This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the online Easter Day Eucharist on Sunday, April 12, 2020.
Easter Day April 12, 2020
This morning, along with the psalmist, we sing: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
On this day the Lord has acted. Early this morning, while still dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been removed. She runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved (presumably John), and suspecting the worst, she says, “They have taken the Lord.” Suspecting the worst, she believes they have stolen the Lord’s body. So the two disciples run to the tomb, and as Mary warned them, it is empty – just the linen wrappings remain.
An empty tomb is not evidence (by itself) of anything miraculous or good. And the disciples are not expecting anything good. They have no false hopes. No one wonders aloud, “Do you think it’s possible he is risen?” No one recalls from faint memory, and says, “Didn’t Jesus once say something about rising in three days?” The disciples look in the tomb, and return home dejected and disoriented – while Mary stands outside the tomb weeping.
At first glance it puzzles me that the two disciples could leave her there in such distress, but that magnifies how self-absorbed everyone is in their own grief, and guilt, and hopelessness. They are unable to offer comfort. They don’t have the inner resources, the inner wherewithal, to offer help. Spiritually, they are bone dry. They can’t do it.
So Mary is left at the tomb in her grief. Then, as John tells the story, she bends over to look into the tomb – perhaps one last time – and she sees two angels, to whom she cries, “They have taken away my Lord.” And then she turns around, and Jesus is standing there. Mary fails to recognize him, supposing him to be the gardener who moved the body, until … Jesus calls her by name. He says, “Mary.”
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, and in that moment Mary is raised with him. Mary moves from total despair to unfathomable joy. Mary is raised to new life. “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Today it’s all good news. I frequently tell a story about an experience I had in seminary which opened my eyes to the meaning of the good news – “good news” being the definition of the word “gospel.”
In seminary everyone takes an “in-depth” class in preaching. Each week we would prepare a sermon (a homily) to be preached to our class, our professor, and the camera.
One day when one of my classmates preached, he captured our attention with a good story. He proceeded to meet us “where we were” in terms of what we called the “human situation.” The human situation can be our brokenness, our sin, our grief, our limitations, our confusion, our hopelessness at times, our pain.
As our professor always said, seminarians are good at locating and expressing the human situation, and on this occasion the student was on target. Our classmate nailed the human situation, the problem. And then he shifted gears to suggest what we, the people called by God, the Body of Christ, the Church, ought to do about it. End of sermon. In the Name of the Holy Trinity, Amen.
We all sat there and waited for the professor’s comments. There was a long silence. We knew the delivery of the sermon was effective. The preacher hooked us with a good story. He met us where we were, so it was relevant. He challenged us to do something in the Name of Christ.
And from the back of the room, finally, with his booming voice (sounding to us like General George Patton), Professor Hilmer Krause bellowed, “Where is the good news?” “Where is the good news? You’ve just told me what’s wrong in the world, and what I ought to do about it. That’s not good news. What I ought to do about something is not good news. The good news is what God has done, what God is doing, what God has promised.”
Without a doubt, the Church is called to respond to the good news. To someone going through the valley of the dry bones or through a dark night of the soul, we may be to them the “good news in the flesh.” We may embody the good news to someone who is barely hanging by a thread. But the professor’s point is taken: the good news is what God has done – what God is doing.
On this day the Lord has acted. Christ is risen, and we are raised with Him. So on this Easter Day we celebrate God’s action in the resurrection.
Three things about the resurrection: I’m sure there are more than three, but being Trinitarian, I’ll suggest three for now.
First, the resurrection tells us something about God. The resurrection means that God can create something new. God can open up a new possibility. God never meets a dead-end. No human situation, no human being, is beyond the power of God to resurrect. God can create new life anywhere.
Second, the resurrection happens not only to Jesus, but to us, as well. Christ is raised to new life, and we are raised with Him. When Jesus calls Mary by name, and she encounters the Risen Lord, we can bet she experienced new life. She moved from the total despair of the walking dead to new life. We are raised with Jesus – AND not only in this life (the here and now), but in the life to come.
During the Eucharistic Prayer at funerals, the presider stands at the altar and prays the following: “for to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” Life is changed at death, not ended.
And third, the resurrection has the power to set us free from fear. The late Peter Gomes (the long time Harvard chaplain) says: “Freedom from fear is the achievement of the resurrection. … It is not death that lurks in the background, it is the fear of death, and to diminish those fears is to gain everlasting life.”
For the disciples life began when they stopped being afraid. The resurrection has the power to change a life controlled by fear and insecurities to a new life of freedom and courage – all because we can trust God. The resurrection tells us we can trust God. Fear not.
It is all good news today. Nothing can stop Easter. Mary goes to the tomb in a state of despair, and hopelessness, and disorientation, and grief. Then Jesus calls her by name: “Mary.” And in an instant she is raised to new life – born again. Christ is risen, and Mary is raised with Him. And so are we. On this day the Lord has acted.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!