St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Easter Day, April 12, 2020
“CHRIST is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
1 Cor. xv. 20
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to tell someone a remarkable thing that’s happened for you, and not only did they fail to believe you, but they kept trying to turn it into something ordinary, something familiar to them, something they might believe? You said it again, rephrased it, let them know you’re not joking, but the more you told them, the more they changed your message and never heard your good news. No one ever experienced that same kind of the failure of others to comprehend His message than did Jesus Christ on earth among people. He said it, and said it again, and yet what they heard was something else.
How many times did Jesus tell His apostles that He was going to Jerusalem, and there would they arrest Him, judge Him, and condemn Him to death? But after three days’ time, He would rise again. And did they hear Him? No! Lord, don’t go! You can’t die! It’s a bad plan! And when the time had come, they argued, they slept, they pulled out swords, they ran away, they hid and cried, and when the women came from the tomb that Sunday morning, nothing these women could say broke in on their unbelieving minds. Reluctantly would Peter and John stand and walk, then run, to see what this ruckus was really about.
Hadn’t Jesus explained His mission to them, so many times? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 We stop right there, and what we’ve heard is that Jesus came and died so we might not go to hell, but get to heaven instead. That’s true, but that was only part of what I just quoted Him as saying. Why did He die for us? “God so loved the world.” And what did He say in the same breath? “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17
We most often believe that God must be angry at us, that He is to be our Judge, that He sends people to hell for the sins they’ve committed, and that we might be fortunate enough to obtain His judicial pardon, by only some of rearrangement of our lives that pleases Him, and take for ourselves a path back into His good graces. And in the end, we hope we are good enough not to get kicked out of heaven. Common Christian unbelief. That isn’t the Gospel at all. That’s the old world still. That’s the world He came to rescues us from. That was the misunderstanding of the Hebrews, that their God was terrifying and must be appeased, and that’s it.
Jesus, still talking about God’s love that sends His only Son to us, continued to change our whole paradigm as He said: “He who believes in Him is not condemned … the light has come into the world … he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
He who believes is not condemned. Love the light and come to it. God loves you. It’s a message of redemption, hope and joy. God will do anything in His power to get you to reframe your thinking and realize: it’s good news. God’s good news for you is that He loves you and has now turned death into life unending.
Jesus died, just like He said, on a Roman cross. He suffered a death we cannot share, as it fulfilled every terrible picture we’ve had of death, torture, pain, and horror. He was loaded with the weight of all the sins of humankind, from the beginning of the world right down to this morning and beyond. The punishment for everyone’s sin He received, for love of us, and for the fact that we couldn’t do it. And when He died, He cried out, “It is finished!” And it was. We revisited that on Friday, as we should.
It was right to cry. And to bury Him in honor. Joseph of Arimathea had commissioned a stone tomb for himself, cut into the limestone and ready for the rich man to be enshrined someday. He would never use it. He gave it to Jesus, and a stone was rolled to cover the doorway. Friday night passed, and Saturday morning the temple priests persuaded the governor to post guards on the tomb to see that no disciple stole the body and lied about it, saying Jesus was alive. The priests remembered Jesus’ words. The disciples despaired and forgot them.
Saturday night passed, and they remained in hiding. The women, feeling less targeted than the apostles, stole out Sunday morning to bring fragrant spices and ointments to the tomb so they might better fix Jesus’ body for its long stay underground. They wondered if the guards might help roll back the door for this duty, because it was far too heavy for them. As they approached the tomb, however, they saw what they never dreamed to find there. The stone was rolled away already. The guards were gone. As they fearfully entered the chamber, the place where Jesus’ body had been laid Friday afternoon was empty. His body was nowhere to be seen. They didn’t know what to think.
Now, two men appeared from nowhere. But they were only in the shape of men; their faces and bodies were bright as lightning. The women fell to the ground before them. But the angels, for angels they were, simply asked them: “Why are you looking in a dead man’s tomb for the living one? He's not here. He is Risen!”
Why do you look for life where there is only death? Why search the tombs for answers if life is what you’re after? St. Paul’s Gospel to the Gentile world would be that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor 5:17 Christ’s gift to us is new life. Life forever, yes, in Heaven with Him, and also: life now, new life, life that will never end. “What matters,” says St. Paul, “is being a new creation.” Gal 6:15
The appearance of the angels faded, and the women, still in the empty tomb, now had to tell the others. Mary of Magdala, James’ mother Mary, and Joanna, wife of Cleophas, had to tell the apostles. They’d know what to do. They ran back to the place of hiding. And when they told their exciting news, no one gave them credit. It sounded like crazy, hysterical nonsense. But Peter and John had to know for themselves. And we know what they saw.
Now, do we know what it means?
We know about death. I haven’t been preaching anything about the pandemic yet. I haven’t felt qualified. We are today still looking at the rising tide of cases and deaths, as our nation has taken a more deadly toll than any nation on earth. And the expected numbers are staggering. Editorials, public figures, politicians and foolish religious leaders are rushing to explain this COVID-19 disease by blaming their favorite enemies. It’s a virus. It has no mind, no reason. It’s horrible, and fearful, and it’s kept all of you at home today, on Easter Day, and you can’t be heard here in church as I say, “The Lord is Risen!” But you’re saying it: He is Risen Indeed! “Christ is Risen!” Indeed: He is Risen.
We are baptized Christians. We have symbolically laid our lives down by passing through that gateway, and we left an old world behind us. That was the old world we renounced with its vain pomp and faded glory. We renounced the devil and all his devious workings. We have told our flesh that a new master is onboard, and that He is the boss of our lives now. It is the Spirit that Jesus sends to us from His Father. He lives in us now and where the Spirit of life is, no death may touch us. No death at all, not coronavirus, not flu, not measles, not even cancer, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, stroke, car crash, or fall from the heights.
How can I say this so you’ll hear it? Remember what He said to Martha? “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 Never die. That takes some believing. And yet I say these words at the opening of every funeral. Funeral: somebody is dead, has to be, right?
We’re looking the wrong way. What did He say? “The one who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” That’s a remarkable statement. But He introduced it with, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
This is Resurrection Day. Jesus is Risen! It’s happened. It is happening now. He is alive and lives forever. And if so, if you believe that, you are alive forever right now. That Kingdom of Heaven He spoke about so often, is here. It’s not just someday, far away, in another world, at another time. That Kingdom is here, and is in you and you are alive. That life in you will go on. When your body is tired out, or infected, or just old enough, that it can’t keep it up, you will be alive and YOU will live on. Like walking through a door to another room, and that’s it. Life goes on to life. That’s the secret, told again and again, to our unbelieving ears.
And God loves you. It’s the entire truth. No darkness. No fear. No harsh judgment. Christ died to end all that. Now He rises to bring life that never ends. It’s the good news, the Gospel, and all you have to do is believe.
“As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Rom 6:4-5
Christ is Risen! And He can never die. If we are found in Him, by faith, we can never die either. Count yourself alive in Him. You are living the eternal life today. He is Risen! Risen indeed.