The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
31 March 2013
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by thy life-giving Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
I think that for most of us, Holy Week is easier than Easter. Now, when I say easier, I don’t mean to get into all that business that has infiltrated into Church speak from pop psychology about something “easy” being “bad” for us and something “hard” being “good” for us. What I mean is simply that Holy Week is easier for many of us to comprehend, to get a grasp on, to relate to than Easter.
In Holy Week we tell the story of Jesus’ own last week on Earth. We tell that story by reenacting many of its elements so that in a real sense we physically enter into the narrative ourselves. Indeed, our Holy Week ceremonies are based on the liturgy of the third- and fourth-century Church at Jerusalem where Christians could literally walk in the way of the cross as they recalled these events. On Palm Sunday we take up branches of palm and make our procession with Jesus into Jerusalem. All we lack is one of those wonderful, full-size mediaeval sculptures of Jesus on a donkey to pull along on our journey around the block and up to Broadway. On Maundy Thursday we recall that last meal Jesus shared with his friends when he gave them the command to love one another, instituted the sacrament in which he will always be present with us when we break bread in community, and washed his disciples feet. That night the priest washes the feet of members of our community to show God’s love for us and our love for one another and we make Eucharist in remembrance of that first new meal that was also Jesus’ last. On Good Friday we re-live the hours on the Cross by hearing the Passion Gospel, observing silence at Jesus’ death, venerating the cross itself, that instrument of pain and degradation that we turn into a symbol of Jesus’ victory, and sharing in Christ's Sacramental body. On Holy Saturday we live those hours of desolation when the disciples believed all was lost, that Jesus was gone forever, and we deny ourselves Communion as a way of understanding the absence of his Body.
In Holy Week we enter physically and emotionally into the world of the story. We can also relate to many of the characters we encounter. Sometimes we feel ourselves to be one of the disciples, perhaps even Judas. Sometimes we feel ourselves to be Pilate or Herod or the other authorities. Sometimes we see ourselves in the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” Sometimes we sympathise with one of the two thieves or Simon of Cyrene. And sometimes we even feel ourselves—if we allow it—to be Jesus himself. Indeed, Jesus learns in Passiontide what it is like to be in pain and to suffer as we suffer, what it is like to be mocked, rejected, and unfairly punished. In those hours the Son of Man learns about what it like for us, the children of God. In Holy Week we know that the suffering Jesus now understands our pain, is now a companion in our suffering, as we are in his. It is this hard fact that makes Holy Week more accessible in many ways than Easter.
Easter is more of a mystery. We can easily understand a story with our hero being unfairly punished and suffering many things. We know, of course, that in novels this hero will ultimately be vindicated, but the Christian story is not a novel. It is so much more. We assert the Christian story to be our story, to be The Story that defines who we are as individuals and in relation to God and to one another. With the stakes so high, we can not simply look for the pat ending of a novel, nor can we seek the happy ending of a fairy tale or myth, for the Christian story is neither of these things.
Furthermore, in as much as our story has an happy ending, it is not the happy ending we might expect. The happy conclusion of this story does not include the vanquishing of Jesus enemies or assurances that what follows will be easy. What happens on Easter is something truly extraordinary, something that is, quite simply, hard to comprehend. On Easter morning, this morning, death is defeated by love. On Easter Morning, this morning, the apparent victory of all the forces of hate and ignorance that conspired against Jesus on Good Friday is now in ruins and in its place is a vew victory, the victory of love, the victory of God. We have moved from the world of an historical narrative that we can literally get our hands on—what with all those palms, washed feet, and the feel of the wood—into the assertion of love's triumph and death’s defeat. Jesus was dead and now lives. I can understand why Holy Week is easy and Easter is hard.
Yet, last night and this morning our church has been full of people. Last night many of us waited in the darkness, hoping against hope that the death of Good Friday would not be the last word. We kindled a new fire, heard the great Easter hymn Exsultet, listened to the promises of salvation history, and welcomed people into the faith of the Church in the sacrament of Baptism. We did all this in the hope of the Resurrection to new life. Then, with great fanfare we proclaimed our Lord’s Resurrection and we celebrated that first mass of Easter. We broke bread again, welcomed Jesus into our midst in the Eucharist, and took him into ourselves knitting our body to his risen body. We felt that joy of new life surging though our bodies and knew that the death of Good Friday could not be all there is to life. We felt and knew that God lives and puts death in its place.
What is it that brings so many out for Easter? I believe it is an innate sense of joy and a desire to be connected with the very positive and powerful forces of love. We know and see pain and suffering every day. We seek, I believe, an answer to that suffering. We may comprehend Holy Week through entering into its narrative and through it gain a sense of Jesus as our fellow traveller, our brother in suffering. Nonetheless we are drawn to Easter, we seek to be in relationship with Easter, as it were, and when we gather together we become connected to God and to each other in a new way. This is the essence of faith. Faith is not simply believing in the unbelievable. It is entering into relationship with something real, being connected to the power of love. We get Easter by living it, by experiencing it, by living Easter joy right here, right now in a community of people drawn to that love.
We are from time-to-time given glimpses of the Resurrection in our daily lives. They may be moments of joy and happiness, of true expressions of love, of material and spiritual generosity. These visions of love, played out in real life lighten our hearts and remind us that love is real, that God is real, that there is something bigger and more important our there than our selves and our narrow self-interest, something bigger than the death of Good Friday. Today on Easter Day, a day that is hard to grasp intellectually, we are given a vision of the City of God and all its people gathered around the lamb that was slain and who now lives in our midst. Today he invites us all into lives of everlasting and ever-giving love with him, full of the knowledge that suffering, pain, and death, while real and difficult, are not the final word. Love has burst through the darkness, light has dawned this morning and God is here with us, shining with glory and power, the glory and power that is love’s very self.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Monday in Holy Week, 25 March 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume