Sermon: The Significance of Easter
Easter Sunday Sermon.04.21.19
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18
(BCP, p. 222)
Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the Easter Vigil, we read several passages which portrayed some of the mighty acts of God and revealed various aspects of God’s divine plan. Most of these accounts spoke of the salvation of the people of Israel. Yesterday’s readings culminated in Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit the tomb after the Sabbath as the next day was dawning. An earthquake occurred in which an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone, and sat on it. The angel then told Mary Magdalene and Mary not to be afraid, that he knew they were looking for Jesus who had been crucified, that Jesus was not there for he had been raised from the dead. The angel further instructed them to go quickly, to tell the other disciples that Jesus had been raised and would meet them in Galilee. On their way to tell the disciples, Jesus suddenly met them and said “Greetings.” They took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Jesus told them not to be afraid, to go and tell the disciples he would meet them in Galilee.
John’s account notes several differences. John notes it was still dark; he only mentions Mary Magdalene as going to the tomb. Upon seeing the stone had been rolled away, she ran to tell Peter and John that Jesus’ body had been removed from the tomb. Peter and John race to the tomb; John gets there first and upon looking in the tomb, he sees the discarded linen wrappings. When Peter arrived, he entered the tomb; John followed. Peter and John then left, but Mary remained outside the tomb weeping.
Upon looking into the tomb, Mary saw two angels; they asked why she was weeping. She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20.14; NRSV). Mary then turned, saw Jesus, but failed to recognize him. Jesus asked why she was weeping and she, taking Jesus to be a gardener, said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus then called her name – “Mary!” and she responded “Rabbouni” (teacher).
As noted at the Vigil, in Romans 6, St. Paul tells us that having been baptized in Christ Jesus, we have been baptized into his death, and if baptized into his death, we will be united in Christ in a resurrection like his; “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6.4; NRSV). As Easter people, “we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6.11; NRSV).
Today’s reading from Acts 10 gives us further insight into the meaning of the resurrection. The account we read begins with Peter speaking to Cornelius and other gentiles. Cornelius was a Roman centurion of the Italian Cohort, “a devout man who feared God with all his household,” who “gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Vs. 2; NRSV). When Cornelius was praying one afternoon, he had a vision in which an angel of God appeared and called him by name. Cornelius was terrified. The angel told Cornelius his prayers and alms had “ascended as a memorial to God” and instructed him to send men to Joppa to summon Peter. As instructed, Cornelius dispatched slaves to summon Peter.
As the slaves were approaching Joppa, Peter went up to the rooftop to pray. During his prayers, he fell into a trance in which he sees something like a large sheet full of all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds of the air descending by its four corners. Peter was commanded to get up, kill, and eat. Peter objected that he had never eaten anything profane or unclean. The voice replied, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Vs. 15; NRSV). The account tells us this happened three times.
While Peter was puzzling over the vision, Cornelius’ dispatch arrived. The Spirit told Peter of their presence and commanded him to go with them. Peter bid them stay the night. The next day, they set out for Caesarea, accompanied by a few of the other believers from Joppa. Upon arrival, Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet and worshiped him. Peter told Cornelius to stand up, for he is only a mortal. Peter then reminded Cornelius that he knows it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with Gentiles, then told Cornelius that God had shown him that he was not to call anyone profane or unclean. Peter asked why he had been summoned. Cornelius told him of his vision and advised Peter that he and his household and friends were gathered to hear what Peter had to say.
From our reading for today, Peter told Cornelius and the other Gentiles, “"I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Vs. 34; NRSV). Peter then reminded Cornelius that he knew of Jesus’ message and preaching of peace and told him how Jesus had been anointed by God’s Holy Spirit and power. Peter further told Cornelius, “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Vs. 39; NRSV).
Peter then told Cornelius and those gathered something which would have been utterly shocking: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (VS. 40-41; NRSV). Not only did Jesus appear, but he also ate and drank with them! Why would this have been so shocking?
The commonly accepted Gentile view of the afterlife was grounded in the ancient Greek conception of the soul as disembodied. On the Greek view, the soul was held prisoner to the body, and escaped the body upon death. The resurrected Jesus was embodied; Jesus ate and drank with them.
Peter further told Cornelius and his company, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Vs. 42-43). The account continues by telling us while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. Peter further asked if anyone could withhold the water of baptism for those who had received the Holy Spirit and ordered that they be baptized.
So what is the significance of Easter, or the resurrection? First, Jesus Christ died for all – Jew and Gentile; slave and free; male and female; yellow, red, brown, black, and white; rich and poor; homosexual, heterosexual, asexual, bisexual, and transgendered; for all nationalities and national origins; for you and me. In Christ, all of these differences should become meaningless, for Christ calls us to oneness in God’s love.
Second, if we believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and confess our sins, we receive forgiveness through his name.
Third, in baptism we experience Christ’s death and are raised to new life in him as a child of God; we are admitted to God’s family, and we become children of God, and heirs of God’s promise of eternal life.
Fourth, once we become children of God, the real work of transformation begins. As we listen to God’s voice, we slowly begin to see with Jesus’ eyes and to love as Jesus loved. We no longer are under the curse of sin, but we are freed to become what God intended for us to be. We walk in newness of life!
Fifth, when we live in Christ, we participate in the coming of the kingdom in which all things shall be made new; all of creation shall be restored to the state God intended. God calls us and intends for us to participate in this restoration of nature and human relationships.
Apart from Easter, we would still be imprisoned under the law and subject to death. Because of Easter, we can choose to be the recipients of God’s grace which comes to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And that, my brothers and sisters is the Good News, the Gospel. Jesus Christ has conquered death, and through our belief in him we too have new life. God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son to live and die among us that we might have new life through him.