It’s wonderful to be here with you and to celebrate the Triduum in this great church. I thank Fr. James for his gracious invitation to be your Triduum preacher. The Triduum started last Thursday, when we celebrated the Institution of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. We watched all night long with him at the Altar of Repose.
We gathered on Good Friday to commemorate his passion and death. And we did it all, of course, with the knowledge of how everything turns out. We knew, as we watched with Christ at the cross, that we would end up shouting “Christ is risen!”
How very different that was from how it actually happened! The disciples didn’t watch with Christ as he died. They saw his death as complete defeat. They stayed as far away from the cross as they could in order to escape a similar fate for themselves. Resurrection was the furthest thing from their minds. It wasn’t until they encountered the risen Lord, face to face, that they believed. Then it began to dawn on them that this was indeed a new day.
And so, we’re here today to celebrate the resurrection. Everywhere we look there are signs of the resurrection. The flowers. The Paschal Candle. The festal vestments. There are other signs of the resurrection as well. The altar, where the resurrection is celebrated at every eucharist; the pulpit, where Christ crucified and risen is preached; the lectern, where holy scripture, which proclaims the resurrection, is read–all signs of the resurrection.
The Church worships every week on Sunday, rather than Saturday, because of the resurrection: Sunday is the day on which Christ was raised from the dead. When you get right down to it, every stained glass window, every kneeler, every pew is a symbol of the resurrection. None of this would be here, there would be no Christian faith, if Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead. Everywhere you look there are signs of the resurrection.
I’d guess that there are some here who really don’t believe in the resurrection, that it’s just a lot of wishful thinking, that the disciples had a strong memory of Jesus and simply described it in a fanciful way. You might be here because a friend invited you, or your spouse prevailed upon you, or your parents demanded it of you. But you really don’t believe.
Not believing isn’t anything new. There’ve been non-believers in every age. In the seventeenth century Pascal said of such persons: “What reason have atheists for saying that we cannot rise again? Which is the more difficult, to be born, or to rise again? That what has never been should be, or that what has been, should be again? Is it more difficult to come into being than to return to it?”
Even some who consider themselves within the Body of Christ don’t believe in the resurrection. The late Robert W. Funk, who was the director of the Jesus Seminar 20 some years ago, is quoted praising the book The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple, by James P. Carse. “Carse has created a new gospel,” Funk says, “that breathes fresh life into the Jesus tradition. It may even bring the sage of Nazareth back to life.”
I have news for Funk! The sage of Nazareth was raised on the third day and he is alive, seated at the right hand of the Father. Funk reminds me of the central character Haze Motes, in Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood. Motes is a minister in a church “without Christ.” At one point Haze cries, “Church of Christ!…Well I preach the church without Christ. I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.”
There’s no mistaking it, there were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection. Furthermore, after the resurrection the disciples were changed, boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior even when that proclamation put them in mortal danger. Most of them in fact died martyrs’ deaths because of that message. Would the disciples ever have organized again if Jesus hadn’t been raised? Would they have died defending a lie when all they could have done was simply deny that Jesus had been raised from death?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century, says this: “We must come to grips with Goethe and Socrates. On this our education and our ethos depend. But on our coming to grips with Christ depend life and death, salvation and damnation….It is the principle on which everything rests. ‘And there is salvation in no one else’ (Acts 4:12). The cause of the encounter with Jesus is not the same as that of the encounter with Goethe and Socrates. It is impossible to avoid the person of Jesus because he is alive.”
The award-winning novelist and poet John Updike wrote, “It was not as the flowers, each soft spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles; it was as his flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes, the same valved heart that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might, new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence, making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: let us walk through the door.
“The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story, but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us the wide light of day.
“Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty, lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle, and crushed by remonstrance.”
Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey says this: “I believe that Jesus was crucified, buried, and that his cold, dead body was raised alive by God. If it’s of any comfort to others, I’ve never found it easy to believe in God.”
