The first language I heard spoken in my life was Russian. My family spoke Russian at home, German at church, and English at school and in the community.
The first time I heard the words of the Easter greeting, the equivalent of our Easter greeting: “Christ is risen ! He is risen indeed!”, I heard this:
Christos Voskres! Va-istinu Voskres! That’s Russian for: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Try it. Say it with me …
“Christ is risen.” “He is risen indeed.”
I thought about that as I prepared my Easter Sunday sermon. Different languages are present here at Kerrisdale church. Different cultures are represented. But, whatever the language and culture, these words, and the faith that they convey, ought to make a difference in our lives. They ought to mean something. They ought to have consequences. Resurrection consequences.
Easter Sunday’s sermon ought to be among the easiest to prepare. After all, Easter is the cornerstone doctrine of our faith. Everyone accepts the teaching. Right?
“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” The first part of the statement is informative – “Christ is risen” – information. The second part of the statement is affirmative – “He is risen indeed” – affirmation. Both speaker and responder have stated and affirmed and accepted the conviction of this information – this fact. This statement and response is a declaration of faith. Easter Faith. How do we come to Easter Faith?
What consequences result from our Easter faith?
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed !!”
It’s like when my wife says, “I’m meeting my sister. We’re going shopping.” – information
Later that day she returns with some bags bearing labels from some Park Royal shops that I recognize.
“You’ve been shopping indeed!”
Now we wait for the VISA statement. “You’ve been shopping indeed!!”
The truth of the statement has consequences. I’m convinced.
“Christ is risen indeed!!” There are resurrection consequences when we speak these words with conviction.
What are the consequences of this affirmation of the resurrection for us today? What are the consequences for us as individual followers of Jesus Christ? What are the consequences of this affirmation for us a church, that is bold enough to call itself a Christian Church – a church that follows this Christ. How do we come to, and demonstrate Easter faith? How do we live out our resurrection consequences?
“Christ is risen! He is Risen indeed!
If Christ is risen indeed, then this Christ ought to reveal himself and be recognizable somehow .
Can we just make that statement and carry on as if nothing has happened? We should know that Easter faith has consequences.
“Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!”
What is there left to say? Indeed, what is there left to say to a congregation that has probably heard dozens of Easter Sunday sermons. Most of us here have probably attended church for at least fifty years. That would mean that each of us has heard at least fifty Easter Sunday sermons. Multiply that times the number of us who gather here more or less regularly and you have over 3000 Easter Sunday sermons as part of your collective experience.
Do any of those sermons stand out? Well, I know it’s hard to remember sermons. Sometimes we have forgotten what the preacher said even before you get back to the lounge for coffee, so let’s not even think about sermons that happened over past fifty years.
Let’s think about Easter Sunday services. Do any Easter Services stand out as memorable? Did any of them bring us closer to Easter Faith. Easter faith, faith that goes beyond trying to understand the Easter event that defies all we know of natural law. Easter an event that happened 2000 years ago. A supernatural occurrence that happened way back when people accepted those sorts of things. Easter, an event that has meaning and purpose, more that lambs, chicks and bunnies, and perhaps a new hat.
Easter should be an event that revitalizes our lives, brings vision, brings us to forgiveness, commitment and hope.
This what happened to the earliest Christens as we heard from Peter’s first century sermon from Acts. This would be an Easter event that changed us, that had consequences?
Easter,is an event that defies all logic and science and yet is the cornerstone of our faith. Easter , a miracle of God’s that changed the world forever. Easter is a miracle that opens us up to miracles, big and small, miracles that can happen in our lives, because on this day God’s love triumphed over death. God’s power of life defeated the despair of death.
So let’s think back. Do you remember a “Christ is risen.” And the even more astounding affirmation “He is risen indeed.” A service that had consequences. Something that brought you closer to Easter faith? Changed your life?
One Easter Sunday really stands out for me. It happened when Cathy and I were living in London, England many years ago. With her studies concluding and me having a long weekend off from work, we decided to take a trip to Brighton and return via a circular rout on train and bus. We got to the Brighton seaside, enjoyed the pier and the gravelly shore, and moved along further south and east to Hastings, Rye and further to Winchelsea. Finally, we ended up in Canterbury on Saturday night, just by accident.
We realized that it was really Easter, only when we started to look for a place to stay for the night. Every hotel and pub rental room was taken. Our man at the bar, who was kind enough to help, got rooms at his mother’s place.
The students, who rented had gone home for the long weekend. It was Saturday night of Easter weekend.
We were not people of faith, not church goers, and Easter was nothing more than an extended break from the pressures of city life for both of us. But we had both studied literature and history and we knew the importance of Canterbury.
