I post this sermon, which I preached last Easter Sunday, touched by the memories it evokes. Resurrection came to my Gran this past summer. Her 100 years were and are a blessing to her family and friends. She comes to me often in so many ways; this sermon is but one.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we gather to celebrate the greatest story ever told! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you and in me. And because Christ is risen, I can welcome each of you to your very own resurrection!!! Christ is risen in you and in me! Alleluia!!!
It is the greatest story ever told. Like all the best stories ever told it does not answer all our questions. Poet Mary Oliver insists that, “There are many stories more beautiful than answers.” The bible is full of great stories. The sacred scriptures contain responses to some of humanity’s greatest questions. The stories in the scriptures provide us with responses to some of our deepest longings, but those responses do not come in the form of answers. The Bible is full of stories that touch the deepest mysteries of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths and similes to discover our reality. The story that bursts forth on this Easter Sunday is the greatest story ever told. It is a story told in response to our deepest reality and our darkest fear: death.
Today, we gather together to respond to the death that surrounds us, the death we mourn, the death we fear, and the death that will come to us. We gather in springtime; when creation shows us goodness bursting forth from the graves of winter and decay, when triumph can be seen emerging from tombs as the moist dark earth sends forth shoots of green, sap rises, buds burst forth, birds vigorously sing songs of life. As the resurrection impulse stirs in creation, we gather in springtime to echo the joy of creation rising again and again.
So we shout our Alleluias and we declare that darkness, decay and death cannot hold us and because Christ lives, we have the audacity to burst forth from our own tombs. We gather together and we tell one another the greatest story ever told, so that once again we can discover our reality.
Alongside the greatest story ever told we tell our own stories of resurrection as we recall and anticipate our own resurrection. A few months ago, just as winter was beginning, I sat in a tiny little cottage in England, surrounded by members of my family and listened to stories from my families past. It was my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I sat on a little stool facing my Gran, listening to her every word, longing to remember each and every detail, fearing that this might be her last birthday. It was difficult to stay in the room. I kept wondering off wondering what it was all about. 100 years is a long time to live. It’s an even longer time to die.
Gran’s body still permits her to live in her own home. She still greets her guests with a mixture of enthusiasm and disdain. A lot has happened since her birth in Wales in 1911. She has seen more changes in her lifetime than any of the previous generations of our family. My last memory of my Gran is of the tears shed when it was time to leave her. We both knew, what we always know when it is time for me to go. We knew that this might be the last time we would see one another before death separates us. This time, as I pulled the car out on to the road, a prayer rose up in me. It is a prayer I pray every day for Gran; a prayer that grandmothers have been teaching their grandchildren for generations. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Yesterday, as I prayed that prayer for my Gran, I once again realized that more than anything, what I want for my Gran is resurrection. Not the kind of resurrection that so many people insist happened to Jesus. Not the physical resuscitation of her body. What I want for my Gran is the kind of resurrection that the Apostle Paul proclaimed. You see the Apostle Paul never had to deal with the Gospel accounts of the resurrection.
Paul died long before the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were ever written. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of resurrection was enough for the early followers of the way. Paul’s description of resurrection does not conflict with our 21st century inability to accept the suspension of the natural order of the universe. Paul never described Jesus’ resurrection as a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul denies that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual physical resurrection. Paul writes:
“Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?” What a stupid question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. When you sow, you do not sow the full-blown plant but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. Then it is given the body God designed for it—with each kind of seed getting its own kind of body. Not all flesh is the same. Human beings have one kind, animals have another, birds another, and fish another. Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own, and earthly bodies have a beauty of their own. The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And a star differs from other stars in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.”
When Paul talks about the risen Christ he speaks of Jesus as the one who was raised up into the fullness of God. Being raised up into the fullness of God…Now that’s a resurrection I can hope for.
Although Paul speaks about Jesus’ resurrection as God’s victory over death, the Resurrection isn’t some glorious taming of death, because in the end, we still die – death is still real for us … many of us know that only too well. When Paul paraphrases the prophet Hosea: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Paul is not negating the reality of death – he is reminding us that death and the grave are no longer to be feared. Paul insists that death and the grave that they are a part of the journey into the fullness of God’s love – the journey into the presence of the Living God – the journey into the heart and soul of the Living God. Resurrection reminds us that ultimately God and God’s love for us in Christ Jesus will bring life out of death.
And my friends, there is more good news about Easter. Easter is more than something that happened in the past. Easter is more than a day on the calendar. Easter is not just about the resurrection of Jesus or the hope that we too will be resurrected when our time on this mortal coil has ended. The good news about Easter is that resurrection is not limited to Jesus, nor is it limited to the end of our life. Resurrection is not limited to life after death. Resurrection happens throughout creation, over and over throughout our lifetimes. Resurrection can and does happen here and now. You see the miracle of Easter is not so much about the resurrection of Jesus as it is about our own resurrections.
If the rumors about the empty tomb are to be believed, then we need not look for the living among the dead. Jesus you see has left the tomb, and if we are to follow Jesus then we too shall have to leave our tombs. To follow Jesus we will have to leave the old trappings behind like shabby grave clothes, if we are to live in the Light of Christ. The resurrection to which Easter calls us—is our own—and resurrection requires that we prepare to find God where God is by opening ourselves to the world around us with our eyes and ears open wide to new life. This means that we must be prepared to be surprised by God in strange places, in ways we never though we’d see and through the words of those we never thought we’d hear. We must allow others—even those whom we have until now refused to consider—for they too are in need of resurrection and we must open our hearts to things we do not want to hear. We must release the voice of God in everyone, everywhere. In Jesus, his followers heard the voice of God. In Jesus, his followers discovered the wisdom of God. In Jesus, his followers experienced the love of God.
Those who followed and loved Jesus experienced life in ways that were so earth shattering, so mind-blowing, that their lives would never be the same again. The power of the love they experienced in their life with Jesus could not be constrained or ended by Jesus’ death. Long after they found the empty tomb, Jesus’ loved ones continued to experience his presence in very real ways. In the breaking of the bread, and in the meals they shred together; as they walked the pathways they had walked with Jesus, and fished the waters they had navigated with Jesus. There in those places they encountered the power of Jesus’ love that could not be limited by death. That love had the power to raise them from their own tombs. And that love has the power to raise us from our tombs. Those dark caves that hold us captive and keep us from living. By the power of LOVE we can leave behind the tattered grave-clothes that bind us so that we can follow Christ into the light.
Easter came early for me this year. It began on Wednesday morning. I was awakened by the sound of my phone announcing the arrival of a photograph. I had been waiting for it for days and days. It was long overdue. I was so excited to gaze upon the newest arrival to our family. Little Sofia Elenor weighed in at 6 pounds 14 oz. She is my beautiful great-niece; my Gran’s great-great granddaughter. Sofia comes from the Greek word for wisdom. It is also one of the names the scriptures us for God in all her splendorous wisdom. Elenor, well that’s my Grandmother’s name.
Resurrection it seems has already begun. And so tonight before I lay me down to sleep. I shall pray the Lord her soul to keep, and if she dies before she wakes, I pray the Lord her soul to take.
For in death life does not end. The promise of resurrection is life without fear of death and death without fear of death. All will be well, all will be exceedingly well. Love cannot be contained, restrained or limited by death. LOVE is eternal. Jesus has showed us that.
So, don’t wait for the end to experience resurrection. Whatever tombs may be holding you, roll the stone away and burst forth into life. Experience resurrection here and now. Live! Live free from the fear of death and free from the fear of life, trusting that you too will be raised with Christ. You too will be raised into the fullness of God.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen in you! Allelluia!!!
P.S.: Eleanor (Nellie) Roberts Hutchings died eight months after our last goodbye. Gran’s sing-song Welsh voice rings still in my heart. “God bless.” she would say, “Tara a bin! God bless you love. Tara!” That Gran now lives in God is the promise of resurrection. But so too do we. We live in God and we die in God. So, let us live!
I am indebted to the work of New Testament Scholar Bernard Brandon Scott for his insights into the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. You can watch Scott teach a short class on 1 Corinthians 15 here.