The Rev’d Deacon Patrick Keyser
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
April 20, 2019
‘“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”’
+ Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Happy Easter dear friends. We have come to this the greatest of all nights, the night of rejoicing, the night of celebration, the night of Christ’s victory over death. This is the night, proclaims the Exsultet, when we are delivered from the gloom of sin and restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God. The great theologian and preacher of the early Church John Chrysostom spoke of it in this way in a Paschal Homily:
Let none bewail [their] transgressions; for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let none fear death; for death of the Savior has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing death. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he cried: Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below; filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
This night we proclaim this good news on a cosmic level and we also hear again the unassuming story of those who were the first to witness to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. And of course those first witnesses were the faithful women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who, though unnamed, were dear to our Lord Jesus and followed him until the end. Despite nearly two thousand years of interpretation and commentary on the Scriptures the Church has seemed unable or unwilling to fully recognize and acknowledge the role and importance of these faithful women who stayed with Jesus through his death and burial and who then went to the tomb to attend to his body. St. Luke’s gospel tells us that following Jesus’ crucifixion, a good and righteous man named Joseph from the town of Arimathea took Jesus’ body from the cross and laid it in tomb where no one had ever been laid. The faithful women who had followed Jesus all the way to the cross, those who had stayed when no one else did to see Jesus suffer and breathe his last, they saw where his body was laid and then returned to prepare spices and ointment for his body.
They rested on the sabbath day, and on the first day of the week at early dawn they went to the tomb. They went out that early morning to visit the place of the dead. Their hearts were still broken; they were still numb and overcome with the pain and grief they felt from the loss of their Lord. When they arrived amidst the darkness of the early morning they found that the stone to the tomb was rolled away and inside the body was gone. They were confused and distressed, but then such a dazzling and bright light broke through the darkness that they knew only to bow down in fear and wonder. And then those blessed words rang out that have shaken the very foundations of the world ever since: ‘why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’ They would not find Jesus there among the dead.
The faithful women heard these words and they believed. Then they did the only thing they knew to do: they ran away from that place and began to spread this good news, this most impossible and incredible news. They went to the eleven apostles and told them what they had witnessed. They told it to those whom Jesus had selected to follow him and minster with him, the eleven who had spent so much time with Jesus yet who had deserted him in his most desperate hour. But the eleven did not believe them and this incredible news that they brought of Jesus’ resurrection. It was, they believed, just an idle tale. The women must have been overly emotional or hysterical from the grief and the early morning. I fear some things have not changed despite the advance of time. The faithful women boldly spoke the truth they knew in their hearts and had witnessed themselves despite the unbelief of the eleven. There was something in Peter, however, that was stirred by their testimony, and something compelled him to go and see for himself. And so he did, and of course what he found confirmed what the faithful women had told. The tomb was empty save the linen cloths. Peter was amazed. Idle tale became the very news of salvation. The resting place of the dead and reminder of what seemed to be the triumph of evil became the sign and witness of Christ’s victory over death. The tomb stood empty, and the world began to rejoice.
This night we come, like the faithful women, to hear again this good news. We have walked together the journey of this week, from the washing of feet, to betrayal and desertion, to the cross and Jesus’ death, to the silence and stillness of that day when God slept in the flesh and Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. We have witnessed the very worst of this world, but tonight is our night of victory for we proclaim again the good news that death had no power over Jesus. He broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. This is our good news, yet for so many it may still seem but an idle tale. We need not look far to be reminded of the brokenness of our world and the evil that seems to reign. It may seem like an idle tale when gun violence rages in our country and in our very city, when people are shot not 200 yards from the doors of this church. It may seem an idle tale when yet again unarmed African Americans are shot by the police; when children are ripped from their parents and subjected to unspeakable and irreversible trauma; when hate-filled gunmen murder people at prayer in their own house of worship. It can seem to be too much; it may indeed seem but an idle tale. But tonight we gather to remember and proclaim a different story, the truth of that message of Easter that rings across the ages. Death does not win; the evil, hatred, and violence we see in our world will not reign supreme. Resurrection comes; sin does not have the victory. The tomb is empty. We will not find the living among the dead. Christ has risen from the dead and beaten down death by death. And now he goes ahead of us to bring his love and healing, into the streets of New Haven, into the broken places of our country, and to the very ends of the earth, and when we seek him there we will find him. This is our message of good news. Like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and all those women whose names and depth of faith are known to almighty God alone, may God grant us the faith and courage to go out into the world and proclaim that good news:
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! +