Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; John 20: 1-18
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Recently I came across a poem written by a contemporary Presbyterian minister named Kara Root. The honesty of her written words struck me as apropos for Easter Sunday, as her untitled poem explains why she needs the resurrection. She writes: “I need the Resurrection because my sister is sick and can't afford insurance, because I've told a weeping Haitian mom, ‘No, I can't take your son home with me.’ Because I've been rushed off a Jerusalem street so a robot could blow up a bag that could've blown up us. I need the resurrection because I've exploded in rage and watched my children’s tiny faces cloud with hurt. Because evil is pervasive and I participate. I need the Resurrection because it promises that in the end all wrongs are made right. Death loses. Hope triumphs. And life and love Prevail.”
Kara’s poem summarizes our Easter faith, punctuating it with a deep seated reality we might not always associate with resurrection. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his Easter Message this year, points to this earthy reality of resurrection when he says that “the world does not need another fairy tale.”
Today we gather in this holy place because resurrection isn’t a fairy tale. It is who we are, it is our story. As Kara mentions in her poem, all of us need it. Personally, I need resurrection because without it, my life doesn’t make any sense. If there is no resurrection, then for me, my life is devoid of meaning and purpose. It is my very ground of being – everything depends on it.
We need resurrection because without it, we have no answer to the suffering and pain we see on a daily basis in this world, whether that is recently in Brussels, or in our own city or even in our own homes. Without resurrection, there is no hope, there is no purpose, there is no point. That said – how many of us tomorrow will live our life as if resurrection is just a fairytale?
How many of us tomorrow will return to our places of work, or to our families, treating the resurrection as a quaint notion from a long ago time that no longer means anything to us in the busyness of our lives? How many of us will forget in twenty-four hours how central the resurrection is?
I have a theory – and the theory is that as much as we talk about resurrection in the church, we do so to keep it at a safe distance, to domesticate it. And when clergy like myself are successful at domesticating resurrection, then we are successful in making it appear boring and forgettable, at least until maybe when a loved one close to us dies.
I have buried enough people in my profession to see this happen again and again. There is something about being at a cemetery when you see a casket lowered into the ground or an urn placed into a columbarium that brings curiosity about the resurrection to the surface. Many times people, after watching their mom or dad or brother or sister lowered into the ground have asked me “Where is mom now? Is she in heaven?” They ask me because they expect I have a definitive answer, which because I am human, I don’t.
Of course I understand why we ask those kinds of questions – we are desperate in such moments for some sense of closure when a loved one dies. We want to know that they will somehow be okay. I get that. But the question of where someone goes when they die, and yes my answer is heaven, it is not a question I find captivating anymore. Here’s the question I want to ask: not is so and so in heaven – but rather, are we now? In other words the question I want to ask is “what does the resurrection say not about the dead – what does it say about the living? What does it say about us today?”
My answer is that it says everything. Because Christ transcended death and now lives, our lives are – ontologically different. Our lives are given meaning and purpose not only because of Jesus’ resurrection, but because his resurrection is our resurrection. We live and never die because Jesus lives and the tyranny of death is overthrown.
It is not a fairytale – it is our story – the story of God reaching into this world bringing life without end for all people. That means you. That means God gave you life, a life that will never end, though one day you will die. But your death is not the end, it is merely a birthday into eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus means that you have already been resurrected.
And because you are resurrected, heaven is all around you. Heaven is here, it is in your home, it is in your car, it is in your place of work. Heaven is in your friends, heaven is in your family, heaven is in your irritating boss at work, and heaven is in your enemy. Everything is resurrected, everything is new.
Christians call this new life “Easter.” And because it is not just one day a year, we celebrate Easter every Sunday in this church. We do so because we need the resurrection. We need the Resurrection because it promises that in the end all wrongs are made right, that death loses, hope triumphs, and life and love prevail.” It is anything but boring. It is anything but a fairytale. It is God’s gift to you, today, and always. Never forget that. Happy Easter. AMEN.