“It’s Easter—Look Up!”

April 24, 2011

 

Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17

Matthew 28:1-10

 

On the side of the church, someone spray painted the words, “Look Up.” My guess is that the Trustees will get around to scrubbing it off in the coming weeks.

The theologians among us, however, might think that they should just leave the graffiti, because, while not very artful, it is in a way an Easter reminder. “You have been raised with Christ,” Paul writes. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is.”

Look up.

You have been raised with Christ.

We need help to remember that, don’t we?

We know so much of the suffering, of the cross, of the grave in our lives in and our world and we need some help. Augustine put it well when he said that “there are days when the burdens we carry are heavy on our shoulders and weigh us down, when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies gray and threatening, when our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage and our lives have no music in them.”

We need help to remember that we have been raised with Christ. And we get some today.

We are given the brass of Easter to tune our hearts again to the stirring music of God’s new creation; we are given the brass of Easter to wake us from our slumber and lethargy, that we might open our eyes to see the path ahead flooded with light and seek again the things that are above.

We are given the crowds of Easter that we might gain a sense of communion with the saints of every age, to know that we are not alone so that we might encourage others. Easter always challenges the cozy feeling that we are somehow insiders to the grace of God. Easter welcomes outsiders. It announces to everyone standing out on the edges of life that God’s love is for them as well.

I’m always glad that there are some who come to worship only on this day—not that we wouldn’t rejoice to have you join with us next Sunday and every week. But by showing up on Easter, you remind us that God’s love and mercy are for all creation. You remind us that we are here not for ourselves but for the world beyond these walls.

We need help to remember that we are risen with Christ.

We are blessed—and that’s a word I don’t use often or lightly—we are blessed this morning to participate in the baptism of Cyrus, through prayer and vows and the water of the sacrament remembering our own dying and rising  in Christ.

Of course, each Sunday—and I do say this often—each Sunday is a little Easter—a small, weekly celebration and reminder of the resurrection.

But once a year—and you never know when, from year to year—once a year we get the real thing—the “big Easter.” Today is that day and I am glad that you are here to sing and pray with us. I’m glad that you are here to share in this joyful good news that we are risen with Christ.

Now, the skeptical among us—and that means so many of us here, doesn’t it—the skeptical among us might say, “Well, how can you say that we are risen with Christ? I don’t feel ‘risen.’ And I see little evidence in this gathered assembly that the people here are ‘risen’ with Christ. Everyone and everything seems just as they always have been.”

Such skepticism actually puts us in a place to better understand the resurrection and our lives.

The Easter story begins with everything as it has been. A new day is dawning—as days have dawned since the beginning of creation. Two women approach the tomb, where they expect to find the One in whom they once found life. After the events of Friday everyone thinks that Jesus belongs to the realm of the dead. Even his followers return there to look for him. Life—and death—go on pretty much as they always have, pretty much as we assume they always will.

We watch as the Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” find something they don’t expect.

It’s not the angel, that is, the messenger of God—for it is possible that God’s messengers will be found in all sorts of surprising, unexpected places.

It’s Jesus. He is nowhere to be seen.

Along with these two women we hear the Easter morning news about Jesus: “He is not here.”

The risen Christ is not where he belongs. In spite of all of the efforts of the authorities, in spite of the vigilance of the guards, in spite of the stone, Jesus is not where we expect him to be.

Surprising? Yes.

And yet in a sense we see here just another case of Jesus overstepping his boundaries, not staying where he belongs: giving sight and claiming to be the light of the world; raising the dead and announcing that he is the resurrection and the life; riding into Jerusalem as part of a joyful procession that infuriated most of the religious and political leaders.

Jesus is not in his place. He will no longer be put where people want him to be.

And with the leader out of his place, it will not be long before the followers are out of place as well.

It starts with the women.

Look at the two Marys, who were there when they crucified their Lord. Now they meet the risen Christ who says: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The sisters, of course, were already encountering the risen Christ.

In their time, the testimony of women wasn’t even allowed in a court.

And yet, here are women, the first to see the risen Christ, the first to be sent to bring good news to others. They are apostles equal to the men in their experience and their calling. They are out of place. For centuries the church tried to get them back in their place, but we are always confronted by these stories.

These women first, and then other women and men, proclaimed the incredible news that life has changed and it will never really be the same again. “Sunset to sunrise changes now,” is how one early Christian tried to describe it. Human life and all of creation are not just new, but different.

And, yes, we are different. “You are risen with Christ,” Paul wrote to the early Christians in Colossae. And as a result, we should “seek the things that are above.” Now, of course, Paul is not talking about being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. Instead, he invites us to look beyond what is readily apparent and, in Augustine’s wonderful phrase, “turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise.” Look up.

This talk of “looking up,” of “turning our eyes to the skies,” of “things that are above,” suggests that there is something beyond ourselves, something greater than our own lives, something that transcends our everyday, predictable reality. And Easter invites us to stretch ourselves into that new reality—to stretch who we are and what we do.

Paul gives a list of what we might see in our lives if we seriously seek the things that are above: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. He suggests that we attempt such simple and difficult tasks as bearing with one another and forgiving one another. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Teach. Admonish. Sing. And then sensing that the list is getting a little long says, “You know what? Just do everything in the name of Jesus.”

That is to say: let your actions, your life be a reflection of the out of place Jesus. Live your life as you want it to be lived, reflecting the goodness and the power of God. As we do this, we become reminders of the risen life ourselves.

The risen Christ will not be contained by a tomb. We who are risen in Christ will not be bound by old ways of thinking and acting and living. We will find new meaning and new purpose for life as we search for them through acts of compassion, mercy, and healing, in the continuing quest for justice and peace, in the creation of beauty, the pursuit of truth. And most likely we will be out of step with those who want the world to be as it once was, those who are clinging tightly to the way things are.

Because Christ is risen, everything has changed—even our very lives.

Look up. Seek the things that are above. No longer in our places, we will follow beyond death, we will follow into new life, rejoicing each day in the God of creation and the new creation that is Easter.