A Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day + April 1, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day + Year B
First Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: John 20:1-18

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 12.27.23 PM“I have seen the Lord!”

These are the first words spoken by Mary Magdalene to Jesus’ disciples soon after she discovers the risen Christ and runs to tell them all the wonderful news of what has happened.

“I have seen the Lord!”

You can imagine the excitement in her voice as she announces to the disciples that Jesus, their friend and master who was crucified, has indeed been raised from the dead.

But, if we back up a bit in our Gospel lesson for today, we know that Mary Magdalene doesn’t actually recognize Jesus at first. Rather, she sees and talks with a man who she assumes must be the gardener. Now, I don’t really know why she assumes that Jesus is the gardener. I doubt that Jesus is wearing a pair of overalls and a straw hat! All we know is that, when Mary turns from the two angels sitting in the empty tomb, she sees a man standing in the garden. The man asks Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Assuming that the gardener has done something with Jesus’ body, she says to him anxiously, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Mary’s love for Jesus is evident in the way that she cares for him, even in death.

As readers of John’s Gospel, the author has given us a special insight into the story. Unlike Mary Magdalene, we don’t have to guess the identity of the man in the garden. We already know that it’s the resurrected Jesus, and so it’s no surprise to us at all when Mary finally discovers the truth.

Like the Good Shepherd who calls out to his sheep, Jesus calls out to Mary by name, and in that moment, she knows exactly who he is. “Mary!” Jesus says. She turns at once and, in Hebrew, responds, “Rabbouni!” which means, “master” or “teacher.” For Mary, this was not only a title of respect for Jesus but also a term of endearment. This was the man who welcomed her into the sheepfold, the one claimed her as one of his own.

For the author of John’s Gospel, the point of this Easter story is not to prove to us that Jesus died and rose from the tomb. As Christians, we already know this and believe it to be true. No, the point of this Easter story is that, when Christ calls us by name, like Mary, we are changed forever. When Christ calls us by name, we are claimed as his own and drawn into a new way of life- a resurrected life.

In the Church, we celebrate this new way of life through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Last night at St. Catherine’s, during the Great Vigil of Easter, we baptized five new members into the household of God. It was a beautiful and moving celebration of new life and Easter joy as the community of God’s faithful people came together to welcome Joseph, Katherine, and Kayelyn Dominguez and Hunter and Charlie Craft as the newest members of the Body of Christ. Together, with their friends and family members by their side, we vowed to uphold them in their new life in Christ, and we recommitted ourselves to the work of the Gospel by renewing our own baptismal covenant.

We vowed, with God’s help, to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.

We vowed, with God’s help, to persevere in resisting evil and to repent and return to the Lord when we fall short of our calling.

We vowed, with God’s help, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

We vowed, with God’s help, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

And finally, we vowed, with God’s help, to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Through the waters of Baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death and raised to newness of life. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and claimed as Christ’s own forever. Nothing can ever change that. Like Mary Magdalene in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus calls each of us by name, and we are his. In my opinion, this is the real miracle of Easter. Of course, we love to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Day, and we rightfully should. But, the real miracle, dear friends, is what Easter means for us as followers of Jesus.

Through his sacrifice on the cross and his glorious resurrection, Jesus has opened for us the way to life and peace with God. Sin and death no longer have dominion over us. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.

In a sermon that she once wrote, renowned preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, once described Easter as “the unnatural truth.” She wrote, “To expect a sealed tomb and find one filled with angels, to hunt the past and discover the future, to seek a corpse and find the risen Lord- none of this is natural. Death is natural. Loss is natural. Grief is natural. But those stones have been rolled away this happy morning, to reveal the highly unnatural truth. By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are Easter people, and as Easter people, we must keep the faith. We must hang on to the hope of the resurrection. What God has raised up, no evil can ever tear down. Darkness has given way to the light, and as followers of Jesus, we must carry that light with us wherever we go, even into the darkest corners of the world. The resurrected life isn’t always easy. There will be hardships, disappointments, and temptations along the way. But, as we continue the journey, we know that Christ is always with us- our constant companion, our help in times of trouble.

My prayer for you this Easter is that you’ll always remember that you are beautifully and wonderfully loved by God and claimed as Christ’s own forever. May you go forth from this place filled with joy in your hearts, knowing that Jesus Christ is risen- yesterday, today, and always. May you go forth knowing that the living Christ dwells within you, and may you go forth boldly proclaiming to the world, “I have seen the Lord!” Amen.

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