Year B Easter Sunday 2021
Live and Online from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Winning and the Last Word”
Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
God loved you.
God loved you so much that he gave his only Son.
God loved you so much that he gave his only Son so that all who claim him may have everlasting life.
Jesus came preaching and teaching a message that God loves everyone. It seems so simple. So humble. So pure. But really, it was terribly dangerous to the way things were. The way things are.
And because it was terribly threatening to the way things were, it was terribly dangerous to the powers that be. And are.
And if it was terribly dangerous to the powers that be, it had to be silenced.
And if people cannot stop your message, they have to stop you. It is still that way. If you cannot attack the message, destroy the messenger.
And that is the message of Holy Week. From the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday to the turning of the tables in the Temple,
from the teachings in that same Temple that astounded the throngs packed into Jerusalem for Passover to the Gotcha questions that never quite Got Him,
from the Last Supper with his closest followers to the betrayer’s kiss of Judas,
from the illegal trial in the Sanhedrin to the cowardly Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair,
from the pilgrimage down the way of the Cross to Golgotha to the Son of God breathing his last,
the message of this week is that threats to the status quo are dangerous. And threats to power will not be tolerated.
I do not find it accidental that the crowds were there for Royal Parade, and that the crowd was there for cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
But in the Garden of his agony, Jesus was alone. Even the friends he urged to stay and pray with him slept. And Jesus was alone facing the Sanhedrin. And Jesus was alone being tortured. And Jesus was alone in his death. High and lifted up. But even here he could not help but love.
“Friend, today you will be with me in paradise,” to his fellow condemned on the cross.
To his mother Mary, “Woman, here is your son.” To his disciple that he loved, “Here is your mother.”
“Father, forgive him for they know not what they do.”
No wonder the battle-hardened and world-weary Roman Centurion was led to say, “Surely this was the Son of God.”
And death came after he declared, “It is finished.” And he breathed his last.
If that were the end of the story, we would not be here.
But on this day, almost two thousand years ago, what was foretold and NOBODY expected, God made it clear. Love Wins. Grace has the Last Word. You CANNOT silence Love because you CANNOT silence God.
St. Paul put it this way:
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35-39]
And because of that day two-thousand years ago, the world has slowly been changing and evolving, moving daily toward the dream that God had for the world, toward the ideal Jesus preached and called the Kingdom of God.
And friends, because of that we are here. We are here and continuing the Resurrection story. God is bringing people who have given up back to life in hope. God is bringing those imprisoned the dream and reality of freedom. God is taking our hardened hearts and breathing in new life. The message of Holy Week may be that Power wins. But then Easter shouts, "NOT SO FAST."
Easter declares in all of its Authority: Love wins, Grace has the Last Word. That my friends is the message of Easter.
But we cannot let it end there. Tomorrow, you will be faced with choices, repeatedly all day long. Will you choose the path of Holy Week, where the status quo remains and crushes? Or will you step boldly into the Kingdom embodied? Will you choose to live in Easter?
Will you choose to love those neglected, forgotten, scorned? Will you reach out to those who are not like you, “Them” however that is defined?
Notice that when Mary went to the tomb she blamed “them” for taking the body away. But the empty tomb means there is no Them any more. Christ came so that all peoples and nations can be one people. And if we are like Christ we identify with those that are the weak, the powerless, the forgotten, the lonely, and we invite them in and ensure them a place in the fold.
We love each one, as they are, not as we wish they would be. And that love can transform them and us. That love is dangerous and scary. That love is expensive, and calls for us to sacrifice. That love is the way God loves us in Jesus Christ, and that love us the way God calls us to love all God’s children:
God’s black children
God’s gay children
God’s trans children
God’s jailed children
God’s hungry children
God’s COVID-denier children
God’s children in power
God’s children who are despised
God’s comfortable and oblivious children
God’s forgotten children who would not even make anyone’s list for anything
God always resides with those suffering. And maybe in loving them, God can change us, too. Friends, today we remember and celebrate that Love wins. Grace has the Last Word. Even over death.
We have no more excuses. We have no reason to fear. Love wins. Grace has the Last Word.
The Empire did its best to squash a backwater people who inhabited Palestine in the first Century. The powers that be in the backwater people, appeased the Empire by maintaining the status quo. When offered true life and real freedom they settled for the scraps thrown to them by the Empire. And in a few centuries, this message of Love and Grace conquered Rome itself. And throughout history, God has played the long game and it continues to this day.
Choose you this day whom you will serve. That has been God’s options for us our whole lives. Every morning when we wake that is the choice presented to us. What way will we go? Whom will we serve? And friends, that choice declares more than our Alleluias what we believe.
The question we all must ask is this: will I live in Easter or will I reside in Holy Week. And every day, if I call myself a follower of Christ I must say, I choose to live in Easter. I choose to live where Love Abides. I choose to act with Grace. May I continue on that path. May we all.
Say it with me, Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen