Easter Sunday


Alleluia! Christ is Risen! It is spring – although it is hard to tell from the weather today – and it is Easter. The season of new birth and new life. A day of celebration, in many ways. How many of you are back to eating chocolate today, or back to drinking gourmet coffee? What else are you going back to this morning? It is easy to think of Easter as getting something back – in celebration of Jesus coming back from the dead we go back to the chocolate or coffee we gave up for Lent – we go back to singing “Alleluia” – we go back, with relief and regret, to only one church service each week. But Easter isn’t really about going back. Jesus doesn’t come back to take up where he left off, returning to his life as a traveling preacher and healer with a radical message about God. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, the message about God has taken on something new. Jesus died as a sign of God’s love, and was raised from the dead as a sign of God’s power to grant new life in the face of evil and of death itself. Jesus’ resurrection is not a return to the good old days, to the way things used to be. The resurrection we celebrate at Easter is a promise of new life, beyond our expectations and even our hopes. When Jesus died, Peter saw the life he’d known in the years he followed Jesus disappear. So what did Peter think, when he came to the empty tomb that first Easter morning? Once he understood that Jesus was alive, I imagine Peter looked forward to resuming the life he’d known as a disciple of Jesus. But that life was no longer an option.  Peter was a simple fisherman before he met Jesus. After the resurrection, Peter was given a new life he had never imagined for himself, becoming the head of the new-born church in Jerusalem. He became a witness for Christ – a preacher whose testimony brought hundreds to follow the Way of Jesus Christ. What about Mary Magdalene? For her, too, seeing Jesus in the garden – hearing the voice she never thought she’d hear again say her name – must have given a hope of returning to the life she’d known as a disciple. But that is not the life she will have. Instead, tradition tells us that Mary Magdalene was called to speak before the emperor, to explain the resurrection. Certainly that’s nothing she ever expected. Tradition tells us that she picked up an egg to explain to the emperor that Jesus burst from the tomb as new life bursts from an egg. The emperor said to her, “Woman, a man can no more rise from the grave than that egg in your hand can turn red.” Whereupon the egg immediately turned red.  That’s why we color Easter eggs – in the Orthodox church the eggs are all colored red. The Easter egg is not only a sign of life and new birth – it is also a reminder of  the amazing story of Mary before the emperor, called to be a witness for Christ in ways she’d never imagined. Easter is a day of joy and celebration. But we did not come easily to this day. Last Sunday we heard the story of the Passion of Jesus – his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. On Thursday we remembered his final commandments to his disciples. And on Friday – the day the church calls, so mysteriously and so correctly, Good Friday            – we gathered to reflect on the final words of Jesus in lessons, prayers, and music. One of the hymns we sang on Friday caught my attention with these words: “Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb, there, adoring, at his feet mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished,” hear him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die.” Is that a prayer we want to pray? Lord Jesus, help us to die? It is a hard prayer – but without death, there can be no resurrection. At Easter, God comes to us with the promise of new life and new hope. But to get there, we have to take up a cross. We have to be willing to die with Christ. We have to be willing to give up our self-centered lives so that we can enter something new with Christ. Maybe we let go of dreams or images of self that no longer give us life. Maybe we give up ways of relating to other people that focus on power or the need to be right,  rather than loving as Christ loved. Some part of us – the sins and illusions we cling to day to day – has to die, so that in their place we may know the power of new hope and new life. Many of the images and ideas I’m sharing with you this morning come from the Easter sermon my mentor and friend Melody Eastman preached a few years ago at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, IL.  I’ve been liberally paraphrasing Pastor Eastman – now I’m going to quote her directly. “What are the places God is calling you from this morning? “God offers us new life in the places where we’ve been hurting, and dying, and struggling, and seeking. That doesn’t mean God promises to take us back to the way it was. God calls us to new possibilities in our lives – that is resurrection. The resurrection promise is not for someday – it is for this day, when we struggle in our lives and seek hope. When we seek hope that something new might be possible. That something better might be possible. That new life, for us, somehow today might be possible. That is the resurrection promise. “I don’t know where the stone is in your own life that seals up the tomb of grief, or struggle. But God has the power to roll that stone away and to offer you something new in your life something powerful in your life something perhaps frightening, because it is new and powerful. “A life unlike we’ve ever known. Every day, even as we walk with God, every day God still places before us the possibility of a new and deeper life. New possibilities. New hopes. New callings. “Resurrection is for you, and it is for today, and it is God who makes it possible. “Maybe you’re seeking some new beginnings in relationship to someone in your life. Maybe there’s some healing that needs to be done there. God can call you to a new place in that, and make it possible. But is will not be like it was – it will be something new. “Maybe your walk with God needs to be refreshed. Maybe you’ve been feeling that you want God more in your life,  and struggling with how you might do that. God offers you new possibilities for walking with Christ, for knowing the power of faith in your life. But it will not be like it was – it will be something new. “Resurrection promise always calls us beyond what we expected to be possible. For us to claim it, for us to rejoice in it, we need to be willing to believe that - and to let go of our expectations. When it takes you beyond what you expected – you are greeted by the risen Lord, who loves you, with power and might. This is life, that shall not die. This is joy that will never fade. This is life forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.”  Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe

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