Here we were in the shadow of the thousand-year-old Cathedral – the destination for Chaucer’s pilgrims in Canterbury Tales, the heart and soul of the Church of England, --the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. An historic opportunity. So, we went to church that Sunday morning. Somehow, we were seated in the front row of the second block of seats right in the middle of this massive structure, its vaulted ceiling rising sixty feet up. The carved stone looked like Belgian lace.
We were still craning our necks and taking in the wonder of it all when the chords on the pipe organ broke the murmurings of the 1000 faithful who had gathered. The congregation rose and we stood with them. The choir-voices filled the huge space with “Jesus Christ is risen today. Hallelujah!” Like a chorus of angels, the children’s voices stretched to reach the high peaks of the descant.
And, right there, right in front of us, there rounding the corner, was the Archbishop himself. Sir Michael Ramsay, decked out in gilded surplus and miter, carrying his shepherd’s crook.
The Archbishop at a quick march, and he, followed by an entourage of acolytes and candle bearers, sweeping by us, their gowns brushing the ancient flagstone floor.
It seemed as if the royal coronation and the last judgment were about to happen at any moment. It was truly a remarkable and memorable Easter service, that one at Canterbury Cathedral. Did it bring me closer to Easter faith? Did it have consequences?
Looking back, I must say that it did have consequences. It didn’t experience an earth-shattering event, like Paul’s encounter with the Christ on the Damascus Road that day. But, thinking about it, that day in Canterbury, I can say that experience, did make an impact. It played a part in my own coming to Easter faith. Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah! The same hymn we sang… That’s why I remember it so well. That Easter event had consequences. I’m standing here today, in part, because of that Easter Sunday service in Canterbury more than forty-five years ago.
But why should it be memorable at all? What’s the big deal? Why is Easter so important? As Ainsley, my eight-year-old, granddaughter once s said, “He was only dead for two days.”
We’ve made Christmas the most visible feast of the Christian year. But, in fact, as far as our Christian faith is concerned, Easter is very much more important.
Without Easter we wouldn’t know Jesus at all. We wouldn’t know about a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.
If the story had ended at the crucifixion, the life of this Galilean baby would likely have been forgotten – just another rebellious Jew crucified by the Roman Empire in a bloody century that witnessed thousands of executions. Perhaps some ancient historian, like Josephus, or some rabbinic scholar might have made a note of a messianic figure form a small town up near the Sea of Tiberius. But there would have been no abiding community to remember him. There would be no one to give meaning to his death, no Christians to “believe” in the resurrection and live out their resurrection hope. – resurrection consequences. – no Maundy Thursday, no Good Friday, no Easter Sunday. In fact, no Sunday at all.
So Easter is central. But what are the Easter stories about? Each gospel tells the Easter story in its own way. What do they mean? On the surface, it is obvious. God raised Jesus. Yes. But what does it mean? Is Easter about the most spectacular miracle of all time? Is Easter about the promise of an afterlife? Is Easter about a sacrifice, like a sacrificial lamb, a kind of pagan human sacrifice to appease the gods – God offers up his own son to atone for the sins of humankind; then proving that he is truly God’s son by raising him?
What does it mean? Why should it be consequential?
The first witnesses to the resurrection had difficulty with the idea of their friend, their master returning from the dead. They didn’t have years of Easter sermons and celebrations to support the concept. Dead is dead. Nobody comes back.
They had to come to Easter faith through firsthand, fearful and hard experiences.
And, John’s gospel account, the one we heard read this morning, gives us a visual and tactile account of these experiences from the first eye witnesses. John’s account reads like a movie. It takes us into a dark space and then projects flickers on the screen of our understanding with images and irony that draw us into the story. We share the anxiety, the fear, the excitement, the doubts, the revelations and the transformations of those who first experienced the Easter events. Events that have consequences for them.
The New Testament does not provide us with a record of Jesus’ resurrection. We do not have an account like that of Lazarus rising from his deathbed and emerging in with the grave cloths hanging from him. Our only source for verifying our belief, what we hang our faith on, what we cling to as doctrine, and try to live out for the world to see, is through the actions and perceptions of those who came to belief through seeing, telling and retelling. We have those who saw an empty tomb. Those who heard their name called. Those who were able to say, “I have seen the Lord.” It is their witness that allows each one of us to embrace this event and with some conviction say: “ I too, have seen, have experienced, the Lord” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.”
Come , let’s look at John’s version of the resurrection story through his lens.
