It is with great joy that I proclaim to you all this day that Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Halleluiah!
After the long, dry dark season of Lent, it is so good to say that word again in worship. Halleluiah!
So much beautiful celebration today as well, from breakfast with our church family to celebrate this joyful and holy day to the lilies around the altar; a flower that symbolizes life, mercy and resurrection, and beautiful music as well. If you ask people what their favorite hymns are most often, apart from Amazing Grace, they will choose an Easter hymn. Every time our campus ministry group has worship, one of our students always wants to pick Easter hymns to sing, regardless of the time of the year because they are her favorites. And I don’t blame her!
About five years ago, I started a blog where I post sermons most weeks. In those five years the one post that is far and away the most popular is one from last March titled “Remember O Mortal”. It has a photograph from last year’s burning of the palms for ash on Ash Wednesday and these words from 1 Corinthians: For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 1 Corinthians 15:53-55. There’s also a quote from a Johnny Cash song.
Go down yonder Gabriel put your feet on the land and sea, but Gabriel don’t you blow your trumpet boy til you hear from me. There ain’t no grave can hold my body down, there ain’t no grave can hold my body down, when you hear that trumpet sound gonna get up …out of the ground, cause there ain’t no grave can hold my body down.
Perhaps it is my love of speculative fiction, but I have often thought that if Jesus met the devil on the road on Easter morning, this would be the song on the lips of the resurrected Messiah. Just imagine it…
The devil, strutting along the dusty streets of the Holy Land, so confident of his victory. Three days before, he’d killed the Son of God. Hell, God himself in the flesh if you want to get right down to it! And he’d done so without lifting so much as a finger! Those silly meat puppets did it all for him. Ha! Three days meant well and truly dead. That dark prince had every reason to strut. Proverbial pointed tail whipping behind him like a proud cat. Smug in his absolute certainty that the world was his to plunder and ravage at will.
Then, from just around a bend in the road, the prince of darkness hears the gentle sound of someone singing. Soft, strong melody winding its way on the wind to those demon ears. Well well well, he thinks, Christmas has come early for me! I’m ready to celebrate this victory and an unsuspecting victim is just around the corner there. And happy, too, which makes it all the better!
Licking his chops and turning the corner, he sees before him the very much not dead Jesus! Shock and awe don’t even cover it! There he stands, not rotting in a cave, not rotting in hell, not dead as a doornail! Not covered in blood, not defeated in humiliation.
‘And he’s singing! Singing, damn it!’ the devil says out loud, ‘what the hell is going on here?’ And the words from the mouth of God himself come to the devil’s pitch dark heart, “there ain’t no grave can hold my body down.”
For that is what we celebrate today. There is no cross, no stone, no gates of hell, no evil grip, no grave, not even death itself that can hold Jesus. He is risen from all that would have destroyed him. He has defeated it all.
More even than this, we celebrate not only his victory over these things but ours as well. Just moments ago we bore witness to God’s action right here. Madison was baptized and she, like people who were baptized around the world this day, was claimed by God at that moment. This one is mine, God says. This one is my child and I will love her forever. The scriptures teach us that in those waters Madison, just like all others who have been or ever will be baptized, is united with Jesus in his baptism and, because of this, we are united to the death of Jesus as well. This means that we who have become the body of Christ through those waters are also one with him in his resurrection. We can all sing that song: there is no grave that can hold our bodies down.
Because we are made one with the one who rose from the dead, we too rise with him.
A few days ago, a friend of mine said, “Without this week, there would be No Other Day for the Church.” This Holy Week, these Holy Three Days, this holy death on the cross and, more than anything else, this new life coming out of the tomb, walking from the land of the dead to the land of the living, gives meaning to all the rest.
We don’t really celebrate Easter as we do some other holidays like, for example, Christmas. No one goes around singing, ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Easter!’ Houses are not festooned with evergreens and lighted candles. There are not wrapped packages to shake and people do not going door to door caroling ‘Ah Holy Jesus’. No Salvation Army bucket and bell outside Walmart.
But what is Christmas without Easter? What is Advent or Pentecost? What even is Lent without Easter? They are nothing but ordinary days without the empty tomb. Were it not for this Holy Week, were it not for this day, there would be no other day of consequence for the church.
The church is many things. There are probably as many ways to understand church as there are people here now. It is a family, a place of peace, a place of reconciliation and grace. It is an organization that helps those in need, a building for worship. It is a place of learning and growing, a place of comfort like no other. Yet there is one thing that feeds all of those things, one truth that makes all of it, and so much more, actually mean something. It is the truth that on the tree of the cross, God gave salvation to all, that where death began, there life might be restored. The truth that early in the morning on the first day of the week, when the truly flesh and blood body of Jesus ought to have been in his tomb going the way of all living things, to decay and pass away, he was instead alive and at large in the world.
For there is no cross, no stone, no evil, no death, no grave that will ever keep his body down. Nor us with him!
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. And we along with him! Halleluiah.