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Easter Sunday - April 21, 2019 - The Rev. Matthew Stewart

Last Sunday, we heard a story of darkness. A story with a grand march of royalty into a city rife with foreboding. A story where fearful and petty political figures schemed to protect their status quo. A story where violence and betrayal were in the air. A story where the innocent hero seemed to be walking towards suffering and death. A story that was coming to its end. Lest there be any confusion I am, of course, referring to last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones.

As always I promise to be as spoiler-free here as possible. So, much of that episode of Game of Thrones is set in a castle called Winterfell which is ancestral home of the Stark family. They’re main characters in the show. So, quite often throughout the history of the show, when they’re not engaging in political intrigue in throne rooms or heading out onto battlefields with dragons, members of the Stark family go down to the crypts below the castle where their ancestors are buried. The crypts are dark with only the faint twinkling of candlelight and statues of their forebears to accompany them. The Starks often find themselves traveling down to those crypts in times of confusion or anticipation, hoping to find comfort and clarity in the quiet dark. Sometimes they get the answers they seek. Sometimes they just find new questions. Sometimes they find a strength they need. Sometimes they come to new realizations about the world. And sometimes they come to new realizations about themselves. But something always happens in the cold but fertile dark of those mysterious crypts. Something always changes.

You might just see where I’m going here… As the Easter story goes- the body of the crucified Jesus was laid in a cold tomb under the ground on a Friday a couple thousand years ago… and then sometime in the mystery of the darkness of the second night after that, Christ was raised from the dead and the tomb was empty. Something indescribable and unfathomable happened. Something changed. And then we get where today’s Gospel story picks up. The passage today started, “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.”  In that first turn of phrase “On the first day of the week, at early dawn,” literally the Greek is “deep dawn.” I like that a lot- the women came to the tomb at deep dawn. At that twilight moment before sunrise when light and dark still kiss… where all of the world seems to have that different hue and therefore different vibe to it… that’s when those women became the first witnesses to the resurrection. Not quite fully in the darkness of the tomb but neither fully out of it either. We imagine Easter often as this well-lit, resplendent affair with images of a glorious Risen Christ charging out victorious from the tomb with beams of blinding light behind him. And maybe there’s some truth to that sort of image but it’s not how the Gospels portray the resurrection. Resurrection is a more murky, mysterious, poorly lit kind of affair. Something does happen. Something does change. But it’s not something we can easily see or hang onto or comprehend.

It’s for this reason that I’m sympathetic to the skepticism of the men later in the story. Again, after the women have experienced that Christ is risen they share that with the disciples, but the men don’t believe them. Now in the past, when I’ve thought about this part of this narrative, I’ve simply just thought the men were putzes… both just in general for not taking the women seriously but also for not realizing that, all throughout the Gospels, it’s women who understand and see Jesus first. In the Gospels, when women speak, usually something insightful is said. But, when a man speaks, it tends to be someone who just doesn’t get it. For this reason, I’ve thought the disciples were foolish for not listening carefully when the women shared something new about Jesus.

But this year I’ve been thinking about it a little differently. You know these men were grieving the death of their teacher and friend. And the women come and say, “He’s been raised.” I’d probably be just as skeptical. Indeed if someone told me at a funeral wake that a loved one of mine had been raised from death, I’d think it a pretty cruel joke. The disciples should have listened to the women but I understand why they didn’t. Resurrection is not easy to believe or to comprehend or to see.  

You know, probably for everyone in this room who believes that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, there’s someone who doesn’t. Many good and faithful Christians conclude that the story of the resurrection is more of metaphoric affair… connoting some bigger reality without being historically true. And then there are those who just don’t know what to make of it all. I’m not going to try to direct you one way or the other because I want to talk about something even more bonkers. That, literal or not, that we all share in that resurrection. The Christian proclamation on Easter is not that God did something anomalous 2000 years ago. Something not in keeping with the normal order of things in raising Christ from the dead. No, rather, it’s that 2000 years ago God unveiled or unleashed a deeper reality in the cosmos. That Christ is Risen and so are we. That Christ was raised to new life and so is the whole world.  

It’s why we heard that reading from Isaiah this morning... that reading where we hear his dream of a better world... a world where the non-violence is so pervasive that wolves and lambs feed together and not on each other. A world where the health care is so good that everyone lives to be at least a hundred. A world where people know only joy and delight... where all tears and all pain are gone. That’s what we heard in the Isaiah reading today. And, though it might not be immediately obvious, that’s an Easter story. Because God not only intends to end the darkness in our personal lives, God intends to end all the darkness in the world... to transform it all. To make this new

heavens and new earth that Isaiah talks about.

Now obviously we’re not there yet. The world is not yet all redeemed. We live in a world where, just this past week in a tragic accident, a beautiful house of worship was burned with fire and we live in a world where throughout the past year multiple other houses of worship have been riddled with gunfire. We live in a world where the climate and the delicate balance that holds our whole planet together is being toppled by our irresponsibility and selfishness. We live in a world where political leaders no longer even feign they have conscience, or compassion, or even simple civility. We live in a world where fear and hatred are not only embedded in our social structures, but those things are getting even more deeply enshrined at this time. We live in a world where homelessness, human trafficking, poverty, racism, food insecurity often elicit no more than a shrug from those of us with privilege and wealth, because we isolate ourselves and fail to be in solidarity with those with less. We live in a world where we are constantly shaking our heads at the next horrible thing that’s in the news or in our lives. It can seem like evil and death not resurrection and new life are the deepest realities of existence.

And yet, on Easter, we claim and we reclaim and we proclaim that death never has the final word. We don’t get to know when God will bring about this whole Easter plan. When the whole world will be reborn and transformed. When love will fully win out over hate and life over death. And indeed we don’t even know exactly what it will look like. Isaiah and the prophets were poets not soothsayers. New life comes in murky darkness. We don’t see it coming and we don’t comprehend it fully in those times when it has already come. But here’s what we do know. In the resurrection, a face, a personality is mapped onto and into God’s redemptive power that flows throughout the universe. The Risen Christ is the way we see and access and enter into that love that never dies and that love that makes all things new. New for us. And new for the world. Perhaps what we should say at the beginning of every Easter liturgy is “Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The whole world is risen indeed. Alleluia.”