Easter Sunday

April 20, 2003
See Also: 

Sermons:
Nance 2006
Sauter 2003

John Cobb on atonement
John Cobb on redemption
John Cobb on Jesus

Reading 1: 
Isaiah 25:6-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Reading 3: 
Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
Mark 16:1-8
By David Roy

Isaiah 25:6-9
Like the text from Acts 10:34-43 below, this passage from the Hebrew Bible emphasizes that God’s Shalom extends to all peoples, not just Jews or, by extension, not just Christians: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast …” No one is excluded. This is followed immediately by the promise that God “will swallow up death forever,” which parallels the Easter passion. All are included and death is overcome. God loves all, and in our relationship with God, death is swallowed up forever.

While this pairing does not suggest these themes are causally related to each other, it does suggest that they are two fundamental and inevitable fruits of our intimate and passionate relationship with a loving God. They both emerge from our encounter with God because of God’s nature: God is a God who lovingly accepts all into God, cherishing each of us in what Whitehead has called “objective immortality.” This term means we remain for all eternity with God, embraced by God’s unqualified love. Death is conquered and we are loved forever.

Acts 10:34-43
As we celebrate the risen Christ, whose spirit is poured out into the world, we see wondrous transformations continuing to unfold as God’s creative will touches the human heart. Peter’s transformation, to which this text bears clear witness, is no less than astounding. Like Paul in Galatians 3:28, Peter has come to realize that God’s love extends beyond all existing boundaries to include everyone (and everything). “God showsno partiality,” says Peter. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there isneither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are allone in Christ Jesus,” says Paul. These earliest followers of Jesus were Jews who had come to name Jesus as their (Jewish) Messiah. Yet these same followers were so open to God’s loving and inclusive Spirit that they came to realize quickly that there was no true limit to God’s embrace.

This is a radical shift, which started a ripple in the world, a ripple which continues unto the present time. What better day to honor this than Easter? Death has been conquered by Life, and Life is teeming with many nations, many races, many religions, and many, many people. These countless people embody qualities that vary beyond measure. The same God who brings Life from Death has created a Life spilling over with a diversity that dwarfs our imagination. The diversity God creates, God also embraces, encouraging us to do exactly the same. Nothing separates anyone from God’s love: not nationality, not race, not ethnicity, not gender, not money, not accomplishments, not sexual orientation, not age, not education,not even personal attitudes, beliefs, or behavior. Nothing.

In fact, people we do not particularly like, people whom we hate, people who hate us all of these people and more are loved by God. Not justtolerated; loved unconditionally. And even when we do not like someone else (or ourselves), God loves us. This is a very good way to understand he meaning of Easter.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
This psalm was also a text for Palm Sunday. The verses included are slightly different in the two readings. The current selection emphasizes that the Lord did not give this triumphant king over to death, which is another way of expressing the Easter event. As we see in other places in the lectionary texts for today, some of the major followers of Jesus (including Peter and Paul) had come to the conclusion that the God who was revealed through Jesus loved all of humanity, not just the Jews. The one God for the Jews quickly became the one God for all of human kind. By extension, the deliverance from death experienced by this king eventually came to be understood as gift available to all people. This revelationexploded into the world on Easter.

Mark 16:1-8
This is the earliest and most original version of Mark's Easter narrative, and it does not include any of the stories of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. It ends at the empty tomb. Yes, there are promises of appearances in the future. But all of this takes place at the empty tomb. This would suggest the writer of Mark meant his listeners to takethe empty tomb seriously. This is something we must wrestle with if we are to understand Mark's account of the events, which occurred on Easter morning.

An important question to be asked is, "Whose story is this, anyway?" One answer is that the story of the empty tomb belongs to the women whojourneyed there to find Jesus. Jesus' story is facing the cross. It is at the cross that he encountered his fears and his pain. It is here he had totaste his feelings of being abandoned by God. Only by facing his death on the cross could he have been reborn into the world, setting in motion a persistent revolution that is still unfolding today.

But it was the women who had to encounter the empty tomb, and we can learn something by analyzing this account. First, we learn that we are driven to go to the empty tomb to find what matters the most to us. For the women, this was Jesus. For us, it may be other things. Second, we discover the empty tomb harbors a Divine surprise. For the women, this was the angel. For us, it will be the Divine in some form as well. Third, we quickly realize that the empty tomb is scary, despite the presence of the Divine. Finally, also like the women, we learn that it is difficult to talk about what we learn there for fear people will think we are crazy. The story suggests that God calls us to go to our empty tombs to find what we need in order to live life to its fullest. When we live life to its fullest, we fulfill God's vision for us and for the world we touch. What will we find in our own empty tombs? The story promises us we will find what is most important to us. If we are stuck in life, if we are hurting, if we are empty, what could matter more than finding the very qualities we need in order to solve our most knotty, our most persistent, our most painful, our most hopeless problems?

If all of this and more can be found in our empty tomb, why do we avoid them? Because these places also contain pain. It is here that we keep our worst hurts, our most painful memories, our deepest fears. It is here we keep those things of which we are most ashamed. To go to the empty tomb means facing this pain. To be able to find and use the qualities of courage and power, persistence and creativity, compassion and empathy, and whatever else we need, means we have to face our pain. For it is in the healing of the pain that these special and needed qualities are released.

New life emerges out facing the pain. This becomes more possible if we trust that God will be with us, encouraging us, supporting us, and offering us fitting solutions. The process view of God affirms that this will be the case, that this is God’s true nature.