Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
The resurrection of our Lord—the Christian feast day. On this day, we celebrate the victory of love, life, and Jesus over sin, death, and the devil. On this day, everything that we expect, according to the ways of the world, are turned upside down on their head, and we see that God’s ways truly are not our ways. On this day, we rejoice that death has lost its sting. And yet—what does that mean? What does that truly mean? Is Easter just about undoing death? Is that it? Surely there’s more to it than that…What difference does it all make? What difference does it make that Christ is risen?
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Two caterpillars were sitting on the stem of a milkweed plant. One caterpillar says to the other, “Do you ever wish things were different?” The other caterpillar responds, “Oh, but they will be soon. Didn’t you know? Soon we’re going to change.” The first caterpillar was taken aback. “Change? What do you mean, change?” The second caterpillar says, “Well, I heard from another caterpillar, who said he’d heard it from another caterpillar, that after we’ve lived on this stem for a while, we go to sleep one day and after some time, we wake up and we’re changed. I never heard from him again, but I hope he’s right. I don’t want to spend my whole life on this stem.” The first caterpillar was quiet for a moment. “But I’ve always lived on this stem. I’ve always eaten these leaves. I’ve always liked this spot. I think of my mom every time I look at these leaves. This is the way I’ve always done things.” The second caterpillar, without missing a beat, says, “Well, if you want things to be different, something is going to have to change. I can’t wait!”
Sometimes I wish things were different…In many ways, though, I don’t suppose I’m very different from a lot of people in that regard. Many of us wish things were different. We wish we didn’t live paycheck to paycheck. We wish our grandkids lived closer. We wish our parents got along better, or that we got along better with our spouses, or that our kids got along with their spouses better. Maybe we wish didn’t live alone. Or maybe we wish could have some time, alone, with no one else around, to some me-time…Whatever the case, there are most definitely things in our lives that we wish were different. Some of us spend a lot more energy and time thinking about those things, maybe even worrying about them. Some people have made peace with the fact that things are what they are. Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective in how we deal with things.
But what if things could be different?
In this morning’s gospel account, Mary Magdalene comes to the garden where Jesus was buried. She expected to come and find the tomb sealed up, just like they had left it on Friday, the day that Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried. When she gets to the tomb, though, Mary sees that the stone had been removed. The body is gone. Jesus’ body is gone. Only the strips of cloth lying there, and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head. It’s not lying with the other grave clothes, but rolled up in a place by itself. St. John tells us that they don’t quite understand what all this means. Mary even told the other disciples what seems like something reasonable, given the circumstances: “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” The dead don’t just suddenly disappear.
And yet, as Peter and the other disciple leave the tomb, Mary remains behind. She’s crying. We can only imagine what’s going through her mind. We can say, without a doubt, though, that she wishes things were different. And how—she wishes Jesus hadn’t been betrayed. She wishes he hadn’t been unfairly tried, convicted, and tortured. She wishes—oh, how to God she wishes—that he hadn’t been nailed to that cross and died. She wishes all that were different. And now, as if to add insult to injury, someone’s stolen Jesus’ body and she can’t even properly prepare him for burial. Oh, how to God wishes things were different…
In the midst of her tears, a man stands before her and asks her why she’s crying. Choking back the tears, she says, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” He asks her again why she’s crying, and she insists that if he knows where the body is, she’d take care of it. And in that moment, the man speaks her name to her—“Mary…” And at that, she turns around and sees Jesus standing there, not dead, but alive. This changes things…This changes things—a lot. This changes everything.
We are Easter people. We who have been baptized into Christ’s death—we have died with him in order that just as God the Father raised him from death to life again, so too we walk in newness of life with Christ. Jesus’ resurrection changes things, changes things a lot. Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. In dying, Jesus faces the greatest barrier, the greatest unknown, the greatest fear facing us. And in rising, Jesus shows us that death needn’t be the end—and in fact, death isn’t the end. Death is a rebirth—a rebirth from everything that holds us back from full and abundant life as God first intended it.
