In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
On every Sunday and major feast we proclaim the doctrine that Jesus ascended into heaven. Compared to other teachings about Jesus’ life and ministry, however, we tend not to give the Ascension the attention it deserves. Until the fourth century it didn’t even have its own feast day. Since then observance of this feast has been sporadic—and in some cases downright odd—especially in our branch of the Church, which prefers its doctrines to be as rational as possible.
We know why Our Lord ascended into heaven: we observe in the Book of Genesis [5:24] that when Patriarch Enoch reached the venerable age of 365 years, angels carried him into heaven to dwell with God; we read in the Second Book of Kings [2:12-14] that a chariot of fire pulled the Prophet Elijah into a whirlwind that conveyed him up to the sky.
For the evangelist Luke, Jesus’ ascension is the culmination of God’s saving work, woven into the fabric of creation, attested by patriarchs and prophets and sealed by our Lord’s incarnation, death and resurrection. Jesus’ ascension makes way for the Holy Spirit to infuse God’s people with such grace that they become Christ’s body on earth, fully empowered to help usher in the kingdom of God. It is a beautiful, powerful teaching that deserves our commemoration, contemplation and adoration.
We can see clearly why the ascension is a vital, defining doctrine of our faith. For many of us, however, the stumbling block isn’t why but how. Since at least the eleventh century our religious life has been shaped by theologians like Anselm, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, all of whom insist that our faith must be reasonable. God did not make a chaotic, incomprehensible world, they assert; rather, God made a world in which every wonder is an invitation to witness and explore God’s grace in action. Theological mystery becomes a vehicle for entering the divine mind and discerning, to an almost scientific degree, God’s purpose for us in this mortal world.
The mysteries of incarnation and resurrection challenge us, of course; yet we have all seen some form of new life spring out of dark barren places. Indeed, our reliance on God’s power over death fuels our faith and sustains our hope. But in both of these cases the mystery occurred privately with no witnesses to tell us what actually happened. Jesus’ ascension, by contrast, was a very public affair. Lots of people saw it, apparently, and, they found it quite amazing. We, standing in Anselm’s tradition of “faith seeking understanding,” may well find certain details of ascension in our biblical record rather dubious. Where are these chosen patriarchs and prophets actually going? Why up? What exactly is up there? Must we affirm a doctrine with no physical evidence to support it? If not, what is the proper way to interpret these critical texts metaphorically. If so, how do we make sense of bible passages that seem to pit theological truth against observable fact?
Perhaps these difficult questions account at least for some of the peculiar ways we have observed the Feast of the Ascension down through the centuries. I cite two examples from one of my favorite books, The Oxford Companion to the Year:
- First, there is a very old custom of collecting rain water on Ascension Day for healing, especially diseases of the eye
- Second, a seventeenth-century treatise reports that students at New College, Oxford, for “time out mind” visited St. Bartholomew’s Hospital on Ascension Day morning, where they offered prayers, sang songs, and processed to the chapel on a path “strewn with flowers”
Now for some contemporary examples: I once served a congregation that hosted a strawberry shortcake reception immediately following the Ascension Day liturgy; no one knew quite why they did this, or how it related to the doctrine of the ascension, but it was a lovely custom nonetheless. And here today we honor the ascension with the glorious offering of Herbert Howell’s English Mass!
For me, though, the most profound and authentic way that I have ever experienced the Feast of the Ascension was at St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley, where every year the Altar Guild gathers to commission new members and appoint new officers in a Eucharistic celebration. At the Offertory, the celebrant recites the necrology of the people who have served on the Altar Guild since the founding of the parish over one hundred years ago. By now the list of names is quite long, but no one seems to mind the time it takes to read them. Of all people, these quiet ministers of the Gospel know the abiding value of being Christ’s body on earth; of preparing his table; of helping to serve the friends he calls to the feast; of attending to the messiness of sharing bread and wine—body and blood—with fellow disciples who desperately need God’s forgiveness, encouragement and abundant love. Of all people, they understand the connection between a concrete faith rooted in the here and now, and the promise of eternal life with our risen Lord.
