Easter Sermon 2020 – Sunday April 12th, 2020
Our psalmist cries out this morning: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Hallelujah! I’ll say it again: “On this day the Lord has acted [and] we will rejoice and be glad in it.” So c’mon, all you at home, go on say it with me, go tell the person you’re social isolating with next to you, or call someone up, and see what response you will get…Don’t be surprised if you hear probably: you’re crazy, is everything alright?
But you know I think if I had come into Church this morning around 11 o’clock with someone who had been in a coma for let’s say a month, and they took a look around at this empty church, and these empty pews, and all they saw was little ol’ me, they’d probably say: um, preacher man, something ain’t right, here! You sure, everything’s okay in Churchland, because it all feels a little lifeless, as quiet as a tomb…you might say…
Because I mean, they’d only be responding to reality right? The way things are? And so let’s just pretend this man who just woke up Sunday morning, decided to leave the church and go downtown maybe for a bite to eat, and saw that his favourite restaurant wasn’t open, and then later he went on to the hardware store and that place, yup, that place too was closed up, so he turned around and went to the grocery store and saw all these funny arrows on the floor and people walking around in weird face masks keeping a respectable distance from him, he’d probably conclude: has the whole world gone crazy? Cause something ain’t right, here! This ain’t the way things are supposed to be right, in our little materialist consumer paradise…
The shock that man received probably would be little different than the responses of Mary Magdalene, and the apostle Peter and the other beloved disciple had from our Easter gospel story this morning, when they went down to the tomb and they encountered an empty tomb! At first, Mary thought someone had added insulted to injury by taking the body, because ordinarily, according to the law of physics, dead bodies, unless you’re into The Walking Dead T.V. show, don’t usually walk away. I mean all of them had witnessed what had happened to Jesus only a couple days before when after being whipped and beaten by both jewish and roman authorities, he was put on the cross and as John describes: Jesus cries out: “it is finished…” and then he gives up the ghost…(John 19.30)
Yes, everything seemed finished…Everything that they had hoped for – That Jesus would be the one; the one who would have brought the great story of Israel to its decisive climax -where God’s chosen one, his messiah would rescue the world from evil and put everything to right -with the restoration of creation, with justice for all, with right relations among all peoples, and to issue in a new time of peace and healing and renewal and prosperity. (N..T. Wright Simply Christian, 108)
But nobody in Israel was expecting anyone, most especially a Messiah to rise from the dead, because a crucified Messiah after all was a failed Messiah. A hundred years later, when another man claiming to be the Messiah -Simon Bar Kochba (coke-ba) was finally killed by the Romans in 135 A.D. when they put down his uprising, nobody was claiming him after he died to have been the messiah for instance. (Wright, 112)
And yet when Peter and the other disciple looked inside the tomb, they found it completely empty, empty except for the linen wrappings that Jesus had been wrapped in neatly folded up in a place by itself. So something was definitely strange here, they even thought something new was happening, something new enough to make them as our gospel says to believe again, but still at this point, they still did not know what was fully happening, and so they left, and they went home… <short pause>
But then Mary stayed. Mary stayed and we’re told she stayed so she could weep for her friend. Where she wept for her loss as she was alone now, like I suspect many of you at home might be feeling somewhat more alone now and isolated by this whole coronavirus pandemic thing, and maybe her hurt was just too much, for what she had just lost, and yet, in that place of hurt, something moved her to look inside the tomb, and then in that moment, everything changed in her world for good.
For when Mary looked inside the tomb, she saw two angels positioned on either side of the cold stone slab where Jesus had be laid. Perhaps somewhere in her imagination, she may have recalled stories of the ancient lost arc of the covenant, that contained the 10 Commandments, the word of God that had two angels with wings on either side of the container. But then as she was marvelling at the whole thing, one of the angels asked Mary, why are you crying? Why are you sad? Do you not understand what is happening finally?
