A Sermon for Easter Day, Year C
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
V. Alleluia! Christ is risen.
R. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Thursday evening we celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper when he broke bread and drank wine with his disciples and then washed their feet. He told them, “You must wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you an example of how to love each other. This is the way of a happy life.”
This morning, Easter morning, the female disciples went to anoint, to wash, the body of Jesus. Simple, personal, menial work, often pejoratively called, dare I say, “women’s work.” Do you wonder if perhaps there’s some connection here? Does Jesus’ menial, lowly service of washing feet have any relation to the women heading off to provide a service, an act of care and love?
I wonder if we should be surprised that the first intimation of resurrection, of new life, came from the women trying to be of service, acting with love and tenderness to Jesus. Perhaps in doing work, work we often consider to be beneath us, but any work of love, we open ourselves to experiencing what is above us. Possibly.
When the women arrived at the tomb, they found it empty. Upsetting enough, but then it really got frightening. They had a vision of two angels, and it terrified them. The angels asked, “What are you doing looking for the living among the dead?” The angels reminded the women that Jesus had told them, three times, that he’d be crucified and then rise on the third day.
The women remembered Jesus’ promise and then returned to the other disciples and told them what had happened. The disciples – the apostles, the great authority figures of the church – they didn’t believe a word of it, considered it nonsense. Quite likely they would have doubted any witness offering hope, but they were also people of a time and place, of a society in which women were disqualified from serving as witnesses in court on the grounds that they were too impetuous and giddy.[i]
We still live in a world under the clutch of such prejudice, too prone to discount women. It makes sense that Jesus would have women be the first to witness to his resurrection, even here challenging our injustice and fear and cruelty.
None of the resurrection stories flatters the disciples for their alacrity of faith. To the contrary. They had received repeated and explicit promises of the resurrection, but they didn’t get it, and they didn’t expect it.
Frankly, I like that they’re confused, bewildered, slow to understand and believe and trust. I identify with that. If you take resurrection seriously, if your understanding of reality is not cartoon like, resurrection is difficult to believe. It re-arranges reality as we know it.
For all of the first disciples, it took time to see and perceive that Jesus had risen from the dead, and most of us, too, have difficulty seeing, recognizing, comprehending, and trusting in the risen presence of Jesus. Where might we look?
An overlooked clue. On Friday as Jesus died on the cross, as he breathed his last, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. The Jerusalem Temple was an enormous structure, built on a mammoth stone platform about 500x300 meters, more than fifteen football fields.[ii] The platform essentially turned a hill, Mount Moriah, into a very large public square. Probably you’ve seen pictures of the Western Wall, well over 50 feet tall. It is the only remaining part of this huge stone platform. Today Jews stand at the bottom of the platform and pray.
At the top, around the edges of the platform, Herod the Great built a large portico enclosing this gigantic public square. It formed a huge courtyard known as the Court of the Gentiles. It was essentially a bazaar, full of noise, commotion, conversing, shouting, bartering. Anyone could come into this space.
Rising out of the center of this immense courtyard was the main Temple sanctuary. It was surrounded by more courtyards. Only Jews could enter the large Court of Women, where there was typically dancing and singing. Only Jewish men could pass through the next gate into the Court of the Israelites. Here Jewish men could look into the next courtyard, the Court of Priests, where Jewish priests sacrificed animals and performed religious rites.
Beyond the Court of Priests, there was the Temple sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, a tall, stone structure frankly looking a bit like a colossal mausoleum. No one entered it except once a year. A vast purple curtain covered the entrance. For Jews, the Holy of Holies contained the presence of God, the place God dwelt on earth, the meeting place of heaven and earth, the cosmic center of creation.
The Temple architecture, its concentric circles moving toward a sacred center, with each stage having more elaborate and expensive materials, was meant to emphasize God’s holiness, but it also emphasized God’s exclusivity. It made God remote.
Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the chief priests representing the entire nation would enter the Holy of Holies to burn incense and to sprinkle animal blood. This was not a privilege. There may have been a couple hundred chief priests, and they cast lots to determine who’d go in. With fear and awe, he would enter into the presence of God. I’ve heard a biblical scholar speculate that upon entering the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, the priest would have found the chamber mostly empty, but there would have been a surprising object: a mirror.
This floored me. The priest entered the presence of God and saw himself in a mirror. The message: we see the living God not only spectacularly in a burning bush or in a great light, but in a mirror. Perhaps this is a beginning of perceiving and understanding and trusting the resurrection.
The gospels claim that the curtain covering the Holy of Holies ripped in half. Whether or not you take it literally is not important. The point is important: God’s presence is not limited or confined, God is available to all, accessible for all.[iii]
“Why seek the living among the dead?” The angels are telling us, “Look for the living God in your lives – not in tombs, not in what’s dying or dead. God is alive now and always – and smack dab in front of us. Awaken and see.”
Paul insisted that although he retains his own personality, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) In other words, he lives in us, and we in him. That’s what happens in baptism: we are born again and Christ rises up in us. That’s what happens in the Eucharist: we give ourselves to God and he gives himself to us. The risen Jesus comes to us, dwells in us, is with us and for us.
Easter invites us to see ourselves and reality differently.
1) Death and all the losses and pain we’ve experienced, these are not the ultimate reality.
2) Following Jesus leads to life, abundant life.
3) Jesus lives, and he lives in us and through us.
It’s Easter morning. I’m a bit giddy, but not too giddy to witness to the resurrection. As Christ rose from up from the tomb, I invite all of you to rise up and stand now. Last year, you may recall Randy Haycock preached on Easter morning and had us do a wonderful thing.
Divide into twos. If someone next to you looks left out, include them and make it a three. Turn and one of you say, “Christ is risen,” and the other reply “the Lord is risen in YOU!” And then switch. The second person say, “Christ is risen,” and the other reply, “The Lord is risen in YOU!”
Seek God in the living.
V. Alleluia! Christ is risen.
R. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
YES, and Christ is risen in YOU!
Have a Happy Easter.
The Rev. Lane Davenport
[i] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1997), p. 840.
[ii] A fine description of the Temple mount: Graham Tomlin, The Provocative Church, S.P.C.K. (2002), pp. 42-44.
[iii] Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, HarperSanFrancisco (2006), p. 150.
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