Easter Sunday, A
Acts 10: 34-43
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia
Christ is Risen! This is our highest truth. It’s the central message of Easter, the highest of all our high Holy days. It is this truth catechumens struggle to understand as they prepare for baptism; this truth we journey towards through the long, dark nights of Lent.
Author Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
Whether or not it makes us odd, it is an odd truth we follow. What else might one expect from a truth that stems primarily from what didn’t happen? “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree”. What happened next was what didn’t happen. The laws of physics… didn’t happen. The basic precepts of biology and ecology… didn’t happen. The ordinary, everyday realities that just happen…. didn’t happen.
The women went to the tomb to prepare the body of their dear friend and teacher for burial – to give Him the last gift they could offer. They found they could not give Him their gift. If they had been able to offer that gift; if they had found Jesus lying in his tomb as they had every reason to expect He would be, we would not be gathered together to celebrate this mysterious truth: Christ is Risen.
Not only is Easter the truth of what didn’t happen, but, as one preacher writes, “we have four separate [and different] accounts of what didn’t happen that day. … the gospel of Matthew… tells us that there was an earthquake and an angel descending to sit on top of the stone. In the gospel of John, the angel is inside the tomb. The gospel of Luke has two angels, while the earliest versions of Mark speak of the women coming home and not telling anyone anything. Yet one thing is clear: there is no way to tell the big story contained in of all these stories, without knowing that something didn’t happen.” (The Reverend Renée Marie Rico, private communication, Midrash)
One preacher tells the story of a pastor who was invited to a baptism in a near-by prison. In line with proper procedure, on arrival at the prison, the pastor was searched, ID’d, interrogated, and monitored. Finally allowed to go to the prison chapel, he encountered a small room which held a few rows of chairs and a platform at the front. The pulpit and piano had been pushed to the side against the wall to accommodate a large wooden box. Blue plastic sheeting lined the box holding in gallons and gallons of cold water.
A small group gathered around the makeshift baptistery to begin the ceremony. The convert stepped into the water. The prison chaplain held the convert’s hands and began to lower him into the water. At the very moment the chaplain began to say, “I baptize thee. . .”, the visiting pastor had a realization that took his breath away. The box was a coffin: a standard, prison-issue, pine-box coffin. The man was being baptized in a casket, he was going into and coming up out of the grave. (story adapted from Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton, Two Bubbas and a Bible)
Death does not not happen because of Easter. We are baptized into Christ’s life and baptized into His death. The prisoner did not emerge from his baptism and walk out the prison door. He served another 20 years. He served those 20 years a changed man, newly alive.
Death and hate and injustice do not not happen because of Easter. Bombs still fall. The earth is still damaged. Loved ones still die or suffer. What doesn’t happen, is that death and hate and injustice and suffering do not get the last word.
“The cross” says theologian Stanley Hauerwas (Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony) “is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.”
In his book, “New Mercies I See,” Stan Purdum tells this story: Lucille Brennan lived a hard life. She found faith in Christ in her mid-fifties, attended a local Lutheran church, and turned her life around. Partly in repentance for her previous poor parenting to her own illegitimate son, Lucille became a foster parent. Over time, she came to be considered one of the best foster parents in the system and was entrusted with their sadder cases. She was entrusted with Jimmy.
In his birth home little Jimmy, five months old, had been beaten unmercifully whenever he cried. This emotionally damaged the infant so severely that he learned not to cry even when he was hungry or wet or cold. Lucille decided that Jimmy needed to be held…a lot. For weeks Lucille lived her life using one arm, constantly cradling Jimmy in the other. Jimmy remained silent.
Lucille fed Jimmy on a set schedule since he would not cry to tell her he was hungry. She made a point of getting up in the middle of the night to check on him. Sometimes he was asleep. Sometimes he just lay in his crib alone, awake, and quiet. At those times, Lucille picked him up and rocked him until he drifted back to sleep.
Lucille took Jimmy to church with her, of course. Over time the congregation learned the sad story of this baby, too afraid to cry. On the fifth Sunday after Jimmy had been placed in Lucille’s home, the pastor was making great inroads into his sermon when he heard something and stopped talking. He heard a little cry. People turned to look. They saw Lucille holding Jimmy. She had big smile on her face and tears pouring unchecked down her cheeks. In spite of the tears, the crying sound wasn’t coming from her, but from the bundle she held in her arms.
Eileen, who sat next to Lucille, stared as the little boy took a deep breath, and started crying louder. Finally, Eileen couldn’t contain herself. In a most un-Lutheran sort of way she burst out, “Praise the Lord.” The entire congregation broke into enthusiastic applause (and amens?) – probably the first time in history worshipers applauded a child crying in church. (Adapted from Rev. James Eaton’s retelling of this story, Easter Sermon 2017, personal communication, Midrash)
Little Jimmy lived anew that day. So did Lucille. And the pastor, and Eileen, and all the congregation. So do we each time, every time we step out of what is dead in our lives, and live into the golden light of life and love in Christ – every time we hear Christ in the cries of the suffering – every time we open our eyes to Christ alive in the world around us, within us.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!