Alleluia, Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s an interesting distinction made in the New Testament of which the preacher should always be aware. It’s between the Greek word διδάσκω, meaning to teach, and the word κηρύσσω, meaning to proclaim. Both can be and sometimes are translated as “preach”, and both are used when Jesus or the Apostles deliver what we would recognize as a sermon, but each implies a different, valid, approach to preaching. Those of you who’ve been regularly subjected to my sermons know that I probably do more of the former than the latter from this pulpit. So, I shall start this morning on familiar ground with some διδάσκω—a little teaching—and then proceed to proclaiming, partly because the latter is a more inspiring way to end a sermon, but mostly because Easter is a day on which the latter just seems more appropriate than the former. More about that in a minute, but first, the didactic portion of this sermon:
There is a reality with which we must come to terms if Easter is to mean anything. That reality is death. It’s a reality that’s hard to face, because we live in such a death denying culture. Many of you know that this point is one of my hobby horses, so here I’ll trot it out again. We don’t think about death; we ignore it until it arrives at our doorstep and somebody in a funny getup like me gives some puffy platitudes to try to numb its sting. We’ve even coöpted religion to help us say that death isn’t a reality.
Well, I’m here to tell you, and on Easter morning of all times, that death is real. And, though death is our enemy, a sad result of the Fall, it’s a good thing it’s real. You see, Easter wouldn’t be anything more than bonnets and bunnies and Cadbury eggs if it weren’t.
The following may shock you, though it is a reality which the Gospels and the Church have always proclaimed— when you’re dead, you’re dead. You see, life eternal is not just some natural process to which we’re somehow predestined by virtue of the way things have always been. There’s not some sort of automatic transmigration of the human soul into either beatitude or gloom, death being some kind of illusion between this experience and that. No death is real, and that makes Christ’s Resurrection and its promise for us mean something. If it weren’t Christ’s Resurrection would have merely been didactic, like this part of my sermon; it would have simply been a lesson that death wasn’t something to fear. A good lesson, but hardly worth getting all dressed up on a Sunday morning for.
But, you see, Christ didn’t just unmask death as an illusion. In the most powerful expression of God’s power ever, at what two nights ago I called the hinge point of history, Christ actually conquered death. He waged a glorious battle against that most sinister of our enemies and left him powerless.
In his Holy Sonnett ‘Death be not proud’ John Donne wrote the following:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
Donne having been an Anglican priest (albeit a somewhat naughty one) we shouldn’t be surprised that the poem’s an interesting piece of theology. First it acknowledges the reality of death by addressing it before naming its powerlessness, its incapacity to confound us thanks to Christ’s Resurrection. And while death remains, its sting this day is taken away and it shall, we are promised, ultimately be vanquished entirely, when on the last day we shall be raised incorruptible- not just as some ghosties to play harps on a cloud somewhere, but whole and entire, bodily and perfectly, to enjoy life in a new heaven and a new earth with each other and God in unmediated, perfectly gracious, eternal, loving communion.
This is, in the final analysis, the Good News of Easter, but we can be sure that those who first witnessed the Resurrection didn’t have such lofty theology in mind when they heard the Good News of the Risen Lord. They were most assuredly less interested in the διδάσκω than they were in the κηρύσσω- more excited to share the Good News than they were to reckon all its implications, moral and theological. The women who went to the tomb surely cared less about the doctrine of the eschaton and more about their dead friend, Jesus, who suddenly appeared again when all hope had been lost. Their first reaction to the good news announced by the angels was not to sit down and write the Nicene Creed, but to share with joy that Good News- to tell the others that their dear friend was alive. Peter and the beloved disciple, alone among the Apostles in not entirely dismissing the Good News as an “old wives’ tale,” turned out to be no mean theologians, but they did not stop on the first Easter Morning to ponder the religious implications of the message if it were true- to make sure St. John’s Gospel and the two epistles general of St. Peter would be doctrinally compatible. Rather, they ran to see this wonderful thing that had happened.
You see, there are two different but (I think) equally valid responses we may have to this wonderful news- the theological and the personal; the didactic and the declamatory. We can focus on the teaching, the doctrine, or simply receive with joy the good news and proclaim it to others, to run to the apostles like the women or to the empty tomb like Peter. Both are valid approaches, both are necessary and useful, but, at least on this day, I think we should take our cue from the women and from Peter and John. There will be plenty of time in the next fifty days for you to hear me belabor the finer points of the theology of the Resurrection, but on this day, just rejoice. Simply be glad that your friend and Lord still lives and loves you; that from his throne of glory in heaven, in the most precious sacrament of the Altar, and in our own hearts he is alive and active. If that’s not true, if that’s not really the best news of all time, then we really might as well have slept in this morning. But I, for one, can’t think of anything more thrilling, more life-changing, than what we celebrate today.
And it doesn’t just end with hearing the news and rejoicing, for the Good News of the Resurrection, the triumph of God over death and hell, is a message which compels us to pass it on. This doesn’t necessarily mean standing on Main Street waving floppy King James Bibles in the air and shouting. That’s not our obligation; that’s not even effective in my experience. What is our call and, indeed, what can be our greatest delight, is to share with others in gentle and loving ways the joy that we have found in knowing the risen Lord. For, just as the women at the tomb felt compelled to convey the Good News to the apostles, so too should our exceeding joy—the joy we experience in knowing that our Lord and God and dear friend is alive—compel us to speak and to celebrate. So, let our hearty “alleluias” resound in the streets of this city as powerfully as they do in our own hearts, for
Alleluia, Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.