Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

Readings for Easter Sunday 23 March, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter Day , 23 March 2008 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I was contemplating on Saturday and thought to myself this is the best Easter ever, and there’s still some joining of the dots to work out why I felt that and then I thought surely that’s what all of us might feel, because are we not now closer to the resurrection than ever before? So we may not have got it on a previous Easter - this might the Easter.

Easter is a place where life makes sense and I was reminded of that – if we cast our minds back to the Sunday before Lent, the Transfiguration Sunday - remember the story and the appearance of Christ? And then we read his appearance in the Gospel today. His appearance today was ‘like lightning’ and his clothing white as snow - somehow Easter has made sense of the story of the Transfiguration we heard before Lent and then spent Lent wondering what is this all about. Today there is a coming together.

When I looked at the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I asked myself have I ever heard this reading before? It sounded completely new. The first bit I knew, the first bit is one of those nagging voices: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. That was familiar. But the reading, ‘So if you have been raised with Christ…’ right the way through, I don’t know that I’ve heard before. And the important part that I heard is this part: ‘for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’, and I thought about those times that we really, really feel alive – without the use of drugs. Think about those times when you feel really alive, when everything is sweet, when life - you just can’t help but smile. Think about those moments – they are moments ‘in Love’, they are moments ‘in Creation’, and it sort of gives us that feeling that in that loving, creative activity, we are Christ-like. We appear with our eyes wide open, we shine, we glow. It’s only five lines long - read it again and again, it’s a delightful reading that somehow makes sense of life.

Now I did think we could carry on going through the texts for another fifteen or twenty minutes - it is Easter, big day for the Church. There’s so much in them….

So rather than look at the texts, let’s have a look at the icons of Easter. See what comes to mind – obviously the cross, as is the crucifixion, and in fact Mel Gibson is probably still making a quid out of that, because he depicted so well, we do want to see it. The suffering servant - says he, blindly fiddling under here so that no one notices - the icon that has been with us through Lent and was at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. The tree – symbolically we represented it. And it’s interesting because the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, we hear in verse 39, ‘We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree’. We pick up the symbol by taking one of the Christmas trees, and another link – sometimes the icons of Easter draw us so much into Easter that we miss the link with Christmas - here we’ve got it in the tree. We’ve got the symbol of Easter eggs and we also have the symbol of the bread and wine from the Last Supper, in the little silver cup surrounded by chocolate eggs. We have the light which is represented in the Paschal Candle and we have the rising sun. The risen Christ and the rising sun - our time on the planet predates Christ, for when you hear the rising son in both the echoes. The movement of the universe is echoed as the sun rises and the story of Easter is echoed. Now we can keep pushing how many icons and symbols there are around Easter; we’re able to add the equinox, baptism, full moon, and of course the Easter bunnies on the front of the service sheet. Two icons - the empty tomb the Easter bunny.

So we are, as always in our culture, overwhelmed by visual images of icons that ask something of us. What an icon asks is, ‘Look at me; I want your attention’. So the question of Easter is, what do I see? For those of us more prayerfully inclined we might say, what have I heard? For those of us who have already processed our images, our texts or sounds, what do I understand? Maybe we need to reduce the number of icons.
What if we said Easter is about Jesus and we did a true or false? Most of us would say true. What if we said Easter is about chocolate? True or false. Most of us would say true. I don’t think Easter is about either of them. I think chocolate distracts us from the sacrament of bread and wine, and let’s be honest: if someone gave you a seventy percent chocolate egg or one of those wafers, you’d be a fool not to, wouldn’t you? The chocolate Easter egg looks better, tastes better, and the important thing for our culture is, it sells better. It is much more marketable and so Easter eggs provide a pleasant distraction.

Jesus in the orthodox package can also be a pleasant distraction. The risen Christ, through the orthodox church turns into one of these – Jesus, Super Hero. This is what we make of Jesus. ‘He is the ultimate super-hero. Take him on your daily adventures battling against evil forces of modern day life. Alone on a Saturday night - Jesus Super Hero will watch that video with you; fumbling for your keys in the dark - Jesus Super Hero’s holy vision will light the way for you; great for fishing trips – he’s a great catch; mini-bar running low – no worries, Jesus has plenty of spirit; Monday blues, shake them away – every day can be Good Friday with your Jesus Super Hero; keep him on your car dash to guide you on life’s highways; leaving on holidays and no one to watch over your pets – no problem, Jesus your super hero will watch over your flock. To witness these and other miracles purchase your Jesus Super Hero today.’ Not only that, he’s got a wind-up, a clockwork button here and he will glide and lift his arms come up to the heavens! Jesus in the orthodox story of Easter is as much a pleasant distraction as chocolate is.

What we hear today is ‘Set your minds on things that are above’, for if we set our eyes on things that are on earth, then we have died. ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. Christ is described in the reading today as ‘Christ who is your life revealed, so you too will be revealed in glory.’ If I look and put my mind to the things that are on earth, what I see reflected back to me is my death. When I set my mind to the things that are above, the opportunity is there to see Christ who is my life revealed. Why didn’t they teach us that in Sunday school? Why did they sell us this package? All we’ve got to do is go into church a couple of times a year and Jesus Super Hero will look after everything? In the orthodox teaching of the church I wonder how many Christs have been disempowered – ‘Do come in Jesus, just take a pew and do nothing and the world will change’. It makes no sense of all.

Life that has a worldly orientation leads to war and destruction. It is why we renew our baptismal vows, to give us an orientation toward higher things, to that which is above war, to turn ourselves towards creation. We do this with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, with Hindus; we do it in temples, cathedrals and caves. In every place of prayer there is a common prayer, there is one voice, one word, and the word that we seek is beyond the Christian Jesus- it is the Word Incarnate, the Word enfleshed. Not the Word made flesh in someone a long time ago, the word enfleshed, the divine. This Easter we are called to glorify the Divine who is your life revealed.

Amen

Peter Humphris