April 16, 2017
The Resurrection of Our Lord - Easter Day 2017
The Rev. Rod Sprange
It is an awesome privilege to be scheduled to preach on Easter Sunday - the most important and glorious day of our Christian year - when we remember and celebrate the discovery of the empty tomb, and for the first time meet the Risen Christ. This was the most important, most significant day in the history of creation since God said “Let there be light”.
Just thinking about what happened, as we listened to the experience of the two Mary’s at the tomb, and what it implies should send shivers down our spines. As Christians these stories and the truths they proclaim have been shared with us and we have been entrusted with them. It is a holy and sobering responsibility.
And on top of this we are about to witness and participate in the most important day in the life of a new Christian. Easter changed the world for ever. His baptism will change Zavian’s life forever. There is no going back.
If we had read a little further in Matthew, to the final few verses, we would have heard Jesus commissioning the disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This morning we will carry out the task set by Jesus on that mountain top, two centuries ago - using the exact same formula, Donna will baptize Zavian saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those commands of Jesus reaching across the centuries and the world.
For me our Easter worship is enhanced, made more real, more specific, with the celebration of this baptism. And the importance, solemnity and purpose of this baptism is given greater meaning being celebrated in the context of the day of our Lord’s Resurrection.
Let’s talk a little about Resurrection and Baptism - what do they really mean - what do they signify? Matthew’s account of the revelations of that first Easter are very dramatic - with an earthquake and a terrifying angel. Mary Magdalene - and the other Mary - the mother of James and Joseph, had watched in grief, on Friday afternoon as Joseph of Arimathea had placed the body of Jesus in the new tomb and rolled a heavy rock across the entrance. Such a resounding finality as the stone rumbled into position. The two Marys had come back on the first day of the week at dawn to see the tomb. It is hard to imagine the depth of their despair and sadness. I expect they kept reliving the trauma of seeing their friend and leader dying in agony and shame. What terrible grief they must have been experiencing. I imagine they were lost in their own individual thoughts as they walked to the burial site. Suddenly there was an earthquake as an angel appeared and rolled back the stone and sat on it. Guards placed by the tomb were terrified at the sight of the angel and fainted.
But the Angel told the women not to be afraid. He told them he knew why they were there - looking for the body of the crucified Jesus. He told them that Jesus wasn’t there because he had been raised from the dead just as he had said. The angel invited them to look in and see where the body had been. I can imagine the women cautiously approaching the entrance and peering in and in shock seeing the empty burial cloths. Then he gave them a message to take to the disciples - that Jesus had been raised and was going on ahead of them to Galilee and that they would see him there.
The two women hurried away to do as the angel had instructed them and Matthew says they went “with fear and great joy”. Encounters with the Holy can often leave us with a mixture of joy and awe. The women were overjoyed at the unbelievable news that Jesus was risen from the dead - but in awe about what all this meant.
Then as the women hurried off to tell the disciples, they were met by Jesus himself who greeted them - can you imagine what that would have been like? All that Matthew says is that they fell at his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said what he is so often quoted as saying in these appearances - “Do not be afraid”. He told the two Marys to “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”.
Here is an early clue about an important part of the meaning of the resurrection. The Risen Christ - who had been abandoned and denied by his so called friends,his disciples having suffered terribly (not the least because his disciples had continued to want him to be a powerful leader who would do battle with the Romans) now calls them his brothers and lets them know he wants to meet them in Galilee.
Jesus is demonstrating his forgiveness. In time we come to learn that Jesus is the one who can offer all of us forgiveness. Our job is to accept that forgiveness and start to live as the forgiven. I’ll leave you to think about what it may look like to live our lives as the forgiven. But remember on Maundy Thursday when we recalled how Jesus had washed the feet of his followers? And we heard him say “What I have done for you, you should do to others.” If we have been forgiven (and continue to receive forgiveness what does it say about us in relationship to those who may have hurt us?
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in his small but classic book “Resurrection: interpreting the Easter Gospel” argues that “on the far side of the resurrection, forgiveness and vocation occur together. Always, inseparably”. Forgiveness and Vocation. Why does he say this?
If we had read on this morning to the end of the chapter and Matthew’s Gospel account - we would have heard how Jesus greeted the disciples on the mountain in Galilee and commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Risen Christ commissioned the disciples to be his Apostles - ones sent to bring the Good News to the world.
You know you have been forgiven when you are entrusted with a sacred task.
In John’s account of the Galilean encounter with the Risen Christ, this point is made even more explicit. To really accept Jesus’s forgiveness Peter first had to deal with the terrible memory and guilt of denying Jesus three separate times. By his asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus led Peter to confront what he had done and provided him with the opportunity to fully repent in re-committing himself to Christ. But Peter really started to live the life of the forgiven when Jesus gave him the awesome responsibility of tending his flock. Forgiveness and vocation.
In these encounters we should see that we need to experience forgiveness and the healing of memories of injury, guilt and failure. It is not good to suppress our past or to be bowed down by it. We are a product of our past, good and bad, but it is with joy that we can look with hope to the future because we know we are living life as the forgiven, and have been entrusted, in Rowan Williams’s words - “with the vision of a humanity liberated from fear and shame by God’s presence in the Risen Jesus”.
The Resurrection gave us the promise and hope of eternal life and demonstrated that for humans sin and death do not have the last word. And this gives us hope and confidence and comfort in the face of the realities of life and death.
But more than this, Jesus’s Resurrection marks the beginning of God’s new creation. The healing of the relationship of humankind with God, with one-another and with all creation. The resurrection inaugurates the new age and the new covenant, where Christ reigns over all creation and is actively bringing about that day when all the world will come to know, love and worship the one, true God.
And we are called to be active partners in this mission. As the church and members of the church, we are called to share the Good News by demonstrating God’s love, forgiveness and generosity. This is our vocation.
And this brings us to think about what we are doing this morning when we participate in Zavian’s baptism. As I said earlier, this is the most important and significant day of his whole life. Like the women at the tomb we should celebrate this event with joy and awe.
In Baptism we initiate a person into the body of Christ - the church - it is a sign of new life in Christ. As the BAS says - “to be a Christian is to be part of a new creation which rises from the dark waters of Christ’s death into the dawn of his risen life. Christians are not just baptized individuals; they are a new humanity.”
I expect Zavian’s parents and grandparents, friends and relatives, wonder about his future. What gifts will he develop? What kind of person will he be? Will he be creative? What does his future hold? What will he be when he grows into manhood.
Well, I can tell you that after this morning his vocation will have been decided - he will have been named as Christ’s own forever - a member of Christ’s Body. A member of a Royal Priesthood. A disciple of Jesus Christ.
This is a wonderful, joyous, yet awesome day.
And each one of us who witnesses this baptism today will renew our own baptismal vows and make a solemn promise to do all in our power to support Zavian in his life in Christ as he becomes a member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
One - because we are united in Christ, despite appearances of divisions. As St. Paul made very clear, Christ cannot be divided. We are one body in Christ.
Holy - because we are set aside to do God’s work inspired and animated by the Holy Spirit.
catholic - because the church is universal - proclaiming the whole faith to all people always.
and, Apostolic - because the church carries on with the apostles teaching and fellowship and is sent out to carry out Christ’s mission to all people.
And the church carries out its mission through the ministry of all it’s members. We are all ministers in Christ’s church, from the youngest member to the oldest.
We are commissioned to proclaim the wonderful news of the risen Christ to a world hungry for good news and real hope. Let’s be bold and together loudly proclaim the good news
Hallelujah, Christ is Risen
The Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah