My Easter sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or read on.
Death and taxes. Every year, at about this time, I’m reminded of that old cliche that [outside of Baldwin County] the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Whether you live in first century Palestine or twenty-first century America, you can be sure that (1) the government is going to get their fair share of your money and (2) dead people are going to stay dead. Dead people simply do not come back to life. And so it is, that early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome do the completely normal thing after their dear friend died late on the eve of the Sabbath. Having procured the spices they needed for embalming, the women set out for the tomb to do the hard work of preparing Jesus’ body for his final rest. As they made the journey from the downtown market out past the city walls to the cemetery near the hill called Golgotha, the silence of the walk was interspersed only with the heaving sobs of those whose hopes have been dashed. Meanwhile the very real question of how they would even get into the tomb lingered around them. Despite the fact that Jesus had three times predicted his resurrection on the third day, no one: not the Chief Priests, not the Apostles, and certainly not these women had given a passing thought to the possibility that Jesus might not still be dead come Sunday morning.
Dead people simply do not come back to life. This fact is the reason we celebrate Easter at all. The great anomaly in the life of Jesus isn’t that he was born in a cave or got lost in the Temple when he was twelve or was baptized at 30 in the Jordan River or that he preached about the Kingdom of God or even that he was killed on a cross as a traitor by the hands of Rome. Jesus wasn’t the only person who did those things. What is unique about Jesus is that he is the only person who rose from the dead after it was all over.
Unlike the women making their way to the tomb that first Easter day, we gather this Easter morning, fully expecting Jesus to be alive. The tomb is going to be empty this year, just like it is every year. I wonder, as you got ready to come to church today, did you gave any thought to the fact that dead people just don’t come back to life? Have you thought about how ridiculous this story is? Have you considered how hard it should be to believe that this man who died having been beaten, whipped, crucified, and speared was raised from the dead on the third day? Does the difficulty of belief impact our lives in any real way? Or, do we simply accept it at face value, and instead of giving it a moment’s thought, wake up early one Sunday a year, put on our seersucker suits and linen sun dresses, and come to Church to sing the usual favorite hymns, hunt for eggs, and perhaps most importantly, make grand-mama happy?
Dead people don’t come back to life. This is especially true when they don’t even know they are dead. The fact of the matter is that most of us walk around dead most of the time. We’re dead because we don’t know how to be fully alive. We’re dead because we find it so easy to believe in the resurrection of Jesus that we don’t see how world altering it really is. We’re dead because we fail to recognize the amazing gift God has given us in the resurrection of Jesus. In the resurrection, Jesus invites the women, the disciples, and you and me to give up death and join with him in joy-filled Kingdom living, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
In the Collect for Easter Day, we pray that God would help us live in the joy of resurrection. We pray this prayer because the world around us is not a world of joy or resurrection; it is, rather, a world of sadness and death. Even those of us who don’t engage in the self-flagellation that is watching MSNBC or FoxNews 12 hours a day realize that the world is not as it should be. Our Facebook feeds are filled with political diatribes, broken marriages, cancer diagnoses, and job worries. Since the Great Recession, our workplaces are filled with less people doing more work on tighter deadlines with fewer dollars. Our medicine cabinets are filled with drugs to combat hypertension from all the stress, high cholesterol from all the rushed McDonald’s drive-thru value meals, and attention deficit disorder from the myriad concerns pulling us in a thousand different directions. The depression of Good Friday, we can understand. The relentless waiting of Holy Saturday, we get. The joy of resurrection on Easter Day is almost impossible to imagine…
…Which is why we pray to God for help. Trying to give up death and live into the joy of the resurrection on our own is impossible, but through the grace of God, we are able to leave the tomb and live in joy more and more each day. The resurrection is much more than a celebration of Jesus’ victory over death, it is our invitation into life: life in the Kingdom of God right here and right now. As we pray for the joy of the resurrection, we ask to God to open our eyes to see his hand a work in the world around us. We’re asking for the ability to see hope in the midst of hopelessness. We’re asking for life in the midst of death.
Dead people don’t come back to life, but when Jesus does, it changes everything. As the women arrive at the tomb and realize that the stone has already been rolled away, the whole world changes. Jesus Christ is alive! There is no resurrection encounter in Mark’s Gospel, only an invitation to return to Galilee to meet up with the risen Savior. The invitation is as much for the disciples as it is for you and for me. The risen Lord bids us to join him as he goes forth through time and space sharing the Good News that love always wins, that life after death is possible, and that everyone can join him in the community of joy.
Death and taxes may both be certainties in life, but Easter invites us to add one more item to that list: joy. The joy of the resurrection, the true joy of the Kingdom of God: that is what God promises each of us on Easter Day. Joy beyond taxes, beyond death. Joy beyond all measure. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.