Living Christ, you are risen from the dead! Love reigns! You are life stronger than death; raise our eyes to see you as the new day dawns.
Good morning, Grace, and Happy Easter! It’s a beautiful morning, we are enjoying music, we’re going to have some baptisms very shortly, and a special, extra-brunchy coffee hour. But before any of that, let’s talk about the utter unreasonableness of resurrection.
If you’ve been here at pretty much point during my first six months here at Grace, you know that I’m not a cradle Episcopalian. I went on a long journey, first back to my Christian faith, and then to the Episcopal Church, about twelve years ago. One thing I noticed early on during those years was something peculiar about Episcopal Easter Sunday sermons, ones that I listened to in person, others that I watched online. A great many Episcopal Easter sermons try to address people’s doubt about whether the physical resurrection of Jesus actually occurred. They are often quite stirring, and challenging, and tend to run a broad spectrum of theological musings.
At one extreme, you have preaching that says Jesus’s resurrection is but a metaphor. In these sermons, the possibility of Jesus rising from the dead is sort of danced around, almost as if the preacher is afraid of offending anyone who has doubts about physical resurrection. In another type of sermon, you have preaching that wrestles seriously with those doubts. In one of my most favorite Easter sermons ever, one priest stated that his belief in physical resurrection changes constantly over time, that some days he absolutely can’t believe it, some days he can’t not believe it.
What you tend not to have in an Episcopal church, very often, is a full-throated, exuberant proclamation that these things really happened, that a fully dead person, who, as we say during Holy Week, was so marred in appearance by his suffering before death, actually returned from being dead to being alive. At the Eucharist, we say, often mechanically, Christ is died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again, try not to think about it too hard, and move on.
Our ambivalence about talking about resurrection is to be expected. Our Anglican and Episcopal religious tradition prides itself on combining reason with faith. Like I said last week, we are a both/and people, people who can believe that more than one thing can be true at the same time. And before going on too much further this morning, I want to say that this both/and is part of the reason I not only came back to my faith, but the Episcopal Church. I like reading and thinking and questioning. I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time in school, and I suspect I may do so again.
This year, though, Grace family, I find myself, more than ever, convinced that resurrection can’t be understood through reason. More than ever, I am convinced of the utter unreasonableness of resurrection. I don’t mean unreasonable in its secondary meaning, unfairness, which we often use to say things like, he’s making an unreasonable request, but in the sense that it lies beyond reason. And it’s not just resurrection that lies beyond reason, but the teachings of Jesus, which are frankly unreasonable, irrational, and don’t make logical sense. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and love your enemies, and turn the other cheek, and leave your family, and give away everything you own.
If you’ve chosen not to be a follower of Jesus because you can’t believe in resurrection, there’s a whole lot more unreasonableness waiting for you. All of it, from resurrection to unconditional love, must be understood from a different place, which we sometimes call faith, but is an even more active surrender into mystery. We Episcopalians like to pride ourselves on not leaving our brain at the door when we come to church, but I think what we might really often leave at the door is our openness to things we can’t entirely explain. Our need for intellectual certainty can be a trap out of which an abandonment to mystery might be a God-given escape.
Even if, with God’s help, we abandon ourselves to the mysteries of Jesus, of resurrection, and I believe that is what we may be called to do not just on Easter, but every day, there are still crucifying, real-world realities along the way.
First of all, along the way to resurrection, there is always the cross. Indeed, there is no resurrection without the cross, and the cross will always break our heart. This past Friday, I found myself almost crying while we did the Stations of the Cross. This seems to happen as I get older, and as I loosen my grasp on reason and abandon myself further into mystery. My heart is broken by the death of Jesus.
Along the way to resurrection, there is death. Not only our death, but the death of people we love, and the death of old ways of doing things, including the ways we used to love God. Experiencing death, we take on the unreasonable—meaning, in this case, unfair—the unfair burden of grief.
Along the way to resurrection there is the recognition that our resurrection is a not private matter. To slightly paraphrase the poet and activist Emma Lazarus, “None of us is truly resurrected until we are all resurrected.” We will never fully live into resurrection until anyone can come into this House of God for all and find their place at the table, regardless of color, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental ability.
There’s another thing happens along the way to resurrection. It happened to Mary Magdalene in our reading today, and it happens to us now. That thing that happens is Jesus comes to us and asks us, along with the angels at the tomb, “Why do you weep?”
Jesus doesn’t ask us to explain our theology, or to agree to the Nicene Creed, or even to believe in physical resurrection. Also, Jesus—in spite of the painting behind me—does not come down from clouds like a superhero and make everything better. He comes to us, in our sorrow over what has died and asks, “Why do you weep?”
And we answer Jesus, sometimes in the presence of a friend, or a priest, or a recovery community, or a church, or sometimes alone in the night, where only Jesus can hear. We weep while we share why we weep. That life we thought we were going to live, the loves we thought would never end, the spouse we thought would never die, the church we thought would never change. We weep over our empty tombs, and Jesus listens to us.
And once Jesus has acknowledged our unfair burden of grief—and notice, this doesn’t mean it goes away–once Jesus acknowledges our grief, we exit our empty tombs, step with faith back into our messy lives, announce “we have seen the Lord,” and move towards newly resurrected life in Jesus. Many times, that newly resurrected life appears to be unreasonable, irrational, but also beautiful. We couldn’t have seen its unreasonable beauty coming. We, like our friend Nicodemus, who shows up to bury Jesus in one hundred pounds of aloe, are resurrected.
Resurrection is the person struggling with addiction who finds the love and support they need, sometimes from their family, sometimes from a recovery community, and yes, I’m going to say it, sometimes even the resurrected Jesus Christ. They find that love even when everyone else has written them off.
Resurrection is the parents and godparents of Raya and Quentin who this morning proclaim, in the midst of a world, and even other Christians who have lost hope, they proclaim, we bring these precious children, made in God’s image, here to be unreasonably baptized into the family of followers of Jesus.
Resurrection is the re-emergence of joyful, creative, life-giving gifts in people—especially women—in this congregation, right now, that were kept in a tomb for far longer than three days.
Resurrection is several new young families joining us here at Grace over the last several months because they know there’s something going on here that they want to be a part of.
Resurrection is the brand-new wheelchair ramp that was completed just this past week, allowing everyone to find their place around Jesus’s table because the something that’s going on here isn’t something that should ever be limited to people who can climb up 150-year-old steps made out of stone.
Resurrection is our kitchen being used by the Cooperage to prepare 300 senior meals the last week of every month, continuing our tradition of feeding the needy in a completely new way.
Resurrection is the faithful people of Grace showing up to Morning Prayer, and Pop-Up Prayer, and Healing Services, and Holy Week services, and retreats for spiritual renewal. Because God doesn’t ask us to be big, God asks us to be faithful.
Resurrection is Jesus, the Son of God, who came to live and love among us, rising from the grave after three days to show us that Eternal Life begins in the here and now.
Grace, Easter isn’t coming, Easter is here. Thank God for utterly unreasonable resurrection.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen . . . The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!