St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Easter Day, April 4, 2021
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
THE FEARFUL NIGHT is over. The evil dreams are dispelled. That storm, so ready to destroy us and all we know and love—has suddenly lost its fury and broke up, leaving us a sunny morning and unexpected joy. The women at the tomb, carrying baskets of spices and herbs, olive oil and perfume, stare in astonishment at the great stone door rolled away, the tomb still dark and empty. Timidly they creep inside.
Here is an angel, both young and ancient, his white gown glimmering in the shadows, and they jump back a little in fear. “Don’t be afraid,” he says in a calm but happy voice. “You come for Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, dead, lying over there. But He is risen! He is not here. Look, that’s where he was laid.”
The women are speechless. They don’t know what to think, or anything to answer this heavenly person. “You may leave now, go and tell His disciples, and be sure Peter is told: Jesus is going to be again in Galilee where you will all meet with Him. It is just like He told you.” Still unable to speak, for fear this appearance turns to mist, the news too glad to hear, so if they speak it might be somehow untrue. Mary Magdalene runs outside and hurries back to tell Peter. The disciples don’t believe her at first, but out of fear should He once more deny the Lord, Peter swallows his fear and pride and runs to the tomb, John coming along and passing Peter in his youth.
Mary returned with them as well. She loved Jesus so much, this weekend had been like her own death. She was at a loss, still not able to take in everything that was happening. She stood outside as the men searched the tomb, and she wept. Two angels now approached her. “Woman, why do you cry?”
“They have taken away my Lord. I don’t know where He is,” she answered. Without waiting for more, she began slowly walking back to town. There was a man standing there, watching her. She didn’t really see him clearly through her tears, and she wasn’t looking to explain herself again. But He asked her, “Why are you crying? Who are you here for?”
Mary assumed this must be the garden’s keeper, up so early on a spring morning. “Sir, look: if you carried Him away, just tell me where you laid Him so I can take Him away.” For a minute He looked at her, her eyes cast down, her head veiled and modest, but thoroughly despondent, weeping softly, confused. Then He spoke, just a word: “Mary.” It was her Master’s voice. She looked up, and Jesus stood there, and He was smiling.
Do we ever paint Jesus smiling? Some modern artists, some film makers are either brave enough, or foolish enough, to depict our Saviour enjoying Himself. Every icon of Him, every medieval holy picture has His face so serious, the very nature of spirituality appearing to sadden, anger or harden the face of the God-man. Is that so? Was the human body of Jesus unable to share mirth with us? Can you see Jesus in a tickle fight? Telling a joke? Smiling because a meal so satisfied Him? Can you imagine the sparkle in His eye when He appears in the locked room to His disciples that night? This is the same one St. John quotes saying, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” John 10:10 What is life if not joy? Well, joy is born to us this day. Jesus is Risen!
God is the inventor of life. He made the pieces that life was made of first: space, energy, atoms, stars, planets… what else? For life to exist, a great many things must be in place. A world with just so much gravity; abundant and available water; plenty of carbon; a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere; a tilted axis world where seasons change; plant-life first—and a great many other things. And that gets you a world where simple life might be placed. It’s no simple thing. The DNA strand that defines you as a human being holds 3.5 billion genetic bits of design information, and one of these resides at the heart of every one of your 15 trillion cells. To be as large as we are, compared to single-celled life, we need a circulatory system, large lungs, a digestive tract, waste removal, and a complex array of nerves whose communication from segment to segment involves a fantastic exchange of chemical and electrical impulses. And then we are capable of thought, invention, imagination, and love. God invented us, and we scarcely know what we are.
We too often get our image of a holy person from the frowning Pharisees, self-important shamans, monks with indigestion, priests with prejudice, and artists who only see Jesus as being pained and just too important to relate to us. But do you hear His words? Surely, there are words about being hated by the world, and bearing your cross, but is that everything? Listen to Him.
“I have obeyed my Father's commandments, and so I live in his love. I have told you this so that you will be as joyful as I am, and your joy will be complete. Love each other as I have loved you. This is my command. The greatest love you can show is to give your life for your friends. You are my friends if you obey. I don't call you servants anymore: a servant doesn't know what his master is doing. But I've called you friends because I've made known to you everything that I've heard from my Father. I chose you. Go, produce fruit that will last, and ask the Father in my name to give you whatever you ask for. Love each other. This is what I'm commanding you.” John 15:10-15
That was before the cross. Don’t you see Him smiling after His Resurrection? Not even a shadow of sorrow, pain or anguish could possibly be left, for He has conquered, He has suffered to the full, He has obeyed the most horrifying command His Father ever gave, and He has triumphed over sin, death and Satan. There is no more death. There is no more sorrow. There is no more defeat, not if we live in Him. Jesus is Risen!
Life on earth is a miracle, a complex myriad of miracles all co-existing to make our lives possible as we sit here this morning. You are all walking miracles. And yet we still live in a matrix of decay. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics will not be denied in this world; it’s a clock running down, a battery giving its all, yet unable to tick forever. Life expectancy has lengthened a great deal even in my lifetime, but though people seem to sail into their eighties, nineties and even hundreds today, these bodies have their shelf-life, they can’t go on and on. Age gets to you.
But life is a promise from the Giver of life, the inventor of these lives that we live. Martha was grieving her brother’s sudden illness and death. She met Jesus at the gates of Bethany. Answering her complaint that He hadn’t gotten there in time to save her brother’s life, Jesus declared to her: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In a modern rendering, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26
I am the Resurrection, and I am the Life, I will bring people back alive, and in fact, those who believe in me will never die. Life is the promise, and eternal life is now in sight. That life, that world, that existence is life without end, life unlimited, life and laughter and relief from every fear, unbridled, unchained, no guilt, no judgment, no suspicion, no evil, not one sinful urge or thought.
True spiritual life is being in love, in joy, able to play, able to run a million miles in one direction and never get tired, and never leave God’s Presence. It’s feasting on heaven’s marvelous foods, yet not needing it for hunger or your body’s needs. It’s looking in anyone’s eyes and knowing them and being known. It’s worship in every breath, as natural as singing or sighing, having all things, and grasping none of them. It’s being seated in a high throne with the King, and knowing He loves you and He is your source of unending life, light and joy. This is worth everything and more. Life abundant is ours, if we trust and believe in Him. He is Risen!
That Day was the beginning of a new creation. We celebrate Sundays as the eighth and final day of creation, after God rested, even as Jesus rested in the tomb that Saturday, then came Sunday. The beginning of the week was forever to be the beginning of a new world, launched in the resurrection of its first citizen. He calls us to join Him there when our sojourn on this planet is done. And when it is done, we have only just started.
For He is Risen! Christ is Risen! The Lord of Life is Risen indeed, and in Him we rise to Life Eternal.