Sermon for Easter Sunday 2024

Mark 16:1-8

The light shines in the darkness! Evil is overcome! Death is dead! Christ is risen!

The mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to us, the promises of God laid out in the Scriptures of the Old Testament have come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. The day began in the most abject horror and darkness, the disciples surely numb with grief and shock, but the morning was just around the corner, to turn grief into joy and shock into elation. 

Melito of Sardis was a bishop who died around A.D. 180. He preached a paschal, that is Easter, homily that has been preserved. He expresses with incredible power the truth of the gospel and of the resurrection while preaching on the Exodus and Passover, in Greek pascha. He uses the expression that there was “darkness that was touchable.” Truly, this is what the disciples must have felt. Not only darkness though, but in the “darkness which could be touched was death which could not be touched.” 

And then…a crack in the rock covering the tomb. I like to imagine, a bit poetically, that on another plane of existence, as the stone rolled back, living water poured out of the bottom half to create a river, while light shot out, piercing the sky, from the top half. Christ is risen!

Mark’s account is very short, telling us only what is key in those moments where the Resurrection was revealed. It is clear that the one who was raised was the one who was crucified; Jesus of Nazareth truly died, but now lives. This great mystery does not have some easily explicable cause, some source that can be studied and experimented with in the manner of chemists and biologists. It is, however, a historically studyable event, just as much as the crucifixion, or any other moment of history preserved in text and tradition. But apart from revelation, this is simply a historical mystery, but with the presence of this divine messenger and its disclosure to the women, it becomes the most significant event of human history. As Malcolm Guite puts it in his poem “World’s End,” “[you] bid us, in the visions that you bring, to see the world’s end as a sign of spring.”

The one who clothed himself with human flesh and suffered, through that suffering lifts us up “to the heights of heaven.” As Melito puts it, he “destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying,” because he is both God and Man, and death could not hold him. “I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.” 

The women go to mourn before his tomb. And their sorrow was to be replaced with fear and trepidation, which then would turn to joy. The great victory of God was not in the smashing of Rome, or the prosperity of Israel, but in the death that destroyed death, as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by his Father. These women were to be the first to proclaim the most important fact of human history: Christ is risen!

To these women the angel gives four imperative commands: do not be alarmed, look, go, and tell. There is to be no fear where God is at work; they are to look at the work that has been done and see what the Lord has accomplished, and then they are to go and to tell others what has occurred.

Without the resurrection, what we know of Christ would likely be a single line in the ancient historian Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, if that. The disciples were scattered and afraid, their hopes dashed. They were dissolving, like sugar in water…And then, they were reconstituted, came together, and century upon century, millenia on millenia the movement begun by Jesus has spread. Why? Because…

Christ is risen!

We end with a final word from Melito: “This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.”

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