EASTER SUNDAY 4/8/12
Today is Easter Sunday, the most exciting Sunday of the Church
year. If you don’t believe it’s exciting, just look at the
disciples Peter and John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Look at how they behave! They too have caught the spirit or, are
in the process of catching the spirit. Why do I say that? Because the
mere suggestion of Mary of Magdala that something has happened at the
tomb of Jesus sets them off. They race each other to the tomb, but the disciple whom
Jesus loved, a.k.a. John, arrived first. And since he has the privilege of telling the story, he tells
us no less than four times that he outraced Peter to the tomb: 1) “the other disciple ran faster than Peter”; 2) “[he] arrived at the tomb first”; (3) “Simon Peter
arrived after him”; 4) “then the other disciple also went
in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first.” Contrary to what we might
initially think about male competitiveness, I suspect that the deep-down reason that John kept
repeating he got to the tomb first was that he could never erase the magic of that morning.
He could not allow himself to forget the thrill of hearing that
something had happened to Jesus’ body. From depression to exaltation
in seconds, even if he did not know exactly what it was that got him running.
John is a good model for us all. (I don’t mean a model for
winning foot races!) Rather he is a model for how to react to hints, even
slight ones, that Jesus has been s raised from the dead and
sits victorious at the Father’s right hand. At that moment, John’s
heart was lifted on very uncertain evidence: “something
had happened” at the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Today, we enjoy certainty: Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead. We know that in our heads,
but we don’t always know it in our hearts. So we have to struggle
to make it real to us, especially for times when evil and sadness seem
to triumph and we seem helpless to do anything about it.
But resurrection is an event that sets feet running–and sets
them dancing too. But we have to be realistic. The reign of God has indeed
been inaugurated by Jesus’ preaching and guaranteed by his resurrection,
but the “kingdom of the world” coexists with it, and sometimes make
God’s reigning hard to find.
That’s where the reading from Paul to the Colossians come
in. The letter was written perhaps in the second generation after Christ
when Christians had gotten over their initial enthusiasms and settled
down to living the same kind of life as ourselves. Like that generation, we
haven’t seen, we’ve heard. We depend on the testimony of others. That’s not at all a bad thing; it just calls for realism on our part. “Brothers and sisters,” Paul writes,
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where
Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not
of what is on earth.” At first glance, Paul seems to be urging us to escape from this
world into the stratosphere, to go to the “spiritual” rather than to stay with solid everyday reality. Such an interpretation, however, is the opposite of what Paul is saying. Paul here
is “speaking to our condition.” He knows that his congregation
is discouraged and confused because they have not completely discarded
their old ways of thinking. They are half in and half out, still living
by the ideas they had before they embraced faith in Christ and were baptized. So Paul
tells them to clear out their minds, to do some spring cleaning of their souls. Forget those old
ideals and goals, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” He tells them to think again about what happened when they were baptized: “For you have
died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Recall the baptismal
rite practiced in those early days.
Adults shed their clothes representing their old way of life, stepped
down into a deep pool of water that covered their whole body, and stepped
up into the other side of the pool where they were immediately clothed
with white garments symbolizing their new way of life. The theory was
that when you descended into the pool, you died to your old way of life, and when you came up
out of the water, you were reborn, and put on new clothes to symbolize it. That’s way Paul tells
the people to seek what is Christ’s. You must, because after baptism you share his life! (I admit
that our custom of infant baptism does not allow us to experience our new life so vividly, but
we can imagine it.) Next, Paul says something very mysterious, but very consoling: “Your life
is hidden with Christ in God.” What he means is that there is something hidden about our life with
Christ. It has not yet appeared in a full visible way, in a way that we and others can touch and
feel. That’s why he next says, “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” We believe it will one day appear fully, but not now.
This morning’s readings help us to see the excitement of
Easter–its powerful presence in our lives and its possibilities.
It made two fishermen into long-distance runners and it has set countless
pairs of feet dancing. But the readings also enable us to see how the resurrection powers
us everyday, inspiring us to entrust our lives exclusively to Christ in whose company and friendship
we delight. And the readings let us see we are not done yet with the resurrection. Christ’s
glorious presence will lead us even further forward and we will appear with him in glory.
Our prayer: God of undying life, / by your mighty hand you raised
up Jesus from the grave / and appointed him judge of the living and the
dead. / Bestow upon those baptized into his death / the power flowing
from his resurrection / that we may proclaim near and far the power and
peace you have give us.