Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Day, Year B, Sunday April 12, 2009

Acts 10:34-43; Psa 118:14-17,22-24; Col 3:1-4; Mark 16:1-8

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

“He has been raised; he is not here.”

Have you experienced a miracle lately? There are the little miracles every day, if we take a moment to notice them: a new flower, a baby’s smile, a red bird on a gray branch. Then there are the bigger miracles: of healing, recovery of something lost, a lasting friendship. Then there are the miracles that really knock our socks off, and that are even frightening in their unexpected power.

The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning expected to fulfill a gentle and loving act of anointing of the body of Jesus. They expected to mourn together. Above all, they expected his body to be there, in the tomb. Instead they saw the empty tomb, and heard the words: “Do not be alarmed.” That’s probably the biggest understatement in the whole Bible! These women are the first witnesses to the greatest miracle of all time and the angel says – “Do not be alarmed”. The women are absolutely terrified!

Then the angel says, “He has been raised; he is not here.” How could they possibly understand what that meant? Only gradually, as the community of followers experienced the risen Christ, did they begin to have some idea. So, how can we today know and understand that Christ, who has been raised from the tomb, is still a living presence among us?

At the site of the World Trade Center during the clean-up after September 11th, the workers found two structural beams joined at a right angle. The ends of these beams were severed in the shape of a huge, perfect cross. In the months following 9/11 this cross was set high above the site, so that it could be seen from anywhere in “the pit” and by passersby on the street.

Miracles can be astonishing, even frightening, and even – well – miraculous. I’m usually not too impressed by images of a saint or of the cross that happen in nature or by seeming coincidence, but somehow the WTC cross to me was very different. The WTC site is holy ground, where many people died. I believe that that cross was a miracle and a sign of the immediate and intimate presence of the living God in the very center of suffering and tragedy.

In the weeks immediately following 9/11 there was another miracle: a tangible and obvious shift in the energy of New York City. Strangers were talking to each other, crying together, helping each other. As I walked down the street in my religious habit, I was stopped every few steps to pray or talk or cry with someone. The crime rate in the city plummeted. The risen Christ was with us all: healing, encouraging, consoling. Out of that enormous tragedy came many miracles of compassion.

On that first Easter morning, the disciples thought they had experienced the greatest tragedy of their lives. They were deeply grieving, and also ashamed that they had run away and deserted Jesus. They were desolate to loose their beloved teacher and friend, especially to such a sudden and shocking and disgraceful death. Under normal circumstances, the death of Jesus would have been the end of his teaching, the end of his little band of followers, truly the end of the story.

Instead there was the miracle of the resurrection, which led to a second miracle: Jesus’ followers were transformed by grace and by their experience of the risen Christ into true disciples and missionaries. As the Good News of Easter became alive in them, they went out into the world, to proclaim that Christ had risen and that death and sin had been defeated by the goodness and grace of God! That inspired little band became the Church, and all who saw them were amazed and intrigued by their love and caring for each other and their faithful dedication to Christ.

Today, right here, right now, we are the heirs of this miracle. Today, we also can be transformed by the miracle of Christ in our midst, in our community of faith. Through this gift of grace, we are empowered, just as the disciples were, to step outside of the cycle of fear and despair into a new way of living and into a new way of being in relationship with one another and with God.

If you are visiting here for the first time or returning today to church after time away, you are welcome here. We invite you to join us and be part of our witness to the living Christ among us. We invite you to join us in our resurrection hope for new life in him. Everyone one of us has the light of Christ, dwelling with us. This light is with us, always, to guide us and to empower each one of us to believe in the miracle of his resurrection.

Nonetheless, we still live in a deeply troubled world. We hear more than we want in the news: of economic decline, suffering, conflict. Then there are also the troubles that we all carry in our own lives. In the midst of all this, we can still hear the proclamation that Jesus does not rest in the tomb, but that “he has been raised” so that there will be a beacon of hope in the very place of suffering and despair. What better place to put our trust than in the hands of the One who has given his life for us?

The cross stands firm in the very midst of sin and death and fear, and overturns all evil through the power of Christ’s self-giving love. The cross of Christ denies the power of death. The cross of Christ asserts God’s intimate presence with us always. The cross of Christ promises us of the joy of salvation. Christ gave himself over to death for the sake of love, and as Christ was raised from the dead, so we also are dead to sin. We are invited to live in his redeeming love so that we may “walk in newness of life”.

We need not despair and we need not be afraid of anything we face in this earthly life. The power of the risen Christ working in us, among us, and through us can transform us to become a community of hope that is more faithful, more caring, more loving than we could possibly imagine. We may even find that we are alarmed and astonished by grace, and that is truly a miracle.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

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