Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord
Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9
Oh God who on this day, through your only begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
Something happened when this God/man came to the end of his life. He was trying to make a point, a major, major truth he wanted to reveal, and like any of us when we come to the end of a long journey of trying to accomplish something, we realize it’s about time to leave. You would go back to the core things you really wanted people to know about who you were and what you came to teach and how important it was and how it would change their life. So our church, Christian church, has taken up a wonderful tradition, rooted in the Catholic history of Christianity, and it’s this thing about celebrating three major truths in three days, four days including Sunday. So it’s really a meditation that goes over Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I want you to look at those very quickly with me as I can get into, then, the heart of what I believe God is asking me to share with you on this day.
This is the core of God’s teaching, the core of what he’s asking from us, what he asks us to allow him to do for us, a partnership, a cooperative work. The first thing we learned on Thursday was, as Jesus was leaving his disciples, he realized that they had not fully understood yet what he was teaching, and he knew somehow that the time that he was going to go through, meaning his death and resurrection, would confuse people so much about who this man really is. After all, it wasn’t the Romans that killed the Christ. It was religion. It was the temple, the envy, the jealousy, the rage in the leaders in the temple as they saw someone coming to undermine the very core of what they claimed to be, their special gift, their power to reconcile humans with God through an elaborate system of sacrifices. God is a God of justice. He wants justice, so if you’ve done something wrong, you have to pay for it, and so one of the ways you would pay for it is to give something away that you own that’s precious, that’s valuable. And that would balance the world, and that was where the world was before Christ, a world of justice. And it was essential that we developed that, or we couldn’t have lived in communities, couldn’t have become great nations. So one of the things we realize is that this Jesus said, “All right, one of the things I want you to understand most especially is this work that I came to do with you, inviting you into my world, letting you watch me, this kind of strange thing,” he might say, “That I did, that I was always more interested in you watching me do the things I do than explaining what I’m asking you to do,” a radical change from the law. The law always told people what they needed to do. Without question, they had to follow it, or they would be excluded, cursed, punished. But here Jesus has something very new. He wants to say, “I want you to see something in action, and if it’s attractive to you, if it feels truthful, then come and follow me, because you’ve got it. You’ve got the beginnings of this incredible insight that human beings have longed for from the very beginning, insight as to who they are and why they’re here, and who is this divine force in the world.” So he wanted them to know he would be with them.
So the Eucharist is established on Thursday. Jesus is saying to his disciples, “Look, I’m leaving you, but I’m not leaving you orphans. I’m with you. I’m going to give you two things. I’m going to give you my body, which is your nourishment, just me, my presence in you.” That’s what he’s leading up to, getting them ready for. “I’ll be in you. I’ll be living with you, so you have me with you forever. I’m not leaving. I’m staying, and there’s one thing — if there’s anything you learn from me, it’s one, clear, concise thing you have to believe in. You’re forgiven.” And when you experience forgiveness and not judgment and condemnation from everyone around you and from any institution — it’s what we mostly live under. It passes for the mysterious thing called love, someone controlling your actions, telling you what to do, approving, disapproving, all of that. He wants us to get out of that system as fast as we can, and then something shifts inside of us. Instead of working for things that people would like us to do and then getting their approval, we take on this beautiful image of who we are as people, servants — servants, so simple.
I love the way he talks about service, because he’s talking about a meal. He’s asking his disciples, “If you’re at a meal and there’s an important guest at the head table, who’s more important, the guest at the head table or the waiters?” Well, the guest at the head table is the most important person. But in terms of the experience of eating a banquet dinner and not having somebody cleanse you of the dirt of the road coming in, of not serving you wine or serving you that, or maybe you wait for your meal till you’re starving or whatever, the most important person for the experience is the waiter who’s there to make sure you have everything you need to enjoy this experience of honoring this great guest. So what do you say is the most important if you’re looking at it from what you need — what you need? That’s the thing Jesus wants to put us in touch with, our needs. We have wants, things we’d like to have, but needs are those deep inner longings of our human nature that God created, and he knows what we really appreciate, what we know we really long for. And when we receive it, it makes us joyous, and then to know that that’s also the thing that brings us joy when we do that for other people, and that is to serve, be there for each other, forgive each other, respect each other, don’t lie to each other, don’t break promises, don’t destroy each other, don’t envy each other. It’s so beautiful, so simple. So he’s got those clear teachings.