So, in honor of these precursors who have faithfully sought to observe the occasion of Jesus’ ascension, if when they couldn’t quite grasp its meaning, I invite to you mark this feast with exuberant celebration. Give great thanks for the mystery that Jesus rose to heaven so that we might fulfill our calling as his agents of healing and reconciliation on earth. And pray with me this ancient prayer from the Mozarabic Sacramentary, written in a time when making rational sense of profound truth was not at the top of the list of theological virtues:
“Who shall speak of Thy power, O Lord, and who shall be able to tell the tale of all Thy praises? Thou didst descend to human things, not leaving behind heavenly things. Thou art returned to things above, not abandoning things below. Everywhere Thou art Thy whole self, everywhere wonderful. In the flesh, Thou hast yet thy being with the Father; in thine Ascension Thou art not torn away from Thy being in man. Look upon the prayer of Thy people, holy Lord, merciful God; that in Thy holy Ascension, even as glory is given to Thee on high, so grace may be vouchsafed to us below.”
 Notes and Queries, 1st ser., ix (1854), 524 cited in The Oxford Companion to the Year, Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (Oxford, 1999), 630.
 John Gadbury, EFHMERIS or, a Diary Astronomical, Astrological, Meteorological for the Year of our Lord 1696 (London, 1696) cited in ibid.
 The New Book of Christian Prayers, Tony Castle (New York: Crossword Publishing, 1977), 204.
One of my favorite TV shows is the animated sitcom King of the Hill. It tells the story of Hank Hill, a conservative family man living and working as a propane salesman in a Texas suburb. Hank’s father, Cotton Hill, is an even more rigid reactionary, a proud and patriotic war veteran who constantly belittles his son Hank, whom he regards as totally inadequate even though Hank is truly a good and reliable husband, father, and friend. The extent of Hank and his father Cotton’s conflict over even trivial matters is revealed in one episode when they are shopping for Christmas tree ornaments. Hank selects an ornament for his father’s approval that bears the word “Peace.” “How’s this one?” he asks. “Peace!?” his father sneers. “I bet you would like that. Why don’t you get one with a flag-burnin’ on it?” Provoked by his father’s derision, as he always is, Hank replies defensively, “Dad, it’s Jesus peace, not hippie peace.”
Silly as that is, I agree with Hank that there is a difference between Jesus peace and hippie peace. There is a difference between the peace that Jesus speaks of as his gift to us in today’s Gospel passage and our ordinary, worldly idea of peace.
This promise of an extraordinary sort of peace is at the heart of today’s Gospel reading. Jesus in John 14 is speaking some of his last words to his closest disciples. Judas Iscariot has gone out to betray him, so Jesus knows what he is about to face, and he has told his disciples that he is going away; now he speaks these words to reassure them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Go back to the beginning of today’s passage, and you will see that Jesus is actually answering a question asked by one of his disciples, Judas (not Iscariot), the other Judas. That question, immediately prior to the beginning of today’s reading, is why does Jesus intend to reveal himself only to his intimate followers and not to the whole world. It may be that Judas is still imagining, even here, on the very night that Jesus is to be betrayed, that Jesus will be the Messiah everyone expects: A heroic warrior who will overthrow the enemies of Israel with a dazzling display of his power in the sight of all and thus be revealed to the whole world as a storied conqueror.
We learn something important here about Jesus in this moment. This is not the sort of Messiah that Jesus is. He says instead, that rather than show himself off before all the world he and his Father will in a quieter fashion make a home with those who love him and keep his words. To those who do not love him and do not keep his words, he will not reveal himself.
But to fail to keep the word of Jesus is also to fail to keep God’s word, for as Jesus reminds us here, and as he has said many times in John’s Gospel, he does not speak his own words; he only speaks the words of his Father, who sent him to us.
We also learn something important at this point about the Holy Spirit. Just as God the Father sent the Son to us to be incarnate, to live and die and rise from death as Jesus the Christ, so Jesus the Son of God asks his Father to send the Holy Spirit to us.
There is a perfect parallelism here. In exactly the same way that the Father sends the Son, so also the Father sends the Spirit at the request of the Son. This is even clearer if we back up a few verses to the first place in John 14 where Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit. Here in verse 26 Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Counselor.” Just ten verses prior he said, “I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.”
The Holy Spirit can only be “another Counselor” if Jesus himself already is a Counselor. This is a really tough word in Greek to translate. Sometimes you may have seen it translated as “Comforter” or “Advocate.” These ideas are all implied in this word, which literally means “one who is called alongside.”