As the scene opens, we hear the footfalls of Mary Magdalene and her fretful breathing as she makes her way through the dark narrow passages of Jerusalem in the early morning hours. Mary is from Magdala , up north by the Sea of Galilee. She is a visitor, a Passover pilgrim,
She’s far from home, frightened by this strange place, and the even stranger events of the past few days. She makes her way through the darkness out through the city gate to the private walled garden court to the tomb, a cave-like excavation in the garden.
She sees the stone that covered the opening has been removed – rolled away. She gasps, “Grave robbers!” Gripped in fear she runs back to the house where she is staying with the other Galilean pilgrims. There she finds Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, John, and gasping for breath, speaks, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb – grave robbers!”
Peter and John leap up and start running as fast as they can -- a foot race. Who will get their first to witness this travesty? There beloved teacher’s body stolen – for ransom, for what reason? John is first, but he backs off, afraid. Peter appears moments later, and immediately ducks down to get a look into the darkness. He sees the grave clothes, and the head cloth separately unwrapped. “Not grave-robbers. They wouldn’t have taken the time…” Go on look John.” John looks in. He sees. And, he believes. Jesus has not been stolen. Thieves would not have unwrapped the dead body. He has vanished from here. He is somewhere else. He doesn’t know where, but he believes he’s OK.
Both Peter and John are witnesses to the empty tomb and the empty wrappings, but neither of them are able to comprehend the significance of the event.
There are two parts to the Easter event. The rising. “Christ is risen!” and the beholding, the experiencing of his presence part. “He is risen, indeed!” Peter and John have only one half of the Easter experience. They leave. They got the “Christ-is-risen” part.
They are perplexed. They are fearful. They could be next on the court docket. Their lives are in peril. They return to their dwelling place.
But Mary, who didn’t take part in the footrace and got there a bit later. She stays in the walled garden. The Gospel writer, like a filmmaker, cuts back to Mary, who is approaching the tomb with caution. When she looks in, she sees two angels. “Why are you weeping?” Mary, still thinking it must be a grave robbing, says, They’ve taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him?(v.13) She presumes that Jesus’ body remains a corps. It has been moved somewhere else. Then she turns back to look across the garden, as if she might get a clue. And our text’s words say: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.(v.14) We the viewers of the movie, know it’s Jesus. We the audience want to say, “Mary , there , there he is!” The irony is twisting inside us. Mary, in all her innocence, asks the man she presumes to be the gardener, “
Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away, (v.15) “Tell me where you are keeping him and I will come and get him and take him to be near his friends, to be near the people who remember him.
I’ll take him back to the ones who loved him, who walked with him, who poured perfume on him, who moaned at the foot of the cross.”
Her petition is sincere, fearless, illogical, ill-conceived but passionate.
Then the man, the gardener, who we all know is Jesus, turns and speaks. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? (v.15) He repeats the angel’s question. She continues to explain her plight to him as if he is the gardener.
Mary, he calls her by name. When he calls her name the truth of the resurrection fills her, body, mind and soul. And she responds with both a greeting and an illumination, an honouring, and a revelation : Rabboni – teacher.
She reaches out to him.
Jesus , ever the teacher, teaches again, as she reaches out to touch him, to embrace, perhaps even to kiss.” He instructs her, “Do not hold on to me,” meaning, “I’m not physical, I’m not the body I was before, but I am here, a presence, a form , I’m ascending to the Father, not palpable, to you, but comprehensible, here I am with you. I call your name. I am the shepherd who knows his flock, and calls them by name. They hear is voice. I’m here, but I’m not here just for you alone. He continues, “ Go to my brothers, a say to them that I am ascending to my father and to your father, to my God and to your God..” ( v.17) “Go and tell them now!”
Mary Magdalene is no longer fearful. She is not ashamed. She doesn’t hide her knowledge and experience. Mary Magdalene goes and announces to the disciples, :
I have seen the Lord.(v.18) “And this is what he said to me.”
Here we have the depiction of the encounter of three eye-witnesses. Here we have three different ways that those who were nearest to Jesus came to Easter faith.
Two of Jesus ‘disciples race to see for themselves. They see, one believes , the other doesn’t know, but both remain silent. They keep it a secret.
The third, returns, remains and learns more. Even as fearful and full of trepidation as she is, Mary Magdalene’s persistence is rewarded. Despite her fears, she remains. And Jesus reveals himself calling her by name.
“I have seen the Lord.” “He is risen!” and, “He is risen indeed!” Both the empty tomb and the encounter. This knowledge is not kept secret. It is not for her alone – Do not hold on to me. (v.17) “ This is for everyone, not you alone.” says Jesus.
This encounter must be told. first to my brothers, the disciples, and then to the rest. To the early community of believers in this Jesus of Nazareth. To those through the early development of the faith, those that Saul, later Paul, was persecuting, the communities of believers who formed around the gospel interpreters, Matthew, Mark, Luke, these schools of thought. And, all the way to through the ages to us here today, -- you and me. The Easter story is told. The Easter story has consequences.
