St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, April 21, 2019
The Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day
First Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
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.
The heavenly messengers in our Gospel lesson for this morning said to the women at the tomb of Jesus, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
On Monday morning, the world watched in shock and bewilderment as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was engulfed in flames. A beautiful symbol of our Christian faith, ancient and revered, was suddenly taken from us without any warning. My immediate thought, after seeing the initial news reports was, “Oh, Lord, please don’t tell me someone did this on purpose.” After further investigation, it was reported that the fire was likely caused by a chemical reaction during the process of renovating and restoring the eight hundred year old cathedral.
Nine hours after the fire began, it was finally extinguished, and what remained of the cathedral was a smoldering shell of its former glory. The building had suffered colossal damage. The spire above the cathedral had collapsed. Parts of the roof and all of the wooden architecture on the inside of the church had been reduced to embers and ash.
Amazingly, parts of the cathedral were saved from the fire. The twin bell towers that stand at the main entrance were salvaged. The stone exterior was preserved, and the church’s renowned pipe organ, although damaged, will one day play again. After news of this was reported, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, made a vow to the people of France and the world, saying, “I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral.”
The day after the fire, news reports kept surfacing online. One headline from The Washington Postread, “Notre Dame Cathedral will rise again. But it will never be the same.” Of course it won’t. Endings open up for us the possibility of new beginnings if we’re willing to be transformed in the process. Another story featured a picture from the ruins of the cathedral. It was a picture of the charred, wooden interior of one of the cathedral’s two naves. In the foreground, you could see how extensive the damage was. Smoke was still rising from the burnt pile of debris, and crumbled pieces of stone were scattered around the ash heap. In the background, however, was a symbol of hope. Standing in the midst of the rubble, behind the altar, was a golden cross that appeared to be untouched by the flames.
Seeing the picture of the cross standing in the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral reminded me that nothing is ever lost that can’t be found again. God is already at work, building back up that which has been torn down. This is the hope that we experience on Easter Day. This is why the angels at the tomb of Jesus ask the women on the day of resurrection, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. What they found instead was God already at work, bringing forth new life and new possibilities.
We learn in Luke’s account of the resurrection that Jesus, while he was still with them, told these women from Galilee that he would be crucified and then resurrected on the third day. Why is it, then, that they come to the tomb prepared to anoint his lifeless body? Have they simply forgotten what Jesus told them? Or, was the possibility of such a miraculous event beyond their ability imagine or believe?
Far too often, I think we suffer from the same lack of faith, the same inability to believe in resurrection, as the women at the tomb. We know what happens on Easter Day. The same story is told, year after year. We know that sin and death have been defeated once and for all and that Jesus rose victorious from the grave. Yet, we spend so much of our time on earth acting as though death has the final word. We convince ourselves that we’re unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness. Feelings of doubt and despair weigh us down and hinder us from truly believing that new life is possible.
But, with God, new life is always possible.
Christian theologian, C.S. Song, once wrote, “The resurrection is not a denial of the past. It is sacrament of tears shed, pain sustained and death remembered…. To celebrate the sacrament of life in the face of death is an act of faith. To believe in life resurrected from the ruins of human conflict comes from God who is the power of transformation. And to work toward change in the human condition is a calling in response to the vision of God’s reign.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, death no longer has the final word. Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross and glorious resurrection, has shown us the way to everlasting life. If we open ourselves to the possibility of resurrection, we can see glimpses of hope springing forth all around us, reminding us that new life is always possible, like a golden cross standing unscathed in the charred ruins of a cathedral.
We are resurrection people, and it’s our call to live as resurrection people, transformed and made new for the work of sharing the Good News of God in Christ with the world. The Easter proclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen,” isn’t just something we say to make ourselves feel better, and it isn’t simply a reminder of an event that happened long ago at one point in time. It’s our proclamation to the world that what was once cast down has been raised up. The dead live again. There is victory for those who believe. The same is true today as it was yesterday and forever more. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Amen.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of the sermon.