The Father sent the Son to “come alongside” us, to be our companion and friend; to teach, strengthen, and advise us; to defend us against accusation and condemnation by our enemies, sin and death. And now Jesus promises to send another, the Holy Spirit, who will also “come alongside” us, to be our companion and friend forever. Just like Jesus is only manifest to those who love and obey him and not to the world, so too the world will not recognize the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of truth is only revealed to those who love the Spirit, and those who love the Spirit must love the Son, and those who love the Son must love the Father.
So this gift of peace is according to John entirely wrapped up with nothing less than the gift of God’s giving to us God’s own self: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This peace that Jesus leaves us I would say is nothing other than the fullness of life from and with God.
This is the peace that Jesus gives. “My peace I give to you,” our Lord says. And he says “not as the world gives do I give to you.”
So what’s the difference?
First of all, I would say that what the world calls peace is really just absence of conflict. As long as there is no disturbance or violence then the world is happy and calls this peace.
The peace of Christ is not absence of conflict. In the very next chapter Jesus warns his disciples that the world will hate and persecute them. And Jesus himself is about to go to a violent death. The peace that Jesus gives does not buy us an exception from conflict in this life. His peace is the power to remain confident in the promises of God amidst conflict.
This is why Jesus is able to say right away that even though he is going away we should not let our hearts be troubled. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. Things are about to get very bad indeed, and yet, Jesus says, let not your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid, because the peace he bestows empowers us to remember and trust his promises even in the worst of times.
Second, remember that Jesus strongly associates the Holy Spirit with peace, and only ten verses prior to this one he also called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth.” I think this is because truth and peace go together. The world is capable of forging phony peace from falsehood. Just ten years prior to our Lord’s birth the mighty Caesar Augustus returned to Rome after a triumphant three-year military campaign in Gaul. To honor Caesar Augustus’s slaughter of Rome’s enemies the Roman Senate commissioned an enormous altar to be built dedicated to the pagan goddess…Peace. That so-called Altar of Peace was nothing but a false temple to a false goddess built to bolster Caesar Augustus’s false ambition to be worshiped as himself a god.
That’s not true peace, that’s a cynical lie. There can be no peace where there is falsehood. The peace of Christ is the peace that comes with knowing the truth of who he is and again therefore, the truth of who God is. The Spirit of truth is another Counselor, just like Christ himself, the first Counselor, who in this same chapter of John says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the truth of God the Father. He leaves us his peace because he has also made the truth known.
Finally, true peace is something that cannot be enjoyed individually but only corporately. It is a gift to you all, or as Hank Hill might say—in the English language’s only remaining vestige of the second-person plural pronoun—it is a gift to y’all. The gift of peace is not to you and you and you as separate individuals but to us as Christ’s own body animated by the Holy Spirit.
Because we can only be united by the peace that Jesus gives, and that peace is made possible by the blood he sheds on the cross. In a way Jesus is a warrior after all: By dying and rising again he vanquishes his and our enemies, sin and death, and thus he makes it possible for us to live in love together, he in us and we in him.
The world does not do this. The world is and has always been divided up by tribe: us vs. them.
This is not the way of the church. The church is a unity, it is a com-munity, and this community overcomes all divisions; it even overcomes the division between the living and the dead.
At morning prayer, evening prayer, and mass, we pray that the faithful departed “rest in peace.” I fear we probably think of this in worldly terms, that we are praying that the dead repose undisturbed, but this is not quite right. When we pray that the faithful departed will rest in peace what we mean is that we want our brothers and sisters to rest in peace by remaining in the fullness of life from and with God, even in earthly death. To rest in peace is to abide forever in the gift of God’s own living presence, the gift that all who love him necessarily share, no matter how many ways the world divides us.
In the person of Jesus himself, at every mass the priest bids this same peace of the Lord to be with you all always. We actually mean this. And it actually means something. We exchange that peace with the priest and with each other. We do this not because we wish each other well or because we are eager to chum it up with whoever is in the next pew over. This is a serious liturgical act.
To exchange the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ is to acknowledge that we have God’s own strength and wisdom amidst conflict; to exchange the peace is to recognize that we share a deep affirmation of the truth of who God is; to exchange the peace is to affirm that we are at unity with one another despite our many differences and at unity with the myriad who have gone before us.
Perhaps we have forgotten this by dint of overfamiliarity. It is true that saying “peace be with you” was at the time of Christ and remains today, an entirely ordinary greeting for Jewish believers to offer each other. Muslims say it too. And so do hippies. In the world’s hearing maybe saying “peace be with you” does sound like little more than a pious wish. Because the world can talk about peace, but it cannot give peace. But Jesus does not just wish us his peace; he gives it to us.
