Acts 10:34-45; 1 Corinthians 15: John 20:1-18
Dom Sebastian Moore wrote: “The original disciples were shocked into bliss by the Resurrection–– and they never recovered.”
Shocked into bliss! Has that ever happened to you connected to anything, let alone the Resurrection? Yes, this is a hard thing for us to grasp. To drive it home, how difficult it is, I was reminded by a blog I read this past week of a sign that greets you at the entrance to the Church of All Nations on the Mt. of Olives. It reads/admonishes: NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH. It was most likely erected to remind overly chatty tour guides not to come into the church, talking away to their groups, as there are very often religious services going on inside the church. NO EXPLANATIONS PLEASE. A reminder that coming from our very secular lives into a place/world of worship and praise can be jarring, even off putting.
So, today we are not going to try to explain the Resurrection; it is really too hard and complex to try and explain in what is a brief sermon (brief is in the ears of the hearer). We are not going to unpack too much of what happened that day of Resurrection nearly two thousand years ago. I know that many of us are in very different places – from seeking, to doubting, to confusion to Resurrection bliss! [The bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that the Church holds as not only true but it is both present and eternal.] What will concern ourselves with today is that the Resurrection is both NOW and it has consequences.
So, Easter is NOW! Easter is something that is still happening, it is timeless. When we gather every Sunday for a celebration of Holy Eucharist, as we do today, we are holding onto the reality of Christ’s resurrection for us now, in our present lives. God acted in Christ, God saves through Christ, but the saving isn’t only about what Christ did for us at Calvary and what the empty tomb meant – we are to live into what it means! Easter is about us living into the current reality of Resurrected life. What we aim to capture is the bliss of it all, the life of it all – we breathe in the new life of Jesus because that is what it means for us here and now.
And Resurrection has consequences for us, too. Someone reminded me about the old phrase “The harrowing of hell” and how surprised he was that many clergy, even, don’t know what it means. Tradition holds that after death Jesus descends into hell and wrestles power from death; that is the harrowing part. And there is a rather famous old religious icon (stylized religious painting) that shows Jesus lifting Adam and Eve (sometimes its other saints) out of their own tombs. The important point of all this is that the Resurrection of Jesus is meant to lift us up, to help us ascend. And I am not talking about ascending to heaven but into a new life in the here and now. Christ takes us by the hand and would bring us out from the pit, from the dry places, from the locals of grief, shame, and anger and lift us into the present reality of His saving love. The grace of Jesus is for all time. That is what Resurrection means. Not only did God’s love not die with Jesus, it rose, and with it our hopes and possibilities rise, too.
So, Resurrection is about restoration; bringing us back to the fullness of God’s presence. When Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus in the garden, and realizes it is the Risen Lord with whom she is speaking, imagine her joy (dare is say bliss?). It was not mere relief, it was break out and dance, the return-of-something-prized-beyond-all-telling-kind-of-joy. Bliss, if I may. One real blessing of Resurrection is the freedom that it offers to us, the breathing in of real, present and unbridled joy. Rowan Williams, that wonderful writer and retired Archbishop of Canterbury wrote, in his wonderful book Resurrection:
“[T]he believer’s life is a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus: he or she demonstrates that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the never-failing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment and enlargement––a pattern, a dance, intelligible as a pattern only when its pivot and heart become manifest [in other words, real to and in us]. The believer shows Jesus as the center of his or her life.” Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel.
And we know that Resurrection had consequences for the community surrounding Jesus. Not only were they strengthened and solidified by Christ’s Resurrection but they bonded into community. They held property in common, they worshipped together, they lifted each other up and they were continually caring for the poor. The idea that Resurrection, its essence, lifts us up is something we are called to do together. It is not possible, sometimes, to lift ourselves up from the places of trial and heartache that we find ourselves in; in fact, it rarely happens in isolation. The prayers and blessing of Christ in community is the legacy that Resurrection gives us. It is not only about our individual salvation but the grace of God that we share with each other.
We only need remember the scenes just this past week of people coming together in Paris, even as Notre Dame burned, to sing songs to God, communally, finding strength in each other, with the common hope of Christ forging bonds between them. I will never forget, the Sunday after Sandy Hook (which happened on a Friday), when this church was filled, people looking for answers and solace, but really only wanting to be together.
The consequence of Resurrection is that we seek, in our moments of true darkness and triumph, even against our will, to be lifted up by Resurrection. The Risen Christ never, ever pushes us down. Life may; our own challenges definitely do. But one thing we can always count on is that in holding onto Christ, as a people in the world, as people called to community, Christ will always lift us. Being raised into new life, over and over again, is the great consequence of Resurrection. And perhaps, this day, we might allow ourselves a moment of bliss in a world that often threatens to suck joy right out of us. Bliss seems an appropriate response, on this day when we celebrate the continuing reality of Resurrection. May it draw from our lips and hearts, at long last, the blissful reply, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”