St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Easter Day, April 17, 2022
“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.”
WHAT ARE THE MOST PIVOTAL DAYS in human history? If you guess it’s these three days leading up to Easter Day, you are right, of course. But why? Why not D-Day when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy to release the world from Hitler? Was it Hiroshima? Or 9-11? Or something positive, like Columbus’ discovery of America? Man walking on the moon? The Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk? Really – if you’re looking for a single event, or series of events, nothing changed our lives forever like those dramatic days leading to an empty tomb near the hilltop where three men died, but one of them would not stay dead. Just like He said.
We live in the shadow of that event, and so we can’t experience any difference – we have always lived in a world where life after death, real life, better life, eternally living will be the norm. We are born into that hope. Take a snapshot of the world the day before His Resurrection: humanity was always coming up short, as everyone did whatever was good in their own eyes, and the worst of us took power over all. Human ignorance, selfishness, cruelty, addiction, and indifference were the default, and even if we were all better than that, we lived, we got old, and we died, never to know another life or any better existence. Life was short, bitter, and over before you knew it. He changed all that.
Christ is Risen! Someone was needed to break the chain, to unbar the door, to undo an ancient wrong and conquer death and damnation, our automatic fate. Damnation He conquered by taking the sins of all of us, of all time, bearing the consequences of them together at once, and died under the weight of it on the cross. A perfect sacrifice in our place, our debt paid in full, and the score against us is wiped clean. We’re half way there. He isn’t done.
Jesus did something then we are still guessing about. It appears that He went to the place where everyone had died and were waiting for judgment, had fallen into darkness, some of them through living in the wrong place and time, some by living before His time on earth. He showed Himself to them, and many of them received Him as their new Lord and God. He crashed open the gates of hell and let them out, to ascend to Paradise and be with Him there waiting the Day.
Now it’s pre-dawn Sunday morning. Soldiers are stationed at the stone door of His tomb, assigned there through the fears of the priests that His followers would remove His body and claim He is alive. Pilate allowed them to set a guard, for they remembered Christ’s words. The disciples did not remember, and the brave women who loved Him were walking toward the tomb, by His cross, toward armed guards, in the dark. How they imagined they’d get in to better adorn His body for burial, we don’t know. But an earthquake shook the place, and a bright angel appeared just as dawn broke, and rolled back the stone door. The soldiers shook in fear, fainted and lay there, out cold. Christ is Risen!
The women find this scene and talk with the angel, in appearance like a young man, who tells them to go tell the apostles and have them pack their things for a trip to Galilee, where they will see Jesus, for He is Risen! He is Risen indeed. The tomb is empty, so there is no reason to go in. The women begin to leave, but Mary Magdalen spots a gardener, so she thinks, and begs him to tell her where they’ve taken the body of her Lord. He just says, Mary. And the face of Jesus comes clear to her. She stoops and grabs His ankles, crying her relief and pent-up sorrow.
The women hurry back to the hideout, tell the apostles, Peter and John run to the tomb and see the linen clothes laid aside, and sometime later, Peter meets Jesus for a talk. Christ appears alongside two disciples going to Emmaus, and gives them a two-hour Bible study on how He must die and rise again, only known to them just before He vanishes. They run back to Jerusalem, and while telling the Apostles, He comes through the wall and appears to all of them, likewise teaching them the prophecies, and actually eating with them.
St. Paul was very focused on Christ’s last three days, in fact, he never wrote about any other portion of the Lord’s life. He insists that these are the important events for us, the sea-change, the one door that, once opened, changes everything. “Christ died to take away our sins. If Christ is not then raised, we are dead men. He appeared to Peter, to the 12, and to more than 500 believers at once. Most are still alive. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and years later, He appeared to me also, as one born out of time.” It’s an important and historical fact. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed. If He didn’t come through death into life eternal, it’s all for nothing: faith is useless, and sin and death still have the power to ruin everything. The saints are just dead. Adam’s sin remains on us all. We can’t escape. But Christ is not dead. He rose to life in the power of God’s holiness, and He lives today and will never die.
