The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
April 21, 2019
Easter, Year C
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Every Sunday in this place, we offer a very special welcome to anyone who is here for the first time. It takes a lot to walk into a church you’ve never been to. Maybe you’re visiting from out of town and thinking about your church back home. Or maybe you’re here just to honor someone else’s wishes. Or maybe you just decided to come to church on Easter for no reason. And that first step through the door—you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. Will the people be cold? Will it feel manipulative? Will their values match mine? What does it feel like if I do wind up encountering God?
But it does not matter why you are here or who you are. Your presence is a blessing to this place—no matter who you are, what you believe or don’t believe, you are welcome in this place. It is my hope that you will experience something holy, something loving while you are here. That’s not a marketing strategy or some kind of hook. It is the way a community of the resurrection is supposed to express its faith on Easter. The same love that rolled the stone away is present here this morning, and it compels us to love one another, without any exceptions.
And speaking of love: to our Jewish friends and guests, Chag Sameach. This is one of those lucky years when Passover coincides with Easter. It is not right that Jesus should be the only Jewish person here today. So thank you for bringing your holiday celebration to this place.
Easter is the most important celebration of the Christian year because it carries the most important message of this faith: that love rolls the stone away not just for Jesus, but for all humanity. The resurrection teaches us something very important about this love, namely, that true love is like an open and outstretched hand. When Jesus was closed tightly in the tomb, love, by its very nature, opened up that which had been shut. The Bible says that God is love. So if anything like the Christian God exists, then that which is sealed in hatred, fear, sickness, and evil is being opened—even in this very moment. And even we are being called by love to open ourselves up, to follow Jesus on this journey from death to abundant life.
We need this Easter. Or am I the only these days one feeling beat down by the world? It seems we as a people are shattering new records for pettiness and distraction. In my conversations with friends, parishioners, and even strangers, I notice that everyone else seems as worn out as I am. There is a constant, low-grade vigilance and a simmering anger that erupts in unexpected places. It seems most of us are hanging on tightly, white-knuckling our way through these confusing and upsetting times.
If you feel this way at all, you are most definitely in the right place. Because the joy of Easter teaches us a different way of being. Instead of clutching on to whatever gives us comfort just to get through adversity, love bids us open our hands, our hearts, our minds, our very being to the tremendous blessing that is this life, this free gift that the open hand of love has bestowed on us. And as we open ourselves, we become open to the people God has given us—friends and family, strangers and even enemies. We see that there is no reason to hide, cowering in the comforting shadows of the tomb. Instead, we can step out into the light of this new day, free, joyful, and as loving as the God who created this day to begin with.
The Christian story is a difficult one to digest. Because all this talk of love and new life could be very hollow. In fact, there is no resurrection without the crucifixion; there is no truly open-handed love without the pain of loss. We hear in Luke’s gospel this morning that the first people to witness the miracle of the resurrection were the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body at the tomb. They did not approach this tremendous miracle with joy. No, they were mourners, grieving the loss of their dear Jesus.
The story of the women at the tomb means this love is powerful enough to be present with us in suffering and draw us into joy, because God has also known suffering. That’s what makes the joy so potent. It is not cheap or saccharine. Rather, this open-handed love is hard-won and born of suffering.
It’s not pleasant to talk about suffering, about brokenness, about loss. That’s why we so often try to change the subject. There are many ways to distract ourselves from the hard parts of following Jesus. Some are tempted to think that maybe, being Christian should be about following a set of rules instead of living out such an all-consuming love. Or looking, talking, or acting a certain way that meets with other people’s expectations. Or maybe it should be about being right all the time. Or having a blind faith in something and trying to force other people to believe it too.
Christians are doing this all the time. So it’s no wonder that so many people are turned off by religion. But you see, rejecting one way of mishandling the truth doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to embrace a better one. Because there are plenty of ways to distract ourselves outside the bounds of religion as well. We are the richest society that has ever existed. But are we the most joyful? Are we the most loving? Has our individual freedom, our advanced technology, our money and our earthly power created a people liberated from the imprisonment of fear and hatred that Jesus spent his life preaching against?
Hardly. We are all holding on tight, holding on for dear life. And when fists are clenched long enough, there is a temptation to use them. But there were no fist fights that first Easter morning. Just amazement. Total and complete wonder at the power of this God to open every gate and portal, even the barrier between death and life.
You see, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection teach us that we need not be enclosed by suffering and adversity. When the God made flesh suffered for no reason, love, which is the essence of that same God, threw open the door to an even greater freedom. And not just for him, but for us all.
I’m not the type of preacher that tells people what to do. But let me offer this suggestion. If you are feeling trapped, if you are suffering from the anxiety of the times, if anger is beginning to close you in, there is something simple but profound you can do. Form a spiritual relationship with someone who is different from you. I really and truly believe this is the only way out of the mess we find ourselves in. The Bible is absolutely full of stories of people who have no business being together finding a common spirit. When this happens, souls are set free and love increases. Because the openness it takes to build a spiritual bond with someone different from you has a mystical quality. And it’s contagious. When unlikely spiritual relationships form, that sense of amazement and wonder that was present at the first Easter is miraculously rekindled.
I’ve learned this lesson here at All Saints’ Church, where people of different generations, races, countries of origin, and even politics come together to practice their love for one another week after week. We do this here because it is the very nature of loving Christ and being loved by him. We love one another because love loved us first. We did not create Easter; Easter rolled the stone away from our souls so that we could love God and one another.
But wherever you are or whatever you believe, it is always possible to open your heart in spiritual charity to those who differ from you. And there is no limit to the scope of this blessing.
Christ is risen. The stone is rolled away. And love of God is moving through this broken and anxious world, even today. Love is opening God’s people, unclenching their fists, softening their hearts, and bursting open the tombs of our sad imprisonment. So let us rise with him, with the openness of a love that knows no bounds.