Easter Day April 20, 2014

How can any joy compare to the joy of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on the third day only to discover not a body but that Jesus had been raised from the dead? Mathew’s Gospel today bursts with the energy of the resurrection. There is an earthquake as an angel descending from heaven rolls back the stone so the women can enter the tomb.

Belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead changes our whole perspective on the world. That is what Peter is saying in his sermon to the Gentiles in Acts 10. In that moment Peter himself was experiencing something new, that God’s love and favor was not just for Israel but for all peoples. He tells them the story of the Christ: his teaching, his healings, his ministry and how he was crucified, but God raised him from the dead. And he says to them: “All who believe in him receive forgiveness of sin through his name.”

That does change everything. Our sins can be forgiven. The wrong that we do can be forgotten by God, our lives wiped clean. That is part of the great promise of Easter. Death and the fear of death, which are the enemies of life, are conquered. Jesus has vanquished the power of hell. He descended into hell to break its power through divine love. He gives to us a new sense of life, not just life in the here and now, but eternal life. We are meant for more than we experience in this mortal life; our lives and existence are more important to God than the brief time we are here in this world.

Jesus’ whole life and ministry was about intimacy with God. He loved people so deeply because of his intimacy with the Father. He points us to the Father and his relationship with the Father. Through his teaching and example, he helps us to cut through what is unimportant in life and to have the right priorities. On Maundy Thursday, he washes the feet of his disciples as he tells us that those who would be great must have the heart of service. He tells them, “Don’t lord over one another; look after one another with mutual caring.” Don’t be takers primarily but be givers – have the spirit of generosity. Don’t be harsh with others, have compassion. Seek to let compassion temper all your dealings with others. Don’t live focused on the things of this world, like they are most important. They will fade and decay. You can’t hold onto them. Only God can weather the storms of time. Only God can take us beyond the pains, losses and border of death.

The disciples suffered the greatest loss, loss of someone they deeply loved and depended on. We can imagine their despair. We know Judas killed himself. Peter was filled with grief and shame. There were probably recriminations among them; they were probably blaming one another and they were sad and afraid. The whole world had crashed in on them. And then came the message of the women. “He is alive!” “We don’t know how, but he is alive!” What he said has come true. God has raised him on the third day. Go to Galilee, for there you will see him.” And they did and the whole world changed for them and over time for millions of others.

Jesus is alive, as he said! For roughly two thousand years people have been experiencing the risen Christ through the power of his Spirit. Lives have been renewed, the brokenhearted comforted, souls and bodies healed, hope planted where there was no hope, and the course of history changed in many, many ways. What our society most needs is to discover the full meaning of faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. It would raise us from this culture of misery and death from which so many suffer and it would give new purpose, new energy, new hope to deal with today’s problems. Why? – because the rabbi from Galilee, crucified two thousand ago, raised from the dead, is the Son of God, now and forever. And he loves his creation and his people, the sheep of his pastures as truly today as he did when we walked on this earth.

Fr. Brian Spence