We Are Easter People

We Are Easter People

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

 

The prophet Isaiah foretells the good news: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight… Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!

 

The year was 2009 and along with about 20 other pastors, I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Although memories of the journey come to mind from time to time, during Holy Week and Easter they often ripple to the surface like waves. I catch myself daydreaming of the peaceful waters of the Sea of Galilee. In my mind’s eye, I leave those peaceful waters to follow Jesus to the city of his crucifixion—to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. I see the narrow, crowded streets. Along the streets are a vast array of vendors raising their voices to entice would-be buyers to their tables.

 

Recently, while reflecting on the Holy Land, I took a moment to open my travel journal to peruse its pages. Here is what I found from an entry marked June 11th:

 

Today is our first full day in Jerusalem. I have been outside reading and trying to gather my thoughts. Already I have heard the bells calling believers (of other faith traditions as well as our own) to prayer. With just a short walk I can be at the Mount of Olives; the place of the Last Supper; the place where Pilate pronounced his verdict; the Stations of the Cross that have been prayed and walked by millions down through the ages; I can be at the presumed sites of Golgotha and the Tomb where Christ was laid to rest.

 

Jerusalem is the place where Christianity was ultimately born. The birth of the church came through the ultimate pain and sacrifice of the very Son of God. How can there be such love? Yet in this holy place, there is hatred—people against people—religion against religion. From this place hatred radiates throughout the world. But the love of Christ radiates from here, too. The love of Christ reaches out toward those who are willing to accept the gift of God’s love—reaches out like the rays of the sun—reaches across the seas to other lands—other countries—other states—other communities—other people—and remarkably, even to me.

 

This morning we celebrate something extraordinary that happened 20 centuries ago over 6000 miles away. We celebrate because for us, too, a life-changing event has occurred. Jesus, the Son of God is not dead. He is alive.

 

From Luke’s gospel we catch sight of a loyal group of women who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Even when things begin to unravel and Jesus is arrested, they remain. They are at the foot of the cross. They hear him cry, “It is finished!” They watch him draw his last breath. The Jewish Sabbath comes and goes, and the women go early the next morning to the tomb with embalming spices in hand. They know that the tomb has been sealed and they probably know guards have been posted to keep watch over it. Maybe they hope these same guards will roll the heavy stone away for them. Imagine their surprise when they arrive only to find the stone has already been moved. And even more surprising, Jesus is nowhere in sight. The only thing left are burial cloths. Suddenly two men, dazzling in their brightness, appear and the women bow their faces to the ground in terror.

 

The men say to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And that’s when it hits them. That’s when the women remember all that Jesus had said about his death and resurrection. They head straight to the disciples and the others to tell them what has happened. To the Eleven Alumni of Jesus’ School of Religion, their words seem like an idle tale—absolute nonsense. Nevertheless, Peter races off to see for himself.

 

He, too, sees the empty tomb and the burial cloths lying inside and he leaves in amazement.

 

Despite Jesus having foretold these events repeatedly to his disciples, it is beyond their comprehension that he might rise from the grave. So, if the disciples are hesitant to believe the women, what chance do we have? How can we accept such a fanciful tale? In order to believe that the Son of God conquered death so that we might live, our view of reality must change. We may have to consider that life is not what we think it is—nor is death, for that matter.

 

Actually, it all seems like nonsense—until you believe! Like Peter who must go and see for himself, each one of us has to experience the Risen Lord in our own hearts and minds and souls. We cannot rely on our grandmother’s faith or our father’s faith. And we will have to do more than learn about Christ as some grand, historical figure. Truth be told, we can be well versed in rituals, hymns, liturgies, sacraments and creeds of the church, and still be ignorant of the meaning of Easter.[i]  Martin Luther once wrote, “It really doesn’t matter if Jesus rose from the dead if he isn’t risen in you.”

 

Has Christ risen in you? We, who are baptized believers, we are Easter people. And Easter people are equipped by Christ’s Spirit to live as witnesses of the Resurrection. As one scholar notes:

 

Resurrection, after all, is not some buoyant ideal, unconnected to the real world. It is an invitation to live as Jesus lived, a doorway to a life in which meals are shared with enemies, healing is offered to the hopeless, prophetic challenges are issued to the powerful. Only now it is not Jesus who does these things—it is we ourselves who see at last the subversive power of the resurrection in order to live it now… [On that morning] the women knew. The women remembered. The women believed. The women responded by breaking their own silence to speak their own truth. Which is, after all, what God asks of us.[ii]

 

The women break their own silence. The women speak their own truth. It is still what God asks of each one of us. Otherwise, how will the world know that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true?

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…

 

But some days rejoicing is difficult. There is no doubt that we live in troubling times. Around the globe, terrorist attacks have become more the norm than the exception. Too many people in our own country are filled with hatred and eager to promote fear, confusion, distrust, and violence. Even faith groups who claim to be Christian war against one another. For too long, too many Christians have sat idly by, hoping and praying that God would intervene. But maybe God is waiting for us to intervene. We are, after all, Easter people. We possess good news—good news for those who are sick and cannot afford decent health care; good news for neighbors who are hurting; good news for families in need of healing; good news for those who have lost hope.

 

Once Jesus bursts forth from the tomb, everything changes. No longer is Jesus restricted to Galilee or Jerusalem. Jesus is everywhere and he offers wholeness to all creation and to all people of the world.  As Easter people, we have experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection. We know that new life is possible for the vulnerable, the alienated, the desperate, and the grief-stricken. We know that resurrection touches us all, is available for all. The story is as real today as it was in the 1st Century.  In the words of Karl Barth: “Resurrection remains the center around which all else is moving, from which all comes, and to which all is leading.”

 

Here we are, gathered as a community of faith on a spiritual journey. Along the way we offer mutual support and concern; we mentor one another; we rejoice with one another on good days and grieve with one another on bad ones. Here, the presence of Christ is known to us in the preaching of the Word, through the waters of Baptism, and at the Table of our Lord. Here in this place, through liturgy, prayer, and song we are bound together in our common search for transformation and union with God. [iii] Christ is here among us to gather us in, and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ sends us out to be his hands and feet in the world.

 

Since we are a forgetful people, we return Sunday after Sunday for a Little Easter to be reminded of what happened on that first Resurrection morn. It’s no idle tale. Rather, it’s an invitation to believe and participate in God’s unending work for good, for life, and for love.

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…

 

Yes, let us be glad and rejoice. For Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

[i] http://www.methodist.org.nz/board_of_ministry/refresh/10_minutes

[ii] Nancy Claire Pittman, Feasting on the Word, 353.

[iii] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 161.

*Bulletin Cover by Stushie Art; Used by subscription