Easter Day 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 16, 2017 (Easter Day)

You gotta hand it to them. When it came to rubbing out rebellion, the Romans were the gold standard of the ancient world. They did not tolerate dissent and were experts at squashing it the moment it reared its insurgent head.

In the case of this rabble rouser from Nazareth who kept stirring things up with his crazyIMG_3646 notion of justice in the face of imperial power, everything was going according to plan. They certainly made an example out of this Jesus with his very public and brutal execution and his frightened followers had all fled. Chalk up another victory for Pax Romana and rest secure in the knowledge that this whole Jesus thing would now just die down and go away. An aberration, surely, but ultimately just more evidence that when you fought the establishment, you lost. Every single time.

The Romans were so good at this because they meticulously followed certain protocols. In such high profile cases, in addition to crucifixion — which was itself a pretty powerful deterrent to dissent — they were diligent about securing the tomb, which they did in several ways.

First, a large stone was rolled against the entrance. Second, the tomb was sealed. And finally, guards were posted outside. Those are some pretty serious security measures.

But let’s look at this for a moment. First the large stone that was rolled across the entrance — that in itself was a major stumbling block. And it shows just how silly the women were who went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning. After all the men had fled (sorry, guys, that’s our Easter legacy), Mary Magdalene and the other women went to Jesus’ tomb not expecting a miracle but simply to honor him in death by properly and ritually anointing his body. They figured it was the least they could do for this man who had so transformed their lives.

And they weren’t engaged in any wishful thinking about this. In Mark’s gospel account of the Resurrection, they spend much of the journey wondering among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” A valid question.

But this wasn’t the only problem. We hear that the tomb was “sealed.” This doesn’t refer to some industrial-grade caulk. It was a sign of authentication that the tomb was occupied and the power and authority of Rome stood behind the seal. Anyone found breaking or tampering with the Roman seal would be put to death.

But even that wasn’t all. No, if the large stone and seal weren’t enough, there were also guards stationed at the entrance to the tomb. In fact, there may have been more than a few Roman soldiers. A “Roman Guard” referred to a 16-member unit governed by very strict rules. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and burned. Needless to say, they were a vigilant bunch.

So to review: dead, giant boulder, sealed, soldiers. No way in, no way out. The end. But there’s a slight problem. Because we’re still here, over 2,000 years later, gathered to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Something rolled away the stone, something broke the seal, something stunned the soldiers. We hear about an earthquake but however things went down, Jesus was not inside the tomb. And suddenly everything changes.

And we start to realize that the stone, the seal, and the soldiers, weren’t breached on that first Easter morning to let Jesus out. Nothing could have stopped that. But it was to let us in. To let us in to the miracle of Christ’s resurrection; to let us in to a vision of humanity where peace, joy, and love abide; to let us in to a life where death is not the end; to let us in to a new worldview that drives out fear and ushers in hope.

And we need that hope now more than ever. Because in a world where chemical weapons are used to destroy innocent children in Syria, we need the hope of Jesus. In a world where faithful Christians in Egypt are slaughtered in their own churches on Palm Sunday, we need the hope of Jesus. In a world where the poorest among us are left to drink contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, we need the hope of Jesus.

You know, so often we act just like the Roman authorities. Trying to control every situation; trying to contain that which can never be contained; giving in to fear at the expense of spiritual freedom. The miracle of this day happens when we let go of our need to control everything in our midst. Try as we might to take every precaution, we inevitably come up short. And that’s okay. Because Jesus always helps us find a way out; Jesus breaks the seal of our captivity and shows us the way to faith, hope, and love. Every single time.

With all their precautions and protocols, the authorities had indeed made an example of Jesus. It just wasn’t the example they had envisioned. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus became an example not of foolishness or misguided passion, but an example of peace in the face of violence; an example of mercy in the face of injustice; an example of love in the face of hate; an example of life in the face of death; an example of hope in the face of despair.