This is not what the hippies had in mind. And it’s not a slogan on a Christmas tree ornament. It’s the power and presence of God Almighty in our lives, all our lives, now and forevermore. Amen.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Our calling is to show forth God’s love in the world until Christ comes again.
What do you want to be when you grow up? When talking with children, that is one of the most frequently asked questions. We were probably all asked that question at some point, and we have probably posed the question to a child. Of course, it would be of children we ask the question because it gets really awkward when asking a thirty-seven-year old. It is a common question to ask children and appropriate because when it is asked, you can see children’s faces usually light up and become filled with hope and anticipation. The world is wide open to them and they like imagining all the things they could be. The answers too, are interesting.
We are asking what they want to do, but are often provided with a response that is an indication of who they are. Are they creative, nurturing, brave? The child who wants to be a teacher may have a nature that is caring and nurturing. The child who wants to be a first responder may naturally be courageous and caring. What we want to do may be an indication of what we are like.
What a privilege and blessing it would be to have one’s desired job and one’s character become the means of support and purpose in the world. If a person loves what he is doing, and the job is actually forming his character, and he is being sustained and supported by doing it, then it would not be work at all. How many of us have that privilege?
When I walk around the city and see the thousands pouring out of the T stations and making their way to the sidewalks to get to their jobs, or when I watch the traffic report and see the thousands of cars streaming into the city along the Mass Pike, or coming up from the Cape on Route 3, or down from the North Shore along Route 1 or 128, I think, “How many of the people in their cars are going off to work and have this privilege and blessing of doing something that they desire and is forming the person they are supposed to be? Are they like children that grew up and became what they wanted to be? Are they doing something that is part of their true nature?”
When we consider what we do and how that relates to who we are, we are dealing with our vocation. Vocation, from the Latin vocatio: a call or a summoning. To what are you called? We place a lot of value and weight on our work and jobs, not only because they are a means of making a living, but because they are part of our identity. Surveys have shown that the first two questions we ask of someone whom we have never met are: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?” There is nothing more personal to tell someone about yourself than your name. Right on the heels of that very personal question is: “What do you do?” To what has God called you to do with your life?
One of the vocations of the Christian is given to us in clear terms in this morning’s Gospel. It’s more than a calling or asking. It’s put in such clear terms as a “commandment”. It’s the New Commandment Christ gives to the disciples after Judas has left the Last Supper. A New Commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Jesus is mandating this at a time when He knew He was facing betrayal, persecution, and suffering.
This choosing to love must be necessary because the commandment is repeated in the Gospel by Jesus two more times after the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel Jesus repeats the commandment verbatim in His instructions, prayers, and farewell to the disciples just before He is arrested, crucified and resurrected. He repeats the commandment in John 15:12 and 15:17. It is clearly what all His disciples must do to prove and reveal that they love Him. They – and we, if we’re going to be His disciples – must love one another, and in truly following Jesus’ example we must choose to love even at times we find challenging and love the persons we find challenging.
Love is often an overused word for us these days. The problem with this overuse is that the deep and rich and powerful meaning of love, certainly in the Christian sense of the word, becomes changed and lost. Oh, I just love your dress. I love that apple cobbler. Didn’t you love the movie? The new blossoms are lovely. I am in love with my new car! These are all fine uses of love but despite the useful hyperbole they tend to diminish the true meaning of love. The kind of love Jesus gives us and the love that He indeed is.
We do not need to reinvent what love means, but we do need to discover or rediscover it. The Gospel for today forces us to find out what Jesus means by it and to not just know it, but do it. We are called to keep the Commandment. In keeping this New Commandment to love one another we are doing what we are called to do and growing more closely into what we ought to be like. In order to fulfill this commandment we must actually do something.
Action is in the very nature of this kind of love. Agape love, the Bible calls it. Agape is the word used to describe the love of God and distinguishes it from the other two kinds of love like passion or friendship. This love of God that Jesus wants shown between us and Him, and between us and God is something that is done. We need to remember that Jesus is teaching us that love is an action. It’s very easy for us to collapse love into a kind of sentiment, or warm, or even hot emotion. Agape love may bring with it a good deal of emotion and kind feelings, but it is not that. It is much more than that when it is shown. in John 3:16 we get the true meaning of God’s love, agape love: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. You can actually see, if you meditate on this passage, God taking action in the form of the Incarnation. It is God reaching outside of Himself, without diminishing Himself in any way, to become as we are. That is action.
