April 16 Easter Day sermon Mega joy

Easter Day

April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10



Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


We are confronted with the resurrection today, and I mean it bowls you over with the crash of an earthquake and the strobe light of the angel, who plops onto the rolled away stone.  The guards shaking and quaking and flopping like dead men were right before rolling the stone to seal the grave, and now it’s opened, and now Christ who died was raised from death.


Psalm 30 verse 5 in the one translation (NRSV) says Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  In another version (The Message) it says The nights of crying your eyes out give way to laughter.


This news is too much to take.  Have you ever know true joy?  How would you describe it?  Or could you? 


C.S. Lewis says this

I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them: the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.

–quoted in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, © 1996), p 242.


Peter Gomes, late great distinguished preacher from Harvard, adds this helpful context for joy.  Listen carefully:


To make certain that we understand joy is not merely pleasure or aesthetics, or self-induced diversion or delusion, we must realize that the context of joy is not delight but deprivation.  The experience surrounds us, by what we have momentarily gained, of what we did not have before we gained it.

The Good Book, pp 242-243.


I’ll have what the women at the tomb were having.  Jesus, who was dead, was not in the tomb.  An angel after scaring the beejesus out of the guards say not to the now deadlike guards but to the women what angels say after scaring someone Do not be afraid.  And Go and tell the disciples that he has been raised from the dead.  End of message.



Oh, my God (I know, right?)!


And then there is joy, mixed with fear.  Great joy—my translation of the Greek is mega joy. 


And Jesus has to step in and say what Jesus says after he scares the pants off people: Do not be afraid.



Do you know that I love Jerusalem, present-day Jerusalem?  Do you know that I have traveled to the holy city eight times out of the last ten years, and will be going there twice this year?


I am drawn to go to Jerusalem yes because the holy sites are fascinating and ground me in the stories of faith.


I am drawn to go to Jerusalem yes because three major monotheistic religions have central places that seem to reek of the divine presence.


But I am most drawn go to Jerusalem because of the people there who share the joy in Christ that I do, who in truth have received that joy from the very early days, like on Pentecost, and who hold onto that joy in the context of what Peter Gomes whom I quoted earlier calls deprivation. 


Lutherans, like us, and then again not like us, already have announced today that Christ is risen hours ago in Arabic and it’s already all over my Facebook page.  And when I go to visit in person, and worship with Palestinian Lutheran friends, I am worshipping like the women who recognized that what they thought of the world and God in the world had provoked this seismic shift as Jesus passed over from death into life. 


When I worship with the Arabic-speaking congregation in Jerusalem, although I don’t know the words, I know what they are doing in worship when they greet one another, as they share communion and God’s Word.  And when I go, I often hear this tune being sung in Arabic (hum “How Great Thou Art”), and I join in the refrain in English, and it’s like I singing with them to brighten the darkness of occupation and to soothe the sting of forces that want to snuff out Palestinian Christian identity and witness.


Pastor Mitri Rabeb, Palestinian Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem says


God came to Palestine to change the dynamics of the geopolitical reality, and he succeeded….Because of the Divine, the battlefield became holy ground….Palestine is not fought over because it is holy; but it became holy to change its status and to be upgraded from a battlefield to holy ground.   

–from Faith in the Face of Empire, by Mitri Raheb (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, ©2014), p 91.


Without even traveling to Palestine, I know that Christ’s life is offered to us through baptism and the life of faith shared with others.  I know as N.T Wright suggests, that we are regularly asked to believe things even in science that we have never been asked to consider before, like speaking of light in terms of both waves and particles, though they appear incomprehensible.  Wright says “Sometimes, to make sense of [what is] before us, we have to pull our worldview, our sense of what’s possible, into a new shape.  That is the kind of thing demanded by…Easter.”

–from Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N.T. Wright (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, © 2006), p 114.


The women at the tomb, running to the disciples, running into Jesus who stands there saying “hello,” were directed to go to the place where it all began, to their homes, to the places of their everyday lives.  It was there, it is here, and there, and wherever we are that we have to pull our sense of what’s possible into a new shape.


Despite the geopolitical realities.  Despite the deaths that we have had to face, that we are facing, and which we will face.


Jesus went to the cross, to die, in order that we might live.  Jesus was raised from death, in order that we might live.  In the mix of dying and rising, we are confronted with God’s perspective which looms larger than any other perspective being trumpeted in the news, in the powers and principalities around us, in bigotry and war and our own nightmares.


Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to laughter.


We have Fifty Days for Easter’s joy, at least.  We must cling to Jesus’ words to the joyful and fearful women translated into Hawaiian Pidgeon “Eh, no scared!”


We must feast today while joy tastes so good, like bread made by Bethesda children to allow Christ to come inside us in the bread of the Eucharist.


We must feast like those new to the empty tomb, who have lived without joy too long, who have faced death but who now are so glad to say and sing:


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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