May you be inspired by the living example of Jesus Christ as you find your way into the empty tomb this Easter. And in so doing be reminded that even in the darkest moments of life, even when the world feels like it’s on the verge of destruction, hope is alive, love conquers fear, and life vanquishes even the power of death. Alleluia and Amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

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Easter Day 2016

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 27, 2016 (Easter Day)

Isn’t Easter great? The colorful dresses and joyful music; the dignified processions and the slightly less dignified Easter egg hunts; the fancy brunches and half-eaten chocolate bunnies.

12513731_10207827867766183_4654086190179414197_oThere sure is a lot of pageantry and tradition involved for what was originally dismissed as an “idle tale.” That’s what the male disciples called the initial reports from the women who gathered at the tomb on that first Easter Day. They dismissed their eyewitness account of the resurrection as utter nonsense; feminine foolishness. And you can almost hear the condescension in their voices, dismissing both the fanciful story and the women themselves.

Culturally, this dismissive attitude made sense. Despite Jesus’ constant attempts to break down the false barriers between people, despite his continued drive to include rather than to exclude, despite his constant challenge of social norms, despite his clear mandate to love one another, despite his living example of shattering our preconceived notions, the disciples still didn’t get it. Even on that first Easter morning, Peter and his companions just couldn’t accept the first-hand account of the women who witnessed the empty tomb. They couldn’t believe the message; they wouldn’t believe the messengers.

So what were these women doing hanging around Jesus’ tomb in the first place? With heavy hearts these female disciples had made their way to the burial site, not because they expected a miracle but simply to give Jesus’ body the dignified burial they felt it deserved. They brought embalming spices in order to anoint the body. Remember the myrrh from the Christmas story? The gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by the three kings? The three worst baby gifts ever? Well, myrrh was an expensive, spiced embalming oil. Foreshadowing the crucifixion.

But an odd thing, a perplexing thing, a confusing thing took place when they entered the tomb. It was empty. And it’s tough to embalm a body that simply is not there. So as they raced back to tell the others this stunning news about what they had seen and heard, they were met with hardness of heart. “But these words seemed to the male disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

There are still many who dismiss the Easter story as an “idle tale.” This is nothing new. An increasing number of people have built walls around what feels rational and logical in order to keep out that which they deem irrational and illogical. It’s easier that way. To dismiss the miraculous, to cling to the power of our own minds, to hold onto only that which we can see with our own eyes. It’s become almost fashionable to reject the resurrection.

And I get that. We, like the male disciples, want to run back to the tomb to verify things for ourselves. We want to treat the empty tomb like a crime scene. To dust for prints; do some DNA testing; analyze the data. But there are certain things in life that defy logic; things that rise above the rational. Like love and forgiveness and faith — things that we feel and know in our hearts, even when we can’t quantify them or plot the data on a graph.

The resurrection is one of these things. Yet if we open our hearts and minds to the power of Christ’s resurrection, to the irrational notion that God loves humanity not just in general but you in particular, we come to see deeply embedded and eternal truths.

Because the resurrection of Jesus shows us that God works in ways that transcend human comprehension. That God is not limited by human logic or mortal constraints.

The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God works through the disenfranchised and marginalized. In revealing the resurrection first to women, God shows us that God is not bound by the prejudice of society in any age.

The resurrection of Jesus shows us that, in the end, fear never wins out over faith. That nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus shows us that there is a better way. That life doesn’t have to be a slog to get through but a joy to enter into.

Yes, the sugar high of Easter Day eventually wears off. The organ is powered down. The trumpets are silenced. Candles are extinguished. Colorful dresses return to the closet. Brunch is digested. Peeps get stale — actually that never happens. They have an indefinite shelf life. But we’re left with a clear path. Jesus beckons us to follow in his footsteps, either confidently or haltingly; often in equal measure.

Of course, you can ignore the invitation. You can hop right back on the hamster wheel. You can fill your days with endless activity and noise. You can find yourself, once again, with no time for silence or reflection. It’s safer that way, really. You can spend most of your life avoiding the larger questions of life; ignoring questions about the eternal and your place within it.

