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Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd

Sermon
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Brian R. Marsh

Easter Day, 2016
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, White River Junction, Vermont

Let us Pray: O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is Easter Day. The Day of the Resurrection. The great moment of our faith is come at last. After forty days of prayer and fasting. After a tragic and deeply sorrowful journey through Holy week, we have come at last to that moment that is, for all Christians, the holiest day of the year, the pivot point in all the turning world. Easter Day is what we are all about. Easter Day is the central mystery of our faith.

Because this day is all about the mystery of our Christian faith. This day calls into question all we have learned about life in this temporal world. The truth of Easter Day causes us to question reality as we understand it. The truth of Easter Day is meant to transform us.

We think we know so much about Easter. The Day of the Resurrection. The day on which Christ arose. We shout out: “Alleluia!” We repeat it often. We sing songs of praise, celebrating the resurrection, celebrating the life eternal; the victory over death.

We know all about Eastertide. We know the stories well. But still, there is the mystery.

The gospel messages for Easter Day should, we believe, celebrate the resurrection. Just like the hymns we sing on this day, the gospel messages should also be enthusiastic, joyful and uplifting. Just like the great ceremonial events that occur on this day, the gospels should be filled with the triumphal reentry of God in Christ. The message from Jesus on this day should be glorious, his return to earth filled with the sound of trumpets; the awesome angelic voices of heavenly choruses should accompany Jesus as he comes to us in great glory.

That's the way it should be. That is certainly the way we try to make it on Easter Day. We do our best to present this great festival day in the way it should be presented: with all the fanfare we can muster. That's the way it should be. And that is the way we seek to present it. It is a day of celebration. Something great and momentous – and full of mystery – has happened. We get the picture.

And yet, irony of all ironies, surprise of all surprises, the gospel presents a very different picture. There is no great celebration; no sound of trumpets; no triumphal reentry into Jerusalem. The triumph was last week; the great procession was on Palm Sunday. Today, the greatest, most holy day of our Christian year, is, by Gospel standards, very quiet indeed. Rather than finding ourselves assaulted by parades or having our sleep disturbed by shouting voices, we are confronted with an empty tomb. If there is ever a metaphor that stands for Easter Day it is this: the empty tomb.

The Empty Tomb. How many hymns of praise are sung about the empty tomb. I looked quickly at the Easter hymns in our hymnal. Yes, there is mention of the tomb, of victory over death. But those ideas are quickly glossed over. The librettists are eager to get on to the true message, the message of the resurrection. Yes, they seem to be saying, the empty tomb is there. But look at this; look at the resurrected Jesus.

We look for Jesus in the Easter Gospels. And he is not there. We listen for the sound of his voice. But on this particular day, the greatest day in all the history of the world, Jesus is silent. The gospels do not record a single word spoken by Jesus on this day. We live in a very secular world. The politicians of our great secular world are only too eager to trumpet their great electoral and secular victories. Because that's the way it is done.

But God is silent. Except for this: He speaks loudly and triumphantly through the silence of the empty tomb. God does not need words to describe the place where we find ourselves on this day. It is enough to know that it is empty; empty of all our fears and anxieties; empty of our sins and imperfections. It is empty, in a place of mortality and corruption, empty of death itself. The place that has been reserved for death is free of death. The purpose for which this place has been set apart has been rendered obsolete.

The gospel writers go out of their way to describe the events that unfolded on the Day of the Resurrection. They describe how Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, at a time when it was still dark. We read of various details: of Simon Peter running to the tomb; of the disciple Jesus loved; of a napkin folded by itself; of a young man sitting in the Sepulcher. We read many details. Some differ from writer to writer. But each describes a tomb that has been emptied of the dead, a tomb that no longer can function as a place for the dead.

On this wonderful and glorious day, a day that is so filled with hope and love and joy, we are left to wonder about a mystery so incomprehensible that the followers of Jesus could not grasp its meaning; a mystery so vast in the immensity of its love that God's word was not spoken on this day. It was what God had done that makes this day so powerful in the love of God that we can never fully comprehend it in this life. The mystery is simply too much of God for us to know it.

Jesus did not speak in parables on Easter Day. He didn't need to, but if He had, he might have said something like this: “Once there was a God who loved all those He had made. He loved His creation with a love that could never be described, a love that caused Him to sacrifice all to save His people. He sacrificed His life for them. And then, on this particular day, He asked them to find Him. And so they searched for Him in the only place they knew to look. And He wasn't there. Where had He gone?” They wondered. It was a mystery. But over time they came to know the truth of what rose with the dawn on Easter Day.

And ever after, they shouted with joy the words we cry out on this day:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!