Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
Weldon D. Nisly
TITLE: Jesus is not here
THEME: Turn to Jesus, Go with the Spirit – Raised from the dead
TEXTS: John 20:1-8; Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 20:1-10
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Let us pray. Open our hearts and minds, God of the risen Christ, to the mystery and reality that you raise Jesus from the dead so that we need not tarry at the tomb or flounder in fear even at the cross. Rise up in us so that we embrace and embody the ultimate truth of the universe: Christ is risen and goes before us as your life and light and love for all the world. Amen.
We heard John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Hear Matthew’s gospel of the risen Jesus.
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, with clothing white as snow. For fear of the angel the guards shook and became like dead people. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. Jesus is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “Jesus has been raised from the dead, and….is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Jesus.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to Jesus, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
This is the Gospel of the Risen Christ!
At the center of the resurrection story is a central truth: Jesus is not here! It is not that Jesus was not here on that first Easter morning. It is not that Jesus is not here with us today. The risen Christ is wholly present then and now and always. Apart from that truth we wouldn’t be here. Yes, Jesus is here.
Yet, as the gospel proclaims, Jesus is not here. Where is the “here” that Jesus is not? The “here” is that Jesus is not here in the tomb of death the victim of crucifixion. Jesus is alive not dead.
When humans put Jesus to death God will not give up on us. God does not give in to the ways violence and death. When powerful people thought they had won by killing Jesus God intervenes and raises Jesus from the dead. The resurrection is the fulcrum of history – the center of meaning. Jesus’ resurrection transforms history and us forever.
It is also not that God acted long ago and is now absent from the world. God is even now raising up new life in Christ in the world. It is not that we come to this high holy week and then quickly return to life as it was. God is raising up Jesus for us and in us today as God did two thousand years ago. God is rising up in Jesus The Way that upsets the way of the world. That is the living truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
A tragic character in one of Flannery O’Connor’s troubling stories called “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has acquired the name The Misfit. An escaped convict, The Misfit encounters a family and kills them off one-by-one. The last person he kills is the grandmother who tries to convince him that Jesus loves him so she will be spared. The Misfit retorts, ‘Jesus has thrown everything off balance. He shouldn’t have done it.’
The Misfit is right. Jesus has thrown everything off balance. The balance of sacrificial violence is thrown off. The balance of fear and greed is thrown off. The balance of retaliation and domination is thrown off. The balance of blaming and harming others is thrown off. When will humans or even so-called christians what Jesus has thrown off?! In raising Jesus from the dead God threw the world off-balance.
The greater truth is that in raising Jesus God restores the balance of all life and creation forever. Jesus is God’s upside down kingdom which really is the right-side up kingdom. In Jesus God’s reign is already rising. Easter’s message and meaning is that God is calling us to see and be God’s rising in Jesus Christ.
I am hearing an Easter message that I want to share with you this glorious Easter day. I have been hearing it since the beginning of Advent, through Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent. This Holy Week in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, this message has become clear. I hope it is more than just for this Easter but let’s start with Easter.
This Easter in Seattle Mennonite Church I hear at least three ways that God is rising up in Jesus and calling us into Jesus’ uprising.
First, God is rising up in the risen Jesus in each one of us. I cannot name that uprising for you but I am confident that God is rising up in you this Easter. I hope it is more than for Easter but let’s start with Easter. Every day for these 50 days of Easter starting today until Pentecost Sunday, June 12, prayerfully ask God, “What are you raising up in me that compels me to join Jesus’ uprising?” I encourage us to not only pray this daily but to share it with each other. I welcome hearing your uprising journey with the Risen Jesus.
Second, SMC is on the edge of something new. God is doing a new thing among us. God is raising up something in us. In the deepest and fullest way God is doing resurrection – raising up Jesus Christ in us. This resurrection is more than a re-structuring process we are undergoing. Our re-structuring process is really a re-listening and is key to what God is raising up in SMC. Indeed if this re-structuring is not grounded in Jesus’ uprising it will be fruitless. God is calling us to a new place, to a new missional way of being, to a new witness. God’s rising up in this body of Christ is a radical risking walking in the resurrection with Jesus.
Which brings us to a third way God is rising up in us. This dawned on me on Holy Saturday, a day of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday we walked with Jesus to the cross and tomb three times. At 6:00 p.m. Jonathan led us in a Way of the Cross prayer circling the church here in Lake City. At 7:00 p.m. in scripture and song we proclaimed Jesus’ passion from Matthew’s gospel. At noon we went to the Federal Building in downtown Seattle to witness Jesus’ crucifixion. We witnessed Jesus put on trial and convicted of subverting imperial powers. We heard these words, “Then they took Jesus from Caiphas to the Federal Building.”
We heard Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus’ crucifixion disrupted the minding-my-own-business noisy bustle of downtown Seattle.
“Why are we at the Federal Building on Good Friday?” we were asked. Our worship and witness gave answer. Also a flyer gave answer. This flyer, with a picture of an Afghan child injured from our weapons of war, explained:
We gather at the federal building because it is the local parallel to where Jesus was held and abused: the Roman governor’s local headquarters. Then, as now, the central government claimed the power of life and death…..We stand in its shadow to announce God’s Victory over this system of global oppression….
Around the world, people are rising up against tyranny and claiming their God-given freedom and dignity, often at great personal risk. We are inspired by their courage and pray that God’s Spirit fill everyone with the same courage that witnesses fearlessly to God’s power of transforming love in the face of the murder and lies perpetrated by those holding power….
We invite you to join us on this holy day: to pray, to sing, to cry, to join together in sacred solidarity as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection show us the Way to true peace for all humanity and all creation.
Having shared communion and having witnessed Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, as a further act of worship and witness several of us – including Sue, Wes, Sarah, and I – poured symbolic blood over our hands, letting it spill over the cross and the ground. While everyone sang Jesus’ prayerful plea to disciples, “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray” we walked
with blood dripping from our hands over to the Federal building to mark the windows and walls of empire with blood. It is the blood that Jesus offered from his own body so that we never again shed anyone’s blood. It is the blood that is continually shed by imperial ways of violence and warfare.
Since Advent I have been hearing and struggling with a message that has reached joyful clarity this Easter. In good Anabaptist fashion I am sharing it to be tested by you in the Holy Spirit. All our worship and witness and all that we discern and do in Seattle Mennonite Church from this Easter uprising on will be held in the light and love of God’s rising up in Jesus that draws us into the uprising. In God’s Easter uprising in Jesus we trust. No Jesus Christ is not “here” in the tomb of imperial power, violence, and death. For Christ has risen. Alleluia!
The Apostle Paul proclaims our call into Jesus’ uprising in Colossians 3:1-4 [read to close].