But, like a boomerang, eventually these questions return with ever increasing intensity. CelScRlWIAA-NAO.jpg-largeLife, death, faith. Walking the path of Jesus gives us answers — not easy ones mind you — but his path anchors our life, roots it in hope and meaning. Offers us peace even in the midst of anxiety; laughter even in the midst of tears; life even in the midst of death.

When you take those first tentative steps to truly follow Jesus, a funny thing happens: an idle tale becomes transformative. The “proof” of the resurrection is seen in lives that have been changed and healed and made whole through encounter with the risen Christ. We see resurrection not just in an empty tomb once a year, but in one another each and every day. We see resurrection in fear driven out; in hateful rhetoric denied; in equality achieved; in discrimination overthrown; in the crumbling of walls that seek to divide us one from another and in the tearing down of obstacles that seek desperately to separate the rational from the mystical.

As you walk through the rubble of these torn down walls, may this “idle tale” fill you with all hope in the power of the resurrection. May the joy of this Easter 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.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Easter Day 2015

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.

10561825_10152283007651198_1996964952654161501_nBut 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.

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© Tim Schenck

Easter Day 2014

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 20, 2014 (Easter Day)

At about this time tomorrow, 36,000 runners will embark on a 26.2 mile odyssey that will take them from the starting line in Hopkinton, through a wall of screaming co-eds in Wellesley, up and down the Newton hills, and eventually to the finish line on Boylston Street.

This isn’t a great news flash, of course. The pre-race hype has been unprecedented and over the past week we’ve all been reliving last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, through the media and in conversations with one another. We’ve remembered those who lost their lives and prayed for those still recovering from physical and emotional trauma.

To varying degrees we were all affected by last year’s tragedy and Patriots Day 2014 will likely turn into one long day of regional catharsis. Which we could all use. I ran the race in 2008 and at one level I can’t even imagine what tomorrow will be like. The crowds, the emotion, the global news coverage.

boston-marathon-finishBut at another level, I know exactly what it will be like. Not because I once turned that corner onto Boylston Street and dragged myself the last four blocks to the finish line amid throngs of cheering spectators — I barely remember that. But because tomorrow’s 118th running of the Boston Marathon will be a tangible sign of resurrection. Each footstep, each cheer will allow the finish line in Copley Square to be reclaimed as a place not of tragedy but of triumph.

And as Christians we know something about transformation and new life. On Easter, the cross is transformed from an implement of torture and death into an instrument of resurrection glory. Hope and meaning emerge out of chaos and we are transported into a new, life-giving relationship with God.

But we also know something about death — faith doesn’t make us immune to the painful realities of life. We lose someone close to us and the pain can be searing; a relationship fractures and it leaves us reeling; we lose a job and we’re left seeking an identity; an institution we’ve always loved closes and it leaves a void; we feel betrayed by a friend and it stings.

When we talk about resurrection, we first must confront death. You can’t share in resurrection joy without first experiencing grief. Indeed, the road to Easter goes straight through Good Friday. And yet Easter reminds us that despite the tragedies and trials we all face in this life, death doesn’t get the last word. We don’t remain on Heartbreak Hill. Death doesn’t win.

Life does. Because when Jesus emerges from that tomb, everything changes. Life wins out over death, resurrection triumphs over crucifixion. And we are set free by the knowledge that whether we live or die we are alive in Jesus Christ. That false boundary between life and death is breached and the fear of death no longer has power over us. And when we shed the fear of death, only then can we truly live. Only then can we reach for that crown of glory that never fades away.

Which brings us to the women at the tomb. In reading Matthew’s version of the Easter story, one particular detail stuck out for me this year. The women who first encounter the risen Christ don’t lope off to tell the other disciples this stunning news. They don’t saunter or stroll or even mall walk. Matthew tells us very clearly that they run. Imbued with this intoxicating yet curious mixture of “fear and great joy,” they take off.

Talk about running with a purpose, the women engage in the sprint of their lives fueled by wonder, disbelief, euphoria, and adrenaline. They race to share the good news with those closest to Jesus, the male disciples who, in the darkness of despair, had scattered and lost all hope. And in light of tomorrow’s race, that just seems perfect.

