This Easter Day sermon picks up from the Good Friday one. One of Good Friday’s ponderings was on the Cry of Dereliction – “My God, Why have you forsaken me?” We probably all hear that in a certain way. This sermon attempts to point out the history of why we do, and why that history is wrong. Easter is the answer to the challenge of that cry. Easter is the eschatological inbreaking of the Kingdom, the first day of the new creation. This sermon proclaims what that means and what it asks of us.
The recording is the full (2nd) service. The resurrection account in Matthew has an interesting pattern. There is a “come and see” portion. The angel bids the Mary’s to come and see the empty tomb. Jesus greets them and they grab his feet. There is proof of the resurrection. “Come and See”.
The second part of the pattern is “Go and Tell”. The angel tells the Mary’s to go and tell the disciples. Jesus as bids them go and tell. When you have seen the power of the resurrection, go and tell.
The final part is the promise. “You will see him”. Today we see by faith, although it is not a faith without proof. The tomb was empty. Jesus had feet. Tomorrow we see.
I didn’t do my normal word cloud for this, instead above is the Icon of Mary Magdalene. She was one of the Mary’s that went to the tomb to spice the body. The icon captures both of those things. In her left is the jar of spice, but in her right is that bright red egg. That egg is a very ancient symbol of the resurrection. That bright red is the blood that bought this day.
The sermon focuses on the uniqueness of Mark. It ends with Mary running from the tomb afraid. It is an existential question. We know what happened with Mary. She took courage and told the others. Mark’s point is a question to us. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We’ve heard the resurrection. It demands we live in hope. Do we take courage? Or do we stay in fear? This Morning is different. Choose to live.
Preaching on Easter is a unique experience. You do get the full joy. A full house. The best music and hymns. The core message. But you also get the full foolishness of the gospel. As if some loser 2000 years after the event could possibly have anything to say. At least the Orthodox just get in the pulpit and repeat Chrysostom. Likewise the proclamation is unique, sui generis, not replicable until well it is replicated. All examples and illustration and props are gone. All you can point at is Christ. He’s risen. Any eloquence you might have, any cunning or logic is stripped away. He’s Risen. This is how God fixes broken things. After the cross, resurrection. And there you have it. He’s either defeated death, and it will be given to you at the right time, or his hasn’t. I’m just the messenger telling you what I’ve been told and believe. He’s risen. Broken things will rise.
Recording note. I would love to have left some of the music on, but the gap between the live experience of Easter music and our poor recording of it is just too much. So, it is just the lessons and sermon. Come to church next week. We will still be singing the Easter hymns on the octave.
So much in our world we deal with by deleting, or attempting to delete by shoving in some memory hole. We delete everything from pixels to inconvenient people. And we all eventually become inconvenient.
God does not delete. God does not deal with problems by covering them over. God deals with problems (like sin) by absolution…by transfiguration…by resurrection. That is the conflict of Easter and the triumph of our Lord. Sin, the World and Satan want to erase, delete and hide. Christ rolled back the stone and lives.
The 2nd commandment (3 commandment if you are Reformed) is about respecting the name of God. The 1st petition of the Lord’s prayer is that the name for God would be holy. The 1 article of the Augsburg Confession is “On God”. The first thing the church post the apostles wrestled with was the creeds which are verbal ways of nailing down just who this God is – Father, Son and Spirit. The church seems flooded with bad religion. And bad religion starts with a poor conception of God. Usually a conception warped by our reason. Either reason twisting revelation to its design, or reason using a great filter to only let in what it desires.
And that Bad Religion is tragic because we always filter out the gospel. The God we worship – Father, Son and Spirit – comes to us, reveals himself, abides with us, and won’t let go. The revealed God, revealed most fully in Jesus Christ, is the one who brings peace. Its those things we lose when we go looking for a God to take His place.
Of all the things to proclaim from a pulpit, the resurrection is both the most important and the toughest. It is the most important because there is no Christianity without it. If Christ be not raised we are most to be pitied is what St. Paul said. I just don’t get any form of Christianity that doesn’t take the resurrection as a historical fact. It is the toughest because its happened once. Most of us have no direct experience of it. The risen Christ just doesn’t appear to the vast majority of us. Believing the resurrection, and putting all of you metaphysical chips on it, is a big wager.
That is actually one of the reasons I love the Gospel according to Mark excluding the tacked on summary endings. (If you want to know more on that, leave a comment.) The gospel ends with the strongest believers in its entire story – the women who follow and support – running from the tomb scared. They had not seen the risen Christ either at that point. All they had was the witness – “He is risen!” The Gospel of Mark ends right where most Christians throughout time are placed. They have a witness telling them – “He’s risen!” And they have to answer that existential question – do I believe this? If I believe it what does it mean that dead people rise, this specific dead person rose?
Existential questions can cause flight. Are you running, or answering?
I was asked after church in Bible study if I like preaching on Easter Sunday the best. My answer was not as full a yes as might be expected. It is definitely up there, if just for the crowd size. This is not meant as a theological statement – the effectiveness of any sermon comes from the Spirit in the hearer – but when you’ve got a crowd the speaker does not have to supply the energy. The most draining times to preach are when there should be at least what I call comfortably empty crowds and you are below that. (Special days like thanksgiving don’t qualify because the 10 leper rule, only 1 of 10 returned which gives a different feel.) Those times and places are energy black holes. Again not a theological statement. Easter morning is one that the speaker can reflect the crowd’s energy.
But probably the bigger reason Easter is not number 1 by a landslide is that large audience. This is what I mean. The typical Sunday a preacher can feel comfortable that the Spirit is working in the lives of most of the congregation. The Word has taken root and it is the preacher’s job to water it. On Easter Sunday you get a different crowd. The fundamental job on Easter Sunday is casting the Word to the air. It is giving hard hearts and stopped up ears a chance to respond with faith. It is the gospel proclamation reduced to its core – he is risen! And while the taking root of faith and the word is the work of the Spirit, there is always a deep longing in an Easter Sermon. This might be the last time many gathered might hear the Word. This might be the last time for the Word to take root. And the Sunday after Easter you get a feedback. Too many prodigals haven’t returned. Too many seeds have been fallen on hard ground. Too many cares of the world have crowded out that He is risen. Unlike most Sundays that you know you will see much of the congregation the next week or soon, on Easter you worry. And every preacher is reminded that it is not the eloquence of the tongue but the mysterious work of the Spirit. Who never seems to work on our timetables or with the response we would like. Easter preaching is joyous and humbling at the same time.