Easter Sunday, Year C
Before I get all distracted and forgetful, I want to bid a hearty welcome to our long lost friend, gone these 40 days, and now rejoining us in worship. Welcome back, Alleluia! We have missed you.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
My daughters were having a conversation about Jesus the other day. I’m not entirely sure how we got to that conversation. We finished reading a story – a children’s book telling the story of Easter in a unsatisfactorily sanitized sort of way – and they were getting ready for bed. Sometimes I get lost in the tooth brushing and the hair braiding and the jammy finding and so on and I don’t quite grasp the conversation swirling around me as quickly as perhaps I should.
I consciously tuned in to the conversation about the time one said, “Well, you can’t do that – Jesus is dead!”. I don’t think I ever learned what couldn’t be done – the conversation moved on. Always eager to educate her sibling, the other corrected, “Jesus isn’t dead, Jesus is alive.” My young pragmatist asserted her own certain knowledge, “But he died.” “Yes, He died, and He was dead, but now He isn’t anymore.” The first tried to clarify, “So he’s alive, but not the real alive?” My young educator tried again, “He died, but now he’s alive, but not regular alive, bigger than that…” and she finally ended in that last bastion of the uncertain against the un-learned, “It’s complicated…”
It is at once hopelessly complicated and outrageously simple:
Christ died. Christ is Risen. Christ is Lord of all. The underlying tenets of our faith.
Christ died. This we know. This we understand – death as part of life. Jesus lived a life of radical subversion against the ruling forces of the day. That behavior gets a person hurt, or killed, or both, in any century. It did in the midst of the of the Roman Empire. It did in Nazi Germany. It did in apartheid South Africa. It did during the civil rights movement in this country. It does in Syria and Iraq and countless other repressive regimes and oppressive political structures everywhere. Christ died. The emperor won. Or he would have, if the story ended there.
If those kind, loving women found what they expected; if they had been allowed to complete their ministrations to the body of their murdered friend and teacher, then Jesus would have gone down in history as one more example of Roman torture, Roman rule by fear – just another dead subversive – or more likely He would not have gone down in history at all. But they didn’t find Him in the tomb, and the emperor didn’t win. Christ is risen.
“Christ died” – this we get. “Christ is risen” – this is where we as Easter people in a modern world join my daughter’s flummoxed observation – “It’s complicated”. In our culture, fact equals truth; fact is not fact until it can be scientifically proven in reproducible research. To be valid something must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt – or at the very least must appear on multiple internet blogs and Facebook postings. The resurrection cannot be scientifically proven or reproduced. A great deal of time and effort have been spent over the centuries to “prove” or “disprove” the “fact” of the resurrection. No amount of effort can undermine the Truth with a capital T of the resurrection. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “the Resurrection is the truest of all stories, with God as its poet.”
Doubt is not unique to our enlightened century. Do not imagine that Mary Magdalene and Johanna and Mary, mother of James and all the other women came to the tomb inclined to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Certainly the disciples did not – dismissing the women’s “idle tales” First century folk knew as well as we do that dead is dead and dead people have no business rising up from it. But the women, and then the disciples, and later Saul, and later still thousands upon thousands of other people experienced the risen Christ in a way that told them that the emperor did not win. Jesus rose and Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord, which means that the emperor and all his politics and all the anger and all the hate in the world are NOT Lord. They do not get the last word.
What does that mean to us today, 2000 years later? The poor remain with us; innocent people still die; injustice, anger, and hostility appear to rule the day. Our leaders and would-be leaders, in a seemingly unending bid for power, rather than fostering the wolf and lamb feeding together instead joust and jockey for the most massive “war chest”, the last word, the prettiest partner, the most influential friends, the biggest…hands. They fling insults and they foster fear.
Yet we are Easter people, led by the hope, ruled by the mystery of love and freedom that is the risen Christ. We are reborn by the resurrection into a new way of being. Far from offering a passive promise of a better life in the beyond, the risen Lord Christ frees us, teaches us to bring the Kingdom of God to the here, to the now. The emperor does not get the last word.
Marcus Borg and Dominick Crossan write, “Jesus is Lord, the most widespread post-Easter affirmation in the New Testament…involves a deep centering in God, a deep centering in God that includes radical trust in God, the same trust that we see in Jesus. It produces freedom – “for freedom, Christ has set us free”; compassion – the greatest of the spiritual gifts is love; and courage – “Fear not, do not be afraid.” Without this personal centering in God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would not have had the freedom and courage to engage in a conspiracy against Hitler within Nazi Germany itself. Without it, Desmond Tutu could not have opposed apartheid with such courage, infectious joy, and a reconciling spirit. Without it, Martin Luther King, Jr., could not have kept on keeping on in the midst of all the threats that he faced.”
(Marcus J. Borg and John Dominick Crossan, The Last Week, p 214-215)
The threats are real. The fear is real. The anger is real. The injustice is real.
To quote Brian McClaren:
I pray they all will be surpassed by the simple joy
of women and men standing in the presence of women and men,
daring to proclaim and echo the good news:
Risen indeed! Alleluia!
For death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.
No: each of them are left like rags in a tomb,
and from that tomb,
(Brian McClaren, “Prayer for Pastors at Easter”)
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!