Father Riley's sermon for Easter 2016
EASTER - YEAR C - 2016 LUKE 24: 1-12
On Friday, those of us who were here, heard St. John report that after Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were secret disciples of Jesus, asked Pilate for and received Jesus’ body. Because it was the Jewish Day of Preparation they hastily wrapped it in a linen cloth adding one hundred pounds of spices and laid it in a new tomb that was nearby.
The women who watched the crucifixion followed at a distance noting where Jesus’ body was being buried. On the first day of the week, St. Luke says, these same women came to the tomb carrying spices to complete the burial according to the custom of the Jews. Tombs were commonly sealed in those days with large stones rolled across the face blocking the entrance.
The women seem to have never given much thought to how they might remove the stone in order to enter the tomb and accomplish their mission. However, when they arrived, much to their surprise, they found the stone rolled away. The tomb was open, they entered it, but the body of their Lord was not there.
Instead two angels appeared next to them in dazzling apparel which frightened them terribly. They were too afraid to run; to afraid to speak. All they could manage to do, according to Luke, was to bow their faces to the ground in order not to look directly at them. It is the angels who do the speaking. They question the women as to why they are there. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
That was the Easter question posed to the women who had come to the tomb to anoint a dead body on that first Easter Day. The angels then go on to remind the women of Jesus’ words concerning his betrayal, trial, and death - but also that on the third day He would rise from the dead.
Had they not heard Him? Had they not believed? Were they afraid of the good news? Now remembering His words, Luke says, they pulled themselves together and returned to the 11 disciples and reported that they had seen angels who announced to them that Jesus was risen from the dead. However, the disciples did not believe the women’s report. Was it because the women did not believe it themselves and thus their words were far less than convincing? After all, they had not seen the risen Lord.
What about us? Why are we here today? That is the Easter question today’s celebration of Christ’ Resurrection poses to each of us. If we believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, How do we prove it? How has Jesus’ resurrection made a difference in our lives?
Sometimes I think we don’t ponder that question deeply enough or often enough. It is a personal one, to be sure, and can only be answered individually. True Jesus Christ died once for all but not all believe in Him, not all believe that He rose from the dead, not all have encountered the risen Lord.
His disciples, the women and some others who believed in him were privy to His resurrection. They ate and drank with Him after he rose from the dead. That experience completely changed their lives forever. “…God raised Him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but, to us who were chosen by God as witnesses…” Peter proclaims.
Peter who had denied him was given the opportunity to recant by the Risen Lord, which he did, and became the leader of the Apostles. James, the brother of the Lord, who did not believe in Jesus prior to the resurrection, became the first Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. And Saul of Tarsus had his dramatic encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and because of it through his untiring efforts to witness to the Risen Lord, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles throughout much of the Roman Empire.
These individuals and countless others throughout the life of the church have manifested their believe in the way they lived their lives, in a day to day witness, that has in turn, brought others to Christ. People down through the ages have believed in His resurrection, not because the Church has taught them to believe by reciting the Creed, but because they too have encountered the living Christ and in doing so, have had their lives changed forever.
The disciples did not believe because the women said so. Neither did proof of the empty tomb cause them to believe. Their Easter faith, our Easter faith, is not based on another’s report, or a dark empty hole in the ground but in the Living Christ.
The disbelieving disciples, who on that first Easter morning received the women’s report, would eventually see Him for themselves still bearing the marks of the crucifixion. Then they would come to know that what the women had reported was True, better yet, they would come to know what Jesus had told them beforehand was True. From that moment on, they would live their lives according to the resurrection.
Because they had seen him with their own eyes they preached the good news convincingly even in the face of persecution. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It changed their lives by changing death. No longer would they, nor can we who believe in Him, look at death and see only death. Remember your baptism. “In it we were buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we were reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
“For we have died,” St. Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.” What a powerful statement. Paul goes on to say “When Christ who is our life appears, then we will also appear with him in glory.” That is our Easter hope. That is the Easter promise; a promise that only brings hope to those who truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and live their lives accordingly.
The answer to the Easter question, “why are we here today?“ rests on the fact that each and everyone of us at some point in our lives, at some dark and unexpected moment, has met the Risen Lord.
Our experience may not have been as dramatic an encounter as St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus or that of the Apostles in the upper room, when the risen Lord appeared behind closed doors to a huddled group of frightened disciples bearing the marks of the crucifixion, but for us it was and remains just as real. And in that moment our lives were changed forever. That is why we here. The proof is in the way we live our lives according to the Resurrection.
Today, then, we come, as members of the family of God, to witness to our Easter faith giving Thanks for the new life the risen Christ brings to all who believe in Him and for the Hope of the life to come where “we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His Resurrection.” AMEN+