Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
That’s right, Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, the crucifixion wasn’t the end of the story and God hasn’t allowed death to win. This is the good news of Easter, the news that changes everything. The proclamation we make this morning lies at the heart of all we believe as Christians and influences everything we do. It is the news that colors how we see the world. It is the news that defines our lives of faith.
Not long ago I read a story about a man who was held prisoner in Singapore in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. It was a fascinating account of the struggle for survival faced by men during war. It was terrible what they went through and incredible what they were willing to do to survive. But what interested me most about this story was the man’s account of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere when in 1945 one of the prisoners, eavesdropping under the window of the guard’s hut, heard a short wave radio broadcast reporting the collapse of the Japanese war effort. Running back and reporting what he heard, all of the prisoners began to dance and sing, laugh and cry. Many of them were too weak to stand and very near death. Nonetheless, they clapped their hands, smiled and wept with joy. All the while they were still inside the prison, still under guard, still living under horrible conditions. Their immediate situation hadn’t changed but with this news they could live joyfully because they knew how the story was going to end – they knew their enemy had been beaten, they knew that they would be free. (1)
The good news of Easter, the news of the empty tomb and the resurrection come to us this morning like a distant news report broadcast from a shortwave radio – the enemy has lost, Jesus has been raised from the dead, God has defeated evil, sin, and death. Their backbone has been broken and you and I can live now in the light of this victory – because we know who wins in the end. Our lives may sometimes be difficult, we may sometimes feel trapped, but like those POW’s on this day we can laugh and sing with joy because we know who wins in the end.
I am reminded of something Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician, once said – “Give me a place to stand and I will change the world.” Give me something sure, something I can count on, something that won’t move out from under me, something that won’t change, won’t let me down, and I can change the world. This is what we celebrate today. Easter is our place to stand. The fact of the matter is, without Easter there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection all we have are interesting teachings from an ancient prophet who was put to death by the Romans sometime around the year 33. But if Jesus lives, if the tomb could not hold him, then all that he said and all that he did takes on new meaning. If God raised him from the dead then we know that in Jesus we have in fact found the way, the truth and the life. Because if we stand with Jesus, then nothing can touch us, not even death.
Do you remember the news reports last October when an armed man named Charles Roberts stormed a one room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and took the lives of several Amish school children. It was all over the news for weeks. Never before had such violence come to that kind of a peaceful, quite Amish community. In the months that followed the media was amazed at how the Amish handled this tragedy. Although shaken and full of grief the members of the community none-the-less immediately began to talk about the need for forgiveness. CNN reported that the grandfather of one of the slain students said of the shooter on the day of the attack: “We must not think evil of this man.” Hours after the shooting an Amish neighbor of the students went to the home of Charles Robert’s to offer his family comfort, forgiveness, and to pray with them. The Amish then set up a charitable fund to support Robert’s family now that he was gone. And just this past week the media marveled when they reported that six months after the shootings the old school has been destroyed and a new school erected in its place – a school called New Hope.
Over the past six months every time I see one of these reports on the television I want to cheer. This is what Christianity is all about. Was this a terrible tragedy? Yes. But the Amish for all their apparent simplicity are actually people of amazing strength because they are Easter people, they face the world from the perspective that the tomb is empty, Christ has risen. They know who wins in the end and this fact gives them power to love, to forgive, and to live in hope.
Why are you here this morning? Maybe it is out of duty – somebody wants you to be here. Maybe it’s a force of habit. Maybe somebody invited you or you’re visiting parents or children. Maybe you’re here to keep peace in your family or possibly to find peace for yourself. Maybe you feel compelled to celebrate the start of a new season or want to seek newness in your own life. (2) Maybe you’re here most Sundays and you can’t imagine being anywhere else on Easter morning. Whatever the case, welcome, we are glad you are here. It is my prayer for each of you today that on this morning, in this place you will find your place to stand. Because all of us are broken in some way. All of us are struggling in some way. All of us need a landmark, a sure thing, a fixed point from which we can make sense of this life and the world around us. I believe that in Easter we have found our sure thing, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have found our place to stand. Because when you know that death, the ultimate enemy, has been destroyed then you can live in new ways. If Jesus Christ is risen then we have a sure foundation from which we can forgive our enemies, feed the hungry, defend the weak, love our children, wake at peace in the morning, and go to work with joy in our hearts. If Jesus Christ is risen, then we can face anything life throws at us because we know who wins in the end. Happy Easter.
1. Alister E. McGrath, In the Light of Victory
2. The Rev. Dr. Peter Wiley.