Sunshine Uniting 2016
Easter Sunday – the day of resurrection. I remember being brought up a little short when I made that bold proclamation at the start of an Easter service and was corrected by a member of the congregation saying, Well actually every Sun we gather for Christian worship is the day of resurrection. In fact why not go further and say we do not celebrate anything today we are not called upon to live every day of our lives –the tenacious and finally victorious hold Christ has upon us, the power of God’s Spirit to inspire us to live in hope and not give way to meaninglessness – the disease of our age.
But having said that of course it is proper that today of all days of the year we put front and centre the extraordinary claim of Easter and today of all days in the year we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
We have already heard of Mary Magdalene coming to the place of burial early in the morning. How about that? Of all places on earth to witness the glory, the wonder the power of God’s love it is not in a cathedral, a palace, a house of parliament, not even outdoors admiring the beauty of nature. It is in a cemetery, at the empty tomb of a young rabbi who has been the victim of a state sanctioned assassination.
Now this death we know something about. We have felt its sting, and languished under its power as it has drawn close and personal as parents, friends, family loved ones have been stolen away. .. Death we know something about even if second hand through the awful hole left by another Death also in the far away places, in the slaughters of Paris, Brussels, in the bombs of terrorists and in tsunamis and African droughts that are beamed through the glowing screens in the corners of our lounge rooms.
Resurrection we not so sure about. Resurrection is something outside our experience. And so looking for something, anything to talk about we are tempted to make the empty tomb the focus of Easter. How many countless Easter sermons have I read and heard that celebrate an empty tomb. But an empty tomb didn’t do all that much for Mary Magdalene when she came on her own early that first Easter morning. And it won’t do it for you.
Mary comes to the burial ground, sees an empty tomb, and is distressed. She weeps. She weep because not only is there not a dead body in the tomb there is nothing! Zilch. Nothing is not good news. Nothing is not something to empower your life and turn it around. You don’t want more emptiness; you don’t want more of nothing.
The Christian church is not in the business of celebrating and calling people to commit their lives to empty space or empty anything. On the contrary we say the disease of our age is empty space – empty space in our homes, out lives, our hearts, our politics, our economics, our relationship. Why on earth would we want to bang on about adding yet more empty spaces?
No, the empty tomb is not the heart and soul of Easter. What it can be is a pointer, a clue, that there may be more. That maybe this emptiness that confronts us is not the full story. Maybe there is someone who has once been there, been to the pits, been into and through the dark places and now is liberated and released to fill life with meaning and joy and hope. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who died, was buried and now is raised. Now that could be Good News!
The greatest ever proclaimer of the Christian faith, Paul of Tarsus, managed to spend his life proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead without ever feeling the need to go on about any alleged empty tomb. For him it was clear – get your eyes off the empty tomb and get them onto the living one – Jesus the Christ, the crucified one, now raised to glory.
Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?
So much of our life is lashed to death and decay, habits, ways of thinking, ruts and routines that as they rot around us the poison seeps into us as well. The dead things we carry in us through life. As I am constantly saying the Bible is not about events that happened two thousand years ago, but what may happen today and tomorrow. Now that is a particular challenge when it comes to Easter – for it pushes us very hard to be asking, what might it look like for me to live with Resurrection. How might we live alive and when our turn comes how might we die alive rather than having lived dead. That’s what Easter is about, individuals, communities nations living with the power of life flowing through them, not the stench of death intimidating them.
They departed the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell the others. Frederick Nietzsche existentialist philosopher of the 19th century and a strident critic of the Christian faith gave one of his most excruciating critiques, not based upon his life long study of philosophy or theology, but simply to note –“they are people who have no joy”.
The Easter story is one of the joy of freedom, the joy of being cut free from the bonds of the power of death and the nothingness of empty spaces. Yes each of us will die, but with the power of resurrection in us what has changed is now we can die alive. Who knows what awaits us in the life to come. I believe there will be the life everlasting, but my sense it is the fullness and completion of that eternal life we have just a glimpse of in this life, just a morsel of the bread of life and a sip of the wine of the new covenant.
Anastasis – stand again – kneeling is forbidden in liturgical churches in this Easter season. On Easter Sunday it is like an angel of resurrection announces an end to the bowing and scraping, our fears and intimidation. At least for the Easter season it is inappropriate. Stand upon your feet, lift your weakened hands, and affirm the raising of the body by standing upon your feet and standing upon the grace of God given to you.