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The Feast of the Resurrection

Easter Day, March 23, 2008
The Rev. David R. Hackett

risenAlleluia! Christ is risen!

(congregational response) The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

One of my favorite stories about Sewanee, that bastion of the Episcopal Church in the south where I went to seminary, is about a young seminarian many years ago who was so caught up in the joy of the Day of the Resurrection that he went around his neighborhood knocking on doors and proclaiming with great exuberance, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” One crusty dowager opened her door to the seminarian, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” he shouted. To which she dourly replied, “Yes, young man, I believe he is.” I’m thankful we respond with a bit more enthusiasm.

Several years ago at my mother’s funeral the clergyman preached a homily. Beforehand he had asked me what I wanted him to say. I told him some stories about my mother and her life, but then I told him quite firmly that we didn’t want a eulogy but a sermon. I ended up by saying, “Just preach to Gospel to us.” In the course of his homily he began to talk about mother’s DNA being present in us, her family. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Somehow, in his mind, that had something to do with her eternal life; I think! He was a nice man, a sincere man. And I know that I’ve said some strange things from the pulpit, but DNA and eternal life? Unbelievable!

Easter is to be proclaimed, not explained. It is nice that Easter happens in the Spring when everything is beginning to bloom and the beauty of the earth is seen and creation is fresh again. But let’s not confuse nature and Christianity. It’s natural for flowers to bloom again and I appreciate their beauty. But what we are celebrating this day is not natural. We are here to celebrate the most un-natural event of all. Death is what is natural. Easter is un-natural. Resurrection is God’s way of showing his power and control of nature, even control of death.

Our eternal life is neither natural nor is it automatic. We don’t pop up like the tulips. We are not perennials. There is a big difference between immortality and eternal life in Christ. Immortality means that life goes on anyway, no matter what happens. You die and if your soul is immortal, you continue to live. If that’s the case, what’s the big deal about Christ being raised from the dead? Why celebrate that which is automatic or inevitable? Christians don’t celebrate immortality. We celebrate eternal life given to us by Christ.

Remember how we began Lent forty days ago on Ash Wednesday? The ashes were blessed with this prayer,

“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our savior.”

It is only by God’s gracious gift that we have everlasting life!

This day is all about receiving the gift. It is not about understanding the gift. I do not understand what happened at the tomb on the day of the resurrection. Please hear me correctly. I am not anti-rational nor an advocate of an unthinking, blind approach to the Christian faith. The desire to understand is natural. And I suppose I try to understand as much as anyone. But to rely on understanding alone is not enough. Understanding and reason are adjuncts to faith. Faith is not ignoring reason, it is the perception of that which is beyond reason. For example, do you understand love? If you are fortunate you have experienced it. But, do you understand it? We can love completely without understanding completely.

River RunsDo you remember that wonderful book, A River Runs Through It? The author turns a story about his family and fly-fishing into a parable about the art of living. At one level the story is about his family and the death of his younger brother from gambling and drinking. At another level, the story is about the art of living in the face of loss, sin, and evil. Fly fishing enters the story as an act of grace. It is an act of disciplined hope to cast your line in the river to catch something alive and beautiful. At the end of the story, the narrator, by now an old man, has learned to fish from the river of time. He has learned to fish for the memory of the people he has lost. Yet he is not longer haunted by regret. He has learned the art of loving completely without understanding completely.

Mary and Peter, after having experienced the love of the Risen Lord, after having survived loss and sin and evil; and discovering that the love of God in Christ knows no boundaries, are converted to a faith where you can love completely without understanding completely.

Strange, isn’t it? Christmas is the feast marked by giving. Yet Easter is the feast of the greatest gift. We are given the gift of faith and everlasting life. God’s gift is given this way: As the angel of death passed over the children of Israel in Egypt because of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us on the cross and death passes over us because of his blood. Through the waters of the Red Sea God led the children of Israel out of their bondage into the land of promise; though the waters of baptism we have been led out of our bondage to sin and death into everlasting life.

This is God’s gift of new life to us. That is why we are here today: to rejoice, to celebrate, to have a holy party, to rejoice in the victory of our God. The powers of death have done their worst, the gates of hell are broken down. Jesus is raised from the tomb. He has defeated death. And because death is defeated we no longer need fear death. Because of his resurrection we have this gift, the gift of eternal life in Christ. Because of the gift we can truly and fully live this life now. We can love completely without understanding completely.

Let us receive the gift! Let us rejoice in the gift! And live our lives in the power of the Risen Lord. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.