Easter is one of the greatest celebrations of the church year. Alongside of Christmas it stands out as great feast day that is actually noticed by both those within and those without the church. It is worthy of our time and attention and joy. In fact, you could say that every single Sunday in the church is a day that points to Easter, a day that reflects upon it and confesses the truths of the resurrection of our Lord. I love Easter Sunday when we gather together for worship every year. I love hearing the choir pull out all the stops, and then there is special music, and everyone seems to be dressed up just a bit more than a usual Sunday. And afterwards we gather for a big meal and maybe have a glass of champagne and the kids have an egg hunt, and everyone seems so happy to spend some time with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Easter is truly a special day, and it ought to be, for everything hinges on Easter. This moment, the moment that our Lord rises from the dead is the pinnacle moment for our faith, everything is dependent upon it. Now, that may sound like an overstatement, but I really mean that, everything is built upon the fact that there are no bones of our Lord to be found, that he rose form the dead never to die again. Your confidence in your salvation rests in this moment. Your hope of eternal life is found here. Your belief that your prayers are heard by God, that you can call upon him in your time of need, is grounded in this event. Your courage as you face death, or the death of a love done is established right here.
From ancient times the church had a greeting that Christians would use when they met another Christian going about their day. Instead of “How’s it going” or “Aloha” or simply “hello” one brother in Christ would say, “Christ is risen!” and the other would respond with a hearty “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” This wasn’t some secret handshake between fellow believers but a bold reinforcement of their faith. It was a declaration of their hope and confidence. It is the assurance by which they made their way in this world. In the midst of struggles at work and worries about their future they would boldly say “He is risen indeed!” In the face of suffering and hardship they would hear again the declaration, “He is risen indeed.” When there was confusion and loos and tears of regret, they could still shout out, “He is risen indeed.” It was a defiant battle cry to a world trapped in death and decay and darkness.
But over the years this confident confession has grown cold and distant. The focus upon our Lord’s resurrection from the dead and the promise that you too will rise has become blurred. Most commonly we hear it in the way that the children of God have grown accustomed to speaking about their hope. The hope or goal of their faith his to die in the faith and so be in heaven with Jesus. The hope is to shed this mortal life with all its defects and failures and spend eternity in heaven. Often times at funerals you hear this confession spelled out in how assurance is spoken of in the midst of death. We hear things like, “Susan has now entered eternal life.” Or “George has entered his eternal home.” Or “This is not a funeral – it’s Sam’s victory celebration.” Now while these are all well meaning and faithful sounding things to say they have misplaced the great hope of our faith, they have obscured what ought to be central. They have forgotten about the resurrection of the dead. At the very least they make it seem as if the resurrection of the dead is an afterthought, something not crucial to our life together here and now.
However, I think that if we shift our focus away from the resurrection of the dead, we end up emptying our lives of something crucial, something that is important. Our lives then become simply transitory moments where we fill our time with odds and ends before we get on to the good stuff, before we shed our flesh and blood and live for all eternity with our Lord. Death ends up being viewed as a friend and our bodies are only vehicles to get us through. Such a position has a way of effecting our confession of sin as well. Sin is viewed as an error in the system not a transgression that can only be made right by death. You then can make light of the commands and decrees of your God if the connection between your failings and his suffering isn’t so clear. And then even Easter joy becomes an afterthought.
Listen though to the words of St. Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth:
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:16-19)
If this is all there is, if there is no resurrection, Paul says we ought to be pitied. For without the resurrection of our Lord everything comes apart, everything is vain and empty without Christ resurrection. And if he is raised then the promises hold that you too will be raised.
The Christian faith cannot be reduced to a system that tries to help people live morally upright lives, that operates with healthy ethics and promotes love and peace on earth. The purpose of the church is not to make things better for the time we are here and then move on to heaven and leave it all behind. No, the church is the proclamation of a faith that is rooted in a Lord who bore the sins of the world suffered, died, and rose from the dead. That resurrection is the key to it all. You are the creatures of God, the pinnacle of his mighty works, his love for you will not have you just waste away in the grave. You were not created to have body that is separated from its soul for all eternity. That is the work of sin, that is the punishment. No, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, as he lives so you will live. You will dwell upon a new creation with resurrected bodies.
The resurrection of the dead fills your lives with meaning each and every day. The love ones that you care for, the bedside of the dying and the suffering, the enduring of the broken and shattered lives, it is not meaningless, it is not just a hurdle to get over. These bodies that you love will be made whole, there will be a grand reunion, there will be laughter and love and praise of our God who raises his own from the dead. He will wipe away every tear and embrace his children. You are not just getting through when you have compassion for the hurting or feed the hungry or clothe the clod, you are caring for the creation of God. A creation that will rise from the ashes to a more glorious day.
This Easter hope is yours, it floods now into your hearts and your mouths. It leads you out of this place and into the lives of others. You can speak about hope and life and the forgiveness of sins. Not rooted in your feelings or in your ideals or even your dreams but in the fact that the tomb is empty. The payment of your freedom has been made, the Son of God has done what you could never do, and he rose victorious from the grave. He rose so that you might know this very day that you are forgiven. And as his forgiven brothers and sisters you just might dare to forgive one another.
Let us then be bold in our confession, let us not give an inch as we greet each other with the great proclamation, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”