The thing for us, though, as Easter people, as people baptized in Jesus, into his death and resurrection—the thing is, we often think of the Easter promise too narrowly. We rejoice, give thanks, and praise God for defeating death and promising us that even as Christ is raised, we too will be raised at the Final Judgement to stand with him and all the faithful throughout down through the ages. And that’s truly something for us to rejoice, give thanks, and praise God for—without a doubt. But what if that’s only the tip of the iceberg? What if things could be different, now? Does Jesus’ resurrection make a difference now, today, in Fitchburg?
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. But most importantly, Jesus’ resurrection changes us. The thing about resurrection is that in order for new life to spring up, we must first die. In Jesus’ we die to sin and rise again to newness of life. We die to everything that would take us away from full and abundant life with God, with each other, and with all creation. With Jesus, we die to fear and live to love, for perfect love casts out all fear. Everything that holds us back from the fullness of life that God first designed for creation—all that is sin, and that sin is rooted in the fear that God’s Word of life doesn’t mean what it says. Does God truly mean that life is eternal, abundant, and full—for me, for Daniel? For Fran? For Ron? Marcia? Eric? Or is there a catch? Death surely means the end.
No—absolutely not! And if death doesn’t mean the end of eternal, abundant, full life, then nothing else does either.
Without fear, what does our life look like? How does getting rid of fear change our lives? If we’re not afraid of what might happen if we embrace something different, what could happen? We don’t know the answer to these questions, but we do know that no matter what, nothing can separate us from God, and what’s more, that all things work together for good for those who love God. What does our life look like when we die to our old ways of doing things and embrace new ways of doing things? Are we holding on out of fear? Can we embrace change out love? God gave us life, a beautiful adventure to which we can’t see the ending, along twisting, winding ways that we don’t know, but we do know that God is with us along the journey, the whole way, and that his hand is guiding us through the good times and the bad, and his arms there to embrace us when we reach our final destination.
That’s love—love that casts out all fear and even raises the dead. That changes everything.
The past year has challenged us as Easter people, made us change, forced us to consider new ways of doing things. In the midst of the death of disease, God changed us to see how we can support one another, to love one another in ways we would’ve never imagined possible before. In the midst of the death of fire and ashes, God changed us to see how we are truly the church, apart from our building—called by the power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve each other and our community as Jesus’ wounded hands and feet in the world. We are wounded people, but God uses our hands and our feet to change the world, beginning in our own relationships, just as God used Jesus’ wounded hands and feet to change us. The Spirit of Christ’s resurrection lives on through us as we bear his love in our lives to any and all whom we encounter.
Some time had gone by and the first caterpillar found himself alone on the milkweed stem. His friend had crawled away, and he never came back. Maybe he had gone off and changed—like he was so excited to do. The caterpillar wanted things to be different, but he was afraid. He was afraid of what might happen if he changed. But he wished things were different, and he remembered the words of his friend from a while back—“If you want things to be different, something is going to have to change.”
And so, he gave in, made a cocoon, and let himself be changed. After a while, he awoke from his sleep, broke open his cocoon, and was surprised to find out he had wings. He stretched his wings, flapped them, and in an instant was up in the air. That was something different! He saw the beautiful, bright flowers in the field and so he flew over to them. He never imagined something so beautiful in all his life. He had faced his fear and it made a difference—a lot of difference. It changed everything.
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything—even, and most importantly, us. God who first spoke light out of darkness and birthed all that has life promises us that nothing can separate us from his love for us—nothing at all. That promise becomes real for us in Jesus’ resurrection. We see that God means what he says and says what he means. Nothing will separate us from his love for us in Christ Jesus.
That love changes everything. We must consider ourselves dead to everything that holds us back, to anything that keeps us down, and instead consider ourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus, changed to live his life, to be his wounded hands and feet for the sake others. Resurrection changes us to live our lives not for ourselves, but as Christ lived his life—for the sake of those he loved. For you, for me, and for all creation.
And so you see…Jesus’ resurrection really does change everything.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.