Sermon Preached on April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
An Icon, a Lamb, and some Daffodils; must be Easter!
If you were here last week, you’ll know that throughout Holy Week we have props to tell the story of the events leading up to today – it seemed only fitting that we would have some props today, too. So, this morning I bring to the sermon: an icon, a lamb, and some daffodils.
First the icon, an Orthodox icon of the resurrection. This is just one example of many, but it’s very typical of the form. In Orthodox iconography images of the resurrection are almost always crowded like this. Near the center you see Jesus resurrected, often in front of a shape referencing the empty tomb. The Risen Christ is stretching out his arms to others – reaching to pull those below up out of tombs which have burst open, or extending to clasp hands with others gathered nearby on either side. Jesus is almost never depicted alone – which is what I love about Orthodox icons of the resurrection, they show us a truth of this moment that we often miss. The resurrection is not all about Jesus, the resurrection is about God’s beloved people. My friends, the resurrection is about YOU.
As we come here today to celebrate the resurrection, this is actually your day. This is all for you. The music, the flowers, the liturgical fussing; it’s all for you. Or course it is, how could it be otherwise? God so loved the world that God gave God’s own beloved Son, Jesus, for the sake of the whole world, raising him from the tomb, overcoming death once and for all, that you and I might be reconciled to God’s self. The resurrection was never only about Jesus, it was always about love – God’s love for the world, God’s love for us. So, this is our day: as we celebrate God’s immeasurable love for us, and our salvation; we come alive in the Risen Christ. We are people of the resurrection, those who follow the Risen Christ, those who walk this way of love.
There are hints about how to follow the Risen Christ in our text this morning. As the faithful women stand perplexed in the empty tomb, strangers in dazzling white ask them: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” If we want our lives to reflect the Risen Christ, it helps to ask ourselves similar questions: What are we seeking? Is it life-giving? Where are we seeking it? Are those places likely to yield life, and the things of life abundant for us and for others? Are we seeking to reconcile and lift up, to bring life?
It’s also helpful to remember that Jesus is not in the tomb. He is not among the things of power and empire; of death and destruction; of divisiveness and strife; of cynicism and hate. Jesus is Risen: he is to be found healing and restoring, empowering and raising up to new life; and making all things new.
If we are people of the way of love, people of the Risen Christ, we can leave the tomb and all it represents behind. We might even leave some of our baggage there in the garden, next to the women’s unneeded spices and oils. And, remembering all Jesus told us, we can move forward, light and unburdened, proclaiming God’s love, and this life-giving news to everyone who will listen. Resurrection JOY! Jesus is Risen, God’s love has overwhelmed death. This resurrection is for us!! And not only for us, but for everyone else as well, for the whole world.
The Risen Christ reaches out to restore relationships: relationships between God and God’s people, relationships between individuals, and within families and communities, and even nations. Resurrection people take responsibility for being part of restoration and healing for all creation.
An example: this year, the Archbishops of New Zealand and Polynesia wrote a powerful Joint Easter message; it says:
The season of Easter is a time for believers to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time when we are reminded that Jesus chose compassion over condemnation, and love over hate. It was only last month that our nation was brutally confronted by the consequences of hate, when 50 innocent lives were taken in the shootings at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch. Hate, racism and intolerance are not benign. They have consequences. And sometimes those consequences are lethal. What we say matters. What we do matters. That is why, in this Easter season, we must recommit ourselves to the way of Christ. We must reject hate and intolerance in all its forms. We must choose compassion over condemnation. We must choose love over hate. May we all be reminded that the message of Easter is love. May we all be renewed in sharing that love with our neighbors and with the world.
My friends, that’s what it looks like to resurrection people – living lives that reflect the Risen Christ. How we live our day-to-day moments in community, tending to those we have been given to love, those in need, those with whom we live and move and have our being, those like us, those who are not like us, those who are on the margins of our society; it all matters. How we live is our proclamation of the Risen Christ.
Picture our icon again for a moment, and imagine stepping into the center space where Jesus is. You and I, as resurrection people, are invited to step into that space – the Risen Christ shaped space – and stand there ourselves. From there we reach out to others and pull them up, or extend a hand in friendship and community. From this resurrection-shaped place, we share God’s love with others: showing them kindness and respect, love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Being resurrection people, we stand in that space sharing in the reconciling work of healing and restoring all creation. Each in our own way…
A story – and that lamb: Our younger daughter, Channing, works on the college farm at Dickinson, it’s her work-study job. She is one of the farm sheep handlers, and this spring she’s been busy with their rather large flock of spring lambs. The lambs seem to come in threes, and once in a while there’s a small one that needs extra attention. One of these triplets was quite small and unsteady on its feet, and she couldn’t run after her mom to nurse – they named her Wobbles, and Channing had to bottle feed her. Needless to say, Channing’s fallen in love with this lamb. Wobbles is more like a really wooly puppy than a sheep, and she is adorable. But she’s never going to be big enough to breed safely, so she can’t stay on the farm. Channing is taking great care of her, while she’s working really hard to find a place for Wobbles, so she can give her away. That’s not going to be easy for Channing to do, but it’s the best thing for this little lamb. For Channing, it’s a small act of healing of creation, and what the way of love looks like. And she’s made Wobbles an Instagram account, so others get to share in the love, too. It’s funny how many people have found some joy in those pictures. You’d be surprised how much a little thing can brighten up someone’s day.
Which brings us to those daffodils. As we look to bless those around us and share our resurrection-shaped life with the world, I wanted to share with you, too. So today, as a small gift of Easter joy, I have these little pots of daffodils, please take one as you go out into the world today. You may keep it for yourself, of course. But if you’re up for the challenge – you might share it with someone whom you think needs a little Easter joy: a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, or classmate, a stranger.
May we bless those around us, sharing our resurrection-shaped life with the world, and together let us live out our proclamation: Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!