Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!!
The psalmist says that “weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning!” (Ps. 30:5) And there is no more joyous morning for Christian people than this morning, the morning of Resurrection!
Through Lent and Holy Week, we have symbolically passed through a “night of weeping” in which we followed Jesus on the Way of suffering and death so that we might share with him the joy that comes on this morning! We are disciples of this Way that he both lived and taught – the way of dying and rising. We have identified ourselves with him, and with this Way – and we have found it to be the Way that leads to Life!
Resurrection is an unexpected end to Jesus’ journey – even for his closest friends and followers. The gospel writers testify that before his death, Jesus told his disciples what was to come – that he was to suffer and die and on the 3rd day rise again – but when this actually happens, we find them shocked and disoriented by this news. We too find it hard to believe, because in our experience no one escapes the finality of death – for a person to rise from the dead is beyond our imagining! It disorients our thinking and undermines all our assumptions – as it did for his companions and friends.
In the Gospel of Luke, the women who find the stone rolled away rush to tell Jesus’ disciples, but their news is not met with the excitement or gladness we might expect. Instead, the author tells us, “(the women’s) words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). “Idle tale” is a polite way of putting it. The Greek word used here is leros, which gives us the word “delirious.” “(Their) words seemed to them delirious,” that is, far-fetched and fanciful. In other words, “You’re crazy!”
In the account we read from St John’s Gospel moments ago, we see this same disorientation and disbelief in the response of one of Jesus’ most devoted followers, Mary Magdalene. She comes to the grave early in the morning and finds it empty, with the stone rolled away. She runs to tell Jesus’ disciples, who, though undoubtedly skeptical, agree to return to the tomb with her. They don’t know what to make of what they see – the empty tomb with the grave clothes left behind. The gospel writer tells us that one of them, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” “believes” – but we’re not told what he believes or how he has come to belief. Mary lingers at the tomb, weeping, assuming that the body has been moved or stolen. She is the picture of despair, not joy …
…Until Jesus speaks her name. The voice is at once familiar, and now, as she looks more closely, she recognizes the one who has spoken to her. “Rabbouni,” she exclaims. She rushes forward to embrace him, but he forbids her and instructs her instead to go and inform his followers. She runs to share the glad news with his disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”
For me the evidence for the Resurrection lies not in the empty tomb, but in the encounters that these first disciples experienced with the Risen Lord. Here we see Mary’s weeping turned instantly into joy. Moments before she is weighed down with grief, but now she radiates gladness as she proclaims her unexpected news: “I have seen the Lord!”
And so too, with the disciples. One minute they are huddled behind locked doors, filled with fear that Jesus’ enemies will come looking for them. But then, suddenly, he is with them, offering them a blessing of peace. Each encounter with him brings more boldness. Soon they are standing in the public squares, proclaiming without a hint of fear their faith in the Resurrection of Christ. The authorities threaten to silence them, but they will not stop speaking of what God has done. They are so convinced, not only of the truth of the Resurrection but of the way of new life it has opened for them, that they gladly endure persecution, hardship, imprisonment, and even the threat of death to spread this news. Not one of them turns back; not one of them retracts his testimony to preserve his life.
Listen to the testimony of a group of early Christians, written at the beginning of the 2nd century, approximately 80 years after Jesus’ death: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (I John 1:1-4).
So tangible, so real, is their experience of the Risen Christ that they speak as eye-witnesses, as those who have seen and heard and touched him, even though they are living nearly a century later. And they are not alone: countless Christians down through the ages, from every people and nation, have borne witness to their own experience of the Risen Christ. Through him they have come to know God as Love, and this love has transformed their lives.
I love the story told by the well-known author, Madeleine L’Engle, about an incident that took place well over a hundred years ago. She tells of a family and their guests, gathered in the parlor for a time of entertainment after dinner. Among the guests was a famous actor who, when called upon to perform, stepped forward to recite the 23rd psalm, the psalm of the Shepherd. The words flowed beautifully from his lips and when he had finished, there was applause and expressions of appreciation.
Toward the end of the evening, after almost everyone had had a chance to sing or play music, or to read or recite a verse, someone called the group’s attention to an elderly aunt, who because she was hard-of-hearing, had been sitting half-asleep in a corner throughout the performances. They prevailed upon her to add her contribution and she finally gave in, slowly making her way to the front of the room. Unaware of the actor’s recitation earlier in the evening, she began to recite the 23rd psalm, just as he had. But at the end of the recitation, the audience sat in reverent silence, deeply moved.
Later, one of the guests approached the famous actor and asked him why there had been such a profoundly different response to the two recitations. He thought for a moment and then replied, “I know the psalm, but she knows the Shepherd.”
Today there is cause for double joy!! In just a few moments we will baptize Summer Ladd Otto into the family of faith. She will be “marked as Christ’s own forever,”
and become part of a community of faith that has come to know God as Love through the person of Jesus Christ. Today God claims her as God’s own and fills her with divine life and light. Today she dies and rises with Christ, and receives the gift of eternal life. She will not remember this particular encounter with God, but as her parents and others instruct and encourage her in the faith, she too may come to know and recognize the tender voice of the Shepherd who calls his sheep by name, and to follow him on the path that leads to life.
It is a great privilege for us to be witnesses of this Sacrament, and today we will pray with her and for her, that the new life given her this day may take root and grow in her, bearing the fruits of love and peace and joy, and that she, having received this love, may learn to love others as she has been loved.
And all the people of God said, “Amen!”
Book of Common Prayer, p. 308.
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