Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Welcome everyone. I am so glad you are here with us today to celebrate the most important proclamation of our faith – the tomb is empty, Christ is risen, death does not have the last word today for Jesus or for any of us. Whether this is your first time at St. James’s, you are here every Sunday, or you come only occasionally – you are welcome and we are glad you are with us this morning.
I received an email the other day with a story about a husband and a wife, Jim and Joan, who were having problems in their relationship and were giving each other the silent treatment. Seems they had a bad argument and were both so angry that each refused to speak to the other. Two days into this contest of wills, with not a word spoken between them, Jim realized that he needed Joan to wake him at 6 A.M. so that he could meet his friends for a golf game. It seems that Jim was not a morning person. He was also a notoriously heavy sleeper who often slept right through his alarm clock. But he was very competitive and not wanting to give in and be the first to break the silence and lose the war, Jim slyly found a solution and wrote on a piece of paper that he handed to Joan: Please wake me at 6 A.M. so I can play golf.
The next morning Jim woke up at 9 A.M., long after his friends had started their round of golf. He was furious. Leaping out of bed and heading downstairs to see why Joan didn’t wake him, he noticed a piece of paper on the nightstand. The paper read: “It’s 6 A.M., WAKE UP! Love, Joan.” The email finished with this observation: Men are simply not equipped for these kinds of contests.
It seems that men were not equipped for that first Easter morning either. All of the disciples were either too exhausted or more likely too frightened to go to the tomb. Early on Easter morning it was only Mary who was there to mourn the death of her friend. Arriving at the tomb, Mary believed that all hope was lost. Her friend and teacher had been brutally executed by the authorities because he was deemed a threat to the state. All of his friends had fled, run away, in fear for their own lives. All that was left to Mary was her grief and her duty to prepare her friend’s body for burial. And so at first light she came to the tomb. When she realized that the stone had been removed and that Jesus’ body was missing she ran and woke up her friends. But when they arrived Peter and the other disciple were as puzzled as she was and so they returned home and left Mary standing at the tomb weeping.
Standing at the tomb weeping. Can you see her there? Standing at the empty tomb sad beyond words because not only was Jesus dead but even his body had been defiled. Can you see her? I know there are many people here today who, like Mary, have spent too much time standing at the tomb weeping. For some there have literally been too many painful hours spent beside the graves of those we love and have lost, grieving for those who have died. For others these tombs are more metaphorical: the tomb of a lost job that we counted on to provide for our family, the tomb of disappointment when we realize that a lifelong dream will never happen, the tomb of sadness and worry as we struggle with disease, the tomb of heartbreak when a child takes the wrong path, the tomb of rejection when a relationship we depended on falls apart, the tomb of addiction that destroys lives and families. After twelve years in this parish, I know the tombs where so many of you have stood weeping. I know the pain and the struggle of good people trying to make their way in a difficult world.
Easter is all about the power of God’s love in a world of lost hope. It is about knowing that regardless of how we might feel at any given moment, no situation is beyond God’s redeeming power. Easter affirms that new life, resurrection, is always possible, whether in this life or the next. Easter proclaims that the tomb is never the end; the tomb never has the last word. As Mary stood weeping, little did she know that the risen Christ was nearby, alive and well. As she felt most hopeless, little did she know that hope was literally standing a few feet away. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that she knew the truth of this day.
Yes, Jesus death on the cross had been the greatest of tragedies. He was killed by sinful, frightened men living in a sinful and terrifying world. But God refused to let this tragedy go unanswered. In spite of human sin and cruelty, God raised Jesus from the dead, defeating death itself and promising us that never again would any of us remain captives of the tomb.
For me, Easter morning is the source of all my hope. I cannot begin to tell you how this one event more than two millennia ago defines all that I am. It is the only answer that keeps the tombs of life from closing in around me. Yes, people I love will die but Easter proclaims that I will never truly be lost to them and they will never really be lost to me. Yes dreams will die, jobs will disappear, disease will come, relationships will fall apart, and the people I love will disappoint me – Easter does not remove these and other tombs from life. Rather, the good news of Easter morning promises us that on the other side of every tomb there is the possibility of new life and the promise of redeeming grace.
It is said that if you had been living in the Roman Empire in the second century, you would have noticed a strange custom practiced by Christians. Every year the followers of Jesus would go out to their graveyards and place laurel wreaths on all the graves. Most people thought this was very strange because in Greek and Roman culture laurel wreaths were normally reserved for the crowning of the victors of athletic contests. Just think of the Olympic wreath. However, whenever these Christians were asked why they did it, they would always say, “Because we believe that in Jesus Christ we have received victory over the power of the grave.”
My friends, we can sing the great hymns of Easter, we can hear again the familiar stories of scripture, we can enjoy the lilies, and we can join in on the Easter “Halleluiahs.” Easter can be experienced in these ways. But the real power of Easter is the way that people’s lives are moved from death to life, from sealed tomb to open doorway, from despair to hope, from the old ways to new opportunities. That is Easter. That is sign of resurrection. And that is something very much worth celebrating this day. Amen
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.