Happy Easter! I haven’t preached in a couple of weeks, so I was itching to get behind the pulpit again. I decided to some fun (it is Easter, after all!) so at the end of the sermon Bruce and I set off confetti (me from the pulpit and him from the choir loft) while our Music Director played “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today” on the organ. Everyone started cheering. What fun!
I love my job! Here’s my sermon. You’ll have to imagine the confetti, ha!
Understanding By Call
My mom sent me an email early this week. The subject of the email was, “I need …” and the email read, “Snappy openers for two Easter sermons.” I read her email and smiled. I smiled for a few reasons. First of all, I grew up listening to her Easter sermons. They always had some sort of “shtick” to them to get people hooked. My mom has given Easter sermons in a Phillies hat, a UCONN shirt and with a stethoscope around her neck. Her congregation has grown to expect something, well, snappy. I also smiled because, let’s be honest, I needed the same thing this week.
So considering the fact that at the time I was no closer than she was to having any sort of sermon direction, I hit reply, typed the sentence, “It should involve tap dancing” and hit send.
She never responded. I guess that means I was not helpful.
Here is what I have been wondering, though. Why do preachers have to have snappy openers on Easter morning? The first Easter morning was far from snappy. In fact, it was quiet—and dark. In the Gospel account that we read this morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb very early and saw that the stone had been moved and the tomb was empty. But she did not sing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Hallelujah!” Instead, she went and told the disciples that the tomb was empty. After they confirmed that Jesus was – in fact – not in the tomb they returned to their homes and Mary stood outside of the tomb and cried.
Not exactly that happiest, most cheerful, confetti-flying-through-the-air kind of way to start off the very first Easter morning.
In a way, Easter Sunday is kind of ironic. It is probably the highest attended Sunday worship service of the year. The music is loud, the flowers are gorgeous, the clothes are bright and the murmur of excited voices in the sanctuary can barely be contained. And yet, there is a mystery to all of it. Because if you think about it, we really are still unclear as to what, exactly, we are celebrating. Yes, Christ rose from the dead, but how? Where? When? These are unanswerable questions. The greatest celebration of the Christian faith is also the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. We do not know what happened. No one witnessed the resurrection. They just found the empty tomb.
I have often thought that the Easter story would have packed a bit more of a punch if Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb, ran to tell the disciples, a big blast of confetti had gone shooting through the air and everyone shouted and praised God that, ‘Christ had risen, he had risen indeed!’ But that is not what happened. Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb and was confused; upset that someone had moved Jesus’ body. The disciples saw the empty tomb and went home; they did not understand that Jesus had risen, that the scripture had been fulfilled.
They did not understand. No one understood what had actually happened.
In fact, it was not until Jesus called to Mary that she understood that Jesus arose from the dead. Jesus said to Mary several times, “Woman, why are you weeping?” and “Who are you looking for?” and yet it was not until Jesus said to her, “Mary!” – it was not until Jesus called Marry and said to her, “Go to my brothers and [tell them that you have seen me and that I have risen.]” – that Mary understood what had happened.
It was not until Jesus called Mary that she understood.
I think many of us can relate to this. There is an inherent mystery to the Christian faith, one that we will never understand. At the core of the Christian faith is some sort of belief in Christ’s resurrection and yet, let’s be honest, no one really knows what happened when Jesus rose – no one was there to witness it. I think to some extent, at one point in all of our lives we have moments of doubt, moments of confusion, moments where we do not understand what it is that we really believe. We do not always understand this mystery.
These are the moments when Jesus calls us by name. These are the moments when Jesus calls us to believe that he is real, when Jesus calls us to believe in the mystery of the faith, when Jesus calls us to be in ministry and when Jesus calls us to follow him.
And these are the moments when we begin to understand the mystery of the Christian faith.
Mary did not understand until Jesus called her. Mary did not understand what had happened and what she was supposed to do next until Jesus said, “Mary!” Maybe we are not supposed to understand until Jesus calls us, either.
Is Easter morning a time to shout, “Christ is risen, he is risen, indeed!”? Yes! Is it a time to celebrate the fact that Christ rose and gave us new life? Yes! But I think we have so much more to celebrate than that. I think we are supposed to celebrate not just the moment that Mary found the empty tomb; I think we are also supposed to celebrate the moment that she turned around and saw Jesus standing in front of her calling her to spread the good news that he had risen.
And I think we are also supposed to celebrate the moments in our lives, those unexpected moments, when we turn around and feel Jesus calling us to follow him, to share the message of the Gospel with those around us and to live it out as well.
How beautiful is the living metaphor of Easter and spring in this part of the world? Spring is a time of new beginnings; a time of new growth, new life and new possibilities. Easter is also a time of new beginnings; a time of new growth, new life and new possibilities. It is a time when we re-experience those first Christian moments again, a time when we think about the ways in which Jesus is calling each one of us by name.
What is Jesus calling you to do in this church? Is he calling you to do mission work? Is he calling you to teach? Is he calling you to preach? Is he calling you to sing or share another one of your other gifts? Is he calling you to lead? Is he calling you to follow? Is he calling you to try something you have never done before?
What is Jesus calling you to do outside of this church? Is he calling you to spread the Gospel? Is he calling you to reach out to those in need, to cry out for justice and to resist evil? Is he calling you to breathe life and love into something that is failing? Is he calling you to offer encouragement to those around you? Is he calling you to love both your friends and your enemies? Is he calling you to seek forgiveness for the times when you have fallen short? Or is he calling you to extend that hand of forgiveness? Again – is he calling you to try something you have never done before?
What is Jesus calling you to do on this Easter morning? How is Jesus calling you into this Easter and spring season of new growth, new life and new possibilities?
I think when we start to listen for Jesus calling us by name we truly begin to understand the mystery of the Christian faith.
We will never know what happened that led to the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. But we will always know what happened in the moments that immediately followed the discovering of the empty tomb. Jesus came to Mary and called her to share the news that he had risen. And today – this morning – Jesus comes to us in this sanctuary and calls us to do the same.
Do you hear it? Do you feel it? Do you sense it? Jesus is here, calling each one of us by name and telling us to spread the news that he is risen, he is risen indeed.
That, my friends, is something worthy of confetti flying through the air.
So go forth into the world, in both your words and in your actions, and spread the good news. Christ is risen – he is risen, indeed!
Thanks be to God!