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Reflection April 12, 2020

"Easter Amazement!" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     As I’ve proclaimed on 12 separate Easter Sunday mornings at our beloved church, so now I proclaim a 13th and final time: Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

     Easter is the feast of feasts, the most important day in our Christian year. Easter is the day we celebrate the great liberation begun by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. And what was begun that first Easter morning is the rebirth of everything, the ultimate freedom of all creation.

     As we recall that first Easter morning, we bring the past to bear upon the present. On Easter, we remember the empty tomb. On Easter, we remember the appearances of a Risen Jesus to his disciples. On Easter, we remember the victory of Jesus over death itself, a victory we all share by virtue of God’s love for us and our baptism into Christ. 

     On Easter, we recall the proclamation of Easter in all four Gospels. In all four Gospels, women are the first to experience the empty tomb and the first to proclaim the Easter message.

     In Luke‘s version (see Luke 24), a group of women (whose number remains unknown) rush back to the eleven apostles and tell them what they have witnessed. They excitedly tell them about the empty tomb and what two men in dazzling clothes said to them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

     But the apostles, true to form, think this is all idle chatter, that the women are speaking nonsense. Who could believe such talk?  Maybe men in those days had as much trouble as men today listening to women? Peter runs to the tomb and comes away amazed at the empty tomb.

     However, the question the apostles faced then remains the same today: Do we believe what these women excitedly tell us? I pray our answer is a resounding Yes! Yet I fear we may not always live in such a way that our Yes is vividly apparent.

     The Resurrection is not a puzzling doctrine over which we make an intellectual decision. It’s an invitation to fully live and to fully live now. It is an invitation into the full freedom of life without shackles, life without chains.

     We may mistakenly think what happened that first Easter morning was something that happened to Jesus alone. Not at all! What occurred in those hours before that Easter dawn has occurred in every one of us united with Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Resurrection signals for us the beginning of the Resurrection of everything. 

     How many have ever lit a firecracker? And please remember that we must be very careful around firecrackers. But what happens after you light the fuse? When the fuse is lit, you throw the firecracker away from you or you run from it. Why? Because once that fuse is lit, the firecracker will explode.

     What God did on that first Easter morning was to light the fuse for an amazing explosion of life and freedom. We’re anxiously awaiting the explosion to take place in the fullness of God’s time. Yet this coming explosion is as inevitable as the explosion after lighting a firecracker. This coming explosion is the resurrection of everything!

     This coming explosion is unstoppable, inevitable,  irresistible. I can hardly wait for this coming explosion to shake the world and all creation! What a miracle that will be!

     Scientists speak about The Big Bang as a way to describe God’s initiation of creation, the start of our universe. Everything that comprises our universe: all the galaxies, all the stars, all the planets, all the “stuff” that would percolate into cosmic life, was compressed into an incredibly small pinpoint.

     Everything was then unleashed at the sound of God’s creative command. The power of that divine command has been radiating, pulsating, outward for an estimated 14 billion years.

     It’s impossible to fathom the enormity of that original cosmic explosion. Yet another Big Bang is on the way. Just as the Big Bang transformed nothingness into the universe we behold around us, so the coming explosion of Resurrection will transform our broken creation, our unwell world, our suffering earth, into a stunning paradise.

     This transformation is on its way, as 2nd Peter 3:13 (the final book of the New Testament to be written) tells us: “But, in accordance with his (God’s) promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

     This promise is also echoed in the Book of Revelation 21:1 & 5: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … And the one who was seated on the throne said: ‘See, I am making all things new.’”

     Do we believe that the One on the throne is making everything new? I again pray our answer is Yes! I pray we might understand what began at Easter is continuing today even if we can‘t see it or touch it. But I believe we can “taste” it through the power of our hearts and souls. 

     The fuse is lit! The power of despair, the power of darkness, the power of death, the power of oppression, the power of violence, the power of sin have each been trying to extinguish this fuse. But I contend that those demonic powers are not nearly strong enough. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can extinguish the Easter fuse!

     In this time of trial and tribulation, we pray for those who are sick with the corona virus and we pray that all of us will be kept safe from that dangerous contagion. Yet sickness is a universal experience.

     Death is also a universal experience., Many of us have lost loved ones to the ultimate sickness of death. Yet with Easter the inherent sickness of our world has begun to heal, the fever infecting creation has begun to break, the chains wrapped around creation are beginning to be loosened. Everything living has begun to get well.

     This cosmic recovery may not always be obvious to us but such is the case. We are being steadily healed. We are being steadily renewed. We are steadily moving toward God’s perfect justice, God’s perfect healing. We are, in God’s own time, slowly being resurrected. Easter is unfolding its healing, liberating power all around us if we but look through the eyes of faith.

     Our earth currently only bears children who are too weak to live forever. We, with all living creatures, are infected with the contagion of death. This seems to be a terminal condition for all life. Yet the Risen Lord is our promise that what appears to be a terminal condition is not.

     The Risen Lord of Easter proclaims that death itself has been mortally, fatally, wounded. Death is in the process of dying. And as 1st Corinthians 15:26 contends: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

     Years ago, in probably my first Easter sermon at our beloved church, I used the analogy of a hurricane to explain Easter. But in this, my final Easter reflection, I will use another analogy. Easter is like a volcano. How many have ever climbed a volcano? I’ve climbed a few of them. A year ago my friend Vinal and I drove up the massive Maui volcano, Haleakala. In my long-ago youth, I climbed the infamous Mount Vesuvius.

     I remember feeling very apprehensive as my fellow classmates and I climbed to the top of Vesuvius. One can never be sure when it might erupt again. Vesuvius remains one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. I recall placing my hand near one of the steam vents and feeling the heat rising up from deep below. I admit I was happy when we drove far away from Vesuvius.

     Last year when Vinal and I hiked around the top of Haleakala, we looked into its enormous crater. The inside of Haleakala is amazing. It is stark, barren and silent. I imagine it’s very much like a moonscape.

     But even in the midst of such striking scenery, I felt some slight trepidation. Haleakala is an active but currently dormant volcano. I exhaled a breath of relief as Vinal and I drove back down from its 10,000 foot summit.

     Now I bring up volcanoes because of these words from the German theologian, Karl Rahner: “His (Jesus’) Resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that in the interior of the world, God’s fire is already burning … Already from the heart of the world into which he (Jesus) descended in death, the new forces of a transfigured earth are at work.”

      If we could peer into the amazing volcano of Easter, we would see the power of God’s divine fire transforming everything with its power. The ecstatic energy of God’s love is healing the earth and everything on it into a perfect paradise.

     Earth’s misery, earth’s bondage, is being radically transformed into Easter freedom and Easter joy. This we believe as disciples of the One so life-filled that death could not long restrain nor contain him.

     Our freedom is coming. We can feel it in our hearts. We can feel it in our souls. Dr. King felt it when he spoke to us about that day “when all of God’s children, black men (people) and white men (people), Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thanks God Almighty, we are free at last.’” This is God’s dream for us. This is the dream of Easter. 

     I wish mightily that we were all able to gather together for our Easter celebration. I wish we could shout out our Alleluia together! I miss our together-worship. But I know I will miss it especially on Easter Sunday. This is a bitter pill for all of us to swallow. It’s especially bitter to me since this is my last Easter at our beloved church.

     Yet we know that the Risen Christ is with us even if we can’t gather together. The Risen Christ binds us to each other in the midst of our isolation, in the midst of our confinement, in the midst of our national contagion. But our liberation will come. Now if only I had the gift, the grace, of patience! Unfortunately, I don’t! Does the Easter bunny bring patience along with Easter eggs?     

Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church