And then she turned around, and suddenly she was no longer alone – for she saw someone, someone asking her again: Why are you weeping?” And this man had the peaceful serene countenance of someone who looked like he belonged in the beginning of creation in the garden of Eden – as he was described as a gardener, and then this man called her by her name, “Mary” and then Mary knew, Mary knew and recognized instantly who it was and her grief and sadness were immediately turned into joy!
Because although she did not know how, here was Jesus in the bodily flesh before her. Here was the one who had been called The Word of God in his life, now was speaking her name giving her life! For here in this empty place that seemed so devoid of life, now the new life was breaking in all upon her. Because here, was the evidence standing before her eyes, that all the wickedness that this world could throw at someone, someone like Jesus, that all the violence, all the broken relationships, all the betrayals, and all the suffering that Jesus would suffer, would not have the final say, because that final say belongs to God, the God who fulfills his promises to his creation!
Because through the power of God, when Jesus rose again and emerged from the empty tomb, God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb with him (Wright, 116), introducing to our world as Jesus took his first new breaths, breathing in and breathing out to us the Holy Spirit, a world pregnant and full of new potential, and possibility, and new energy. Because we have seen in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the truth of the God whom we worship, who shows us that God’s compassion is greater than any of the murderous or selfish passions of our world; that God’s glory can and does shine even in the deepest nights of human savagery; and that God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ who forgives us when we turn to him is greater than any of the paralyzing awareness of any of our guilt, because in the end, God’s way of life and new life is greater than our way of death. (Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 191)
And so for us, this is the life, the way, and the truth -and the new life that we are to make known to our world as God’s love, St. Paul writes: “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5.5)
This is why Jesus tells Mary as he departs from the tomb, c’mon Mary, you have a job to do; I want you to go and tell my disciples what you have seen; that the Lord is risen indeed, that the power of God through his Spirit has brought me to new life for I am ascending to my father, who is your father, to my God, who is your God: where the old world and its ways that we so long took for granted, are now over, because the new world has begun!
So you know, when I look around today and I am tempted to see so much emptiness, so much disease, so much illness, and yes even death, still, I am reminded that I am also seeing signs of the new life, of what the promises of God’s new creation will look like that we are invited to participate in it.
Because what I am seeing in our culture right now is that someone has definitely hit the reset button in our world. I mean do you remember what we use to squak about before this whole pandemic thing broke out? Because all of the sudden, I am seeing nations that have been either enemies or have kept each other at elbow’s reach like China and Japan, all of the sudden, are beginning to work together to fight this common illness. And in terms of the poor being looked after and being treated with dignity, A few days ago, Spain just announced that it will be permanently establishing a basic living level of income for every one of its citizens so that all may live with some basic level of dignity and means. I’m even seeing in our own country, where liberals and conservatives, who always fight like cats and dogs, all of the sudden are putting aside their petty differences and doing their best at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels to work for the best interests of the people. We are seeing right now in our country what the energy of new life looks like as companies are transforming their factories and warehouses to produce products like safety masks that will help to sustain life.
Where we are seeing in our grocery stores, in our hospitals, in our police, and in all our first responders, the willingness to imitate the life of Jesus in serving others so that others might live. In fact, the other day on facebook, since this pandemic began, I saw a story how in Northern India, for the first time in 30 years, people can now see the snow capped Himalayas because pollution levels have gone down so drastically thanks to pollution producing factories shutting down. “It is mesmerizing, amazing, massive, I’ve never seen anything like this before”, said one resident Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal. It is as if creation is renewing itself!
Because indeed, for all of us, my dear brothers and sisters, we are seeing things now that we have never seen before in our world. Where all of the sudden, just like Mary and the disciples who saw in that place of emptiness, new life, we too are seeing all around today, signs of the new life, and the new kingdom emerging. The kingdom that upon Easter, we remember God has inaugurated through the rising of Jesus from the dead. The kingdom that we are asked as Christians to help bring about, the kingdom that today we raise our voices most gloriously to proclaim is upon us because on this day the Lord has acted indeed and we will rejoice and be glad in it.