Easter Sermon 2015
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Page 760, BCP
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.
It is wonderful to see you all here. It is wonderful to be together on this holiest of days. We have been looking forward to this day, with great anticipation all week.
We are here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are here because Easter matters. Whether you are a member of Nativity who never misses a Sunday, or a member who comes once and a while. Whether you are someone who rarely comes to church because you have your own spiritual practice, or whether you are visitor coming for the very first time an Episcopal Church service. Maybe you came because you are a neighbor, or maybe you came because of the Easter egg hunt. How ever you came today, you share this sense that today, it is important to be together in church.
As I listened to the readings, I thought about why it is so important that we come together today. I heard in the readings two themes—one is that by coming to celebrate Easter together, we are witnesses to the resurrection. And the world needs this witness. The second reason, is that on this day we affirm our faith in the risen Christ, our God who was born of a woman, suffered death on the cross and was raised from the dead. Coming today is important to us because it is this faith that provides us with Hope, with the comfort of God’s Love, with assurance of our Forgiveness and the promise of eternal resurrected life in God. We need this affirmation of our faith, this assurance about God.
Let’s begin with that first theme of witness, the witness that the world needs. Our readings today give us some details about the nature of that witness. We saw in the Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome witnessing the resurrection at the tomb. In this Gospel of Mark, we don’t have many details about these three women. But what we do know is important. In Chapter 15 we heard that they are followers, who had ministered to Jesus and followed him from Gallilee. They were there at the crucifixion. And they returned on the first of the week to anoint his body. Who are the witnesses? These women are not powerful people, known for their oratory, or their status in society. No, they were faithful women who served. And here we are, with more and less power in the world, faithful people, the people who take care of children, who work as nurses and teachers, people who are not mighty in the eyes of the government, or even mighty in the eyes of the church. We, like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome are the faithful witnesses to the resurrection.
We know that we are chosen by God to be witnesses, because we are here today. Peter explains to the crowd,
“God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. “(Acts 10:40)
And today, when we share in the holy communion, we are truly, those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. We are the witnesses that the world needs.
But our readings today help us to see that we are not just witnessing Christ’s resurrection. In Acts, Peter tells Cornelius and all the assembled Gentiles. You are witnesses to Jesus’ Baptism, his good works and his healing miracles in Judea and Jersualem. Our witness includes not just the divine nature of Christ, but also the human ministry of Jesus. By being here today, we give voice to the totality of our discipleship. When we talk about who Jesus is, we explain that he is the Son of God, risen for us, and we explain that he provides for us a model of human discipleship. This witness to discipleship is what the world needs.
And our Hebrew Bible reading helps us to see in addition to being witness to Christ’s resurrection and to his earthly ministry, that we are also witness to the fulfilled promise of salvation and the promise of a heavenly kingdom to come here on earth. The prophet Isaiah describes what this Kingdom looks like and tastes like. It is a banquet of rich food, well-aged wines. Death is swallowed up forever. There are no more tears, no disgrace. We are witnesses to the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ. In his death and resurrection, we are saved once and for all. And when we look around us and see that there is still suffering in the world, we are holders of this promise, this hope, this grace that God has given us. By our witness here today we carry out into the world, God’s hope for all people, God’s promise of a heavenly banquet not in the far distant future, but here and now. It is God’s creative work in the world, work that we will participate in. This witness to hope is what all people everywhere who have lost sight of salvation, emancipation, and the heavenly kingdom, need today.
As I said a couple of minutes ago, the second reason why our being here today is important is that our presence affirms our faith. This affirmation, this assurance is what we need today. We need to know that our baptisms matter. Those statements of belief that we made when we were baptized (or were made on our behalf) and will repeat today as we say the Nicene Creed are statements about who we are as a Christian people.
I’m focused on our baptisms today because I noticed a mysterious character in the Gospel story today—the young man dressed in white. Biblical scholars debate about who that young man was. Was he a disciple or a passer-by? The explanation that makes the most sense to me is that he is a symbolic character—put into the story by the Gospeller to be the Baptized person (symbolized by his white clothes) who recognizes that Jesus has been raised from death. Last Sunday (Palm Sunday), in Mark’s telling of the Passion, there was one strange line about another young man. In the garden of Gethsemene, the disciples all flee, but
“A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” (Mark 14:51)
The scholars suggest that the man wearing nothing by a linen cloth is symbolic of one who is preparing for Baptism, but not yet baptized. His faith is still not confirmed, he is not yet a Christian and so he runs away. But maybe it is this same young man, or maybe it is symbolically the same young man who is dressed in white, now baptized who announces the resurrection to the women at the tomb. Maybe this young man is like us, who having been baptized, now come to Easter morning with the sure faith that Jesus has overcome death and will meet us again in Gallilee. We come to Easter morning worship because we need this same assurance—we will be raised up with Jesus, we will meet him in Gallilee.
The faith that we have as Christians, that faith that we are building up is not just about an event that happened long ago—Jesus’ resurrection, our faith is important to us. In Psalm 118 we hear a faithful psalmist articulating why God’s actions matter. We give thanks, because God’s mercy endures forever (Ps. 118:1). In God’s works, we come to know that we shall not die, but live. (Ps. 118: 17). Even though we experience suffering, even though we are “sorely punished” we know that God is not handing us over to death. (Ps. 118:18). By God’s action in the world, the resurrection of Christ, God grants us forgiveness (Acts 10:43) to all who believe. We sing with exultation. We cry “Alleluia” because “On this day the Lord has acted: we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). This is the assurance that we need today. God is acting in the world today, as God has always acted. God has fulfilled God’s promises. God will continue to hope for us, save us, forgive us. God’s love is enduring, forever love. This is the assurance that we need today.
On this Easter Day we come to the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. We come as Baptized Christians, joining with all of the other Christians throughout the world, and throughout history. We come as witnesses to God’s saving work. We are the witnesses that the world needs.
We come seeking to affirm our faith, to see that he is risen, to give God praise and song, to shout or alleluias. And when we join together here today, we are strengthened, we are assured of God’s love, God’s hope, God’s forgiveness. This is the assurance that we need today.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.