Love, as something that is done, makes perfect sense too. The witness we make of love must be shown or it is not love, and the action that shows love must match true self-giving. A mother and father know that words are not enough to show love. Their baby is not going to know love unless the parents show the love with a kiss. Even if we can use words to show love, there still must be an action that matches true self-giving love. Love is something that is done, is chosen, and reflects the love Jesus commands us to take.
What is that love? I think it’s mainly acts that bring unity, not estrangement. Actions that reflect the oneness of God and His love for mankind. The worship of Him, just as we are doing right now. Prayer, and prayer that is in the name of and offered to the Trinity. Christians moved to actions that are clearly in the service of others. Loving those who may be lonely, some of whom are even in the midst of us. Taking those kinds of actions that bring people both inside the Church and outside the Church together. Working toward things that reflect the unity with Christ and His Father, with those of us who want to be His disciples, and unity between and among all people of good will. It means those kinds of actions that would be the love Jesus commands us in the Gospel.
May God continue to give us His grace to keep this New Commandment. May we keep it until we leave this earthly life and our life here in the world is ended. May we obey and keep the New Commandment until Christ comes back from His heavenly throne and claims His Church. Either way, we as Christians will be doing what we are supposed to be doing when we grow up. What do you want to be when you grow up? If we keep Christ’s New Commandment of loving one another then we will actually be doing what we are called to do, growing more and more into the likeness of Christ, and in the end we will be what we are supposed to do because we will be at one with the Father. We will be loving the One who is love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Easter involves the body of Jesus Christ. It is not a ghost story. On Good Friday Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and a secret follower of Jesus who sat on the court that condemned him, went to Pilate and asked for the crucified dead body of Jesus. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid it in a rock hewn tomb where no one had yet been laid. Nothing more could be done that late afternoon because it was the eve of the Jewish Sabbath which is Saturday.
The women who had followed Jesus up to Jerusalem from Galilee saw the tomb and noted where and how his body was laid; then they prepared spices and ointments to anoint him. They rested according to the Sabbath Commandment. At early dawn on Sunday they returned to the tomb, taking their spices and ointments.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they entered, they did not find the body of Jesus. Saint Luke says they were perplexed. Matthew and Mark say they were amazed and afraid. Saint John says that Mary Magdalene was dismayed and that she wept. It was bad enough that Jesus had been judicially murdered by his enemies. Now she was deprived of showing reverence for her dear Lord’s body.
While they were perplexed about this, two men appeared standing by them in dazzling apparel; and as the women bowed their faces to the ground, the men said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” They reminded the women that Jesus himself had foretold his crucifixion and had also said that on the third day he would rise from the dead. So the women told all these things to the eleven apostles, who took their words to be “idle tales.” The other Gospel writers join Saint Luke in recounting this unbelieving response by the apostles to the women’s report.
Then things started to happen. First, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene near the tomb while she was weeping. She mistook him for the gardener, asking where the body of Jesus had been taken, but then the Lord spoke her name. Then Jesus walked on the road out of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus alongside two disciples who did not recognize him until he blessed and broke bread with them at their destination; and he vanished. The two hastened back from Emmaus to Jerusalem, and as they were telling the apostles in the locked Upper Room, Jesus, who already had appeared to Simon Peter, appeared and stood among them. But they were startled and frightened and supposed they were seeing a spirit. Jesus showed them his hands and his side and ate a piece of broiled fish before them, saying, “A spirit has no flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you, and what was written of me in the Scriptures must be fulfilled…that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations. You are witnesses of these things.”
Much more would happen. Jesus would reveal his resurrection a week later to Thomas in the locked Upper Room; then again to Peter and John and Thomas and four other apostles by the Sea of Galilee; then to more than 500 disciples at one time; then to his brother James; and finally, to an enemy of his disciples on his way from Jerusalem to persecute more of them in Damascus – Saul of Tarsus, whom we know as Saint Paul, the man who was to write half of the New Testament. The resurrection appearances eventually would cease after Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven and sent in his place the Holy Spirit to empower his church to the end of time.
