SERMON FOR APRIL 21, 2018
Reading I: Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43
Reading II: Colossians 3:1-4
THE RISEN LORD AMONG US
With one voice, we shout “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” The grave is empty, angels announce God’s victory over death, apostles and disciples run to and then from the grave.
But where is the One crucified and risen from the dead? Matthew, Mark and Luke bear their witness with earthquake and angel visitations, the risen Lord appearing in one story but absent in others. The day that begins with the question, “Who will roll away the stone,” ends with “Where did he go?”
Each of the four gospel writers tell the story a bit differently. From the Fourth Gospel read earlier, Mary alone discovers the empty tomb. Before dawn, “while it was still dark,” Mary—alone—makes her way to the cemetery. To her astonishment, she finds the stone covering her Lord’s tomb has been rolled away.
Her pain does not immobilize her. Quickly, she runs to Jerusalem, finds Peter and another disciple, tells them what she has seen. This “other disciple,” who may be the Gospel’s writer, and Peter, the big fisherman, run to the cemetery and there discover what Mary told them was so. Eventually, both of these men peer into the tomb as if to say to the ages, “Yep, it’s empty!” and then “the disciples returned to their homes.”
Not in today’s reading, John continues his story with Mary weeping outside the tomb and there comforted by a presence she first perceives as the gardener. But the One standing before her is the risen Lord. He speaks to her, he blesses her, he commissions her to go to his followers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And she goes.
Forty years pass. The lesson we heard from the Book of Acts knows this empty tomb story but omits or does not know of our Lord’s encounter with Mary Magdalene. Instead, it tells us “God raised Jesus on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” To whom did the risen Lord appear? The writer of Acts—whom we believe is Luke, the beloved Physician—puts it plainly. He appeared to those “with whom he ate and drank” after his resurrection.
What if these two stories were all we knew of Easter, this Day of Resurrection, this moment when God transformed death into life? Here, the Power that hung the stars changed an occupied tomb into an empty hole in the ground, the corpse of the crucified Christ into the Lord of heaven and earth. If these were our only words, what would God’s Word be to us this Easter 2019?
Something happened “back then” that has changed the course of history in every “now” that has followed. Every dawn is now filled with hope because that tomb is empty. In Easter’s brilliant light, death does not and will never have the last word. We can have hope in our step and confidence in our gait.
History tells us this is so. From the early centuries of the Christian story, believers have built and staffed hospitals, fed the hungry, gave relief and strength to the grieving, housed the homeless, welcomed immigrants and strangers, prayed with the condemned and held the hands of the abandoned. Whatever you or I think happened in that moment when a cold stone rolled away, and the grave was declared vacant—whatever that “was” changed the direction of history from a cynical resignation facing death to expectant conviction and confession there is life now and forever.
The lesson from Acts tells us the risen Lord appeared to those “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” The Good News is that the risen Lord is among us. He is in this place, offering Himself as our food and drink.
How beautifully close, how powerfully near, how taste-fully present in bread and wine, here at this home table, is the One who died and rose again?
The word is fellowship around a table not speculation about a tomb. Those first believers knew the tomb was empty because they discovered His risen life had made their ordinary lives so full. Our lives are full also because Christ has risen and gives us Himself.
This table is set in front of us. Bread and wine are offered to us. Brothers and sisters accompany us. Saints and angels surround us. The living Lord is among us. And we, transformed from death into life, are home. Christ is risen! Alleluia