal new life worthy of his calling. To rejoice when things are right with our lives and to be reflective and change our course when things go wrong. To be willing and able to lend a hand even when none is asked for or expected. To give of our talents and our time to causes worthy of his call to us. To do our work and to live our lives as if everything depended on it. In this way we will live out the story, we will know the story, and our children will see the story written in our lives. Amen.