In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Frederica Mathewes-Green once wrote, “It’s that time of the year again, when school children are coloring pictures of Jesus hanging from a cross, and shop owners fill their windows with gaily colored cut-outs of the Flogging at the Pillar. In the malls everyone’s humming along with seasonal hits on the sound system, like “O Sacred Head, [Now] Wounded” (did you hear the Chimpunks’ version?). Car dealers are promoting Great Big Empty-Tomb Size discounts on Toyotas.
“Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Easter. Who hasn’t been invited to an “In His Steps” party, where players move plastic pieces around a board emblazoned with a map of Jesus’ last suffering day in Jerusalem?
“Not me, for one,” she writes. “Somehow we just don’t make the same boisterous fun of Holy Week that we do of Christmas. No one plans to have a holly jolly Easter” (from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, 266-267; originally, here: https://goo.gl/hcOLJk).
Christmas and Easter certainly have a different feel. Maybe it’s because everyone’s seen a newborn baby, but the number is far fewer who have seen a person raised from the dead. We may see bunnies and chocolate and eggs, but we don’t hear Easter carols on the radio or over the store speakers. Some people have simply given up altogether: I heard a Whole Foods ad on the radio advertising food for your “spring entertaining;” food such as spiral-cut ham. I know they’re not advertising ham for Jewish celebrations of Passover. Maybe because it seems a little disconcerting to celebrate Easter in this world. It’s a little disconnected—maybe even a little irrelevant—to celebrate resurrection in the middle of a world so full of death. Just last week, while some Christians were in church for Palm Sunday, rejoicing over the coming of their King—righteous and having salvation, humble and riding on a donkey—while they were celebrating, they were blown up in their churches. We see pictures of dead children. Bombs are dropped and missiles are launched. Tensions around the world are high, and seem to be increasing. There are wars and rumors of war. There are all sorts of division and dissension. Sin, sickness, disease, and death don’t take a holiday.
So it’s a little disconcerting, a little disconnected, a little irrelevant to celebrate Easter and resurrection in the middle of this world. I imagine it was a little disconcerting for those women who arrived at the tomb, as well. They were expecting a dead body, just as much as you or I would. They were no more expecting a resurrection that the soldiers guarding the tomb. And all of a sudden, right into the middle of their chaos and tension and the shock of death, an angel descends and the earth shakes and the stone gets rolled away. Ironic that the angel comes to announce resurrection, and the keepers of the grave become like dead men! He rolls back the stone to show that there is no dead body inside, no dead Jesus. He is not in this grave; He who was crucified is now alive, just as He said. To the woman, the angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It is emphasized: You, women, don’t be afraid. He doesn’t speak to those who think they’re guarding a dead body; he speaks to the believing women. Do not be afraid. In the middle of all this, do not be afraid. In a world filled with death and chaos, don’t be afraid.
But it’s all a little disconcerting, a little disconnected, and totally irrelevant, if it’s not true. If the angel is just trying to make them feel better, or tell them that the resurrection is about the triumph of the human spirit over evil—it has no meaning in a world so full of death. And I, for one, am not too optimistic about the human spirit, anyway. It sounds nice, but it doesn’t ever seem to accomplish anything. What this angel announces to the women is irrelevant—unless it’s true. If the resurrection of Jesus has not happened to Him in His actual body; if He has not restored life in His actual flesh and blood; then today doesn’t mean anything more than flowers coming back each year after the winter. Even Paul can say that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all people. It’s all a joke; disconnected from reality; irrelevant.
But, in fact—in deed—Jesus has been raised from the dead. And if it’s true, then not only is it not irrelevant—it’s the only thing that is relevant to a world full of death. Because if Jesus is really alive; if He has a glorified, resurrection body; if He has begun a new creation in His very own created Body; if everyone baptized into Him is baptized into His death and resurrection; then it is, very literally, the only thing that is relevant to dying, destructive, diseased world full of dying, destructive, diseased people. It’s the only answer that is a final and full response to bombs and missiles and war and death. Maybe that’s why those Christians, in the smoke and rubble of those churches in Egypt, didn’t shout for revenge or even justice: they chanted together the story of Christ’s victory in the Nicene Creed. And that only makes sense if the last words of the creed are true: that there is a resurrection of the body and a life everlasting.
The crucified one is alive forever, and He has promised that something has begun in His body, in His resurrection, that will not come to its end until all things are made new—until there is no more death and destruction; no more disease and pain; no more hospitals and funerals and caskets and graves; no more mourning and crying. When Christ appears—when He is revealed—then we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is: the crucified one who is raised from the dead and glorified in His risen flesh. That day will come. But we do not see it yet. “So now is the time for groaning, then it will be for rejoicing; now for desiring, then for embracing.” We do not yet see what we desire, “but let us not falter in desire; let long, continuous desire be our daily exercise, because the one who made the promise does not cheat us” (Augustine). The one who promised is faithful. Those who believe in Him will never be put to shame. He has gone before you. And there, in that resurrection light, you will see Him. See, I have told you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/14/17