So here we are, celebrating Easter an ocean away from Jesus’s Empty Tomb two millennia later. The resurrection we celebrate is not a ghost story, but neither is it the resuscitation of a body back into this earthly life. Anyone thus miraculously revived must die again. But Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death has no more dominion over him. Jesus’s resurrection appearances defy space and time. Jesus did not have to rent a room in between his resurrection appearances. Nor is Jesus confined to the 33 years of his earthly life. He was raised, and he lives, in glory, body, soul and spirit, in perfect union with God.
What we see in Jesus’s resurrection is coming our way, to each of us. The Apostle says that when we die we leave an earthly body which returns to the dust; but that we shall be changed. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible. We die an earthly body; we will be raised a spiritual body. This mortal will put on immortality. Jesus’s resurrection is not past. It has to do with us now; now and on the other side of death.
Easter leaves us with a question: What shall we do? Recall the short lesson this morning from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He said since we have been raised with Christ, we are to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Our true life is there. “You are dead,” he writes, “and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then we will appear with him in glory.”
Easter is no ghost story. As for the whereabouts of Jesus Christ’s body, let’s start our search by receiving the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Do you have doubts? Don’t let that stop you. Mary Magdalene and Peter and Thomas and several other disciples, even members of Jesus’s family all doubted. As have I. If you’re not baptized, we can do something about that – probably not right now, but soon enough. Just talk to one of us; we’ll be delighted to help you.
Depend upon it, this is the real thing. It’s all true.
Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 St. Luke 24:1-53; St. Matthew 28:1-20; St. Mark 16:1-8, 9-20; St. John 20:1-30; 21:1-25.
 I Corinthians 15:1-11.
 I Corinthians 15:35-58.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As witnesses to Holy Baptism we confessed in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried, and descended into hell. That means joy for Adam and Eve and all their children. We have already enjoyed the Easter Shout, the lights and the cacophony. Now let’s listen to the jubilation in a world that without our Lord’s death and resurrection would be a shadowland, a prison house for ghosts.
That Jesus was raised from the dead presupposes that he was in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. But he descended there in the spirit as the Savior, proclaiming by his presence the Good News to the departed. And he rose victorious, because it was not possible for death to hold him. This is the preaching of St. Peter, but Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
The Catechism in our Prayer Book addresses this crucial sojourn of our Lord between his death and his Resurrection in its section “God the Son”: “Q. What do we mean when we say that he descended to the dead? A. We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.”
An ancient hymn of the Syrian Church celebrates this first part of Jesus’s victory using the Lord as the speaker, not unlike the beloved carol “My Dancing Day”: “Hell saw me and was vanquished. Death could not bear my face. I made of the dead an assembly of the living. I spoke to them with living lips / So that my word should not be in vain. They ran towards me, the dead. They cried out, ‘Take pity on us, O Son of God! Deliver us out of the darkness that fetters us. Open the gate for us that we may go out with you. We see that death has no hold on you. Deliver us also, for you are our Savior!’ And I heard their voices and I traced my name on their heads. So they are free and they belong to me. Alleluia!”
Jesus often worked wonders on the Sabbath, thereby offending his religious enemies who used these occasions to build up their case against him as a Law-Breaker. Here he is at it again on Holy Saturday, the Lord of the Sabbath after his death, using the Sabbath to extend his reach to all times and places to all who welcome his appearing.
Meanwhile his disciples observed the Sabbath commandment. The women among them could not finish the work of anointing Jesus’s body on Good Friday evening because it was the Sabbath eve. They had to wait till after the Sabbath sundown and the dawn of the Third Day, Sunday, the First Day of the Week. So very early Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb. But Jesus’s body was gone. The angel in the earthquake rolled away the large stone. The high priest’s guards, blinded by unbelief, became like dead men – and were later paid by the high priests to say that Jesus’s disciples had stolen away his body in order to say he was risen. The angel told the women those very three words: that Jesus, whom they sought, was not there because, indeed, he was risen. Go tell his disciples, said the angel.
They ran, in fear and great joy, and….There was Jesus, right there. “Hail!” he said. What is left to say? Tonight, just one more thing.
Baptism unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection. That means daily life no longer needs to be one of mere survival, of bare existence, of people whose vital signs may register bodily health while they are sick unto death in the soul; of having no hope in this world, without God and without wisdom, except for “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” That old business is buried with Christ in his death, and we rise to new life with him in his resurrection. The hour has certainly come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 I Peter 3:18-19 and Acts 2:24.
 St. John 5:25
 The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 850.
 Celebrating the Seasons, compiled by Robert Atwell. Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2006, p. 221.
 St. Matthew 28:11-15.