Easter Sermon: “The Uprising”

holding hands

Several years ago, in my first Easter here, we were scrambling to take care of some last minute details in the office.

It was in the early afternoon on Good Friday, and in most years, it’s around that same time that we send everyone in the office home for the weekend.

But not this particular year.

This year, all hands were on deck.

The bulletins were assembled in particular piles on that counter in front of Gloria’s desk, Easter egg supplies were getting stowed, there was music being copied in the copier — things were humming.

And all of the sudden, two young men came in.

Dark suits, white shirts, silk ties, loafers, leather briefcases.

For a moment, I thought they were missionaries.

“Good afternoon!” said one brightly. “Is your Office Manager here?”

There was a pause.

“Yes, I’m the Office Manager,” said Gloria warily.

“I’m David and this is my colleague Kevin, and we’re associates at Bank of America, how are you today?” began the first one.

“I’m fine,” said Gloria flatly.

“Great…that’s just great,” said David. “We’d like to talk to you about how Bank of America can partner with your organization to unlock the resources you need for exponential expansion here in lower Fairfield County.”

(I think we all died a little when he said that.)

But then it got even better, because his colleague Kevin chimed in. “We’ve come here because, guys, we understand your business.

That was, you know, comforting.

It was comforting, there among the bulletins and the Easter eggs and the busily churning copier, in the very hours that our blessed savior hung upon the cross, to know that Dave and Kevin from Bank of America understood our business.

Now, it would be incorrect to say that they were laughed out of the office.

However, those of you who have done cold-calls will know this.

If you’ve ever done cold calls you know that sometimes people don’t need to come out and actually say no — there’s a moment when it just becomes clear that they’re not buying.

This was certainly one of those moments, and off they went.

II.

In any case, their visit only helped to make one point even clearer: here in the church, Easter is our business.

Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus is our mission, and our product (if we can call it that) is the transformation of people’s lives in the light of his resurrection.

What might seem on the outside like just another organization…another tastefully landscaped office park around a historic structure on Putnam Avenue, a place just waiting to unlock its resources and seek out strategic synergies that will empower its customer base and establish it as a best of breed nexus within its particular ecosystem…well, that’s how it may seem.

It’s actually a very different kind of enterprise.

Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

And we say that because, after all, we Christians are a very different kind of people….or at least, we’re supposed to be.

Moreover, it is what happened on this day that is supposed to make that possible.

That’s what Easter is.

Because on this day, so long ago, Christians began, however slowly, to understand that brokenness itself was broken. Death itself had breathed its last.

In the words of Frederick Buechner, “there no evil so dark and so obscene…but that God can turn it to good.” For Christians, that hope comes out of today.

It’s a hope the world needs more than ever.

We do.

As hatred and division seem newly emboldened all across the globe; as the technology that puts us in such constant touch with each other turns out mostly to narrow and reinforce our existing views; as addiction claims people from every quarter and walk of life; as the vulnerable and displaced suffer; as schools become battlegrounds.

So much seems so much harder right now.

Why care about any of it if we don’t have to?

The answer is: because of Easter.

The psalmist writes, “I lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my aid?”

As has been said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are called to be part of the solution.

I believe that the moral imagination of the world is in urgent need of renewal.

The world urgently needs the power of the church’s witness. We need it to take hold.

Because it is that witness that engages all people of good will.

It is that witness that strengthens our capacity to work together…to imagine a different world…a better world…together.

Because we know.

We know that no matter how powerful the darkness may seem, God has shown that it can be turned to good, and you and I are called to be part of that project.

Easter is our business.

III.

It always has been.

For the early Christians, a central part of the Easter story focused on what Jesus actually did during the three days after he was crucified–a period that the Apostles’ Creed describes succinctly, saying just “He descended into Hell.”

The Gospels don’t tell us anything about that.

Other letters mention it only briefly. The First Letter of Peter tells us the most. It says only that Jesus “preached to the imprisoned spirits” in Hell.

Yet the early church came to believe that after the Crucifixion, Jesus descended into Hell, where He shared The Good News with all those who had died, from Adam and Eve on forward, offering them the salvation they had not been offered in their own earthly life.

And what happened next was an “uprising.”

The Greek word is anastasis, literally, the opposite of stasis, a not-staying-still.

Early church images of Easter show not just Jesus being lifted up, but a great uprising of souls to Heaven from the very depths of Hell, with their arms all linked together as they rise.

For us today, it’s a reminder that the Christian vision encompasses something more than just how each one of us comes to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Important as that is, we’re also invited to join “the people of God.”

And it’s a reminder that Jesus expects us to “rise up” in loving service to the world, with arms linked, showing what it is to live the Gospel together, because it’s not enough just somehow to “believe” in it for ourselves.

We must be witnesses to a new and more excellent way.

There’s plenty of Hell right here, and there are plenty of people who need lifting. We should start with that.

Easter is our business.

IV.

How do we make it more of our personal business?

There is no magic to it. I suspect that, for the most part, we know what we are supposed to do.

Jesus shows us, in life and even after death.

Reach out.  Lift others.

Spouses for whom love and understanding and companionship have given way to texts about soccer practice: lift each other.

Seniors feeling unseen or unremembered after moving to assisted living: lift someone.

In the relative abundance and safety of this place, remember those in another place who have neither: lift them.

The discouraged, the sick, those who suffer from injustice: lift them.

 

Generosity takes many forms in the Kingdom of God, but all of us are called to give.

All of us are called to leave the world better than we found it, and to lift as many as we can in whatever ways we can.

V.

And so, this morning, we remember what John’s Gospel tells us about the morning of that first Easter, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed.

She sees that the stone in front of it has been rolled back, and she runs and tells Peter.

Some time later, she stands in the garden alone once again, weeping quietly, and for the first time, she looks down into the tomb for herself.

There she sees two angels dressed in white, one at the head where Jesus lay, and the other at the feet.

And they look up and ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“Mary,” they say, “we know your business. And from now on, you and all who follow will proclaim the power of the risen Christ.”

“It is the power that will transform the world.”

And so it was. And so it is.

May this Easter remind you of the transforming love of God at work in and through you.

May it lift you and lift me, and as we rise, may we reach out to grasp another and another and another, until all are lifted, and all are held, and all are made free in God at last.

Amen.

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