A sermon for the Day of the Resurrection: Easter Sunday
April 9, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: John 20:1-18
What is a nice Easter? A nice Easter is a day with good weather, a day the Easter bunny won’t have to dodge puddles. A nice Easter is a day when the children, somehow, almost magically, dress themselves in Easter suits and dresses. A nice Easter is a day with a good ham, good sides, good wine, good conversation, and good entertainment. A nice Easter is a day with good hymns, with a good (not-too-long) sermon, and some good flowers on the cross. A nice Easter is a day for good family photos.
It is striking to me that our list of what makes a nice Easter can rattle on without a mention of the cross and empty tomb. And when it does mention it, let’s make it a nice conversation. Let us not dwell on blood and scourging. Let us not dwell on Mary Magdalene, with eyes so spent she cannot cry any longer. Let us not dwell on the fear of the followers hiding out, on the uncertainty of tomorrow. Let us not dwell on sneering soldiers, on self-righteous religious elites so sure they are right, on inept and violent magistrates. Let us instead think on sunshine, and flowers, and family.
We in America domesticate Easter. We domesticate Jesus, so it should not be a surprise we domesticate the Paschal event and our participation in that great mystery. Our domestication begins in the church.
We domesticate Easter into a self-help project. As an article in The Economist magazine put it, “History’s best comebacks, from Jesus to John Travolta: Resurrection stories help us look on the bright side of life.” Oh, look at this pretty flower, we say. It dies every year, and then one day, it pops up again, and looks real pretty. And that’s what Jesus is like. And that’s what we are like, if we work hard, if we try hard, if we find the silver lining and don’t give up, if we all hold hands around the world and sing together. Happy Easter!
We domesticate it to a socio-political strategy. We say, if you think like me, if you look like me, if you vote like me, if you agree with me, then maybe the cross and resurrection can mean something to you. But you have to be like me, and my group, and my party, and my friends, or it doesn’t work. And once we, the true Christians come together and have real political power, we can make things look how we want them to look. Happy Easter!
Enough already. If Easter is about flowers and becoming pretty people, I don’t have time for it. If Easter is about making people think like us, look like us, vote like us, so we can have political power, I don’t have time for it. If Easter is about us and what we do instead of about God and unmerited grace, I don’t have time for it. Fire me now, because I need to find something better to do. Thankfully, all of that is not what the cross and resurrection are about. Those are cheap knock-offs, domestications. I’m only interested in the real thing. I hope you are, too.
Let’s not water it down. Here’s the cross and resurrection, neat: God in Christ has come into the world to save us from the power of sin and death, from which we can never escape on our own. Christ, perfect God and perfect man, died on the cross for us. Christ, perfect God and perfect man, was raised by the Father on the third day. This is a historical fact. And because Christ has done that, sin and death have lost their power. We are free. We are free from striving; we are free from shame; we are free from bondage to our past. Through Christ, we can be with God forever in a transformed life of love. That transformed, eternal life starts right now, and it looks like loving God and those around us, especially the most vulnerable who are easy targets and easily forgotten. It looks like serving a different and truer reality: the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ isn’t a life coach, nor is he a political mascot. He is the Son of God, crucified and risen. And because of that, it is worth giving up everything to follow him as our Savior, our Lord, our friend.
My sisters and brothers, we must refuse to domesticate the cross and the resurrection. We must see the death and resurrection of the Son of God for what it is: A universe-altering, earth-rattling, foundation-shaking, God-driven event whose particularity has eclipsed universality, with power extending not for a single moment only, not even from the year 0 AD onward, but echoing throughout the caverns of time and eternity. Its power extends not just to a select few, not just to you and me, not just to people we like, but to all people everywhere. And it changes us. If we live in this mystery, we are really changed by love to love. We must refuse to domesticate the cosmic implications of this event. We must refuse to domesticate the personal and communal transformative possibilities we have because of this event. The universe is different now, so we can be different now and our world can be different now. We must refuse to domesticate the grace and power of God.
I won’t wish you a nice Easter. And if I go on autopilot and tell you ‘happy Easter,’ please know that I do not mean it. No, the only thing I can wish is for all of us to have a real Easter: an Easter imbued with the radical grace of God; an Easter that changes time and eternity; an Easter that grabs us by the collars and catapults us from our graves of sin and death and into the new life of Christ; an Easter that transforms the way we see ourselves, the way we live in the world, the way we love our neighbors; an Easter purchased by the blood and power of God for millions and for me. Yes, I will wish you a real Easter, an undomesticated Easter, an Easter unafraid to proclaim from every corner, Alleluia! Christ is risen! And because Christ is risen, everything–and I mean everything, for us, and for the whole universe, for all time–has changed, decisively and forever.
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