By Rev. Neil Tadken
St. Luke the Physician Episcopal Church
April 16, 2017
The Easter light dawns. The tomb is empty! The Lord is Risen! Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. If Christmas reminds us that hope is incarnate with us on earth in Jesus Christ—Easter assures us that our hope is eternal: that Death has no power. The risen Christ is proof. Good Friday was but a breath ago, a comma in the drama of life, and life not only continues, it reigns! It springs before us: shattering the gloom, promising fullness, grace and fearlessness.
It’s an assurance that is precious, especially when much of the world around us worships death. We see it in apocalyptic attitudes, in ideologies, theologies, and cults that feed upon our all-too-human fears: putting power into the hands of cynics and despots. We see it in our entertainment, through which we try to conquer our fear of death, but which too often merely results in an increased numbness to violence.
Too many people believe that death wins, and that the only way to navigate life is to out maneuver the opposition, and hopefully eek out a longer life than others, with more power and stuff along the way. And the way to ensure victory is to out gun, out smart and overpower those perceived as competitors on the world stage. But Jesus challenges us to consider another option. The forces of death and the substitutes for true life that they promise are lies. Jesus exposes those lies today. He grants us all new life. And it’s not that Jesus promises that our physical is no longer a reality, but rather that death does not triumph in the world, and it doesn’t have to triumph in our lives. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” because a transformed life—a life which incarnates the kingdom of heaven—reigns when fear does not hinder us. In the face of fear, in the face of overwhelming odds, Jesus says, “Persist! Persist in grace. Persist in generosity. Persist in peace. Persist in hope. Persist in love. Persist in forgiveness.
Do not stay in Jerusalem where you are subject to the hypocrites, the religious elites, and forces of empire and oppression. Go back to Galilee. Go back to that place where I taught you. Go back to what I taught you: and follow in my steps. Go home to Galilee, where I proclaimed God’s blessing on the Poor in Spirit, the mournful, on those who hunger, and on those who make peace. To Galilee where I proved to you that no one is outside God’s grace: where I healed the blind, cured the lame, cleansed the possessed no matter whether they were insiders or outsiders, believers or non-believers, pure or impure, Jews or Gentiles.”
God is no longer bound to the Holy Mount of Jerusalem. God dwells in us. We are the risen body of Christ in the world today! God’s home and promise is in each and every one of us as we live resurrected lives: lives that are not just for ourselves but for the world. And the most remarkable thing about this is that none of us are, or even have to be, qualified. God does not call the “qualified”; God qualifies the called! And we are all called! Dare we listen?
I believe it’s not an accident that the first people to whom the risen Christ appeared were the most vulnerable: the women who followed him, including one from whom he cast out demons. If the definition of an Apostle is being an eyewitness to the resurrection, the I think that Mary Magdalene should be considered the first and foremost Apostle. Step aside Simon Peter!!! Yes it was the women who persisted while the men fled and hid themselves. It was the women who could not be dissuaded from standing at the foot of the cross and then visiting the tomb. The world has done its best to hide, to disqualify, minimize and denigrate women’s power and witness, but the resurrection story today lays those lies bare. The vulnerable are not necessarily the weak; in fact it actually takes enormous strength and courage to be vulnerable, and no one knows that better than the women who persist. That may seem like foolishness to the world, but to us who know Christ’s love and power, it is a truth we find self-evident.
That’s why we listen so intently to this Good News. There is something overwhelming about this story, and it has grabbed us for almost two thousand years. Like the disciples who were directed to go back to Galilee to meet the risen Christ, today we go back to that place where we learned the foundations of our faith. The Easter celebrations are the oldest liturgies in the Christian Church. Easter was the festival where new Christians completed their catechesis, their formation, and entered into a new way of life: a life of complete vulnerability and self-giving. During the Easter Vigil, at the nightlong service that ended with the Easter dawn, they heard again all the pivotal salvation stories of the Hebrew Scriptures; how God managed to take an old mind and his barren wife, an enslaved people, the youngest and smallest son, a faithless and obstreperous tribe of wanderers, and forge a people who would become a light to all the nations. And despite all their failures: past, present and future, he loves them. And then, having experienced their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, those new members of the faith did something radical, they made themselves completely vulnerable by stripping off their old clothes, entering into a baptismal pool and being baptized, then clothed with fresh white garments as they came up out of the water on the other side. They committed themselves to a completely counterintuitive way of life. And in the earliest days of the church, they opened themselves up to persecution and even death. It’s an astounding thing when you think about it.
Today, we people of the Way of Christ, remind ourselves of our faith story and recommit to the covenant we first made in our baptisms: that we will do our best to make this a world of peace, and hope and life. We are reminded that without God, we would be slaves to man-made gods; and that the one true God leads all who would be oppressed to freedom. We are reminded that we are given new hearts, compassionate hearts, and a new Spirit, a life-giving spirit. Those hearts and that Spirit strengthen us to share the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all peoples of the earth, and give dignity to those who know little.
We are also reminded that we have been cleansed of our sins, as illustrated by the holy waters of baptism. [In my parish later this morning, as we do on every Easter Sunday, we renew the promises we made at our baptisms, and then I process down the aisle with a bucket of Baptismal Water and I just fling handfuls of that water over their heads as a reminder of that day. I wish I could do that for you here today, but somehow I don’t think you all to stand for another hour and a half.]
The idols that compete for our attention are drowned in those baptismal waters. They no longer call the shots. The false gods that clamor for our attention dwell in darkness; and the Easter light, if we open our eyes, is too much for them. No matter how hard they try, how loudly they cry, they cannot drown out our Easter hymn, if we have ears to listen. So let us together shout the glorious strain and proclaim his victory. Repeat after me, The Lord is Risen… HE is Risen Indeed… Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Walk in the newness of life… “Death no longer has dominion!” Thanks be to God.