Apr 15, 2017

"Lord and God"

He is risen indeed!

In his popular book, Mere Christianity, the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis famously said about Jesus: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

In short, in the opinion of Lewis, Jesus was either a crazy man, the world’s greatest liar who led scores of crowds to believe a false claim, or he is indeed the Son of God before whom we bow in awe and worship to follow in his way. Therefore, if the resurrection of Christ is true, then anything is possible. 

This (evening) day we gather and claim to be his followers.  We claim that we have made the choice to believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.  The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week and Easter have touched many in this parish community. I’ve heard a great deal of positive feedback.  Yet the temptation is to concentrate on the external; on the music, the flowers, the incense, candles and the visual stimulation that we have all experienced.  While that certainly has its place, it is not why we are here.

We are here to make the choice and to proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was neither a crazy man nor a liar.  That the ancient claim that he returned from the dead is true and that event alone proves to us that all he said and did is true and that all he promises to us provides hope for our lives. That the God Jesus preached is the way God is: merciful, forgiving, patient, and one who will never be outdone by generosity.  That God desires our salvation and will wait patiently until we come home to him. 

But, the greatest proof we have that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in addition to the words and wonders Jesus performed, is the resurrection. In fact, the resurrection is so pivotal, that if Jesus would did not rise we would be as foolish to make the claims for him as he was to claim it for himself.  In other words, without the truth of the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith.  That is how central to our claims this event becomes. No other founder of a religion in history as ever claimed to rise from the dead, nor his followers have claimed such, except Christians. So it either makes us lunatics, liars, or disciples of the Gospel to do so.  

But, we cannot prove the resurrection – it defies reason, logic and every conceivable law of nature. Dead bodies do not come back to life. But Jesus now assumes some mysterious, touchable, visible form which combines spirit and matter, no longer subject to the natural laws of death and decay. This is resurrection – a form yet to be seen and experienced in eternity. Scholars agree that Jesus’ resurrection is not at all a miraculous return from the dead or something like a near death experience. If that is what the resurrection was, then Jesus would have died again. When Jesus appeared to his Apostles, he told no story of a tunnel of light, or hovering over his body, or seeing long lost dead relatives waiting for him.

Yet we will hear this Easter season of the reaction of the Apostles, of Mary Magdalene, of Thomas who doubted, of talking angels who questioned visitors at the empty tomb that early morning, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” (Lk 24: 1-10). We will hear of disciples whose lives were instantly transformed from fear to overwhelming joy, wonder, and bold courage. So convicted were they that Jesus was alive and eternally present again that no force or threat on earth could change their minds. When they saw the risen Lord it became a transforming experience and changed them forever. So, through this event, God invites us to believe and to be transformed to deeper discipleship and more courageous faith.

Easter reminds us that God’s invitation is extended beyond boundaries, beyond race and nationality, beyond politics or geography – God’s invitation in Christ Jesus is open to anyone who “testifies” that Jesus is Lord and universal Savior of humanity. That he is the anointed one – come to bring freedom from sin and death to all humankind.

The rising of Christ from the dead gives hope to those who have died. And if the dead have hope then the living also have hope. If we the living have hope, then the death and resurrection of Christ is true.

The great witness we have today in our Gospel story is that of the empty tomb. Women, named Mary Magdalene and Joanna and men named Peter and John who could hardly contain their joy and wonder once they came to conviction – because of an empty tomb. But, that alone would not be enough. It was not a onetime event meant to be recalled through history books but the beginning of a transforming experience for all believers.  It was an invitation to see Christ alive and present right up to our day and beyond.

Where do we find the risen Christ today? We no longer look in empty tombs but in His Church, His Body – Jesus baptizes, confirms, becomes our food of liberation in the Eucharist as he did last night for our newest Catholic/Christians among us. Christ unites in marriage, comforts the dying, forgives sin, chooses and calls in the priesthood. In those holy sacraments the risen Christ continues his work.

And, in our world today, where there is far too much agony and not enough ecstasy, many are confused, lost, abandoned, hurt, empty, despairing, filled with prejudice and hatred, unloved and forgotten. Many people are dead in spirit and mind or numbed by a world which presents promises that cannot fulfill; that the answer to every problem can be found only in science, technology, money, or fame.

This is the good news of Easter and the invitation to every one of us to share in the life of His Church. God has no limits. We bring this good news to a world that is empty; to replace the agony of meaninglessness, or science and technology alone, of loneliness and rejection, of poverty and sadness with the ecstasy of faith and hope.

Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

O God, who on this day, 
through your Only Begotten Son, 
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity, 
grant, we pray, that we who keep
'the solemnity of the Lord's Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, 
rise up in the light of life.

(Collect for Sunday)