Sermons That Work

Already and Not Yet, Easter Day (A) – 2014

April 20, 2014

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Grace and peace to you this Easter morning when Christ the morning star is risen indeed.

Christ is risen, come back to us, but is not yet here. Already and not yet.

How can that be? Already and not yet? We proclaim Christ crucified and risen. We proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This morning we proclaim the end of one story and the beginning of another, and the years roll on. How many Easters have you been here? Every year it is the same – the same joyous shout, “I have seen the Lord. Christ is risen!”

And yet, each year we know the story is not finished. Our alleluias get drowned out by other shouts, shouts of war or hate, of fear, of pain or confusion. People still lose their jobs. Relationships, be they between parents and children, or between spouses or friends, relationships still founder and break. People still die. We still get anxious. We still worry. Our hearts still get sick, whether from physical ailments or from the burdens of the world. Dictators still rise and fall, and new ones rise up to take their place. Wars and violence still stalk us.

Yet every year by that ancient formula of the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox, Easter arrives, we come and we stand here, and we joyously proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Every year we declare our intention to go on living despite the reality around us because of the greater reality of this day. We go on living and loving, learning and yearning, and Christ is right beside us because of this day.

And Christ will come again. It’s that mysterious feeling of already and not yet. The poet Mary Oliver knows what this cycle is about. Here’s a portion of her poem “In Blackwater Woods”:

“Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

Think of Mary Magdalene there in the garden. Three days ago her beloved friend and teacher was torn from her life by a violent mob. She stood on Calvary and watched her teacher die a hideous and shameful death. She had loved him in great measure because of the way he’d loved her. She had held tight to this seemingly mortal man and then she had to let him go. The only saving grace, it seemed, was that his death didn’t take very long. He was probably weak from the beating he had received the night before.

Then there was the desolation of the time after they had rolled that stone in front of the entrance to the borrowed tomb. The finality of that thud was still echoing in her mind as she came to the garden that morning.

Even after she finds the tomb empty and even as she confesses her confusion to the angels, her grief blinds her. Even as Jesus appears, her grief blinds her, and she can’t recognize him. It is only when Jesus calls her by name that she understands that he’s done what he promised.

He had planted in her a once-fiery hope, the hope that she could change, the hope that here in this small community around her, she was not an outcast. When she went to the garden that morning, that fiery hope was a small dying ember, but at the sound of him saying her name, what had been smoldering burst back into flame.

What joy in that moment! How it banished forever the sound of that thudding stone!

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Life seemed to have suddenly returned to normal in that moment. But it had not, for the next thing Jesus says to her tells her everything had changed. “Do not hold on to me,” he says. In effect: I cannot stay here with you, but I will still be with you.

If she’d looked more closely at him, she might have seen that he had changed. He bore the marks of his ordeal on his body. We know he showed Thomas the nail marks on his hands and feet. We know that Thomas could put his hand in the jagged wound in Christ’s side.

Life is different now. Her teacher had come back, but he bears the physical memory of his treatment at the hands of his beloved creatures. He bears the memory of all that his creatures are capable of, and still he has returned and will soon promise to always be here, although his presence will not be the same flesh-and-blood presence as the sight of him that early morning in the garden.

Life is different now. Christ cannot erase the past. Christ cannot erase pain and suffering because to do that would be to erase us, his creatures. We often cause much of the pain and suffering around us. My friends, this is true and we can’t sugar-coat it. As an Episcopal priest once put it, “We may be Easter people, but we are not the darned Easter Bunny.”

Life is different now. The world seems to be destabilizing before our eyes. We wonder about the future.

Life is different now, but still we must love what is mortal. When we do that, we imitate God.

And we must be Easter people. Another poet, Jack Gilbert, wrote in 2005 what he called “A Brief for the Defense” in which he declared, in part:

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

And when it comes time to let it go, we must let it go, trusting that the resurrection is on-going. We must search with each other for the post-resurrection Jesus, the Christ, and serve him in whomever we meet. We must listen for him to call our name and then we must do the work he has given us to do – all the while proclaiming our Easter reality:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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Christopher Sikkema


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