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Baptism Sermon for Easter Sunday at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA on Mar 31, 2013.

Easter Sunday, Year C (RCL): Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

   If you have difficulty believing the Easter story, it’s understandable. It is so incredible that we ought to have difficulty with it. The Easter story has nothing to do with springtime. I imagine we’ve all heard any number of sermons about planting a flower bulb in the ground in the fall and then waiting all through the snows and ice of winter until spring’s warmth brings that bulb to life. It is a principle of nature, but it’s not what Easter is about. We are asked to believe that someone dead in a tomb for three days became alive again, never to die again. If at first you are a skeptic or a cynic, you have good reason to be. You understand the issues.

       Let’s look closely at that first Easter morning experience from Luke’s Gospel. First, the women were the first to learn about the resurrection. How remarkable that was in a time when women were less than second-class citizens that the first people to whom Jesus’ resurrection was revealed were faithful and devout women. They had come to the tomb to embalm the body of Christ. They came without hope, resigned sadly to His death. The terror of Good Friday was over. The grief of Saturday was still with them and they came mourning, to prepare His body for the long journey into decay and decomposition. They came, absent of any faith that anything would change after what had happened.

       Coming into the cemetery, with no faith and no expectations, the women are met by two angels. They first asked the women why they were there. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Next, the angels remind them of Jesus’ own prophecy that on the third day He would be raised from the dead. Hearing this, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women rushed off to tell the apostles.

       And yet, wonder of wonders, these women who also had walked the Way with Jesus, the most faithful and reliable of witnesses, were not believed. The apostles, those who had spent intimate three years with Jesus, who had trusted their lives to Him, simply dismissed the witness of these women for “these words seemed to them an idle tale.”

       One of my favorite resources to turn to for inspiration while crafting a sermon is WorkingPreacher.org, which is associated with Luther Seminary, and offers podcast reflections on the weekly lectionary readings. They also have brief Preaching Moments where adjunct faculty focuses on a part of scripture.

       Regarding the reference “Idle tale,” Anna Carter Florence, an associate professor of homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, gets to the root of the word, which in the Greek is lairos, which means garbage, drivel, nonsense; in fact, literally … it means crap. And while Luke does not tell us exactly what the women said, if we turn to John’s Gospel, we hear Mary Magdalene announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” But still there is rejection. There is resistance. This is garbage.

 

       In some ways, we can understand their reaction. No words could possibly communicate this most awesome mystery in cosmic history – that someone who was totally dead was now alive. While it may be somewhat offensive that they did not accept what the women witnessed to, it’s not surprising that the apostles did not believe their ‘tales.’ Call it ignorance or even blindness, but those of us who are by nature either cynical or skeptical have been in that spot. And it is our human nature which puts us into the apostolic tradition. The apostles had to experience for themselves Jesus’ resurrection. You too are called into your own experience of the resurrected Jesus.

       This twenty-fourth chapter of Luke ends with Jesus’ appearance in resurrected form to all eleven disciples. Judas has already been lost by his own hand because he could not fathom that any form of forgiveness was possible. God does not say that if we don’t believe that it’s our tough luck. God honors our unbelief. God is saying through these verses that it is okay to doubt. God wants our faith in God to be based on an experience of the resurrection of Jesus.

       Let me suggest that we might test the resurrection experience in three important areas of our lives – our past, our present, and our future. If you are having difficulty in believing in the resurrection, ask the Lord to make Himself know to you in one of the three areas, whichever one represents your own growing edge right now.

       We go to the cemetery of our past to look for the Lord of the living. Remember Jesus’ promise, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The past can be described as the “if onlys” of our lives. The past is gone and we cannot retrieve it, but there is much that comes out of the past to haunt us. If only my mother had not died. If only I had studied more intentionally and made more of my life. If only I had chosen a different path or another career. If only, if only, if only. We may want to have a resurrection experience over past addictions, whether they be alcohol, drugs, self-pity, fear, or destructive attitudes or actions. We can leave those “if onlys” in that cemetery and ask our risen Lord to set us free from those crippling memories of our lives.

       Or, we might experience the power of the resurrection in our present. How do we become those people who are extravagant lovers in the world, in our families, with our friends? Jesus has given us the commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Our Lord gave Himself to us. He was vulnerable. He risked for us. He identified with us. He loved us through our failures. We should all want to be channels of that kind of love.

       There was a cartoon in The New Yorker magazine some time ago that showed a middle-aged couple in a new car showroom. I don’t know about you, but buying a new car is nothing that Chrissie or I have ever enjoyed. The husband in this cartoon is examining a car very closely with a greedy, almost demonic sort of smile. His wife, with arms folded, is saying, “Well, Henry, if buying a front-wheel drive did not make you a better person, what makes you think buying a four-wheel drive will make you a better person?” Hmmm. We’re all looking for some way to be a better person. We can turn to our risen Lord in this area of our life to claim our promise in His resurrection to love those around us right now in the present.

       We can claim that promise for the future as well. The people of God are those who will dream dreams and see visions. That is the prophecy at Pentecost. God wants to give us God’s dream for our personal lives and for society.

       Faith, then, is not believing the unbelievable. Rather, faith is risking your life on the unspeakable goodness of God. We can ask God to give us an experience of the resurrection for the first time or the one-hundredth time. We need not feel we have to believe the idle tales of the others who tell us about it. That wasn’t good enough for the disciples then, and it may not be good enough for you now. We can seek to find the resurrected Christ to better know who He is in setting us free from the past, or teaching us to live and love in the present, and by giving us His vision for the future.

       It is into this resurrection promise today that we welcome Cassidy Marie McCaslin. Today we have great hopes for Cassi as she is “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” Today, she takes her place among the saints of God, and with all those who live in the resurrection hope of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who were before, are now, and always will be part of the Household of God. I charge all of us who will say, “We Will!” to be ready to share with Cassi the Hope that she is entering into and the Promise she has before her as a member of the Body of Christ. We all stand with Cassi, Brent, Tiffany, Kristin, and Jonathan, for it is in that incredible, almost unbelievable, nature of the Good News that we are called to know and to share with others.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!