Published by Ronald Steed,
Sermon for Easter Sunday April 17, 2022. St Andrew’s Episcopal Church Madison, CT
Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of your love.
They burst through the door of the upper room, these women… in an instant the room is mayhem as the men leap to their feet, wide-eyed and fearful, wondering if their hiding place has been discovered by the authorities. The story spills out of the women’s mouths, from all of them, all at the same time. "He lives! He is risen!" There is yelling, shouting, arms waiving… shouts for quiet… "shut up! SHUT UP!" "Now… one of you… and ONLY one of you… tell us what happened."
Mary Magdalene breathlessly responds… " the stone was gone, the tomb was open… we went in, but there was no body." The others nod vigorously "yes… completely open… he was gone"… the men shush them, as men do. "Then two men said "he has risen… he told you he would rise on the third day"…
The room erupts in fury… shouting and disbelief, "impossible! What men?!" The other women join the shouting, affirming Mary’s report, adding their own details. The argument swells… it flows back and fourth as each side has it’s say… it sounds like a tornado, like driving rain, like waves crashing on the shore and ebbing back to sea.
Peter… holds back on the edge of the room; silent… watching… listening. He remembered what Jesus said to them when Mary mentioned it… he DID say that, that he would be crucified and would rise again. As the shouting men converge on disbelief, Peter converges on doubt. It’s not the women he is doubting; it is the men.
Doubt feels like weakness to him, like something he should be ashamed of, and this in a man who already buried in deep shame… shame that has covered him like a shroud since the dark morning hours of Friday when he denied knowing Jesus, and then ran away in tears. And now, all the men in this room are coming to the only conclusion that they possibly can, that these women are lying and unreliable, that their reports are impossible and evil even to utter. There is rising anger in the room.
But not in Peter… in him, doubt gnaws and chews… it feels like a mistake… like he’s turning to the right while everyone else has already turned left… all that he thinks he knows about death is frittering away before his eyes… he can’t reconcile what he-thinks-he-knows about death with the thing he knows about THESE women. He KNOWS them… he has walked all over Judea with them and with Jesus. He knows their HEARTS… he TRUSTS their hearts. Peter searches for familiar ground to stand on, but there is none.
And then, he comes to himself… he gathers his courage, because courage is the fruit of doubt. Peter feels that courage fill his heart, kindled like fire… he stands up and moves for the door… the room quiets into silence and every eye is on him… Peter doesn’t hear or notice. Instead, he opens the door and runs… he RUNS to the tomb.
By the time he emerges from the empty tomb with its linen cloths scattered about, doubt has given way to amazement. He still feels unsteady… but now, instead of feeling like a mistake has been made or a wrong turn taken, amazement feels like new life, new creation, new possibility… and a lot of new questions.
What does it mean, he wonders, if Jesus is risen from the dead… wouldn’t it mean that God is stronger than death? And if Jesus is alive, doesn’t that mean that God is still with us? And if Jesus is raised from the dead, and there is no doubt that he was thoroughly dead, will we also be raised from our own deaths into new bodies? If this is so, everything has changed, but he doesn’t know what that even means. All he knows is that maybe, just maybe, the world in on an amazing new path, and that he has work to do on it.
Doubt about where the world is going… courage to let that doubt kindle like fire and send us running… amazement at the new possibilities. These are the emotions at the heart of Easter morning.
Let those emotions kindle in you. Is war in Ukraine the path we should be on? Can we afford to wait and see about climate change? Does the conflict and violence of our political parties really offer hope for America and for the world? Are the reports of Black and Brown and indigenous people reliable about their experience of white supremacy? Do we really have to politicize COVID?
Can we sit with the uncertainty of doubt… with the sense that we are making a mistake as the bedrock things we-think-we-know begin to give way to something else? Can we stand on the unsteady ground of doubt that feels at first like weakness, and resist the urge to go back to more comfortable and familiar feelings? Can we feel a rising courage in our hearts… ignore the shouting and screaming of others and make our way to the door. Can we go running to Jesus, and emerge from his empty tomb full of amazement and possibility and questions? If God is stronger than death, isn’t the Kingdom of God with us in the middle of Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan… In the middle of culture wars? In the middle of COVID and climate change and White Supremacy? Isn’t Jesus in the middle of all of this? Where do we look to find him? How do we recognize him? What is he calling us to do with him about these things?
Friends, the world wishes that Easter was a more certain time… it shouts angrily that Easter should have provided all the answers and solved all the problems. For me, the more I look in that empty tomb, the more doubt I have about what the world is doing to itself, and the more amazed I am at what Jesus did and IS doing THROUGH us to set the world right, and the more courage I feel to proclaim his gospel. Jesus invites us into the experience of Peter… Jesus shows us that the way ahead is cross-shaped and passes through doubt about the world, courage to follow the fire kindled in our hearts, and amazement about the risen Jesus; it is a way… THE way… that moves the whole cosmos into new life, new creation, and new possibilities. And; Jesus calls us to get to work in the world, and is with us every step of the way. THAT is the Easter news that the world does not understand… that is the GOOD news of Jesus Christ.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!