04 April 2010

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of our Lord

Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
    Introit: I arose, and am still with thee, alleluia; thou hast laid thy hand upon me, alleluia; Thy knowledge is become wonderful, alleluia, alleluia. (Ps 138.1,2) Lord, thou hast searched me and know me; thou knowest my sitting down and my rising up.

    Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by thy life-giving Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
In a recent essay, Nora Gallagher talks about practicing resurrection. It is a splendid phrase, “practicing resurrection.” She wonders whether we spend too much time in the church discussing whether we believe in the resurrection or do not believe in the resurrection. By doing this, she thinks, we may miss the point. She writes:
“When I think about the resurrection now, I not only wonder about what happened to Jesus. I ponder what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion, but after the resurrection appearances, they walked back out into the world. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers, and healed the sick. It was not just what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them. ... What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone, but also about what those appearances point to, what they ask? It’s finally what we do with them that matters; make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to new life. Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.”

Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.

“Practicing resurrection.” It is a splendid phrase. It is splendid truth. It is our Easter truth.

It does seem like in so many ways, people are longing for the practice of resurrection in their lives. A widow whose husband died at a much too early age. A man who is struggling with a new career at midlife and fears his ability to cope with new challenges. A colleague who falls into a deep, clinical depression and struggles to live through the day with meager energy. In so many ways, so many people are longing for new life, for the practice of resurrection.

I suppose one could say that the women who arrived at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning really needed to practice resurrection. Think about it. They had gone to the tomb on that morning to attend to Jesus’ body. This was to be the last, loving service they could do for their Lord. They had witnessed Jesus’ death. They knew that there was no time for a proper burial. So they came with spices to complete the burial rites. Their beloved Lord was dead. They could at least perform this one last act of love for him.

And yet their hearts must have been heavy. Their life with Jesus was over. The one whose call had been irresistible, the one whose service was like no other service they had ever known, now lay lifeless in a tomb. And there must have been fear mixed in with their grief. Not just the fear of death. But the fear that all their hopes and dreams had died along with Jesus, that they too lay lifeless in the grave. This is what happens to love in the world. They had known perfect love in Jesus, and the world had killed him. The world can be a cruel and fearsome place.

But something amazing happened when the reached the tomb. When they arrived at the tomb, they entered into the place of their deepest and darkest fears. They entered the very place of death. And yet, what did they find when they entered this place of fear and death? Nothing. No thing. No body. Nothing.

We are told that they were perplexed when they did not find the body, which is understandable because they thought their story with Jesus was over and his dead body was the final period. But the angel reminded them that this is not the end of the story. He said:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

They needed to be reminded of resurrection. "Remember how he told you." But then they needed to practice resurrection. They needed to go and tell all this to all the rest of the disciples. They got the good news that Christ is risen from the dead, and now they needed to change from people who perform rites for the dead to apostles who bear witness to the living Lord. They needed to practice resurrection. They needed to change from people who are fearful and frightened to people who boldly proclaim that God’s life is stronger than any death, that God’s love is stronger than any hate, that God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.

So they practiced on the men. They told all they had seen and heard to the eleven and all the rest. And it must be said, they were a little slow on the uptake. The words of the women seem to them an idle tale. But they needed to practice resurrection too. And they eventually got it, and, together with those first women, they became a courageous group of apostles who changed the world.

The good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. This belief, this truth, this resurrection, changes everything. Cruelty is not the last word. Sin and evil are not the ultimate powers of the universe. Death does not get the final laugh. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Forgiveness and love and life are the final realities of the world. Jesus Christ is risen today. The power of God is stronger than any tomb. Jesus Christ has risen.

The good news of Easter is not only that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and lives now, but also that the power of the resurrection can transform our lives now as well. New life is possible, now, here, today. But for that to happen, we need not only to be reminded of resurrection, but also to practice resurrection.

Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.

In Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, he tells a powerful story about practicing resurrection. He tells a story that took place in South Africa when, to all outward appearances, apartheid still had a strangle-hold on power and Nelson Mandela was still in jail. Wallis was at an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of St. George’s where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was presiding, when a group of the notorious South African Security Police broke into the service. Wallis writes:

“Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders. … They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before and kept them in jail for several days. … After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power ... but reminded them that he served a higher power than their political authority. Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African Apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and an enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and a boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security forces that surrounded the cathedral and greatly outnumbered the band of worshippers, we literally leaped to our feet, shouted the praises of God and began dancing. We danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military forces who not knowing what else to do, backed up to provide the space for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa.”

Ten years later, Wallis attended the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president. Wallis spoke to Archbishop Tutu and asked him if he remembered that earlier day when they had danced out of the Cathedral onto the streets, and Tutu said that, indeed, he did remember. Wallis reflects that apartheid did not die on the day Mandela was released or inaugurated, but that it died the day of the celebration in the church, when they danced for freedom in the streets of South Africa.

Practice Resurrection! Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.

Is it possible to practice resurrection in our own cities and streets? Can we, like those first women who came to the tomb, practice resurrection in our own lives?

The promise of Easter is that we can. We don’t need to go about looking for the dead among the living, and we don’t need to go about living like the dead among the living. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He is alive. Because he is the first fruits, we can be assured that a similar future awaits us. We need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection over and over again. But we also need to practice resurrection. The truth of Easter is that the promise of new life doesn’t just await us in the future, but that we are able to live new lives, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.

Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.

-- The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD. He received a Ph.D. in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.