Sermon

If Easter is true!

Homily – Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Somewhere I recall a theologian who said that one reason why people find it difficult to believe in Easter, to have faith that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true. Is that if the resurrection is true, then their lives would have to change! That seems to be the overriding problem for all of us, we do not want to change. We would be living in a whole new world and would have to adjust our lives accordingly, if Easter is true.

Christians believe that Easter is true. We believe that God, in an amazing act of divine vindication, raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. In so doing God definitively acted in the world, God revealed who God really is and what God is really up to in the world.

God – Three In One – is the one who wins victories through suffering, who lifts up the downtrodden and the oppressed, who will not allow the victims of evil and injustice ultimately to be crushed. In the end, no matter what evil is done, God will get God’s way with the world. Easter is true.

And if Easter is true, as we believe it to be, how then should we live? That is the question before us this Third Sunday of Easter. Appropriately, all of this Sunday’s lessons show believers attempting to adjust themselves to the fact that Easter is true.

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking on behalf of Memphis garbage workers the night before he was assassinated, declared:

“It’s all right to talk about long robes over yonder, in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here.

It’s all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.

It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis.”

Easter is more than simply “Jesus has been raised from the dead, so now we will get to see our loved ones when we die.” Easter is about a whole new world, not some day, but today. Not somewhere in eternity, but now. Of course, that whole new world is not completely here, not in its fullness. But it sure is on the way.

That vision enabled Martin Luther King to keep working, keep marching, and not lose hope. It is the vision of Easter, the vision that is the most powerful motivation for Christian action in this world. We know a secret about the world and the direction in which the world is moving – Jesus Christ is risen! He has risen indeed.

In Acts 2, Peter, questioned by a mocking crowd after the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost, responds with a short sermon. This Jesus “whom you crucified” has now been shown, through the resurrection, to be “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Quickly the crowd gets the point. Upon hearing of the resurrection, they respond, “What should we do?” Peter tells them to repent, be baptized, and they too will receive the Holy Spirit, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away” (2:39).

If Easter is true, it is a whole new world in which those who were once, in their sin, far from God, are brought near, gifted with the Holy Spirit, promised a share in God’s Reign. Easter is an invitation to exchange citizenship and join up in that new reign.

A couple of Sundays ago, when we (via St Francis Chapel) proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is risen, he has risen indeed!” you responded with “Alleluia,” with praise and thanksgiving, and that’s right!

But if Easter is true, then it is also appropriate to ask, “What should we do now?” now that Easter is true. This is the very same question we are asking ourselves during our time in lockdown. What should we do now? How can we help now? We are in lockdown!

First, Peter proclaims to a struggling early congregation that in the resurrection Jesus is “revealed at the end of the ages for your sake” so that “you were ransomed” (1 Pet 1:18, 20). Easter is true!

Then, “love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew . . .” It’s like the resurrection of Jesus is new birth for all of us old, dying sinners, so that we are made into different kinds of people who are able now to love one another “from the heart,” if Easter is true.

And then today’s Gospel we find this wonderful story of the walk to Emmaus. They did not know the stranger who walked with them on the road, who opened the scriptures to them? The women had run back from the cemetery, saying that Jesus had been raised, but they did not believe the testimony of the women. That is, they did not know that Easter was true.

Then, at the table that evening, when Jesus broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they saw the Lord. They ran all the way back to Jerusalem saying, “the Lord has risen indeed” (Lk 24:34). Easter is true.

They thought that the Jesus Movement had ended; no, it was just beginning. They thought that night was coming when it was really the dawn of a new day. Easter is true.

Easter is true. Of course, that is what Christians believe. But if Easter is true, how then should we live? As Christians, we conduct ourselves as if we did not really understand the implications of following a living, present, active God.

In what ways do we Christians worship and work in such a way that, while we say we believe that Jesus Christ is risen, present, and alive, but act as if he were not. If we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then we will want to work to arrange the world to resemble as closely that world in which we fully expect to inhabit in eternity. We want the world here, today, to look very much like the world we long to inhabit for an inestimably long period of time. Our final destiny, the goal of it all, where our world is heading is subsumed in a word, “heaven.” Eternity, according to John’s Gospel, and maybe the other Gospels as well, begins now. Or as Catherine of Sienna put it, “all the way to heaven is heaven.”

If Easter is true then it means that Jesus Christ is not just a wonderful teacher, an inspiring person, a notable historical figure. Jesus Christ is none other than the full revelation of God. He is Messiah! Now, we know who God is, what God looks like, what God wills for us and the world, if Easter is true.

If Easter is true, then never again are we permitted ever to lose heart, to despair, to give up. When God transformed the evil, bloody crucifixion into a grand triumph, well, who knows what God can do with our setbacks, dead ends, failures, and frustrations? No place is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming grace if Easter is true.

If Easter is true, then it is a lie that death is the last word, the final act, the end.

If Easter is true, then it is not over until God says it is over.

If Easter is true, then our end is really our beginning. At the end, when this life is over, we are given not oblivion, darkness, and despair but a future, a new birth, a new beginning, if Easter is true.

If Easter is true, then we are not left alone. The Risen Christ came back to the very disciples who disappointed and betrayed him. The Risen Christ gathered these depressed, despairing, and bereft individuals and formed them into a new family, a new community, the new Church. We, who are taught by our culture to think of ourselves as competitive, lonely, contentious individuals, each looking after ourselves, each seeking our own self-interest, we are the church, the “body of Christ, “the visible presence of the risen Christ in the world, if Easter is true.

If Easter is true, then you do not have to climb up to God, you do not have to think hard and go through all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to be close to God. In bread and wine, God comes close to you. You go to church on a Sunday morning, thinking that you are getting up, getting dressed, and coming to church to seek God only to be surprised that here, in worship with fellow Christians, in the Lord’s body and blood, in the singing and scripture reading, maybe even in the sermon, the resurrected, living Christ is reaching out to you, if Easter is true.

What we have learned during the lockdown, that God reaches us in all ways and manners, not just in the church buildings. God reaches us, in our WhatsApp groups, Facebook posts, zoom meeting etc. We do not need to meet physically, to enjoy the presence of God. Peter spoke to a new church, a new way of worshipping the Lord, that was different to the “normal” people was used to. We need to embrace the new; we need to embrace the change. God is reaching out to us, in this new Resurrection of the Church. Hear the groaning of people, as we experience the new birth of the new way of being Church.

Easter is true! How then shall we live? Are you open to the changes that God is bringing to us through this crisis?

-Vanda Chittenden

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