Homily for Easter Sunday 2010
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike, receive your reward!
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is fully laden; feast sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy the feast of faith; receive all the riches of God’s loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for their iniquities, for pardon has shone forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free:
He has destroyed it by enduring it …
Christ is risen, and you O Death, are annihilated!
What a profound invitation, to all, to come and share in the new life, an invitation offered to the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were – a beautiful and inclusive invitation to the Easter festival! It is from an Easter sermon written by St John Chrysostom in the 4th Century! It creates a great image of the Church with arms wide open to embrace the world, eager to share the joy and liberation of new life with everyone. It is a reflection of the fact that the early Church truly celebrated the Resurrection and the new creation. We saw something of that spirit during the Olympics – the streets full of people enjoying the company, enjoying the atmosphere and the excitement, and being part of something momentous.
Today we celebrate the Resurrection. Depending on how you believe, it is either the ultimate sign or the cause that there is life beyond death. It is inevitable that we look back to the original moment because Easter is not just an idea or a theological proposal but an event – an ongoing event, as I shall suggest. So we read the four Gospels’ various (but quite consistent) versions of the original event. But we also look to the faith response of those first generations immediately following the event.
St. Paul wrote, in the 1st century, maybe 20 or 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection: “In Christ shall all be made alive.” The term “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name! Christ simply means “the anointed.” It was a title given to Jesus as a description of what the Spirit of God was doing in and through the person of Jesus. Christ was an aspect of God that had always been inherent in the Divine, but not fully recognized, and Jesus made that aspect of God present and real and alive in a uniquely compelling way. “In Christ” became a term describing a new lease on life – a new age of blessing – a new way of being.
Another ancient saint (Irenaeus) said: “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.” Fully alive! Full of life! This is what glorifies God – not so much the appeasing and apologizing, not so much the careful moralism, the efforts to appear perfect, but openly and fearlessly radiating and vibrating with the same spirit that was in Christ Jesus. This is what glorifies God – this is what generates love and joy through the universe.
Isaiah speaks of God’s intention to re-create the community of Jerusalem “as a joy, and its people as a delight” (65:18). Christians are given permission to be alive, and to show the world what it means to really live. In the early church the focus was so much on the joy of being reborn and alive in Christ that people like St Paul had to tell some of them to calm down. It was all about rising to a new life, experiencing creation in a new way, embracing the abundant life, suddenly and inexplicably experienced as ecstasy. There was such exuberance and enthusiasm in their worship that St Paul had to advise the Church at Corinth not to over-indulge with the food and (especially) the wine in their Eucharistic celebrations, which were in the form of a communal meal. Easter wasn’t a one-day celebration – it was what they experienced all the time. They could no more hide it than lovers can hide the fact that they are in love. The Gospel of John (10:10) says Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. Think about this: Christians ought to be experts in the art of being alive – because that is primarily what our faith is about.
Douglas Todd, writing in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun, asks: “Is there life after death?” It’s an important question, and I believe there is life beyond death. But the question maybe also ought to be: Is there life before death – is there life NOW? Am I truly alive or fully alive in the present moment? The Church taught for too long that life was something deferred, like a pension. Resurrection was something you enjoyed after death. The fact is, Jesus talked about it very much in the present tense.
The first Christians quickly came to realize that Resurrection was not merely an historical, one-time event. It was a new reality. They believed that they were able to enter into and share what had happened to Jesus, that it was an experience accessible and available to all. It was (and is) an experience of transformation so profound that people describe it as being born all over again.
Our approach to it, even in worship, has treated it like something confined to the past, and placed it on an intellectual level. The fact that people by the millions are out there buying books on spirituality ought to be our first clue: they’re not looking to reflect on it in an academic or theoretical sense! They want to experience it! So in terms of Easter we ought not to confine ourselves to reminding people that it happened, as if to say, “Do you know what it is? Do you know what happened?” (as if we were talking about the Magna Carta or the Battle of Stalingrad or something.) What we need to be doing is asking “Have you experienced resurrection?”
The Romans thought nothing could come of a dead body locked away in a tomb! How wrong they were! But many Christians have co-operated by portraying Jesus as a lifeless, impotent wimp, virtually consigning him to the “dead zone.” I think the fact is that Jesus was so thoroughly alive and spirited that no tomb could hold him. CS Lewis got it right when he portrayed the Christ figure, Aslan, as a great lion, in The Chronicles of Narnia. It frustrates and infuriates me when we Christians choose to be lifeless and boring and irrelevant.
The women who went to the grave weren’t looking for life there. They were looking for a corpse – they were looking for the remains of someone they revered but now thought of in the past tense. They had no expectation of discovering anything beyond death.
Maybe that’s true of the Church too. Maybe we’ve stopped expecting there to be life here. The Church too often puts Jesus in the past tense, as someone who used to exist, as an interesting, maybe even compelling, historical figure, rather than witnessing to and exemplifying the dynamic life that began exploding into the consciousness of humanity 2000 years ago. How profoundly tragic, that so many Christians have lost touch with a meaningful connection with the Spirit that animates and unites all of creation! My prayer for you is that, this Easter season, something might surprise you, and stir something deep in your imagination and in your soul, and open your eyes to life in a new way – especially in those areas of life that you assume are dead.
The Easter Gospels reflect how the people who thought they had lost everything they loved and lived for were suddenly and dramatically confronted by new life, new hope and new purpose. I am quite acquainted with how grief works, and I know from a lot of experience that people who have just lost someone dear to them, especially if it has been a tragic or violent death, are typically not skipping around joyfully three days later! Something astounding happened to those women and to all the early followers of Jesus. That “something” is what we call the Resurrection.
Jesus the historical person may be gone, but the same Spirit, as he promised, is very much present and accessible. The two men in dazzling white outfits who encountered the women coming to prepare Jesus’ corpse, confronted them with the question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That’s a really good question. The Bible is full of good questions. The problem is, most people go there looking for easy answers – and there aren’t any. But there are lots of interesting questions.
Certainly I want to be like the man in the dazzling white outfit (and I get to wear one!) as a herald of Resurrection, pointing people toward life when all they are seeing is hopelessness and death. Easter is the celebration of the triumph of life over death. It is the promise of new life even when we don’t expect it. In Christ, shall all be made alive! Alleluia!
The Rev. Grant Rodgers