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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sermon by the Rev. Curtis Metzger,
Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Day: Year C

Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118
Colossians 3: 1-4
Luke 24: 1-10

The Lord is Risen! [He is risen indeed!] Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Whew! Ain’t it fun to say that again? You know, I think we should turn that into some kind of saying--like when someone who plays a sport has a bad spell and then recovered they say “he got his game back.” I think we should have a Christian saying, something like, “Yeah, Joe was going through a bad spell, but he got his Alleluia back!” Alleluia is the word of praise that evokes joy and confidence and centeredness in God. And after Lent, that is what we have achieved--a deeper sense of our alleluia--our belonging to God--and full of unending praise.

This morning is the exclamation point to the whole journey. Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. After 3 days in the tomb, he breaks forth and destroys death once and for all. I can see Death gloating over his conquest--looking at the pretty little chrysalis of that “caterpillar-y” human all wrapped up in his shroud--and Death just snickering in the corner. Ah, but little did he know this human butterfly would soon break forth and ruin his party.

Now, are you ready for a little feminist theology? This story in Luke that was read this morning is a wonderful testimony to the devoted love of a handful of women who were determined to do the ritual embalming. Can you imagine what they were saying or thinking on the way to the tomb? “Do you think the soldiers will roll away the stone so we can do our job?” “Why did all the disciples abandon the Teacher in his time of need?” “What will we all do now--go back to Galilee?” Then they encountered the angels who told them Jesus had risen. There is another story in the Gospel of John where Mary Magdelene encounters Jesus outside the tomb and initially thinks he’s the gardener until he calls her by name (there’s a whole other sermon in and of itself!)

These women, eyes all swollen from days of crying, numb from grief, are startled out of their stupor to behold what they dare not dreamed. These women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. Mary Magdelene was chief among them--the woman who had been forgiven so much. She got the honor. There is a great little part of this Gospel that was not read this morning. It goes on to say:

(11)But these words seemed to them [the male disciples] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Well, ladies, seems the battle of the sexes was alive and well back then too. I can just hear the disciples guffawing at these women, “O for heavens sake, the women have gone hysterical again and that is all we need.” . . . And do you know what one of the principle conditions for being one of the apostles was? It was to have been a witness to the resurrected Lord. Funny how the very first witnesses never got to be apostles, eh? OK, that’s as far as I’ll push that for now; but good food for thought, huh?

Now, about this resurrection stuff--a theology professor of mine put it simply and beautifully when he told me that we Christians don’t believe in the resuscitation of the dead, we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Do you get the difference? Jesus, after the resurrection was recognizable, but different. In the coming weeks we’ll hear about how the disciples experienced those differences in the post-resurrection stories, but needless to say, walking through doors, disappearing suddenly, etc., well that is just plain different than a resuscitated Jesus.

How do we explain that? Well, I don’t know. All we know is that the experience of the resurrected Jesus was so strong for his followers that it started a movement that has continued for 2000 years. As I said on Good Friday, one of the most profound influences of my life was my work in the hospice movement, and interestingly enough, it was there that my belief in the afterlife was profoundly strengthened. There were just so many stories of people close to death seeing loved ones that had already died, or conversely, stories of friends and relatives far from the dying person who had the loved one come to them in a dream or in some other strange vision at the moment of their death. Well, there is just too much that we don’t understand. But from all those experiences, I simply do not question the afterlife. Don’t ask me what it will look like or feel like. I think we’ll all be surprised.

But it wasn’t just simple physical death that was overcome in the resurrection. More importantly, it was the power that Death holds over us and all the death-dealing ways we have a tendency to retreat to. And I’m not a follower of Jesus because of the promise of a heaven. Neither do I think he would want us to follow him for just that reason. No, I follow Jesus because he outlined for us such a glorious way to live. Though we focus on the Passion this past week--the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection--as the seminal events of Jesus’ life and our Christian faith, they must go hand-in-glove with his teaching and the way he wanted us to live. Because, as he said, the Kingdom of Heaven is AT HAND!

If all we do is with our faith is to parrot back some words about Jesus’ death and resurrection without really appropriating his whole life and teaching as a way to a fuller, deeper way of being alive, then we have truly missed the point. In the words of that great Easter hymn, Hymn 182:

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
His cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
His love in death shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
To distant years in Palestine,
He comes to claim the here and now
And conquer every place and time.

Not throned above, remotely high,
Untouched, unmoved by human pains,
But daily, in the midst of life,
Our Savior with the Father reigns.

In every insult, rift, and war,
Where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
He suffers still, yet loves the more,
And lives, though ever crucified.

Christ is alive!
His Spirit burns through this and every future age,
Til all Creation lives and learns his joy,

His justice, love, and praise.