Sunday, April 4, 2010

"The First Day" - Easter Sermon - 4/4/10 - Peace Lutheran Church

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Today is the day that Christ is raised from the dead and in doing this God defeats the powers of death and darkness. Today – not yesterday – Today! But didn’t all these events happen in the past? What do you mean that Christ is raised today? It is so tempting for us to look at the events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection as being only past history. But when we do that, coming to church on Easter then becomes a commemoration of something that happened in the past. Which is nice, might even be fun, but that’s about as far as it goes.

When I was young I grew up in a little town, New Castle, Delaware. Now New Castle was one of the oldest European settlements in the United States having been established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1651. It is actually older than Williamsburg, Virginia. And so, growing up there was like growing up in the midst of a lot of history. And every year in May one weekend was celebrated as A Day in Old New Castle. All of us residents got to dress up in colonial costumes and all the old building and churches were open and people could come into town on the old cobblestone streets. It was great fun. But by then end of Sunday it was over. We would clean up, put the costumes back in the closet and come Monday morning we would be back to the old routine; we would be back to the present.

Is that what Easter is like? All this happened in the past- Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection happened 2000 years ago. In this way, Jesus established Christianity and that’s great so now I can just get on with my life, nodding at Jesus occasionally as I commemorate various events in Jesus’ life a couple times during the year. Commemoration does not require much of us really, so it is comfortable and it does not challenge our way of being in the world too much. And come Monday, we are back to our present life; our usual routine, right?

Besides we are in good company. Look at the reaction of the disciples, huddled in fear and confusion. The events of Jesus’ execution are over – the women, in particular Mary, come to the tomb to take care of the burial rituals, and then presumably that would be that. Time to move on with life and put this behind. Mary encounters Jesus but when she reports the news back to the disciples, no one believes her. It’s as though they say, “Mary, get over it – he’s dead. Jesus is now past tense!” Over and over again this is the reaction of Jesus’ closest associates – Thomas, Peter the other disciples, the two followers on the road to Emmaus. It’s over, it was fun while it lasted, but now we need to move on. It’s time to get back to the usual routine!

But, it’s not over – it has only just begun: “He is not here, he is raised!” The resurrection of Jesus means that the new creation has started today! Today is not the end – today is the beginning! Today is the first day of creation!

Let’s turn for a moment to the Old Testament account of the creation of the world. In the first chapter of Genesis, which was read last night at the Saturday vigil, we hear these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and the earth was without form and void and darkness moved over the waters. And God said, let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good…. There was morning and there was evening, the first day.” This is the account of the first day of creation. God then continues through the rest of the week creating the world and finally the bible tells us that “on the 7th day, God finished the work that he had done and God rested on the 7th day… So God blessed the 7th day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Now, let’s turn back to the Passion – Jesus is crucified on the 6th day of the week, and all of the Gospels tell us that there was an effort by the authorities to remove his body from the cross before sundown so that he, and the two thieves, would not be left on the cross during the Sabbath, the 7th day – since the 7th day is the holy day on which God rested. That is Saturday. Jesus is buried on the 6th day, and the 7th day, the Sabbath, is quiet. There are a couple ancient traditions about this day, but there is nothing in the Gospels. Jesus remains entombed on the 7th day – the Sabbath. The work of the old creation is now over!

And then, comes the early morning of the 1st day of the week – Sunday. The women come early in the morning – before dawn actually – and there they find that the stone, which stood in front of the entrance of the tomb, has been moved and that Jesus’ body is gone. As light begins to break the women encounter two men – “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen!” A new creation has now burst forth! Here on the 1st day of the week God is creating new and just like in the Genesis account, the first act of creation is to bring light into the darkness of the world. “Let there be light!” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! “And the light shines in the darkness” so brightly that the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome it.

Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” In Jesus’ resurrection the work of the old creation is now complete, and the work of the new creation has just begun. In other words; Jesus’ resurrection makes a difference to those of us who believe and are baptized. It makes a difference for how we live – now; and how we order our priorities and how we relate to others - now. Since Sunday, today, is the 1st day of the New Creation, there is no returning to the old routine. Everything is new! Resurrection changes the way we are in the world and the way we relate to others. Our entering into this holy past brings it into our present and it shapes our future. It makes a difference.

There is an old movie that I saw when it first came out called “Back to the Future.” I’m sure many of you saw it also. Essentially the premise of this film was that through this fancy invention – a time-travelling DeLorean car – Marty could go back in time. And so he goes back in time to when his parents were in high school. And he gets involved with this past and when he finally returns to the present, goes back to the future – in a very dramatic scene – he discovers that his present and future are now changed, they are different. His life is now completely new. Because of his experiences of entering into the past his present and future are transformed.

Now, we don’t have a DeLorean that will transport us back in time to the past. But, what we do have are the Sacraments, through which we are Baptized into the story of Jesus, through which we are buried and raised with Christ; we have the bread and wine of holy communion through which we experience Christ’s presence in our lives now and through which we are strengthened to be Christ’s presence for others; and we have our weekly celebration of the resurrection, through which we continually renew our connection to the story of Christ’s passion and resurrection. And all of this brings these past events alive into the present and they make a difference in how we live now and how we relate to others. And it all will shape our future.

To put it another way, in the words of David Bartlett: “Easter is not a time to dwell on the past, even if it is a holy past; Easter is a time for us to be renewed for service and a time for us to consider the ways that our risen Lord leads us into today’s responsibilities and tomorrow’s promises.” That is what Paul means when he asserts that in Christ’s resurrection we are a new creation; that is what resurrection means.

And so, on this 1st day of the week; on this first day of the new creation, again we proclaim:
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

May this proclamation and this remembrance of the risen Christ make a difference in the way we live and are in relationships with others. And may others continue to experience the risen Christ through us as we reach out in the love and grace which comes from our risen Lord. In the name of the Father, the +Son and the Holy Spirit. +SBD

This sermon was inspired by my reading of the following.
“The Challenge of Easter” by NT Wright
Article “Jesus Ahead of Us, Not Behind” by David Bartlett, Christian Century – March 13, 1991

I love this work which is by the wonderful artist - He Qi


  1. Could you let us know where the exquisite picture at the bottom of your post comes from? Absolutely wonderful. And I really enjoyed your reference to "Back to the Future"; so true, how a glance backwards can change your forward motion.

  2. Thank you - the artist is He Qi - if you do a google search you can find his online gallery which has lots of paintings of both Old and New Testament stories. These are beautiful and meaningful works of art.