Living the Risen Life
On this Easter Day we focus on the central event in the history of Christianity: the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, Son of God. Each Easter Day we do this by hearing a particular Gospel reading, and that reading varies. This year we heard the story of the women who go to what they think is going to be a memorial service for their friend and Lord Jesus, and discover what turns out to be the miracle of all time, an empty tomb, grave clothes, the presence of angels who tell of Christ's resurrection. Of course, the women are scared out of their wits.
Speechless. But they are also ecstatic—they run and tell everyone who will listen.
And there our reading ends. It ends with the words ". . . (the women) told this to the apostles." But had the reading gone one verse more in this chapter of Luke's Gospel, it would have ended with these words: "These words seemed to the Apostles an idle tale, and they didn't believe it."
The APOSTLES didn't believe it! The Apostles. Twelve men who later went on to change the world forever, didn't believe the Good News! I mention this because some of us have our own doubts some of the time, and I wanted to make the point that if the twelve most prominent Christians in the history of the world can doubt, then it is okay for you or me to doubt and still be counted among the faithful. In fact, it has been said that faith is committed doubt.
But, getting back to the Apostles: they had sat all the time since the execution, grieving and forlorn, desolate and despairing. When hearing the news from the women—they literally thought it too good to be true. They did not dare hope. They had forgotten everything Jesus had said about new life, about how on the third day he would rise …with the power of the state, he had been executed and for them that was the end.
Sometimes when we see with our eyes and touch with our hands the fact of death or failure or lost dreams, that for us is the end. But is that not a fitting time to draw upon our belief? Or upon our desire to believe? Is it not in the valleys of life that we must seek God and our hope in God? Is the resurrection not powerful enough to enable us to say, "Easter is about life in the midst of death, of new possibilities in the midst of despair. We may be in the tomb, but the resurrection is with us always."
It is interesting that the resurrection can never be proved. If it could be proved it would require nothing of us for us to believe it. But as it is, forever improvable, belief requires a measure of spiritual maturity (which ironically we usually have as children, lose to some extent as we become more sophisticated, and then must recover through the trials and weight of real life), and belief requires our desire to see good triumph over evil, It also requires our wanting to believe.
We, in our search for proof of the resurrection, can cite the empty tomb, the grave clothes, the folks who testify that they saw Jesus after he had been murdered. We can hear about the post-resurrection change in Peter's very character and courage. We can see the 2,000-year record of ordinary human beings—whose natural characteristics include self-preservation and, if the truth be known, self-centeredness—flocking to houses of worship all over the world to practice servanthood—evident in both those who risk their lives and those who empty water basins at foot-washing on Maundy Thursday.
But, these are all circumstantial proofs of the resurrection at best.
Resurrection is not something we can prove or sell to others with our usual logic. Resurrection is something to believe in and to hope for. If necessary it is something to hope that we will believe. Each of us, looking at this evidence, must bring something of our own to the resurrection, which is our inheritance at death, if it is also to be a reality during our life.
Life, as one of my seminary professors used to say, drives us to our knees.
And it is through suffering, through love that is wounded, it is through pain and the wisdom and compassion that pain brings, that we find we bring to the Easter story what is needed for faith.
When I was a child I thought the greatest things in the world were material—red wagons, pistachio nuts, portable radios that were as big as television sets today. At some point in my life I awoke one morning to know that among the greatest things in the world are peace, love, reconciliation.
Now mind you, I still like material things, but I try not to worship them.…Faith and Christ are a matter of values and priorities. And God has made His greatest creation—folks like you and me, folks NOT like you and me, all folks—God has made us the most sacred, the most precious of all that exists—humanity is God's top priority.
Our God-given capacity to feel, to love and to take on the pain of others are at the center of God's Creation.
If we have lived and reflected much at all, we know, however, that we have the freedom to live for others or to live only for ourselves. With God's help, we can fulfill our potential to truly be, to truly love, to truly care about others. John Powell says the Glory of God is a human being fully alive. Jesus says I come that you may have life and have it fully. And being fully alive includes the kind of pain-induced wisdom and compassion for others to which Christ in His suffering calls us as our Christian vocation.
If we do not care for the powerless, the underdog, the victim, the lonely, we cannot be all that God calls us to be. There is a significant portion of our soul that never comes alive until we give, until we sacrifice, until we are willing to feel the pain of others. It is this breakthrough, this crossing over into the richness of life that can only be found by alleviating pain in others through allowing it to affect us: it is this conversion that is resurrection in this life.
So, my friends in Christ, rejoice in the Good News of His, and so OUR victory over death. And remember, that to experience the fruits of resurrection in this life, this week, to know the richness and the quiet inner hope that is there no matter what our circumstances—we must bring to this great gift of resurrection, hands that are open to receive it and hearts that are open to embrace others. Then we are truly living the risen life.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed!
Copyright ©2001 The Rev. William A. Kolb
This homily was delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, on April 15, 2001, Easter Sunday.