Morning Had Broken, and it was a new day. With the end of night we walked to the tomb, and the sun rose above us, momentarily lightening our weary hearts. We saw the stone to one side, and the entrance of the tomb yawning black ahead of us. The soldiers were nowhere to be seen, so with trembling steps we approach the tomb and peered inside. There wasn’t anything there, except a heap of bloodied cloth to one side of where his body had lain. We had seen him, some of us, that terrible day. We had seen the jagged wounds in his pain-wracked hands and feet. The crimson and rusty brown streaks that stained his head beneath the thorns. We’d heard his labored, gasping breaths, and his last plea for forgiveness for those who had done this barbaric thing. As we watched Joseph and his men bundle him up and hurriedly tuck him away in Joseph’s tomb before the Sabbath, we had thought this was the end. And yet, here we were, and something – we didn’t know what – had started. It was new, and terrifying. And yet, beneath the terror a small spark of wonder was flickering…a spark fanned to a flame by the appearance of the strange men with their otherworldly glow and their astonishing words. It was, impossibly, true! He had told us, but it had never made any sense to us. Dead people don’t live again! And yet, that’s what these men were saying!
It was impossible then, and it is impossible now. Some of you may read this story symbolically, and reflect on new life and new hope born into our lives. Some of you may read this story literally, and count it as the most miraculous of the many miracles associated with Jesus. Some of you may just think of it as a nice story for Easter, like Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail to bring children chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies. I can understand all those responses, because what was impossible then, is impossible now, and men don’t rise from the dead. And yet….
and yet…why would we be here on Easter Sunday morning, if there wasn’t something in this tradition that grabs us and will not let us go? Like the women, we are afraid of what it all might mean; like the disciples, we can’t really believe it, no matter how much we want to. Even Jesus’ closest friends didn’t believe it, and they had heard what Jesus had said about his death and resurrection multiple times. Peter had to go look at the linen cloths lying in the tomb for himself before he could even begin to believe, to trust the evidence of his eyes and let it speak to his heart. Then joy overtook him, and overtook the others who encountered Jesus, and from that joy came courage, and strength, and hope, and determination, to carry on the message that Jesus had preached, and the work of transforming lives and the world in his name.
We have trouble, 2000 years later, because we don’t have the linen cloths to handle or the empty tomb to observe. We can’t always find the evidence we need to prove to us that something world-changing happened that morning. There’s a lot of cynicism in the world about Christianity, and who can blame people, when there are many people over the centuries who have claimed the name of Christ and gotten it terribly, tragically wrong? But if we return to Jesus, and the morning light shining down on that empty tomb, then perhaps some cracks may appear in our cynicism, and that little spark of wonder and hope might just wiggle its way through.
It all comes back to this Jesus. It comes back to this man like you and I, who somehow faced the kind of ending that would terrify everyone of us, and did not turn back. He preached love, and did not turn to hate. He lived forgiveness, and he offered it to the very end. He taught that anyone can have a relationship with God, and he told a crucified revolutionary hanging from a cross just like his that that man would be with God that very day. He claimed that God was a God of love, not a God of strict religiosity who’s “making a list and checking it twice”. He taught that divine love was more powerful than anything else. And he said that those who had seen him, had seen the God they were beginning to know through him. He trusted himself to God’s love in the face of what he MUST have known was coming.
And our story – our Easter story – says that God came through. God came through, and Jesus’ disciples saw him once more and experienced his presence and were so powerfully inspired by that experience that 2000 plus years later we’re still meeting in his name. Those who have encountered the risen Christ are still preaching love and not hate. We’re still offering forgiveness and mercy. We’re still widening the circle and proclaiming that God’s love is for everyone, and that you, too, can have an experience of the Risen Christ. The people of Christ are still alive with his presence, both inside the church and outside too.
You won’t ever find a perfect Christian – there’s no such person. But if you find a Christian who lives out of hope every day, who seeks to love others as God loves them, who forgives and seeks reconciliation, who believes in the power of God to turn the most hopeless situation into great blessing– then I’m pretty sure you’ll find that that person has encountered the risen Christ. He or she may not have the language to name it – but Jesus is alive in their lives.
How does Jesus become alive in us? All we have to do is ask. Scripture says, “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Ask, and it shall be given.” If you long for an experience of new life in Christ, all you have to do is ask – and mean it. If you offer your life to Jesus and open your heart to him, then Easter won’t just be a fluffy story, a doubtful story, or even a powerful story. It will be an experience.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to make an altar call. But I’m really aware that people are longing for real spiritual experience. Not just something handed down like a good quality garment from generation to generation – something dated but still useable. People want to know God, to get in touch with God – and if we can’t open ourselves up to that possibility on Easter morning, then when can we?
We just celebrated the Baptism of these little ones. Baptism is a symbolic letting go of the old life and an entering into a new one lived with Jesus according to the values he taught. Whether we were baptized long ago, or whether we can’t even imagine being baptized, we have the opportunity every moment of every day to do the same thing we have done in this sacrament: to ask Jesus to take away our old life and give us a new one in exchange. Any moment of any day, we can make a new commitment – to seek and find the one whose resurrection we celebrate today.
Easter morning has broken, and the world has changed, and will keep changing for the better, as more and more hearts become open to the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. Alleluia! Christ is risen!…. In your hearts, and in mine. May it be so! Amen.