Romans 1:1-9; Matthew 28:1-8
Standing in the morning sunshine, or the morning rain, as the wind blew in off the ocean, we felt awake and alive once more. Sitting in this church with the light coming in the windows and the flower-bedecked cross, we are glad to be present. Some of us probably had to drag ourselves here – maybe some of us dragged someone with us! But here we are together, on this Easter morning, gathering as Christians have gathered around the world and through the centuries to celebrate the moment that Jesus walked out of a tomb and into a new morning for all of creation. With Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, we stand once again amazed, disbelieving but hoping, doubting and wondering, caught off guard by the unexpected and the miraculous good news of Easter. Out of our sorrows, out of our weeping, out of our fear and our desolation, we are brought forth like newly woken Lazaruses, each one of us, to stand with Jesus and breathe new life in the Spirit.
When the apostle Paul looked back at the stories of Christ’s resurrection, he understood it to be the vindication of Jesus. What do I mean by “vindication”? The arrest and execution of Jesus was the authorities’ way of saying, “Jesus got it wrong – and look what it cost him!” The resurrection – the experience of Christ alive with us then and now – is God’s way of saying, “Jesus got it right – and look what comes of it!” It was kind of like God put an exclamation point on everything Jesus taught and did. God’s dominion is more powerful and more encompassing than earth’s empires. Exclamation point! The power of love is greater than the power of hate or fear. Exclamation point! Justice is real, and attainable, and it’s rooted in God. Exclamation point! The ways of the world are not the ways of God. Exclamation point! Death is not the end of everything. Exclamation point! We are able to commend our spirits to God in peace. Exclamation point!. Let go of the grasp we have on the old life, or the hold it has on us, and you will experience new life! Exclamation point! This is Good News – exclamation point! Christ is risen – exclamation point!
For Paul, the way to follow Jesus was to participate in that experience of death and rebirth. For some of the early Christians, like Paul himself, this meant eventual martyrdom – following Jesus even at the cost of their lives. For many others, and still for us today, it means living life under the banner of God’s dominion, rather than all other systems or powers that might claim our loyalty or exercise control over our lives: consumerism, capitalism, materialism, individualism – any or all of them. It means taking up our metaphorical crosses and following Jesus, walking in his footsteps and trusting that the renewal of our lives and of the life of the universe is not only possible but has already begun through the work and witness of Christ and the power of his resurrection.
At some point in every Christian’s life, there will come times when we will have to let go of something, or someone, or some way of being, in order to experience renewal. We will have to put all that on the cross, and walk into the tomb, and wait there, in the shadow and the greyness of uncertainty and unknowing, to see the light emerge and the signs of new life show forth. I’d like to think that there might be angels for us too – probably not figures in dazzling white, but still, messengers of hope and life and divine love that call us out and usher us into this new way of being in the world. When this happens, I hope that our Christian communities, our congregations and study groups and fellowship groups and prayer groups are a part of it, waiting for the Good News and ready to celebrate with us, in awe and wonder at what God has done in us. Christ has risen, and with him, we rise once more. Hallelujah!