This is the sermon the Rt. Rev. Scott Mayer preached at the diocesan worship service for Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.
Easter Day, North Texas
April 4, 2021
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Jesus Christ is risen today, and by his rising to new life, we are raised with him. For, resurrection happens not only to Jesus, but to us as well – and not only to us, but to all of creation.
We heard moments ago a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians about resurrection appearances by the Risen Christ, who (according to Paul) appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, then to the one untimely born, Paul himself.
If we keep reading that passage, we will hear Paul say something interesting and remarkable – and maybe unexpected to our ears – about resurrection. In verse 13 of this 15th chapter, Paul writes: “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised.” Or, as another translation says: “If there is no resurrection from death, Christ himself cannot have been raised.”
It’s the Franciscan theologian, Richard Rohr, who points out that in this passage Paul presents resurrection as a universal principle, and strongly implies that one reason we can trust Jesus’s resurrection is that we can see resurrection happening everywhere else. Resurrection is presented by Paul as a general principle of all reality – even the cosmic pattern.
“Death and resurrection” is the universal principle of creation – the cosmic pattern. Perhaps the most recognized symbol for resurrection in our culture is the butterfly. A butterfly is the symbol of new life. As you know, the butterfly begins life as a caterpillar, then forms a cocoon or chrysalis, and then – out of that cocoon – finds new life in a new body as a butterfly.
And perhaps more interesting and amazing is how that happens. Listen to how the British writer Sara Maitland describes this transformation, this change – nature’s way of resurrection.
She writes: “There’s total disintegration inside [the cocoon], complete disintegration, all the cells break down into nothing and then they re-form as a butterfly. It seems like a tiny proof of the resurrection.”
Resurrection happens to Jesus, to us, and to the whole creation. Whether it is seen as something natural, as common as life itself … or seen as proof of something miraculous – as miraculous as life itself – it is God’s creation. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
As natural or miraculous as the universe, as natural or miraculous as all of God’s creation, resurrection happens. And yet, we are gathered here on Easter Day to celebrate something more than an acknowledged pattern or principle of the universe. Jesus Christ is risen today. And unlike the butterfly, unlike a the dormant plants of winter, unlike the grain or the seed, Jesus is resurrected from the dead.
It’s not just a PATTERN of life we celebrate – as much as that’s worth celebrating. And I would suggest further, it’s not just God’s POWER we celebrate either, however true. We celebrate something more than God’s power to do something miraculous; more than power to part the sea or roll away a stone. More than the pattern of the universe, and more than raw power, today we celebrate, specifically, the power of God’s LOVE to raise the dead. God’s love.
On Easter Day we celebrate the power of God’s love to raise the dead to new life. When we hear the story of the women coming to the tomb, only to find the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty, it’s easy to see all of this as a story of God’s power – God’s raw power to move large stones and raise a dead body to new life. Yet, we miss the point if we think this is a stunt to prove that God is powerful, or even to prove that Jesus is the Christ. The story tells us much more than that.
Over the last week – Holy Week – we have heard the story, and actually entered into the story as participants. Following Jesus, we entered the city of Jerusalem with palm branches waving on Palm Sunday. We participated in the Last Supper, and had our feet washed on Maundy Thursday. And on Good Friday we confessed the ways we join the disciples in the betrayal, the denial, and the abandonment Jesus out of fear and self-preservation.
And on this Easter morning we join with this small band of lost and bewildered followers of a crucified and discredited leader. We join with these dejected followers who are transformed into the most dynamic force in human history.
Fear, guilt, and self-centeredness are transformed into inner peace, and outward radiance, and attractive mutual regard for one another. And what power transforms these followers (and transforms us) from utter despair – deadly despair – to new life? What power casts out fear? What power forgives guilt? What power liberates us from self-centeredness? God’s love.
On Easter Day, as the Risen Christ makes appearances and as the Good News spreads, disciples themselves are raised from death to life. For, there are lots of ways to be dead.
We can be dead, because we don’t know we are forgiven. We can be dead, because we need to forgive someone else. We can be dead, because we are so afraid of dying we can’t risk living. We can be dead, because we think we must earn everything. We can be dead, because we think all of life is transactional, rather than a gift. We can be dead, because we think the pattern of the universe is “success and failure,” rather than “death and resurrection.” There is a reason the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins” are called “deadly” – there are lots of ways to be dead.
Fundamentally, we can be dead, because we don’t know we are loved without conditions. And, the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus – all of it together – is God’s declarative statement – the Good News, the Gospel – that all of us are loved. Undeserved forgiveness, unmerited grace, and unconditional love liberate us from the tomb.
A great theologian and renowned expert on world religions, Huston Smith, gives us an image of such love, and the power of love. Drawing from creation, he uses the fundamental unit of all matter, which we know as the source of nuclear energy: the atom.
He says: “… locked within the atom is the energy of the sun itself. For this energy to be released, however, the atom must be bombarded from without [from the outside].” Something from the outside must bombard the atom for the energy to be released.
“So, too,” he says, “locked in every human [being] is a store of love – [Divine Love] – the image of God that is within us. And it, too, can be activated only through bombardment – love’s bombardment.” Love activates love. Love releases love.
Love bombards the tomb! Love bombards the tomb of fear, guilt, and self-centeredness, and three deadly burdens are suddenly and dramatically dissolved.
It’s Easter Day. The tomb is empty. Love is released. The most powerful force in human history is released: God’s love. For Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!