Sermon: EASTER DAY, April 12th, 2020
In the Name...
Did you know that the Easter Bunny is real? I’m serious. In the museum of the University of Wisconsin you can see, with your own eyes, a stuffed rabbit which comes from … Easter Island. The Easter bunny – right?
I think what we have here is a confusion between holidays and holy-days. But, confusion about Easter is nothing new. Just take the four Gospel accounts, compare them, and you'll see for yourself there was a lot of confusion on the first Easter. There are angels and earthquakes, and women and men running this way and that all over town. A few years ago, I took a map of Jerusalem and traced out the routes of all the people going from here to there and nearly missing each other, in one gate and out another. It looked like a French bedroom farce.
And the confusion doesn't end with the first disciples. There's a bit of confusion about the meaning of Easter today. There are so many symbols of the season. We see everything in people's front yards from crosses to Easter egg trees. I guess that's where the rabbits who lay the eggs make their nests.
Of course, presumably, we think we've got some handle on what it all means, but, I was shocked to read that last year, 2019, only 42% of the American population went to church on Easter Day, 42% - a long way from half. But, 78% said they had purchased Easter gifts.
Of course, this year we can’t do either, but it is important to remember that the first Easter did not happen in a church or temple or even in the aisles of Wal-Mart or Target. It happened in a cemetery, a graveyard, in a grave that had contained a dead body.
And, the overwhelming response of the first witnesses was not "Ooooh and Aaaah." The women were panicked. The men were scared. Yes, you and I know Christ had risen, but, the disciples' first reaction was not to cry “Alleluia!” but, “theft.”
Who could hate Jesus so much as to desecrate his grave on the Sabbath of all days? This is what was on their minds. They weren't exactly having happy thoughts of springtime.
So, there are three points about that first Easter I'd like us to examine today. Three details which are part of the story but, may not, what with all the to-ing and fro-ing going on, have struck us.
First, the stone. We know it was rolled away, but, why? Certainly not to let Jesus out. That was hardly necessary. We know he could appear in tightly locked rooms. Rather, it was rolled away to let us in. Since the dawn of mankind's appearance on this planet, Man has always wanted to know - what is on the other side? But, the grave, the tomb, has always been sealed with secrecy. Death is the great mystery of life.
On the first Easter morning, an angel rolled aside the stone so that we might finally penetrate the mystery and, instead of a cave, we find the tomb is actually a tunnel, a tunnel to a new and greater life. No longer a mystery to be feared, but, a wonder to be embraced.
And, second, the tomb is not, in fact, completely empty. True, Christ's body is not there anymore, but, the place is filled with words, the words of the angel, the words that say, "He is not here, he is risen."
If Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John and the rest had only looked into an empty and silent tomb, and, by some amazing insight had decided for themselves that Jesus had risen, then, at the most, our resurrection belief would be a belief based on human speculation, and no more valid than any other human speculation or theory. But, no! Our faith is based on words which come from God, spoken by the angel on that first Easter morning.
As the tomb became a tunnel, it has also become a trumpet proclaiming the victory of life over death, and the continuation of Christ's presence and mission in this world.
And the third detail is this. Because of Easter we can turn our backs on sorrow, grief, and despair.
When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb that morning it wasn't to check if Jesus was still there. She knew he was. She came to cry, to grieve. She probably hadn't been sleeping well. Her whole world had come crashing down on Good Friday. Her hope was gone. But, the Gospels tell us that when the women heard the angelic words, "He is risen", they ran "with great joy" to tell the disciples.
So, “joy” is the key word here. Christ was buried, but, he wouldn't stay dead. The tomb could not hold him and, because of him, the tomb cannot hold us either. Eternal life is not just for Jesus. It's for us.
This indeed is what Jesus promised before he died, but, at the time, it was a promise that seemed totally incredible. At best, the disciples interpreted what he said as metaphor and hyperbole. But, now, because of Easter morning, they, and we, know it to be a matter of fact.
Brothers and sisters, this Easter Day we celebrate this joy. We know that this is a happy day. And we know the real reason why.
It's because the grave has been revealed to be, not a dead-end, but an open road to a brilliant future. Death is conquered. Man is free. Christ has won the victory.
In the Name...