In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Okay, let’s try this again. Because it’s so much fun. Allelujia! Christ is risen!
Happy Easter, everyone. Happy Easter to all of you. Welcome, whether you’re at home, joining us by way of the internet, or sitting here in the nave. Welcome. We’re glad that you are with us. As we remember and celebrate the great promise of our faith, that Christ is risen and death has been defeated. And on the other side of death, there is just more life, resurrection life. And a special congratulations to all those newly baptized this evening. That is always the greatest joy for the church to welcome new brothers and sisters and siblings into the body of Christ. So congratulations and thanks to all of you.
When I was a child, I was absolutely terrified of the dark. I guess it didn’t help that my bedroom was in the basement where when you to turned off the lights, you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. To be in that darkness made me feel unmoored, lost, adrift in blackness. I always needed that little pin prick of light, whether it was the night light in the corner of the room, or a little bit of light from the bathroom streaming through the cracked door.
Without some sliver of light, I had no point of reference, nothing to ground me or anchor me, no foundation from which to orient myself in that blackness. And this is what Easter is for me. It is that sliver of light in the midst of the darkness of this world. And it is the one thing that keeps me from being adrift, unmoored and lost. I think one of the reasons that I love tonight’s service so much is that it is honest. It is honest in that it starts in darkness. It acknowledges the darkness of this life, and friends, as we all know, the darkness is real, persistent and powerful. Anyone who has been conscious these past couple of years, can’t deny the darkness of disease and death. The darkness of war with all its senseless killing, the darkness of injustice or hatred, or greed, or pain or suffering and so much more. There is much darkness in this world of ours.
But the central message of our faith is that the darkness does not last. As we kindle the Christ candle and that pin prick of light begins to push back the gloom, we proclaim that because of Christ, because of his death and resurrection, the darkness of sin, the darkness of death will not stand. Instead we proclaim that light and love and life have the final word. That these are the things that last.
Yes, we have to be honest. The darkness of this life is real. But tonight proclaims that the darkness does not win. My friends, tonight is all about hope, hope in the promises of God. And as Walter Brueggemann, that wonderful Old Testament scholar, reminds us, “Hope is trust in what God has done and will do in spite of evidence to the contrary”. Hope is trust in what God has done and will do in spite of evidence to the contrary. I mean think about it. We don’t even know what happened between three o’clock on good Friday afternoon when they took Jesus’ body down from the cross and Easter morning, when the women found the stone rolled away. We know that Joseph of Arimathea took the body and laid it in his own grave, but that’s all we know. The gospels are silent about what happened between sunset Friday and Dawn on Sunday. Think of the irony and the fact that the scriptures are silent about the how and the what of the central truth of the Christian faith. The Bible says nothing about how resurrection happens. It only says that it does happen. There is no attempt at description.
The gospel’s only report that he rose, that Christ lives, that the tomb is empty. I mean, the fact in is I cannot prove to you the resurrection actually took place. I can’t prove it to you the way one proves a theorem. I wish I could. I wish I could show you slides or read a report or summon forensic evidence or produce a recording of the event, but I can’t. All I can do is what the church has done every Easter for more than 2000 years, which is tell the story and proclaim that Christ is risen. All I can do is tell you that the tomb was empty. And because of that, human life has never been the same.
As Frederick Buechner once said, “If we want to, we can say that nothing ever really happened on Easter. We can say that the resurrection means only that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven. We can say that the resurrection means only that the spirit of Jesus is undying. That he lives among us the way that Socrates lives among us in the teachings he left behind him. We can say that the language of the gospel’s discusses resurrection is really the language of poetry and the words should not be taken literally.”
And yet, if we do this, if we do this, then what we proclaim this night Is not the good news of the Christian faith, but something else. If we hedge our bets because we don’t know what happened between Friday evening and Sunday morning and say that Jesus did not actually get up and leave that tomb, then we might as well say nothing at all. Because if there is no resurrection, then there is no reason to be here. If there is no resurrection, then there is no reason to believe. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”.
Fine, you might say, but where are the consequences? Show us how it matters that he has risen. The world is still the same and can be very dark much of the time. Where is the resurrection? Show it to, to us? What has changed? I can’t speak for the world, I can only speak for myself. I know I have changed. Or should I say, I know that I have been changed because of Easter. The truth that Christ is risen, is risen, has forever altered my life. Life is still painful at times. Life is still not fair at times. There is still death. But the truth that Christ has risen means for me, that pain and injustice and death are no longer the subtitles of this life. The truth that he has risen means to me, that love always lies on the other side of pain, and hope always lies on the other side of loss, and redemption and life always lie on the other side of death. Maybe the scriptures are silent about the details of the resurrection because it’s not something we can be told or taught, but something that must be discovered. Maybe the gospels don’t say anything about the actual events that took place when that tomb was closed, because God knows that each of us must individually, in our own time, and in our own way, confront that empty tomb ourselves, just as the women did and make up our own minds.
Prove the resurrection I can’t. But I have seen it in the struggle of husbands and wives, partners who sin against one another and yet still hold together. I have seen it in their love for their families, in their willingness to swallow their pride to keep their families together. I have seen it in their struggle to value, commitment, and covenant, more than pleasure and self. Prove to me the resurrection. I can’t. Nevertheless, I can tell you that I have seen it in the love of family gathered together in the midst of death. I’ve seen it in the laughter that emerged from behind the tears. I’ve seen it in the gentle caring presence, gathered around a hospital bed, amidst all the tubes and worrying machines and all the fear. I have felt it in the strength of their love as we all held hands to pray for their loved one who was dying.
Prove to you the resurrection I can’t, but I have witnessed it in the lives of people like Paul Farmer or Madeleine Albright. Two people we lost this year, but two people who led resurrection lives. I agree with Buechner when he said, “If I thought that this whole religion business was just really an affirmation of the human spirit, an affirmation of Jesus as a great philosopher and nothing else. If I thought that Easter was just a nice idea, then like Pilate, I would wash my hands of the whole affair. I would turn in my collar and I would take up some other profession”.
Prove to you the resurrection, I cannot. I can only proclaim that 2000 years ago on this night, the Jesus who was dead rose up with life in him again, and God’s glory upon him. As a result, there is new life to be found in the midst of this old one, tonight, right now. This instant, it is all around us. Christ lives. Death has been swallowed up. Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory? Christ is risen. Thanks be to God, Christ is risen. Amen.