Now: we have choices to make. Since sin, for all people, no longer carries the death penalty, what Jesus said to Martha is valid: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jn 11:25-26 See the division here? He is resurrection: that is now the future of humanity. We will live out our lives here, and our bodies will die. But there is something different about the Christian. He doesn’t taste of death, and lives on. She will never die. How is that?
What we see is that everyone dies. That’s the body. That’s unavoidable. But something else is there. We are not bodies only. We are souls and spirits, and the essence of who we are and what we are lives on in these. They will not die. They won’t even experience death. It will be like a doorway and we will just walk through, into Paradise, as Jesus calls it.
Then we rest, we recover, we learn, we pray, we get over life’s hardness and we await the great change. Christ’s rising happened already so that we could go on to await our rising again, in new and perfect bodies, ready for the final human stage of life eternal. That’s the promise. We live forever, in new bodies, when we’ve received our Resurrection. Yes, Jesus is Risen! And you and I will rise also. At that last day of this old world, at the creation of a new existence. He became a new species, and His blood running now in our veins, we become a new humanity in Him. With new eyes, we will see our Savior.
Now, the choices. If the offer that’s on the table includes your never tasting death, and at the body’s final breath, you get to rise out of it, unharmed, to a bright and pure place of beauty: what will you do for that gift? Not to suffer and cry and just expire? You can’t pay for it. Elon Musk doesn’t have that kind of cash. The payment has been made for you, but it does require something. This is not unconditional salvation. You need to give something. You give Him yourself. It’s not a bad trade, for He gave you Himself already. God so loved the world… Give yourself up, and you get His life and your own in the bargain. And never die.
The angel made the offer to all the Apostles, mentioning Peter’s name especially. Why Peter? Not because he was the pope. No: Peter was sure he’d ruined it, left the band, because on that dreaded morning, Peter had denied Jesus three times, lying and saving his skin. The angel was offering forgiveness from God. It was going to be okay. Peter comes as well.
Our sins make us afraid. We need to be afraid, in a healthy way, to know the power and ultimate things involved in these pivotal days, this weekend, this world-shattering event, this empty tomb. Your debt is paid, don’t get stuck on worthiness. You aren’t, that’s it. And that doesn’t make any of us stand out. It’s all on Him and we need to determine: if I’ve denied Him before, that’s over. If I will just stand up for Him now, simply determine that my life is weighed by my faith and trust in this Lord of life, I can qualify, I can believe. The witnesses run shouting that the Lord of life is alive! The women were brave. The apostles were afraid. Everyone was confused. But they all lived and left this world saying the same thing: Jesus is Risen!
The angel gave us four words to live by. Pretty simple really. “Come, see where He was laid. Then go quickly, and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead.” What are the four words? Come. See. Go. Tell.
Come: this is our worship every Sunday in Church. We raise up the song for Jesus, and learn of Him, weekly, at His altar, sharing His Body and Blood.
See: with the eyes of faith, watch your life, and the lives of others, change while the mysteries of life become meaningful as you walk your faith out.
Go: we are sent to the world with a divine deposit, the bread of life our food, the wine His blood of forgiveness. He lives in us. We are sent out carrying the Savior.
Tell: St. Francis said, “preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We can live Jesus in every human interaction, showing the world that He lives in us. And when the chance comes, we simply tell them what we know.
Come, see, go, tell.
Eleven men, and at least that many women, were unafraid to tell the world that Jesus rose from the dead. They told it until they were tortured, crucified, boiled in oil, beheaded, or jailed and starved. Still, they told the same story, and so it’s history, His Story. And it’s the truth. Jesus is Risen! And Jesus is alive. You are the evidence this morning, here in His Church. Come again, see for yourselves, then go on your way, and tell what you now know. And may God forever bless you.