The resurrection does not just make a difference to the after life. It makes a difference in this life, too.
Since the advent of the church, this service, the Easter vigil, has been the principal service of the Christian year.
And on this night, between sunset and sunrise, we proclaim for the first time Χριστός ἀνέστη, Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! Christ is risen. Truly, he is risen.
This is the church’s ancient Easter proclamation.
This declaration, and the event is refers to is the center of our faith.
This is the proclamation that makes Christianity. It does not simply describe an event, but institutes and makes a new community. This literally is what makes the church.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead, by the power and will of the Father, establishes and sustains through grace a new body, a new way of being in the world.
And this is good news; in the richest and most robust sense of the word Good, this is the Good News.
But why? What makes it good? Why is this news worth sharing?
Why do Mary Magdalene, Johanna, and Mary run to tell the disciples that Jesus is no longer in the tomb? Why do we pray, as we did last night in our Good Friday service, for those who had never heard the gospel of Christ?
This Gospel of Christ is the same news we proclaim in the Eucharist: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
I suppose we might each have a different answer to my question; I suppose that Christ’s resurrection makes a difference in different ways and to a different degree for those who believe this proclamation.
But in addition to all our reasons, one thing that the Easter vigil reminds us of is that Christ’s resurrection addresses a problem that is both anthropological and cosmic. From it’s inception, human sin, as we heard from our second reading tonight, attacked the very core of creation, of life itself. It ate away at the goodness and vitality of things. It introduced death into the world. Sin isn’t merely a personal problem, nor is it only a human problem. Rather. It’s a problem to the whole system. And this is why it’s so fruitless and so desperate to think that any of us could possibly be good enough, could be virtuous and consistent enough to address the systemically vicious condition of sin.
God, however, intervened immediately, introducing a plan, a revolutionary solution from within the system, a plan that depended not on top-down action, but rather worked through the lowly, the insignificant, the meek. God called Abraham and Sarah to establish a faithful family and community; God worked through virulent, oddball, and oft persecuted prophets to draw that community back to himself; and, in the fullness of time, God entered into that family as one of them. Finally, as we are reminded every time we recite the Creed and celebrate the Eucharist, God in Jesus Christ not only became incarnate through the Virgin Mary and lived as one of us; he died as one of us.
In a quiet, and frankly really subversive, way, God in Jesus Christ inserted himself into the system in order to overthrow the problem that sin had introduced—Death. The second person of the Trinity became human, lived, and died. And because of his obedience to the Father’s plan, because he lived and then died in the way that Adam and Eve should have— a life of complete and totally fidelity to the Father—because Jesus lived that way, the Father, in his love and complete fidelity to the Son, raised the Son from the dead.
And when that happened humanity ceased to be bound to the finality and eternity of the condition of sin. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he introduced a new way of being to humanity, a way of being released from the bondage of sin and death, a way of being in which the finality of life now opens to the infinity of the Father’s love.
The resurrected Jesus truly is the first fruit of a new creation, a new way of living in harmony with ourselves and with God.
And this is why Christians have even gone down to death with hope and confidence—the kind of confidence that comes from a new allegiance, our allegiance to the Kingdom of God.
Christians under Roman rule went confidently and hopefully to their deaths in the coliseum because they knew that just as the cross didn’t have the final word with Jesus, their persecution and death in the arena wouldn’t be the final word about them.
Rather, the Father would have the final word.
And that final word is Good.
Tonight, as we declare that Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed, let us exclaim with joy for all to hear this good news, this news that we consume to our nourishment in the Eucharist, this news into which we just baptized our brother Chris, this news that offers a new way of living to all, a life that can be lived in love, and mercy, and goodness, because death does not have the last word.
The Father does.
And is it good.
Mary bore Christ, not just through pain of pregnancy and the challenges of raising a child, but in the fullness of motherhood - in the great anguish of losing her child.
Most of us live with a certain amount of anxiety. Sometimes it’s because the world is a terrifying place, and some of the humans who live here with us seem capable of great evil. Thinking of New Zealand this week, or a synagogue in Pittsburg and a school in Parkville, Florida just a year ago, it’s hard to imagine not being worried.
Today, we remember the death of Thomas Merton and celebrate his life and especially his prolific vocation as a writer.
"The danger of education, I have found, is that it so easily confuses means with ends. Worse than that, it quite easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates--people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call 'life'."
(from Love and Living, 1980)
"Being interested in Thomas Merton is not being interested in an original, a 'shaping' mind, but being interested in God and human possibilities. Merton will not let me look at him for long: he will, finally, persuade me to looking the direction he i looking... I don't want to know much more about Merton; he is dead, and I shall commend him regularly, lovingly, and thankfully to God. I am concerned to find how I can turn further in the direction he is looking, in prayer, poetry, theology, and encounter with the experience of other faiths; in trust and love of God our savior. The great Christian is the man or woman who can make me more interested in God than in him or her. A paradoxical tribute, but the highest that can be paid."
(Rowan Williams, A Silent Action, 2011)
The story of Esther teaches us to use status in wise, clever, and good ways: to protect those that need protecting; to be courageous in the face of uncertain times; to be shrewd in moments of instability and change; to be thoughtful, careful, and persuasive as the norm, rather than irrational, headstrong, and shrill like the egomaniacal Haman.
In the process of writing a sermon for a funeral this week I thought a lot about what it means to be remade in Christ’s image. The deceased’s family picked Matthew 18 as the first reading, an unusual but terrific decision. Jesus says there, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This got me thinking about what we’re becoming. By we, I mean disciples of Jesus: people who have accepted that they stand as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness; people who recognize that they are powerless to bring about the kind of change in themselves that will truly matter; people who have heard and believe that God loves them regardless of their powerlessness.
What happens to us when hear and believe this?
Check out some of the events happening this week at the Episcopal Church at William & Mary.
I don’t know about you, but when I read about Paul’s vision of heaven, the first thing I wonder about is not what Paul saw, but what that thorn in his side was.
If Paul were with us today, I’d ask him why he shared that rather personal bit of information about himself. My imagination digresses into all the different possibilities for what might have ailed the apostle.
It seems like it was serious. Paul’s metaphor carries with it something more than just a minor annoyance. In fact, it sounds like it bothered the hell out of him. He was desperate to be rid of it.
When I think about the work of a college chaplain, I envision someone a bit less enigmatic and a lot less physical than Mr. Miyagi, but the principle remains. What people need, what I need, is not a spiritual boss to tell them what to do, how to vote, what to eat, drink, or wear. Instead, what we all need is help and companionship.