Monday, April 18, 2022

Easter is no symbol. . .

Sermon for Easter Early, the Resurrection of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, April 17, 2022.

It is so much easier to think of the resurrection as symbol.  We all know the power of symbols.  But there also is something quite weak about symbols.  Symbols tug at the heart strings but they do not have the power to change us.  We enjoy the sentiment of many things but then we go back to our old and familiar ways.  Get on with it.  Get over it.  If a symbol helps us do that, that is enough.  Or is it?

Mary of Magdala had her life turned upside down.  Her life had been stolen by demons until Jesus set her free.  In return she gave her life willingly to Jesus.  She following Him into the holy city of Jerusalem and joined her voice with the crowd shouting “Hosanna.”  Five days later and Jesus had been arrested, tried in show court, condemned to death, and the sentence carried out with all the brutality Rome could muster.  She had been there at the cross and watched it all.  It was not a symbolic death to show God’s love but the gory and brutal death of sin and for sin that exposed all the ugliness we tend to keep hidden in the shadows.

The disciples did not scatter because of a symbolic death but because Jesus death was real – so real that they feared for their own lives.  Mary went to the tomb that Easter morning expecting to see His bruised and broken body.  She was willing to be consoled by a symbol – the finishing of a the rushed job of burial and the application of spices and ointments to His corpse so that in her mind, Jesus might rest in peace.  But there was no peace in the grave.  The stone was rolled away.  She feared something even worse than death had happened and ran to tell the fearful disciples.  Peter and John run to the tomb and see enough to go home disappointed that the hurt was not over.  But Mary remained.

Nobody was thinking about the resurrection.  Nobody recalled what Jesus had told them or headed off to Galilee to wait for Him to come.  Nobody expected to see Jesus again and all that Mary cared about was that His body might rest in peace. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she called to the caretaker in the cemetery.  “Tell me where they have taken His body?”  And in one word and a moment, her life was turned upside down again.  Jesus is alive.

Sadly, like Mary, we are more comfortable with a dead Jesus than a living one.  It is easy to see the cross as symbol and so to see the resurrection as symbol too.  We will go on.  That’s nice.  Now lets go home and get back to the business of living.  Mary found the surprise of life where she expected to find death.  She was consoled by Christ’s resurrection because now everything could go back to the way it was before the cross spoiled it all.  But Jesus refuses to allow her to hold on to Him or the past.  His scars still in place, Jesus has been vindicated and He lives to proclaim that His death accomplished what only His death could do.  And now nothing can be the same.

How foolish we are.  We tell each other Happy Easter as if it is merely a good day. Do you suppose that is what the disciples who had peered into an empty tomb and then been met by Jesus entering through locked doors said?  Happy Easter?  Do you suppose that is how Mary recalled the surprise of Jesus alive where once He lay dead?  Or is it more.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

God is not so much concerned that we will not believe the resurrection of Jesus.  Whether you believe something or not does not make it true or false.  Never mind the foolishness that passes for truth today.  Feelings do not matter.  Opinions do not count.  Christ is risen.  Mary knew it and more than 500 witnesses knew it with her.  What God is more concerned about is that it won’t matter.  Life will go back and not forward.  We will retreat into the familiar old paths and be content to make our peace with death rather than live in the new world of Christ’s resurrection and of the promise of our own joyful resurrection with Him to everlasting life.

If Jesus is alive, it’s consequences are not simply about what happened 2000 years ago but what happens right now today.  You may, like Peter and John, go home after church today but you dare not go back to life as it was.  Your sins have been forgiven and you have been set free.  That is what His death accomplished and that is the Gospel His resurrection has vindicated.  The cross has not been put away but what it accomplished now has the testimony of the living Lord Jesus so that what we need and hope for is done.  Christ is risen and we too are raised.  Raised from sin and the desire for what is wrong.  Raised from despair and our captivity to fear.  Raised from death and its final word on our lives.  Raised from a life centered around us to one focused on Jesus.  Raised from a hopeless end to an endless hope.  Raised from tyranny of feelings to the freedom of objective truth.  Raised from a heart that moves only by threat to a new heart moved by love to love.

Beloved people of God, it is too easy to expect death and to live our lives in its shadow.  That is the old familiar path bequeathed to us by sin.  But we were created in Christ Jesus not for the old ruts of a life ready to be disappointed to a new life governed by hope, by love, and by peace.  

It is too easy to presume that on the cross people were doing something terrible to Jesus rather than to see that God was acting to save us by the love willing to be crucified in our place for our sin.  It is too easy to presume that Easter is about old lives and old bodies raised up instead of new lives and new and glorious bodies being fitted right now and right here for the eternity that is to come.

Christ has not simply won a victory for love but has conquered sin so that we, whose hearts and minds were once prisoners to sin, might live new lives.  Now we see that the empty tomb does not erase the cross but vindicates the Lord who was willing to endure all things for us and our salvation.  And now so vindicated, let us live the new life He offers, hoping against hope and living today the beginning of everlasting life.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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