04 April 2010

Homily for Easter (2010)

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Oh, people loved by God, how do we even begin to express the joy of this feast? We heard old Job - a type of Christ because of the unjust suffering that Satan inflicted upon him - cry out with certainty of his vindication. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and not another. My heart faints within me!” Job KNEW that there is no way the God of justice and mercy would abandon him - even though he had to face down death. He knew that if his body fell to pieces in the grave, yet there was One who would call him from the grave, restore his flesh, and vindicate him. He knew this Redeemer lives.

And so our Lord was the ultimate innocent sufferer. Truly innocent, for there was no stain of sin in Him - not in His thoughts, His words, or His deeds. And yet He allowed Himself to suffer, to suffer horribly and then to die.

The women thought that was the end of Him. They loved Him, but the most they thought they could do was go and tend a body from which His soul had three days hence departed. The heavy rock they worried about moving that day felt as if it were resting on their chests. Death had cut them off from the one they loved and they didn’t believe, couldn’t even hope, for THAT rock to be moved.

The shock, the wonder, then at the rock being rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. And as they saw that it had moved, the rock on their hearts began to roll a bit too. And when they entered the tomb and saw the young man dressed in white, the rock on their chest was shaking indeed.

“Do not be alarmed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”

The man in white and the alarm they felt alerted them to angelic presence. So people tend to respond in the presence of the holy ones, and almost always the first words out of an angel’s mouth are “don’t fear!” But this particular “don’t fear” is bigger. For IF what this angel says is true, then what on earth is there ever to fear again? If Christ is risen, raised in glory to a life that never ends, then DEATH is not the end of the story.

As old Jaroslav Pelikan lay dying, he is reported to have said: “If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters; if He is not risen, then nothing matters.”

If the Crucified One has been raised, then the sins of the world are absolved. How did you know that your sins were taken away in Israel on the Day of Atonement? You knew when the High Priest came back out still alive from offering the sacrifice behind the curtain in the holy of holies. You saw him and breathed a sigh of relief. Sacrifice accepted, sins gone. So with our Lord’s resurrection. “Put to death for our sins; raised for our justification” is how St. Paul once put it.
And if sins are forgiven, then what hold can death have? What right does death have to hold you, when you are sinless? In the sweet swap, your Lord took your place under divine wrath upon His cross- and He alone could endure and bear it, the horror of sin’s judgment and eternal death - and He did it so to give you His place under His Father’s favor in your baptism. You are sinless in Him. In Him, death has no claim on you. And so it cannot hold you; indeed, it will not.

But we’re jumping ahead. All of this was only confused jumble in the minds of the women that morning as the angel told them to check out and see the place their Lord had been laid, but where He would never lie again: in a tomb. Risen indeed.

Their mission was rather simple. Just go back and tell the disciples - and Peter - that He is going before them to Galilee and they’ll see Him there. It’s all just as He told them.

And so with the last word to the women, the Angel reminds them of that Jesus had explained this to them, told them exactly how it would be. And they run away, shaking for fear, astonished and amazed. We know at first they said nothing to anyone. Who would believe it anyway, they thought. Christ raised. Satan robbed. Death cheated. Sins wiped out. The resurrection, the renewal of creation itself has begun. Nothing to fear. Not now. Not ever again. Overload! The message itself scared them!

But it was the truth of that message and the Church’s Easter experience which became the bedrock of her very life. Her utter conviction that THIS man was righteous and did not deserve the sufferings and death He took; that His innocence is given to us; that His resurrection is the vindication of that innocence; that here is a life of true human flesh and blood that is forever beyond the grip of the grave, and He’s just the START of the whole thing. All who are connected to His life via that Spirit-wrought faith that holds tight to Him through His Words and promises - they already get to taste that unending life as their very own and they begin to live in this world as new creations themselves. Beyond fear, beyond judgment, beyond death.

So St. Paul can tell the Corinthians to purge the crud from their lives - to get rid of the leaven, as he calls it. The malice and the wickedness that characterize the OLD life. Why? Because they’re already a new lump in Christ. Joined to their sacrificed and raised Passover Lamb, they are called to live in an unending Easter festival in which the remnants of the old way - the way of selfishness, of fear, of distrust, of worldly sorrow - are diligently done to death and swept away as God’s people learn to live an Easter life in the certain joy of forgiveness and immortality.

Oh, people loved by God, Christ is risen just as He promised. And even today He comes to meet you with that risen life under the bread and wine that are His body and blood. He comes to nourish and nurture that resurrection life in you that you might be strengthened to live in the joy of His victory - a life unafraid, a life stronger than death, a life filled with the unshakable peace of sins forgiven, a life resting in the joyful love that the Blessed Trinity has shown you, a life that is even now a foretaste of the Feast that awaits.

Alleluia, Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

1 comment:

-C said...

“If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters; if He is not risen, then nothing matters.”

I did not know this. But I will not forget this.