We have the witness of the disciples, the apostle Paul, great Christian thinkers throughout the ages, but in the end we must decide for ourselves, what C.S. Lewis calls the leap of faith. Once we’ve made that decision, by the grace of God, then we must live our lives based on that reality. As St. Paul says to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” If you ask me, that’s the reason many choose not to believe, because they don’t want to be transformed, even though life without Christ ultimately leads to despair.
I believe in the resurrection because I experience the presence of the risen Christ in countless ways. He has transformed my life and continues to transform it and I see him doing the same in so many other lives, for I am indeed in a Church where the blind do see, and the lame walk, and lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised. Alleluia. Christ is risen!
Alleluia. Christ is risen!…This is the surprise ending to a series of tragic events in Jesus’ life. The disciples had spent three intensive years with Jesus, learning from him, because they thought he was the Messiah. They understood these years to be a preparation for the time when Jesus would usher in a new kingdom that would make King David’s monarchy pale by comparison. And they, of course, would be the ones whom Jesus would use to establish his rule. It even looked like it was about to begin just last week, when their Lord and Master rode into Jerusalem on an ass, in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, a public declaration identity.
Then it all quickly came to an end. That possibility they had never allowed themselves to imagine had happened. Jesus had been betrayed by one of the inner circle, had been arrested, hastily tried, found guilty, and put to death like so many other would-be messiahs. He had been shamed, disgraced, discredited, he and his followers squelched by the powerful and efficient Roman government.
There was no doubt in their minds. It was finished. Over. The task at hand was to get over their grief and put their lives back together.
Then some women discovered the empty tomb, and a messenger told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Later that day and for several days thereafter the risen Christ appeared to them and ultimately to some 500 people. As Martin Marty put it so clearly, “The disciples did not believe in the resurrection because they believed in Jesus; they believed in Jesus because they believed in the resurrection.” And they believed in the resurrection because they had witnessed the risen Christ.
We’re here today because of that one event, but not because it happened once, long ago, and we’re here simply remembering that. No, we’re here because the risen Christ is with us and continually comes to us through the Sacrament, through his Word, through one another, for he lives in us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us at our baptism. We’ve been reconciled to God through his death, and now we live with him in his resurrection. We as members of his Body live in this new reality.
So, what’s the implication of the resurrection for our daily lives? St. Paul tells us succinctly, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above…For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” As we have been reconciled to God through Christ, so we must be agents of reconciliation to others. Among other things, I’m sure, setting our minds on things that are above means doing what is necessary to be reconciled with those around us.
I’m reminded of a story of two brothers who lived on adjoining farms and who fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, and it grew into a major difference. Finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help you with?”
“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there’s a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence—an 8-foot fence—so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset, when the farmer returned, the carpenter has just finished his job.
The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge—a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all—and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.
“You’re quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hands. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.
“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
We can describe the death and resurrection of our Lord in many ways, and one of those ways certainly is by likening it to a bridge. Through his death on the cross the Carpenter from Nazareth built a bridge between us and the Father and between us and others. His resurrection made that bridge apparent.
Now that we have been reconciled to God, our purpose is to bring that reconciliation to others, and that work begins by building those bridges in our own relationships, starting with those who are closest to us. George Herbert said, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
St. Francis of Assisi is known for his love of nature. He wrote a beautiful hymn about creation which we know as “All Creatures of our God and King.” The hymn speaks of sun, moon, wind, water, earth, flowers and fruits. In the stanza about humanity, this is what Francis wrote: “All you with mercy in your heart, forgiving others take your part.” For St. Francis, the way human beings can praise their Maker best is through forgiveness.
Henri Nouwen said that “man is not the one who once in a while makes a mistake and God is not the one who now and then forgives. No, man is a sinner and God is love.”
What better way for us to celebrate the presence of the risen Christ than to let his reconciling love build bridges through us.
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
The Rev’d Dr Fredrick Robinson is the retired Rector of The Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida, and editor of The Anglican Digest.