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Easter Day; Mark 16:1-8

It’s an old joke – an infrequent church-attending Christian complains, “The church never changes; every time I go there they have lilies and talk about Resurrection!” Well, we are at our 2nd pandemic Easter and yes, we have a few lilies and other flowers, and we are still talking about Resurrection.

It’s been over a year since the world and our Church with it changed irrevocably. February 22nd, 2020 was when I last preached in this church, and Ash Wednesday the following week I was last here for worship. The intervening year we mostly worshipped online, “interrupted” only briefly by limited in-person worship. And here we are again at Easter, having made the Lenten journey online – the Church’s annual journey that has often been described as a journey from ashes to Alleluia.

It’s a long time, 46 days, between Ash Wednesday and Easter. As always, we began with ashes, symbolically this year, but still, the stark reminder that we are dust and will to dust return. The journey since has taken us many places, so for little while let me tell Church travel stories, the stories of our walk with Jesus through Palestine, towards Jerusalem, the cross, and the tomb.

We walked with Jesus towards the river Jordan and his cousin John. We watched as John plunged him beneath the cool brown water of the river in baptism. Some heard a dove from heaven, and a voice proclaiming Jesus to be God’s beloved Son. But quickly we and Jesus are in the desert, where he was driven by the Spirit to agonize over the mission this Sonship would bring.

We stood with Peter and the others, and heard unwilling, unbelieving, what it meant to be God’s chosen One, Messiah. We heard dreams of glory shattered, as Jesus looks at the end of the journey and the dark shadow of a cross. With Peter we protested that this could not be for our Messiah; worse, crosses awaiting his followers was not welcome news. Suddenly, not a long way down the Lenten road, travelling with Jesus had become much costlier!

We went to Jerusalem with Jesus for Passover, to the temple, hoping to find rest, religious renewal, spiritual refreshment. Instead, we found a marketplace, selling sacrifices, changing currencies; commerce, not communion. Jesus made a whip and cleansed the temple; leaving us pondering if perhaps there were temples of our own time that need cleansing!

There was a day in the wilderness with a huge crowd; too far, for too long, and nothing to eat. We watched, doubtful, as Jesus took a few loaves and some fish donated by a young lad, blessing them before giving them to those near him; from so little came food for all; and left-overs that filled a dozen baskets; and we remembered again that we the Church are called to share our food, our wealth, to feed the hungry of the world!

We were there in Capernaum when some Greeks, foreigners, pagans, came to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew doubted that these outsiders, these people not of the elect, ought to be allowed near the Lord. We the Church too sometimes wants to keep the Lord for our self. With Philip and Andrew, the disciples and the strangers, we stood and listened to Jesus, and realized, again, that Jesus was the Messiah of all humanity, not just of us chosen few!

Just last Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem again. There was a parade, under foot the dusty stones and the cloaks of onlookers, waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David.” It was a glorious time; here, finally, was the Messiah, come to take possession of his royal city, claiming the throne of David. Forgotten were all the dire predictions – suffering, crucifixion, dying – this was the triumph of the kingdom of God. But only for a few moments; there followed a long preview of the week following and the day ended with crosses, and bodies!

Thursday evening the Church gathered (at least in some places) in an upper room with Jesus. He knew it was for the last time. He washed the feet of his friends, over protests! They did not want a servant Lord; and most of all, they did not want to be servants! One left, they knew not why, then! But strangest of all was what Jesus did with bread and wine. He blessed them, and gave them to his friends. “This is my body,” he said. “This is my blood,” he said. “From now on, you are to do what I have done, to remember me.” They didn’t understand what he meant then; despite 20 centuries of debate and even battle the Church really still doesn’t; but has been doing as he commanded, ever since! And perhaps some of us reflected that for much of a year we have not been able to “Do this in memory of [him]”, because we love our vulnerable members and neighbours.

