The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
24 April 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by thy life-giving Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
This past Wednesday at William’s school we had Easter Chapel. Now, the last time I spoke with you all about Chapel at William’s school was on Christmas Eve when I reflected on the old spiritual song “Children go where I send thee,” and its relation to the story of the Incarnation. Although I promise that I won’t sing this time, I once again feel that I want to share my most recent “chapel” experience with you.
As I have told you before, Chapel at the Episcopal School consists of story-telling and singing. We hear stories from the Bible—the Old and New Testaments—and sing both traditional and specially-written songs that relate to the main lesson for the day. While these Bible stories are not watered-down from a theological point of view, they are tailored for three to five year-olds. Indeed, when telling the stories to the slightly older children like William, they go a bit deeper than with the littler ones.
Last week, they told the story of Moses and the first Passover, about how God helped free Moses and the Israelites from oppression under Pharaoh, how God visited the plagues on the Egyptians, and how he led the children of Israel safely away from Egypt. This week, we heard the story of Holy Week and Easter all in one. In a way, putting it all together in one story—from the Last Supper to Jesus death and resurrection—is perhaps the most ancient way of conceiving the story. The earliest Christians celebrated Jesus’ death and resurrection as a single event and thought of it very clearly as the Christian Passover. Jesus passed from life to death and to life again just as God freed the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. We call this way of thinking about Holy Week and Easter, “the Paschal Mystery.”
While the children were not told about the “Paschal Mystery” in so many words (or about the powerful form of Christian remembrance we call “anamnesis”), they learnt about it all just the same. They learnt of Jesus promise to his friends that he would always be with them ,especially when they gathered to tell Jesus’ stories—like the tales of Jesus’ deeds as well as the stories Jesus told like that of the lost sheep—and celebrated the special meal of bread and wine. They learnt about how Jesus died because there were people out there who did not want to hear Jesus’ message of love, his teachings on how we should love one another and be good to each other. They learnt that Jesus is always with us when we remember him, when we love someone, and when we receive love ourselves. The story stopped short, however, of telling about the Resurrection the way we talk about it today on Easter Day.
Perhaps this is because in the context of the school, with many parents of various faiths or even no faith at all, there is some sensitivity to this question and a desire to bring all the families into appreciating the stories. Yet, for me, I felt that something was missing. Now, I wasn’t going to say anything to William about it. I knew that we would be celebrating Easter Day here at church and that he would get the rest of the story from me and from our celebration together. But guess what, right after the final song, when the headmistress announced that his group should stay behind for music and that the others should go upstairs, he turned to me and asked, “is that the whole story?” I was amazed and said, “well, no. That’s not the whole story” and told him, amid the melee of fifty children and their parents scrambling to the next thing, a little bit about the Resurrection on that first Easter Morning. I told him that Jesus did not just go straight to heaven to be with God and is just with us when we remember him and when we love each other (which he is). I told him how we believe that Jesus came back after he was killed, that he returned to be with his friends for a little longer and in a special way, to show in no uncertain terms that all that hate, how all those “bad guys” who put Jesus to death, were no match for Jesus’ love, for the love of God. I told him we would tell that part of the story here today.
In a similar vein, I spoke with you all on Maundy Thursday about how Jesus’ work might have been recognisable to good solid Roman citizens as “pietas,” the “dutiful respect to gods, fatherland, and parents and other kinsmen”(1) and friends, but was really so much more. I said that while in many respects this connexion is apt, in many ways it is not because in Jesus’ actions, like the raising of Lazarus, like his washing the feet of his disciples and feeding them a special meal, goes far beyond this kind of respect born of duty. Jesus’ actions are rooted in love, divine love, the Love of God with which Jesus and God are themselves identified in the Gospel of John. This divine love is the love that is incarnate in Jesus Christ, the love that says that we are all children of God and worthy of love. This divine love is the love that is incarnate when we care for another creature not for our own sake or for our own gain, but purely for the sake of that other creature.
Jesus, moved by love itself in all his work, is raised from the dead this day by his father as a sign into history that love defeats death. The resurrection, Jesus bursting forth from the tomb on that first Easter Morning, and going again into the world to be the very incarnation of the most powerful of love and to show his disciples how all their work together had not been in vain, this is the powerful Good News that goes beyond the notion of Jesus, as William sometimes puts it, as simply the “greatest love teacher.”
Indeed, Jesus was the greatest love teacher the world has known. But more than that his love-in-action, especially the love shown forth by God-in-Christ on Easter Day, changed the world decisively. Now the whole world knows, once-and-for-all the power of the love of God in the face of evil. Now all the peoples of the world have the power to live in relationship with the God of Israel and show forth the love of God into the world in our lives.
Yes, William, there is more to the story than Jesus’ promise to his friends and his abiding presence, there is the saving power of his Resurrection that fills each and every one of us with the strength to go forth into the world this day to face evil wherever we find it and proclaim boldly and incarnate bodily that very love.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Easter Eve, 23 April 2011
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume
1. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), 692.