April 26, 2011

Easter Day Sermon

You can listen to it here. (after 6:30pm tonight). Or read it down here.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So what? What difference does it make that the tomb was empty on that famous Sunday morning? What difference did it make for Mary Magdalene? For Peter and the disciple Jesus loved? For you? For me? For Foley? For Alabama? For the United States? For the world? For all of creation? What difference could an empty tomb possibly make?
Mary arrives at the tomb while it was still dark on Sunday morning. It is peculiar that John would include this detail, especially as it contradicts the stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But John has been all about light and dark. His Prologue that we heard read the day after Christmas, set the stage for where we find ourselves this morning, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it.” As Mary made her way to the tomb on that Sunday morning, however, the sky was very, very dark. Mary arrives at the tomb convinced that death has won. Her Rabbi and friend, Jesus of Nazareth was mocked, beaten, tortured, and executed. Her hopes for a restored Israel were dashed in the rolling of a stone. On Friday, just before sunset, the tomb closed on Jesus, on her hopes, on Israel's dream, forever. Her world is very, very dark when she arrives and finds that the unthinkable has happened. A situation that couldn't possibly have gotten worse, got worse. The body was gone! Rather than peek in to see what was what, she does what any sane person would do, and high tales it out of there. In this moment, the empty tomb has changed her life for the worse.
Mary comes to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, out of breath, heaving for air and gasps in a barely audible voice, “Someone has taken Jesus!” The disciples, without a moment's hesitation race back to the tomb. There they find the stone rolled back and the linens lying neatly folded. For Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, there is seemingly no immediate difference. John tells us that the unnamed disciple believed. What he believed, we don't know, John only says that he believed, but did not yet understand. Maybe he had to see the empty tomb with his own eyes to believe what Mary had said. Peter, we are lead to believe, felt nothing, and Easter Day, Scene One closes with both men returning to their homes under the cover of darkness, as of yet unchanged by that empty tomb.
The story, however, does not end there. For you see, Mary, in the midst of her sadness; cloaked in darkness, doesn't leave the tomb. Her world, shattered on Friday afternoon, has been crushed into dust this morning. She doesn't know what to do, where to go, how to live. And so she stands and sobs and sobs and sobs. And as she sobs, she leans over to look into the tomb, as if she still can't believe what is happening. And as she sobs and looks she sees, much to her surprise, two angels dressed in white sitting where her friend and teacher had once been laid out, wrapped in the clothes of burial.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask, as if they don't know. She answers, turns and finds herself standing before a man she has never before seen. “Woman, why are you weeping?” he asks, as if he didn't know. She answers, and he replies,
And in an instant, her dark world is made as bright as the noonday sun. Mary shrieks, “Rabbouni!” and reaches out to grab a hold of her friend who was dead, who was lost, and who is now very much alive. She once again finds herself running to find Peter and the rest, but this time it is not in darkness. This time she carries the light of the Gospel, “I have seen the Lord!”

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So what? What difference does it make? I'm glad you asked that question, because I'm here to tell you it makes every difference in the world. The empty tomb is the single most important event in the 13.7 billion years since God first said, “Let there be light.” From that moment forward, darkness has done everything in its power to snuff out that light, to return creation to chaos, and to end God's reign in the universe he created. Darkness has filled the hearts of angels and humans alike. Darkness has tempted us with power, prestige, fame, and fortune. Darkness has made a pact with each and every created being, except one.
Maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you've come here this morning, not even wanting to be here, forced by guilt or fear or the expectations of a loved one, reluctant to sing praises, knowing full well the power that darkness can hold. Maybe you're here with the dark veil of mourning covering your face, unable to shake the sadness that comes from losing a loved one: father, mother, husband, wife, daughter, son. Maybe darkness has lied to you and made you feel unworthy to be here: It's been too long, you've been to bad, your life is too messy. Darkness uses all sorts of ploys to keep us from seeing the light, but the truth is, in an instant, in an empty tomb, in one word, “Mary,” darkness was defeated for good.
In the midst of our messiness, the light of God's love breaks in and cleans up. In the midst of our sinfulness, the light of God's love breaks in and forgives. In the midst of our shattered lives, the light of God's love breaks in and picks up the pieces. In the midst of our darkness, the light of God's love breaks in and shines with a brightness that darkness can never overcome.
And while that is nice and good for us on that grand cosmic scale of good versus evil and light versus darkness, the light of God's love breaking into the world is especially important for me and for you. As Peter said in his great speech from Acts chapter ten, “God shows no partiality.” If God is there for Mary in her darkness, then he is there for you in yours. If God is shining light into the chaos of someone else's life, then he is there shining light into your life as well. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, not some, not a select few, not the chosen frozen or the frozen chosen, A-L-L, all. He is Lord of you and of me and of all creation. If Jesus is in the garden, calling Mary by name, then he is right here, calling you, by name, out of your sin, out of your despair, out of your falsified unworthiness, and into a resurrected life in him, right here and right now.
Mary didn't see Jesus and go home to pack her bag for heaven. Mary ran to find Peter and the rest. She would have shouted from the rooftops if she could have, “I have seen the Lord.” This resurrection, this empty tomb, this light means that God's Great Cleanup1 of the world has begun. We are invited to pick up a broom and sweep the floor, to take hold of a polishing rag and shine up the candle sticks, and in some cases, we are invited to grab a shovel and scoop up the crap. No matter the task, we who have been raised with Christ, are invited to roll up our sleeves, step in alongside God, and get to work.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So What? So, quit feeling sorry for yourself, quit feeling unworthy, quit listening to the voice of darkness and rejoice in God's steadfast love, God's unending mercy, God's ridiculous grace! The problem is, of course, that darkness won't take no for an answer. Over and over again, weekly, daily, and sometimes by the minute, darkness continues to tug at our hearts, asking if it might borrow our light for just a minute. It is so tempting to give just a little bit of ourselves over to that darkness, but as those who have been raised with Christ, that is to say, every one of us, our light isn't ours to give. The resurrection calls us to a new way of living in every fiber of our being. It calls us to a new understanding of our time; it isn't mine, it is God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our families, they aren't mine, they are God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our skills and talents, they aren't mine, they are God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our money, it isn't mine, it is God's. All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own, have we given you.
Over the next five weeks, the clergy, Wardens and Vestry of St. Paul's invite you to join us as we look at what it means to live a resurrected life. We'll start, just like Mary did, with fear and trembling, doubt and despair. As the weeks progress, hopefully you'll find yourself ready to shout from the rooftops, “I have seen the Lord.” We'll talk about God's abundance and they ways in which a resurrected people respond to that overflowing gift of light and love, and I hope that you will join us these next five weeks. The work of restoration didn't end on Easter Day, but it has only just begun.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
1Thanks to Borg and Crossan for “God's Great Cleanup.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this encouraging message. I found you via C.C. @ Church of the Apostles, Knox.. I love South Ala. (except during hurricane season).
British North America (incl. former Colonies of the lower 48) Freedom.