We do a lot of running in our lives — we run away from people and problems and difficult decisions. And sometimes the life of faith does feel like a marathon. Like a long slog with periods of doubt and pain and hopelessness. But the good news is that we don’t run it in isolation; we run it with one another and with Jesus at our side, encouraging us, forgiving us, loving us.

St. Paul writes, “Run with patience the race that is set before you.” And while much of life is about patience and pacing, Easter is a finish line kind of day. It’s not a time to temper our joy but a day to run toward Jesus with reckless abandon. The marathon has already been won; the victory of life over death is complete. Why? Because Jesus lives! Because Jesus Christ is indeed risen today and everyday.

Tomorrow, there will be a swirl of emotion at the finish line in Copley Square. But I trust the overwhelming one will be the euphoria of triumph over tragedy. And on this Easter Day, may you experience the thrill of Christ’s victory over the grave, may the light of resurrection glory shine in your heart, and may you always run the race that is our earthly pilgrimage filled with the hope and joy of the risen Christ. Alleluia and Amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Easter Day 2009

A Sermon from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 12, 2009 (Easter Day)

I am pleased to announce that a great honor has been bestowed upon me this Easter season. I have been named a celebrity judge in the first annual Diocese of Maryland marshmallow Peep Biblical diorama contest. And while the organizers are obviously playing a bit fast and loose with the term “celebrity,” I can’t wait to see what the contestants will do with a shoe box, some glue, and a bunch of Peeps. I’m personally expecting an Easter miracle. But then, that’s precisely what draws us all here this morning: the Easter miracle of an empty tomb. Which, I feel emboldened to proclaim, is even more miraculous than the image of an Easter Peep handing down the 10 Commandments or walking on water.

But joy, elation, and a sugar high weren’t the initial emotions of the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning. In Mark’s gospel we hear of three reactions to the surprising events: alarm, terror, and amazement. And while you can understand this response to seeing an angel dressed in white sitting in Jesus’ empty tomb, alarm, terror, and amazement, aren’t usually the emotions we associate with Easter. We think about victory and joy and love and fulfillment and resurrection and perhaps Peeps. But the women at the tomb had a different experience. They weren’t exactly singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” There were no Easter hats or egg hunts or chocolate bunnies. Peeps wouldn’t even be invented for another 1,927 years. 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. 

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 burial customs. 

Whenever I hear this Easter story, at least in the seven years I’ve been here at All Saints’, I can’t help but think about the Old Parish House up the hill at the rectory. For those of you who’ve never seen it, it was built in 1904 as much-needed meeting space for the church. At the time, we just had the land where this building sits – the church hadn’t yet acquired the property that now houses our parish hall, classrooms, and parking lot. But we had a couple of acres up at the rectory to work with. So the women of the parish built the Parish House. There are pictures of them in skirts literally building it stone by stone. They built the entire thing except for the roof – that was left to the men. And, of course, what later collapsed? The roof. 

But the point is that without the women who gathered at the tomb, who knows when word of the resurrection might have gotten out? It was these women, these first disciples of the risen Lord, who brought the message to the others. To the men who couldn’t face the dark “reality” that everything – their hopes and dreams and expectations – had come crashing down around them. In fairness, there’s no reason why they should have thought anything less. Resurrection wasn’t exactly on their radar screen. And those vague hints Jesus left them with weren’t exactly crystal clear: “I will be killed and in three days rise again.” Um, okay. Now could you do that trick where you walk on water again?”

Let’s be honest; this has been a trying year. Those who have much have had to live on less and those who have little are barely hanging on. Markets have crashed, emotions have frayed, lives have hung in the balance. But the beauty of the resurrection – the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ – is that God’s presence transcends our struggles. Through the power of the resurrection, God can overcome whatever tragedy we read about in the newspaper or see on TV or encounter in our personal lives. And it can be overcome precisely because God overcame death and the grave in raising his son to new life. With the resurrection, everything has been forever changed. We have been given the ability to hope in the midst of despair; to rejoice in the midst of grief; and to grasp life out of the clutches of death.

