The Rev’d Matthew Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Great Vigil & First Mass of Easter
April 15, 2017
Christos anesti! Christus surrexit! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Easter is about God overturning and exceeding human expectations.
I grew up a poor pastor’s kid, living in a small, old rental house in a rural town 40 miles north of Dallas. My dad started a company to make some extra money and, after a few years, his company had him traveling overseas for long stretches of time. To my childhood memory, he would be gone for three or four months at a time. One trip took him to Australia and every time he called home he would tell us he was bringing home a very special gift for us. We waited for what felt like weeks and months for dad to come home, but also for that special gift. When he finally returned, after the hugs and kisses, we said, “Where’s the special gift?” He grinned with pride, went to his bag, and pulled out a handcrafted, beautifully painted, aboriginal boomerang.
Our little house was literally right across the street from a power plant. Heading north from the power plant was a field about 150 yards wide and extending for miles, carrying the power lines to the whole city. Countless hours of baseball and football were practiced there. We all grabbed the boomerang and scurried over the field to try it out. We read the instructions carefully and gave it a throw. Up it went into the air. After about 20 yards, it began to turn. It was working! It turned and turned some more. Then it was coming right back to us. It was happening. It was really “boomeranging.” It flew exactly toward us, sailed right over our heads, over the tall brick and barred wire fence of the power plant——never / to be seen / again. So much for that gift. The excitement of the real, working boomerang was exceeded only by the utter disappointment of its loss.
Having gone through the Holy Week liturgies, I imagine that first followers of Jesus must have also known the feeling of a swell of once-in-a-lifetime excitement smash against a wall of disappointment. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel!” But there his body—and our hopes and dreams—lay lifeless in a cold, dark tomb.
But—Easter is about God overturning and exceeding human expectations.
As they arrive at the tomb to tend to the broken and battered body of Jesus, an earthquake, flashes of light as white a lightning. Enough to make tough Roman soldiers duck and run for cover. Then an angel appears to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
Easter is about God overturning and joyously exceeding human expectations. Do you know where that boomerang of blessed memory would be, if it had never lost in the power plant? Almost certainly it would be in a box in an attic or some storage unit in the suburbs of Dallas right now. But do you know almost every time my whole family gets together we tell the story of dad schlepping this boomerang around the globe only to have it lost after just one fateful throw? We tell the story and our hearts fill with joy. We smile from ear to ear. We reenact it. We laugh, almost until we cry. We thought we were given a boomerang, but really we were given a story.
What the women at the tomb expected was gone. Instead they are given a story of good news. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.
This week my five-year-old son asked me, “Dada, why do we celebrate Easter?” I thought: a perfect, textbook teachable moment. “Well, son, Easter is about celebrating and participating in God’s resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s people, and the whole world. When Jesus was resurrected, love wins over hate, hope wins over sadness, sin was defeated, death was destroyed, and God’s new life breaks down every wall!” He looked right at me, paused for a minute, and said, “Yeah … but we do Easter for Easter egg hunts.”
In the liturgies of Holy Week, we don’t just “go through the motions.” We reenact and participate in the passion and resurrection of Christ. And as we do, it is not just that we interpret the mighty acts of God, but also that they interpret us. How we respond to them interprets us.
We enter the dark tomb this evening, our expectations are overturned, and we receive a message of life, love, and hope winning the greatest battle over death, hate, and despair. God loves to give good gifts to God’s children. God offers resurrection. What will you leave this place with tonight? The message that on this holy night the foundations of the earth shook, hell was harrowed, Christ is raised, and God has the victory over death.
That relationship that seems irreparably broken—resurrection! That person you can’t forgive—resurrection! That dream that’s shipwrecked against the rocks—resurrection! The innocent dead in Syria—resurrection! The hate that produced the Orlando shooting, the Charleston massacre—resurrection! The hopelessness and rage of hearing of yet another police officer beat or kill a young black male for walking across the street wrongly—resurrection! The desperation of applying for job after job after job, longing for work—resurrection!
Easter is about God challenging, overturning, and joyously exceeding human expectations. Resurrection is about taking all the world’s hate, fear, despair, all the scars, and not erasing them, pretending they don’t exist, but redeeming them, making them miraculously more beautiful than if we’d never left the garden at all. About taking the best that we believe we deserve to hope for, and to replacing it with exceedingly more than we could ever even ask or imagine.
Whatever you entered this holy place with, however you came. Hear this good news: Christ is risen! Noli timere. Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified, with expectations of loss, death, discouragement. Jesus is not here; for he has been raised, just as he promised. Come, see the place where he lay. And after you see it, believe in the God’s good news. ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee, going ahead of you to New Haven, to New York, to Washington, to Syria, to Russia, to Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to Pulse nightclub, and even to your house, and to you very heart; there if you seek him, you will see him.’ This is my message for you. Amen.