Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 9, 2023

YEAR A 2023 festival of easter

Easter 2023
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.
Exactly.  But what if I said, Christ is risen, and you said, “So what?”  If we’re honest, we sometimes think that response, even though we don’t dare use our outside voice.  Christ is risen . . . And? . . .

We don’t respond like that because we’re not supposed to make the priest feel uncomfortable, or make our neighbors look at us kind of sideways, or even admit that we don’t know the answer.

I know, when I was a younger, that was my experience.  The Lutheran pastor would stand up there and yell “Christ is risen!”  And all the people in their new suits and pretty dresses would gamely do their best to act just as excited and yell back the proper response (while secretly wondering if they remembered to turn on the oven before they left for church).  I could see it in their faraway eyes as they mouthed the words.  And I knew the look, because I had the same look, as I was thinking about a basket of candy with my name on it.

Christ is risen . . . and this changes things how exactly?  How could that possibly matter after our six weeks of fish fries and no chocolate?  What difference does that make after we heard Friday’s detailed description of his gruesome and unfair execution?  Jesus died an awful death, and his rising again doesn’t change that, does it?  He still watched everyone desert—if not betray and deny—him; he still suffered a horrible and lonely death; he still died right when he was just getting started.  With such a tragic finish to his short life on earth, why is it important that he is risen?  So what?

I know some of you are now wondering if I’ve led one too many services this week.  And while that may be true, I’ll cut to the chase:

There’s a strong temptation during Lent and Holy Week to get obsessive about the death of Jesus.  To squeeze some meaning out of the tragic injustice of it.  And, we certainly can go that way.  Many people do, in fact.  We can follow the lead of prominent theologians over the centuries and talk about a debt that had to be paid, a debt that could only be satisfied by the perfect and only child of God.  And if the death of Jesus is the solution to the problem, well . . . then his death solved everything, right?  That makes Good Friday the pinnacle.  The transaction was accomplished.

And if that’s true, then we are right to focus on his death, in all its horrific agony.  To go over every gory awful detail, just like Mel Gibson wants us to do.  If the death is the important thing, then there’s really no point in our even being here in church this morning, is there?  And, if the death of Jesus is what really matters, then when I say, Christ is risen, you should say, So what? 

But somewhere here today, somehow, we know intuitively that the resurrection is what counts.  I mean, if we really believed it was all about the Crucifixion, then our churches would have been packed out on Friday, and vaguely empty today.  People seem to know the resurrection is what counts, even if they don’t know why it counts.

We get a hint in today’s reading from Colossians:   “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  We are attached to Jesus in baptism.  Where he goes, we go.  He goes into the tomb, and we also will go into the tomb.  It’s obvious that we cannot escape death.  It is a definite consequence of being born: each of us will die.  So, if the death of Jesus is what matters, when we die, that’s the end of the story, right?  What kind of lame ending is that?!?  God becomes incarnate, walks among us, and the story ends with, “And then God died, and so will you.”  Happy Easter!

But.  BUT . . . if we are hidden with Christ in God, if we really go where Jesus goes, then that changes everything!  Because that means, if Jesus is risen, then we also will rise.  Because he lives, we shall live.  Because he lives, those who have gone before will live.  Because he lives, everything changes!  Since Christ is risen, we will rise as well.

This makes the resurrection of Jesus the most important thing in all creation.  Because he lives, we shall live.  And sometimes, hearing that in community is the most important part.  Because, for those who have lost friends and partners and loved ones, we need more than just personally believing that Jesus is risen. 

Clinging to that promise on our own isn’t enough at crucial times in our lives.  Sometimes what we really need is to hear the assurance that others believe it too.  For all of us there have been—or will be—Easter mornings when we can’t cheerfully yell back the expected “The Lord is risen indeed!” as loudly as the priest demands, because the grief is too much.  In those times we need to hear the confidence in the voices of those around us.  In those times we need to hear that word “indeed” louder than anything else.  A testimony that it’s not just some person in a robe up front saying what he or she is supposed to say.

When I say, “Christ is risen,” your response of “The Lord is risen indeed” affirms my whacky claim.  It tells those next to you that you believe it too.  It tells the downtrodden that everything is different.  And it bears witness to the community outside those doors that we believe in hope, where others would see only darkness.  And that we’re willing to proclaim it, with God’s help, as we live out our lives.

“The Lord is risen indeed” is the sound of you all preaching . . . to me, to the person next to you, to a world that needs to hear this good news.  In that response, with the word “indeed,” you are proclaiming the most important message the world has ever heard.  You are saying that you not only believe it, but are willing to tell those around you.  In your proclamation, the world hears something new: Jesus has overcome death and the grave, and This.  Changes.  Everything.

Because now there are people who live with confidence that death is not the end of the story.  Now there are people who carry this good news out into the streets, into the workplaces, into the homes of our friends and family.

We gather together to share in this Easter Eucharist, and we go out into the world to proclaim together: Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!


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