That’s the true miracle of Easter. And we are not merely witnesses to this miracle of resurrection but participants in it. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen for you and for me. He is risen for the women at the tomb and for the disciples who fled. He is risen to wipe away our individual and collective brokenness. He is risen to offer hope and salvation to a hurting world. He is risen because God’s love for us is stronger even than death. And with that as the major miracle that defines our very existence, we can indeed take pleasure in the minor miracles of life, even the ubiquitous Easter Peep. 

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 God who banishes sin and offers us perfect freedom. And may Christ’s victory over the grave give you meaning and hope this day and evermore.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2009

Easter Day 2010

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 4, 2010 (Easter Day)

They didn’t believe them. The apostles did not believe the three women who had returned from the empty tomb proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The women had brought along spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial; and the apostles probably thought they’d been sniffing them along the way. Luke’s gospel tells us the apostles dismissed their report as an “idle tale.” This coming from a bunch of fishermen who, presumably, knew their way around a tall tale. “Yeah, that fish we caught in the Sea of Galilee was about this big.” And there may have been just a touch of cultural chauvinism at work. “You know how emotionally delusional women can be.” 

But I also think the apostles didn’t want to get their hopes up. We all do this at times – setting up emotional barriers to protect ourselves from potential disappointment. And, not to brag, but men are really good at this. But in fairness the apostles, along with the women who followed Jesus, had been through a lot. The very meaning of their lives had been crucified along with their Lord, their teacher, their friend. Their hopes and dreams, along with Jesus, had been strung up on a cross to die. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. They had big plans here; they were going to change the world. Well, Jesus was, but they were in the inner circle; they were hitching their wagons to his star, expecting a great ride. And suddenly it was all gone. They were grieving, they were confused, they were depressed, they were devastated. Into this emotional anguish the women arrive from the tomb breathlessly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And the apostles didn’t believe them.

Now, you can’t really blame them. Well, maybe for the chauvinism. But, first of all, the whole notion was absurd. Rising from the dead? Puh-lease. Angels in dazzling white? O-kay. 

The Easter miracle defies all logic. But that’s what miracles do. They defy logic while often bringing us to an even deeper truth. And the deeper truth of the resurrection is that death no longer has dominion over us. Because Christ conquered death and the grave we who believe are granted eternal life in him. The barrier between life and death has been shattered — which means that whether we live or die, we are alive in Christ. That is the Good News of the resurrection. 

And Peter is the first of the apostles to recognize this. With hope in his heart he sprints out toward the empty tomb. And that’s really what we should do on Easter Day – sprint to the empty tomb to be dazzled; rush out to meet our risen Lord. I saw just a touch of this after the 9:15 service this morning. Hundreds of kids sprinting out to the post-service Easter Egg hunt. Through the resurrection, Jesus Christ may have trampled down death but I was worried about getting trampled myself!

So what Peter discovered and what we rediscover every Easter is that the resurrection isn’t just wishful thinking. It is the discovery that changes the world.  The miracle of Easter unlocks for us the very meaning of life, which is simply this: to worship God and to love one another as Christ loves us. We no longer have to stumble around in fear and confusion. We are free to live fully the lives of joy God so deeply desires for each one of us.

Now, from this side of the resurrection, we already know the truth; we already know how this story will unfold. We can sit back and snicker at the apostles’ lack of faith because the mystery has already been revealed to us. But even still, the journey from death to resurrection never fails to capture our imagination. It is our story, it is our journey, it is our victory. In just a few days, the cross has been transformed from an implement of execution into an instrument of salvation. The cross is multi-dimensional and we’ve seen it from every angle this past week. We’ve seen its agony; its pain; its suffering; its death. And now we gaze upon its glory; its wonder; its hope; its salvation. That’s the Easter perspective – we see the cross in its totality. And that’s the view we’re offered on this Easter Day. That’s the hope and the power and the glory of the resurrection.

On Easter, God does some amazing things. Through Jesus Christ, God gives fulfillment and meaning to emptiness. God gives hope and joy to despair. God gives resurrection and life to death. May this Easter season fill you with the joy of Christ. May you remain open to seeing the wonders of God’s presence in the world. And may you live life with the blessed assurance that the very gates of heaven await. Alleluia and amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2010

Easter Day 2005

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on March 27, 2005. 
Based on John 20:1-18 (Easter Day, Year A).

