a sermon preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day, March 27, 2016
Whatever we think of the resurrection of Jesus, its biological possibility, historical probability, or doctrinal orthodoxy, Easter is extraordinary because of what it says about hope. By hope, I do not mean our wishful thinking, our heartfelt desiring in the face of all things beyond our control, but rather our conviction that what God declares in Jesus will happen, indeed, has happened.
I don’t think hope is the first word that occurs to most people when thinking about Easter.
For many, the word is miracle. Jesus was killed and came back to life and in a body fully accessorized with supernatural powers; enabling him to appear in one place, disappear, and reappear some distance away, at times, walking through closed, locked doors.
However a miraculous physical resuscitation doesn’t explain the great impact of Jesus’ resurrection in the centuries immediately after. During those days, stories of awakenings from death were common. Jesus rising from the dead wouldn’t have been news.
For some, the word is fantasy. Jesus died. His body, like all dead bodies, returned to dust. The empty tomb and the reports of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, at worst, were clever fictions to support their subsequent claims of his divinity and, at best, earnest attempts to reclaim his presence as a way of dealing with their grief at his death and their guilt in deserting him during his suffering and dying.
However this doesn’t explain the self-denying, death-defying missionary zeal and success of the first disciples (verily, here we are two thousand years later talking about Jesus!). Grief and guilt, at best, short term motivators, couldn’t have carried them that far!
For others, the word is myth. Not something false, but rather something true, though not necessarily wholly factual. Jesus died and was resurrected, symbolically, but no less physically in the body of his followers, now two millennia old, called the church.
However this doesn’t explain some very real historical experiences of very real and rational people who, throughout time, have testified and continue to testify to encountering the living presence of Jesus.
For still others, the word is immortality. Jesus was raised from death, so we will live forever.
However what happened to Jesus doesn’t mean necessarily that the same will happen to us. According to the New Testament Jesus is completely, fully human and completely, fully divine, therefore, at the same time, essentially like and essentially unlike us. And even if Jesus’ rising does mean the same for us, immortality or living forever isn’t at all a pleasant prospect. Speaking for myself, this life as it is, in this world as it is, is not something I want to endure forever!
However immortality is wonderful, for it embraces an idea of a life and world where all is well, where love wins and justice triumphs.
However given this life in this world where little is ever well, where all is never well, where to the call, the cry for love and justice from the hearts and souls of the needy and oppressed the persistent reply from the lips of the powers and principalities of this world is “No!”, what’s the use of dreaming of a life and world other than this?
To ask this question is to see why Easter is extraordinary. Easter testifies that once in this life in this world the answer was “Yes!”
When Jesus inaugurated his ministry, he declared, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus not only proclaimed it, he personified it, proved it. In him, people experienced love and justice so unconditional that they knew they had encountered no one less, no one else than God.
Then Jesus was killed. Wrong won. Love and justice lost.
Then “on the first day of the week, at early dawn”, in this life in this world love and justice prevailed. To the world’s persistent “No!”, God answered with an indefatigable, unconquerable “Yes!”
Easter is extraordinary. Not as a miraculous story or a clever fantasy or a saga of a first century messiah living on through his body of believers or because of a promise of immortality. But because it proclaims God’s word: “Yes!”
If we dare confess the truth about the continuing brokenness of our world and our lives, where little is ever well and all is never well, if we dare hope that to every human “No!” there is a divine “Yes!”, if we dare believe that “Yes!”, which, as God’s first word at creation breathed life into being, also is God’s first word at the dawn of every day and will be God’s last word at the end time, then to the cry, “Alleluia! Christ is risen”, we will know how to say, “The Lord and we are risen indeed. Alleluia!”
Illustrations: Christ Rising, bronze statue by Frederick Hart (1998), drawing, empty tomb, PRA (2016); The descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire (on the Day of Pentecost), signaling the founding of the Church, El Greco (1541-1614); The Phoenix, a symbol of immortality, F. J. Bertuch (1747–1822).
 Mark 1.15
 Luke 24.1. Luke 24.1-12 is the gospel appointed for the day.