The next day we and the Church heard the awful news: Jesus had been arrested, tried, abused, crucified. He was dead, and in a tomb. Those were facts. But what about the rest, what about the rising again on the third day, that Jesus had talked about? No one knew. He was dead, and in a tomb. Those were facts! His friends and his Church were bereaved, bereft, empty, nothing; wondering, waiting, hoping.

Last night the Church (at least where it is safe and permitted) came together for the almost last stop on the journey from ashes to Easter. We couldn’t, but some of our brothers and sisters elsewhere did, so let us join them in our imagination. In the darkness they huddled together while a fire was kindled. They gathered around the small flame of a candle, and told stories of God! They heard of the mighty acts of God in history, the promises of a Messiah. They gathered in the faith that Jesus, in whose footsteps we walked though Lent, is the One promised. They dared to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is Messiah, that Jesus is Christ. They shouted that Jesus is risen from the dead, that Jesus lives, that death is no more! And now we have come together this morning, the last stop on the journey, to do the same! True, we here are together only by electronic media, but we still shout Alleluia, the Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed.

But what have we really heard? Three women went to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning, with spices to embalm him. They went, believing him to be dead! They found the tomb open and empty. A stranger told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, to go tell his other friends, and that they would see him later. But the women were terrified, and ran away, and seemingly told no one!

An empty tomb and the word of a stranger. That’s not much evidence for a resurrection! Someone said that at the heart of the Christian faith is the empty tomb. But that can’t be true; an empty tomb by itself means nothing; there must be more. But what?

There is an ancient story that suggests an answer. As the risen Christ returns to the Father who sent him he comes to the mystery where time and eternity intersect. There he is greeted by Gabriel. “You are welcome home, Son of God.” “Greetings Gabriel, archangel.” “Son of God, is your work on earth complete?” “No, Gabriel, it only begins.” There is a pause. “What have you done, Son of God, for the completion of your work?” The reply comes, “I have left on earth a community of men and women.” There is a long silence from the archangel. “But, Son of God, what if they should fail?” The reply comes without hesitation, infinitely calm, infinitely sure. “Then Gabriel, there is no other way.”

There you have it. The evidence for the resurrection is not an empty tomb, the evidence is … us! We the Church! There is no other explanation, or reason, for our existence. There is no other explanation or reason for a community of men and women spanning 2000 years, now numbering perhaps a third of all the men and women alive. An empty tomb cannot create such a community. No, the empty tomb is not the central fact of the Christian faith; that central fact is the risen Lord!

But there is more to it than that. Very quickly the community of men and women left behind by the risen Christ, the community who experienced his presence, understood itself as somehow, mysteriously, being Christ present in the world – Christ working in the world, loving the world, redeeming the world. We call ourselves the Body of Christ, we understand ourselves to be the presence of the risen Christ. That’s why we shout the Easter message in the present, “He is risen! He lives!” His rising is not a fact of history, he is risen for all time. He did not live in the past, he lives today. He is risen and lives in his community, in his Church, in his people, in you and in me!

We began our Lenten journey with ashes and our own mortality. We travelled with Jesus and we shared his life on earth. We walked the way of the cross with him, and we mourned his death and lying in the tomb. We hoped for resurrection. We are here today, mostly electronically, seeking the risen Christ, and we have found … ourselves! We began in the ashes of our mortality, we have ended with the risen Christ, living within the Church and within us.

“Alleluia! The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” That is the Easter good news. Shout it out. Tell everyone. Ashes to Easter. Ashes to Alleluia. The journey is over. We have arrived. Or, have we?

No! There is no arrival, no end to the journey in Christ! The only way for Christ to remain alive, to continue to rise from the dead, is for us to go on. Continue the journey, continue the work, continue the love, continue the proclamation, continue the redemption, for we are the Body of the risen Christ. He has left it to us. Christ rises and lives in us. Without us, there is only an empty tomb, and that’s just not enough!

There is no other way!

Copyright ©2021 by Gerry Mueller