The resurrection, the knowledge that he is not in the tomb, the hope that he has not been stolen, but has vanished in some mysterious form and is still present.
Death on the cross was not the final word, he is with us still.
“He is risen!” the first half of the statement,
And the second half, “I experienced something. He called me by name and I responded, I couldn’t actually hold him, but he was there, I know it.. “I have seen the Lord. “He is risen indeed!” That is often something we need to work on –
For the disciple that Jesus loved, John, this coming to Easter faith was easy. “He’s not here. He’s not dead. He must be someplace else. I believe. I don’t have to analyze it.
For Peter, ever dogged, always leaping in then tripping over his rashness, slicing off an ear, misinterpreting, misunderstanding, lying three times and hearing the cock crow, as Jesus predicted. He just doesn’t know for sure. The consequences of an open and forthright declaration of the thought that Jesus has been raised from the dead are just too much at this time. Perhaps fearing further persecution, even death. Peter is saying “He is risen!” He’s still not sure about ,”He is risen indeed!”.
But for Mary, Mary Magdalene, she knows. She saw. She spoke to him. He called her by name. She is telling the story. And her story is being retold. It is gaining ground It is gaining in meaning.
The Easter event is central to our faith. We confess it. We embrace it. Each one of must find a way to incorporate it into our own lives in our own way, just like the first witnesses. Each one of us must find a way to place it in our lives , the life of our worship community , our church. This Easter event ought to have consequences.
How will we make it meaningful in our own lives today? How will we grasp it, animate it? Will we believe, even from limited evidence? Will we remain cautious? Will we return to the garden, to the empty tomb to see again, to be open to a revelation? To hear him call our name? Will we let this event have consequences in our lives and the life of our church?
And once we have that conviction, how will we respond? Will we try to hold on to our personal Jesus? What kind of consequences will our new understanding carry?
Will we stay in the walled, protected garden, the cloistered domain of our church, our church friends, our seemly tried and true patterns of experiencing our Jesus? Will we ignore the reality that those, so called “tried and true “expressions are not meeting the needs of the community in which we find ourselves? Will we be able to set aside the conventional thinking and accept the counterintuitive wisdom of the empty cross, the empty grave, the abandoned grave clothes.
Will we see and understand the meaning of the discarded grave cloths , the wrappings and trappings of a dead man, a dyeing church? Will we stand at the gate of the tomb weeping and not look up . Woman why are you weeping, asks the angel sitting in the tomb. “Why are you weeping?
Are we able to behold the risen one, the Christ among us, first and foremost. Can we accept with conviction the words of Paul to the Colossians: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth… ( Colossians 3:2a)
Can we see the evidence and say, “He is not there, not dead, not in the tomb., he is risen! He is risen indeed!” ? He has forgiven those who abused him. He has forgiven us all . We too are forgiven. We too, can now forgive.
Accepting the resurrection is a challenge. Accepting Jesus’ Christ presence, God with us , Emmanuel is our doctrine , but’s a challenge.
Will we leave the protected cloistered wall of the garden and the gardener? Will we go and do as Jesus teaches Mary Magdalene, “Go and tell my brothers. Go and tell others. Share this knowledge. Don’t be afraid.”
And now our movie has turned from the earlier darkness to light. Mary Magdalene is not fearful; She goes out beaming living, breathing exuding her new revelation. “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed .” This has consequences.
I pray that we too to can feel like Mary Magdalene today. That we will hear the gardener, Jesus, call our name. That we will have a revelation, and an illumination of this story, told and retold over the centuries, heard thousands of times. I pray that we too can come and experience true Easter faith. Easter faith that has consequences. Faith that says, “Yes the risen Christ stands before us today, even as he has done for over 2000 Easters and 3000 sermons. Still, his call can be heard, his love can be felt, his forgiveness can be experienced, his healing can happen. His instruction “Go!” and “Tell.” can animate us all, even today. I pray that each and every one can say in all sincerity, “I have seen the Lord!”
“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Say it again and again, believe it, and let the words transform you and motivate you , through your own life and through your life in this church. Say it again, in your mind . In your own way in your own language. Say with your own accent, with your own emphasis, Say it from your heart and soul, from your own cultural place, in your own original language, Taiwanese, Mandarin , Spanish , Japanese , French, German, English .Let every tongue confess! Sat it aloud! Affirm it ! Accept it!
Christos Voskres ! Va istiny Voskress .
Christ is risen! Is risen indeed! Resurrection consequences. AMEN.