Called and Sent

Easter Day Sermon
April 17, 2022

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11) The women raced back from the tomb on Easter morning with astonishing news. They deliver the first Easter sermon: “He is not here but has risen!”  Every sermon you’ve ever heard is merely a variation of this Goodnews, first announced by the women to the apostles.

The response? Bible translations differ; you can take your pick. The words seemed to them like “an idle tale,” “empty talk,” “a silly story,” “a foolish yarn,” “utter nonsense,” or even, “sheer humbug.”

It didn’t matter that the women’s story only confirmed the message Jesus himself had told them. Jesus told them three times he would be killed but that on the third day he would rise. Yet the apostles dismiss this first news of Easter with a wave of the hand.

Like the Emmaus Road travelers in the story that follows our gospel, they are “slow of heart to believe.” Luke offers us a clue to their state of mind.  The women ran and told the news of resurrection to “the eleven,” but later Luke will call them “the apostles,” meaning ‘those who are sent’.

They were sent to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. They encountered arrests and shipwrecks and outpourings of the Spirit and persecutions and stonings and miles of weary travel. The scary news of Easter is that the resurrection has made apostles of us, and we will need a Book of Acts which includes a chapter about ourselves.  Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Response: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

You know, this incarnation business God is into is so lovely, when it’s an angel appearing to Mary and Joseph.  They said yes to Jesus and the manger, and to life on the run as refugees until King Herod died. Incarnation makes for inspiring stories about the disciples, and for Paul, and the whole early Christian community who risked their lives for the sake of being alive in Christ.  They built upon the foundations of the One Life. They fashioned a living sanctuary of hope and grace further including people of every tribe, nation, and religion.  But the incarnation is a whole different thing when it’s time to include me.

Now it is our turn to enter the story.  Now is the time to include our flesh, our bones, our hands, our hearts, heads, and spirit.  Because the story did not end on Good Friday, Mary Magdalene’s and the other women’s impossibly good news of resurrection and new life by way of the cross of Christ has made its way through the centuries from a dry dusty town in Palestine all the way to us and is now here.  Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Response: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

Because Christ is raised, the trajectory of our lives is altered. Because the impossibly good news of Easter has overtaken us, now we are called and sent to confront the impossibly difficult challenges of violence, racism, bigotry, poverty, and disease in our city and throughout the world armed with the only thing that has ever proved powerful enough to overcome them: the hope, grace, and mercy that comes from God.

I’ll give you an example. Pop culture and conventional history often teach us that violence is the most effective way to produce change. “To be prepared for war, is the most effective means of preserving the peace,” George Washington said, in his inaugural State of the Union address. The Roman general Vegetius said the same thing in the 4th Century CE., “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” if you want peace, prepare for war. Power, we believe, flows from the barrel of a gun.

But is this common assumption actually true? Now, political scientist Erica Chenoweth, who has studied more than 100 years of revolutions and insurrections around the world, says the answer is no. Instead, creative, non-violent, non-cooperation movements are twice as likely to result in revolutionary change to political systems and to society as has armed violence—moreover the rate of success has been increasing through the 20th century. One interesting example in the news is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. How large must a nonviolent movement be to work? According to Chenoweth’s research success is virtually guaranteed when 3.5% of the population becomes personally involved. (“How to Change the World,” Hidden Brain, National Public Radio, March 2022)

But then, we already knew this.  After all, we sing this. We sing the words attributed to the late great Desmon Tutu, “Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, victory is ours through Him who loved us.”

This Easter message comes like a lamb before wolves, with a word to shatter hard won common sense.  Easter comes like a dove into our Good Friday world.  It is a dog-eat-dog dog; only the strong survive; might makes right; if you want peace prepare for war world.  But here comes Easter, telling its idle tale again. Easter promises what we heard today from the prophet Isaiah, God is doing a new thing: a new heaven and a new earth. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” No longer must we consume one another to survive in this new world.

Easter says all your tomorrows can be different from your yesterdays.  Easter says life is stronger than death; light conquers darkness. Here comes Easter again whistling a simple tune about God’s grace. When our false expectations, flawed speculations, wrong theologies, or hateful ideologies become a like a wall separating us from grace and each other, God’s Easter is going to break through that wall.

Since ancient times Christians have called Easter the “first day.” From Easter comes our practice of worshiping on Sunday morning. It is the first day of the week. It is also the first day of a new creation, sometimes called the “eighth day,” because on it Christ brought restoration and renewal to all creation. We are an Easter people. We are a new creation through the gift of God’s grace revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

Of all the things Easter promises this may be the most preposterous—that we are now members of the resurrected body of Christ.  Within you are seeds of hope to renew the hope of the whole world. The cross reveals the depths of cruelty, violence, and immorality to which the world can sink, at the very same time it marks the path God has opened to the way forward. “The powers of death have done their worst; Jesus their legions has dispersed.” (ELW #366) Alleluia!  Alleluia!