“The case of the missing Messiah.” John’s gospel account of the resurrection reads a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery. We have an empty tomb, no body, and great confusion. But this is no “unsolved mystery.” This is the Easter story. And it all hinges on a different type of case. A case of mistaken identity. The ultimate case of mistaken identity. Because, as hard as it is to imagine, she thought he was the gardener. Mary Magdalene thought that the risen Christ was the gardener. Which is a bit odd if you think about it. It’s not clear, exactly, what a gardener would have been doing hanging around an empty tomb. Planting bulbs, raking leaves, putting up protective fencing around his tomato plants (yes, I’m ready for spring). But it just doesn’t quite fit.

And yet, you can understand Mary’s confusion. A person in the full throes of grief doesn’t always think so clearly. And Mary’s heart was indeed aching. At the moment she returns, weeping, to the tomb she was overwhelmed with the pain and agony of Good Friday. Jesus’ brutal death was fresh, a festering open wound on her very soul. Jesus’ death was more than the loss of a close friend. Mary’s relationship with Jesus was a friendship nurtured by the divine love of Christ. It was a relationship between servant and Savior, between disciple and Lord. This is the same woman Jesus healed of evil spirits. This is the same woman who became an early follower of Jesus. This is the same woman who witnessed the crucifixion and helped prepare his body for burial. This is the same woman who, as we see in John’s gospel, was the first disciple to come upon the stone rolled away from the tomb. And it is the same woman who will become the first disciple to proclaim the good news of Easter. And so her profound grief and confusion in the days following the death of Jesus are understandable.

But, of course, the person she encounters in the empty tomb is not the gardener. It is Jesus, the risen Christ. And even though it is the one who says, “I am the true vine;” Even though it is the one who told all sorts of agricultural parables about mustard seeds, and sowers, and fig trees, and bearing good fruit; Even though it is the one who spent the hours before his crucifixion praying in the Garden of Gethsemane; It is not the gardener. 

And Mary’s moment of recognition is the heart of the Easter story. From grief to joy in an instant. He simply looks at her and says her name, “Mary.” The recognition is instant. The joy is immediate. She answers “Rabbouni,” teacher, and everything becomes clear. The swing of emotions as swift as they are powerful. This single moment of recognition contains the very essence of our Easter joy: “The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”

And for Mary the joy, as had been her grief, must have been overwhelming. Easter joy is overwhelming. Those well-known stages of grief – denial, anger, depression, acceptance – are shattered. From grief to joy in an instant. The resurrection of Jesus shatters humanity’s grief. It wipes it away. In an instant. Grief becomes joy, death becomes life, sin becomes redemption, despair becomes hope. In an instant. 

This is what Christ’s resurrection offers to believers: not instant gratification, but instant joy. Unbridled, lasting, life-giving joy. It’s not some fleeting, temporary pleasure. You can’t find and buy this kind of joy on-line. It doesn’t come from getting a raise or pulling off the perfect Easter dinner. You can’t even get this kind of joy at the new Target in Mount Kisco (sorry, Bryna). Easter joy is complete. It doesn’t wear off or fade away. It is joy that is hard-earned. The cross makes that clear. But it is absolute.

So, how do we “get” this joy? Allow Jesus to call you by name. Turn and recognize the risen Christ. And you, too, will be able to stand with Mary and declare, “I have seen the Lord.” Because Mary’s moment of recognition is also our moment of recognition. And the moment we recognize Jesus is the moment we begin to fully live out our lives as children of God. When we, like Mary, recognize the presence of the risen Christ in our lives, when we, like Mary understand the power of the empty tomb, everything changes. In an instant. There is purpose and meaning, hope and joy, life and vitality. Jesus lives and so we live. Death no longer has dominion over us. The tomb and the grave no longer control us. The chains of death are broken. We are free. The empty tomb fills our hearts with Easter joy. And leaves us rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005