If I were to ask you what day of the week it is, I am pretty certain of the sort of answers that I would get, all of them correct, even as they vary from one another. Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013, the day after Saturday, or for the more numerically inclined, the 7th day of the week or the 1st day of the week, depending on how you like to carve up that particular pie. And because you are people of intelligence, and let’s be honest, that’s not the most difficult question, you would be correct. Correct not just in the specific answers that you have given, but correct in testifying to the reality that stand behind them. Yes, the old trustworthy things of this life, the patterns, the predictability, all the things that hold like the ink on a calendar. The fact that Sunday follows Saturday and precedes Monday. Or that each day is made of 24 hours, each hour made of 60 minutes and so forth. What I am getting at here is that there are certain things we simply take for granted as being true, certain basic and fundamental realities and truths. Night will surely follow day; if I toss a shoe in the air, it will come down. The way the calendar works, or the way that spring follows winter. There are certain predictable patterns that govern our lives, so predictable are they, that we scarcely even realize they exist.
And perhaps there is nothing more certain, more fundamental about this life than the fact that it ends. “Death and taxes” the old adage goes, and with good reason. Against our anger and our sorrow and our protest and our raging against the dying of the light, our dead stay that way. And those first women headed out to Jesus’ tomb, this is something they know as well. Look what they carry; look at their purpose. Spices to guard Jesus’ body against the encroaching stench. One last act of devotion to their Rabbi, one last kindness to their friend. Their purpose in keeping with what they and we know to be certain about this world. As surely as the sun rises and Monday follows Sunday, so their Jesus so brutally and publicly executed is in that tomb where he was previously laid.
And no doubt that the stone was rolled away had to come as a bit of a shock, some small and upsetting news, but nothing that would rearrange one’s entire understanding of God and the world. Instead, the questions are probably closer to who would be so cruel as to vandalize a grave or so depraved as to steal from the dead? But then, just then, as they entered that tomb looking for the body of Jesus, they find not him but two men dazzling in their transcendent white. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they ask, as though that question could be so glibly asked in this situation. And let us not gloss over this question too quickly. I mean, look at what the angels are saying! We need to back the question up a step. Why after all, should there be the expectation that this one was dead is now living? The dead stay dead, don’t they? Don’t we know this as sure as we know anything? Isn’t this the one fact, the one truth around which we build our entire lives?
And so we come to this Easter morning, all suit and tie and pretty dresses and kids already hopped on too much sugar, we come to this Easter morning not to have our sense of reality, our sense of who we are, our sense of the sure and true things in this life, yes, we come not to have them confirmed but indeed to have them converted. We come because for that tomb to be empty, for Christ to no longer be among the dead but rather now among the living, this quite literally changes everything. Let us not understate this reality nor cover it over with sentimental thoughts and quite reasonable expectations. Rather, why don’t we look this strange, sublime and, yes, terrifying event square in the face. In the words of John Updike, let us not “mock God with metaphor,” saying things to ourselves like this story is just Jesus’ disciples keeping his memory alive, or that Jesus’ cause will live on in his followers. These sort of metaphors never really saved anyone. Because in the space of that empty tomb, in the emptiness which now fills it, make no mistake, the very fabric of reality has come to bear a different story. A story that cannot be contained or understood according to calendars and clocks, patterns and expectations. Death’s once certain foundation is no longer so certain. For Christ is no longer among the dead, but is now freed from death to be among the living. Yes, all he predicted has come to pass, and just as surely as he hung on the cross, so too, he now is raised by the power of the Spirit in the glory of his Father. Raised to seek out those who abandoned and betrayed him and to give unto them the Father’s very peace. Raised to entrust the proclamation of his resurrection to those who will continue to stare on in awe and fear as he, he resurrected and freed from death, as he gathers again with them in their midst. Raised to be, in his body, the very reconciliation between God and sinful humans, and indeed the reconiciliation among sinful humans of all sorts.
And so we gather here yes on Easter Sunday, yes March 31, 2013, yes the 7th day of the week. But that is not on the only reality in which we gather. For we are gathered also on this the 8th day, the day of God’s utterly new creation. The day in which death itself has been defeated and the promise of the resurrection made sure. The day in which it may be legitimately asked, “why look for the living amongst the dead?” For it is this day in which time’s cruel grasp has been broken and all things made new. A day that can hardly be described or enumerated, for it has no beginning nor end. And please dear people of God, do not think for one moment that you need to wait until your own deaths for this reality to claim you. Oh yes, we are not yet what we will be, we do not as yet, see God face-to-face, but that does not mean that all must be postponed. Because you, you in the power of the faith that God has given you, the faith that binds you to Christ and his resurrected life, you already have one foot in the door. All the other stories that may claim you, stories about scarcity and getting what is yours with no concern for your neighbor, stories about eating and drinking and making merry for tomorrow we die, yes, it is time to step away from those stories. To step into this 8th day, this day not of the dead but of the living. This day in which God’s abundance is more than we need to be sustained, forgiven and blessed beyond measure. This day in which we neither carelessly through away nor cling too closely to the good things of this life.This eighth day in which we are again given to our neighbors in the love eternal that has already claimed us. For Jesus Christ is risen, and in him, you are already risen, as well. And it will take the eternity of God’s eight day to truly live and love this truth. Thank God we now have that excess of time. For Christ is risen; he is risen, indeed. Halleluiah.