Easter Triumph/Easter Joy

Mk. 16:1-8
4/12/09

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Today is a day of triumph. Today you and I celebrate Christ’s resurrection, which is to say His triumph over evil, sin and death. God has intervened and shown us that good guys win, hope overcomes despair, righteousness overcomes injustice, mercy overcomes oppression and that love overcomes terror and hatred.

To know victory, to know triumph, to know the release which it brings is not a rational, intellectual exercise. To know victory, to know triumph is not the result of emptying one’s mind and controlling one’s breathing — however healthful that might be. To know victory and triumph is not the result of balancing one’s thoughts and actions, nor balancing one’s medications — however necessary that may be. To know and experience triumph is not a practical and every day experience, nor is to know and experience triumph an axiom from which one might start to build an architectonic philosophy

To know and experience triumph is to know the end of the story. It is to see the outcome of events as unfolding in such a way that we have an encounter with something that has meaning and purpose and profundity. You and I find meaning in our lives through telling and hearing stories — narratives of characters and events, antagonists and protagonists, obstacles overcome and victories (sometimes small) achieved. We cannot have a victory or a triumph without there being a narrative story of some kind in which there is a breakthrough to a meaningful conclusion. Scientific reasoning does not give us a triumph. Rational deduction does not give us a triumph. They only seem to give victory and triumph when there is progress, but in that case progress is set in the context of what has gone before — and that is narrative and that is story.

You and I yearn for triumphant experiences in our lives — those moments between the reasonable and unexpected, or unreasonable. On a simple level, when I was in high school our basketball team won the Kansas State championship. Never was it a sure thing. On the national level, countries have experienced triumph and relief at the end of wars and conflicts: think of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” or our “Battle Hymn of the Republic” — profoundly moving, uplifting, awesome.

The Jews knew about defeat and triumph. The whole story of their life is one of God with them, offering triumph and when they fell bringing them out of defeat, redeeming them. Their whole history of the patriarchs, bondage in Egypt, the Exodus, the rise of the kingdoms and the prophets, followed by life under conquering Greeks and Romans led to a hunger articulated by the prophets for a messiah, for a suffering servant, for a final triumph.

God brought that triumph not in human terms, but in sacrificial terms — the triumph of submission to His will, of expiation for the sins of his people.

These last two weeks I was reminded twice of our narrative debt to the Jewish religion — of our making sense out of our lives through telling the story of our search for God and God’s search for us. A week ago I was asked to take communion to a woman at Hospice who was dying. I expected there to be maybe three or four people there. I was amazed to discover fourteen people in the room. Thirteen took communion and one did not. She was a relative of the patient and is Jewish. At the end of our service she recited several passages from her book, which was written in Hebrew. They praised God and His love and steadfastness for His people. Beautiful words and expressions of deep faith. But they were not the same words as we have in our Book of Common Prayer. Her words were not of the promise of eternal life. Our faith is similar to, but different from our Jewish brothers and sisters. How so?

On Maundy Thursday (I think) I had WQXR on and the station played Theodore Bikel’s reading of Passover. As you know, the Jews celebrated Passover this week (the same as our Holy Week). Bikel read the words of the Seder, the Passover meal, and he told how a lamb was slaughtered as a sacrifice to God. Upon that lamb was placed the sins of the people, and it made an expiation for their failings and sins. Then I attended the Maundy Thursday service and heard the words of a huge shift in culture, in religion, in the narrative story through which we seek to find meaning in our lives. Jesus tells his disciples at the Seder meal, “Today, I am that lamb. I am to be substituted for the lamb and to be sacrificed not only for your sins but also for the sins of the whole world. I am the lamb told of by Isaiah. I am the Messiah foretold by the prophets.”

The Passion story is the culmination of the narrative, which began in Genesis, continued throughout the ages and finds resolution in God’s incarnation in Jesus, which in turn becomes the Pascal sacrifice for all of us. We know in our common experiences times in which an individual incorporates all of the expectations and desires of a people (think of the Olympics, or even an election — on the simplest scale). But two thousand years ago there was a dramatic shift in events, which changed the whole story of the meaning of life — of your life and mine.

The story could end with the sacrifice of one man, who became the sacrificial lamb, the vehicle for the forgiveness of our guilt and sinfulness, our failure to obey God’s commandments and will. But God is profound and beyond our ability to comprehend — He is the creator and recreator of our existence and our world. Three days after his death, when the stone was rolled away from His borrowed tomb, the disciples met Jesus, risen from the dead and fulfilling His promise of eternal life. In this theophany, this profoundly mysterious and imponderable event, we are told of an outcome to our narrative story, which is cosmic, which goes to the source of all meaning. Evil has been conquered, death has been conquered, sin and evil, are forever losers, never to be again be seen as controlling the meaning of life.

This is a promise and an affirmation that says to you and me that life is purposeful, has meaning, is positive, creative, and recreative, full of redemption, and hope. This is an affirmation of love — of divine love. It is more than a statement of the importance of sacrifice; it is the victory and the triumph of God’s eternal love. The Easter event that you and I celebrate today is an affirmation of that which is mysterious and imponderable. It speaks to our own instinct and conscience, to the image of God within us, which recognizes the truth of the unimaginable act of a miracle — of the resurrection event, which becomes the focus and signal of our life and our hope.

Hence it is that in life and even at the end of our mortal life, we say, as we read in the Prayer Book:

“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” (BCP p. 469.)

Today, you and I celebrate that triumph because it speaks to us and it speaks for us. You and I proclaim, yes we exalt, in the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil, sin and death. What an amazing triumph! That is our triumph. Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen. -Fr. Gage