Then we shift to his death, and the radical thing about that death is the way in which he was asked to surrender to it. Before it happened — he resisted it for a while, but then he gave in. And what happens to him? Well, in that moment of his giving in to the way it’s written, to the way life is, to the way his life was intended to be, even though it wasn’t his first choice as a human being wanting to succeed, which we all have that in us, it came to a moment where he was absolutely, to me, the most quintessential of what it’s like for a human being to be filled with divinity. We have in that moment on the cross, when he looked out and said, “If I wanted to, I could change all this in a minute, but that’s not what I want to teach you, how to make the world into what you want it to be as quickly as you would like it to be. No, that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for something much more mystical and mysterious. You’re here to do everything you can to change and to grow and to become, but there’s a moment in which you must go back and accept exactly the way it’s written. And when all those obstacles are in the way, no matter what they are, a disease, a disappointment in work, a friendship, a marriage that’s dissolved when you’re still in love — when you can say, “I forgive that. I accept that. I accept it as part of the work, as part of what it means to be human here,” and I have some sense, if we listen to this story correctly, that if at that moment — at that moment, there was something mysterious that happened that I don’t always pay attention to in that story. And that is he dies, he says, “It is finished,” and everybody that’s watching this sees these signs around them. There’s a total eclipse of the sun. There’s an earthquake. There’s thunder. There’s lightning. There’s wind, all manifestations of a power of a God, and they all walked away saying, “We’ve done a terrible thing.” How could that be? Everybody there one minute jeering, spitting, ridiculing a figure that they believed was somehow getting their people in trouble because he was angering the Romans or whatever their motive was for saying, “We should execute him,” it all melted away in a second when they saw something that they could never imagine doing — a human being forgiving 100 percent, 1000 percent the worst thing that could ever happen to them by people who are freely choosing to do it. He said, “They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know what they’re doing.” I think that’s such an insightful, unbelievable, clear image of what it is to be a believer. You take on not the teaching of a religion or even the customs or moral laws of a religion, and then you surrender to that, and that makes you holy. No, it’s much more of an interior transformation, and that interior transformation is that you begin to see the world with a completely new vision, a new understanding. Yeah, we work hard to change and to grow and to become, but if we ever lose sight of the fact that we’re not in charge of that, we’re not the ones who determine how we are to grow and the people around us are to grow — unless we give up on that seductive power thing that we love as human beings — “I’m in charge of this whole thing, and I’m making it happen just the way I know it should happen — the way I know it should happen.” That’s what we have to forgive, that incredible, insatiable desire for control.
Redemption, renunciation, two words. They somehow fit together, but the church calls us to renounce things. What is it calling us to renounce? Sometimes it seems, if we oversimplify and maybe are caught in a very excessively moralistic, cult-like religion, we might feel that, “Well, I must. I must, I must, I must do exactly what I’m told. That’s it. So I renounce any of my wants, my needs, my feelings. I become a nobody.” And there’s something in that that is mysteriously attractive also to human beings, because we don’t have any responsibility on our own. We just give in, and that’s the other temptation. One is to control everything. The other is to not have any influence on anything at all. Those are the typical opposites we find in every issue that is a struggle for human beings. It’s always the struggle between the opposites, truth and lies, self-centeredness/selflessness, giving/taking, killing/saving, condemning/forgiving. It’s everywhere, and if we think that there’s a way in which the one, the opposite of the negative side of that opposite, if we think if we get rid of that, destroy it, we fall back into a very, very ancient, hopefully outgrown way that cultures can live by going around destroying everything that isn’t the way they want it to be. And we know that we’ve had that kind of history in our past, but we have a new history, a new beginning, a redemption.
Redemption is a recovery, a returning to something lost, something that’s a gift that brings us back to the thing that we lost. We don’t have to pay for it. We don’t have to earn it. What we have to do is receive it and know that we need it, and what is that thing we return to? I want to call it the life force, goodness, integrity, love, the things that God created in us in a way that wasn’t complete when we began to become conscious. He’s got us in this process, this program that we’re involved in that is about us, and whatever we do with our story affects everybody else’s story. This incredible union and communion of people living together, working things out, that’s that core that is the goodness that’s pushing that which is always damaged and sometimes even destroyed by abuse, but that’s the thing that we’ve recovered in this mysterious sequence of actions of a Messiah, because it means we go through those same stages of staying with ourselves, nurturing ourselves, surrendering to the way things really are.
And then this amazing thing called resurrection — resurrection, a new life. The disciples were in complete disbelief that this could happen, and I’d like you to think about this one thing. Are we in that state? Are we in the redeemed state? Do we really not believe that’s possible? That’s the question that Easter asks us every year. Do I believe in this incredible miracle?
Father, the world has always been in need of your message, always longing for the unity it promises, the peace that is its greatest effect on our soul and our relationships, so I beg you to bless our time, our country, the world with this understanding of how important it is that we get past differences and stop attacking and destroying each other and move closer and closer into the oneness that is our inheritance, acceptance, striving together for the same, incredibly marvelous goal of union with you and with our true self and being instruments that serve one another. So bless us with this grace. Especially bless my listeners, Lord. They’re very special to me, and whether you’re a first-time listener or that you’ve listened for 30-plus years, it’s my privilege to be able to bring you the truth of what I pray God is sharing with me to share with you. Amen.