A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 5, 2015 (Easter Day)
Some of you know that this has been a year of great transition here at St. John’s. All for good reasons, but just to recap, if you’re visiting with us this morning, starting in the fall our assistant priest left to take her own church in Oregon, our deacon moved to New Hampshire, our organist went to a parish in Illinois, our youth minister left to pursue a degree in social work, and the boiler died. And, then there was a bunch of snow and a pipe burst but I don’t need to get into all that.
Needless to say it’s been a bit crazy around here. Now, the good news is that we’re putting together an incredible ministry team that I’m very excited about — our new organist starts next month and our new assistant priest, who will also lead the youth group, is starting in June. So the cavalry will be arriving shortly.
But I’m sharing this because one of our young acolytes, nine-year-old Will Buckley, knowing that I’d be overloaded this week with the ten services in four days, decided to take pity on the rector. He wrote an Easter sermon for me. And I was so very grateful, I almost decided to just sleep in this morning.
One of the themes Will hit on was the confusion that some people have when it comes to Easter. And I thought I’d read a paragraph of what he wrote since, you know, it’s been a pretty busy week.
“We all know the story of Easter. I know someone who was a little confused. He was arguing with my teacher because he thought Jesus was born on Easter and died on Christmas. My brother, Andrew, thought that too.” [it’s always good to celebrate the resurrection by throwing a sibling under the bus]. “My teacher said that Jesus was born on Christmas and died on Easter. I would say she got it really wrong. [it’s also great when you can contradict your teacher] We all know that Jesus was born on Christmas, died on Good Friday, and rose again on Easter.” [duh — no that wasn’t Will, I added that part].
Now, this is not the usual conversation that takes place in the Hingham public schools. But I do thank Will for setting everyone straight. I also think the women who approached Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter Day had a lot in common with Will’s teacher; they, too, naturally assumed Jesus was dead. They had witnessed the crucifixion, after all, and no one just comes back to life after their body has been so fully broken.
In Mark’s gospel we hear of three reactions to the surprising events: alarm, terror, and amazement. And you can certainly add confusion to the emotional mix here. And while you can understand this response to seeing an angel dressed in white sitting in Jesus’ empty tomb, alarm, terror, amazement, and confusion aren’t usually the emotions we associate with Easter.
For us, standing as we do on this side of the Resurrection, we think about victory and joy and love and fulfillment and, perhaps, Peeps. Okay, definitely Peeps. But the women at the tomb had a different experience. They weren’t exactly singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” as they processed to Jesus’ grave site. There were no fancy hats or chocolate bunnies or Easter egg hunts. Peeps wouldn’t even be invented for another 1,933 years (bless you, Google).
So the women were a bit freaked out by the whole thing. And with good reason! Their
expectations of what they would encounter came nowhere near the reality. They simply wanted to anoint the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial. They were blinded with grief and went about their task with a single-mindedness of purpose. After all, Jesus was dead.
In fact, their biggest concern along the journey was over who would roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. Because, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, the men were nowhere to be found. By Sunday morning, they’d all fled; driven out by despair and fear and grief. So the women couldn’t even get one of the guys to stick around and help them. But something drew them back to the tomb; something drew them back even as the doubts lingered about whether they could actually get inside it to perform the proper burial customs.
And we, too, are drawn back to the empty tomb. Year after year we return; even with doubts rattling around our rational minds, we return. And in the encounter with the risen Christ, alarm becomes joy; terror is driven out by love; confusion is replaced with an abiding peace. And we’re left with hope and meaning and the blessed assurance that Jesus Christ’s love for us is the bedrock of all that matters in this life.
I’ll end with another quote from Will’s Easter sermon. “My brother Henry made a joke. Why did the chicken cross the road? The answer is, to see what heaven is like.” Evidently there was a lot of traffic. Now, I’m not going to get into the theology of chicken resurrection, but the beauty of Easter is that death is conquered once and for all; that line between life and death is erased which means that whether we live or die, we belong to God. And that is the good news of this day — that Jesus’ love for you is stronger even than death.
May this Easter Day fill you with all hope in the power of the resurrection. May the joy of this day open up for you an ever deepening relationship with the living God. And may Christ’s victory over the grave open for you the very gates of heaven. Alleluia and amen.
© Tim Schenck