By The Rev’d W Glenn Empey
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
This is the most fundamental exclamation of the entire Christian Church, the Body of Christ, the community of faith throughout the world. On this day, across the globe the faithful proclaim this basic tenet of the Christian faith. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed.
It continues to be the proclamation of the Christian Church in spite of the fact that things did not turn out as the people had been expecting in their day.
In our day this year, from the ashes at the beginning of Lent, the faithful have trod a journey of repentance, reflection, prayer, almsgiving to the hopeful day of Palm Sunday as Holy Week began. That was the day when the people in Jesus’ time expected his entry into Jerusalem to be a day of triumph and of revolution to overthrow the princes of this world and powers-who-be and to establish a new world order. They expected a new king to overthrow the oppressive Romans and to usher in a new age where the tables would be turned and they would become the powers-who-be. That’s what they expected from the Messiah.
Who could blame them for that kind of aspiration. And they were confused by all that was going on: was Jesus the Messiah; was he a prophet or was he a rabble-rousing criminal? The conflicting stories were indeed confusing.
Take a look around two millennia later. When you really think about it, we’re still confused about what’s really going on. A self-styled modern-day emperor boasts of bombing the [heck] out of people half a world away while he eats cake. And that quickly brings to mind another self-exalted person who boasted about eating cake while others were perishing. And in France a revolution ensued.
Another quacky despot, who oppresses even his own people, taunts the world’s largest military power with the threat of attack from a peninsula of land half the other way around the world. Elsewhere in the Mid-east a lion and a bear spar by remote in a world scale kind of chess match with cataclysmic potential.
There’s no shortage of mortals who quest for insatiable power. Tiberius to Trump. Pilate to Putin. (Although Pilate to his credit did try to wash his hands and extricate himself from the web of entanglement.)
In the midst of all that, when you have to sift carefully through things to determine what’s true, what’s false, what’s fake news or what’s misinformation or alternate truths to uncover what really does make a difference, it is frustrating. It is confusing. It is draining. You can see how a person would yearn for a new world order. Back in those days and now.
I sometime yearn wantonly to move further north, burn the bridges, and retreat to a simpler life entirely off the grid away from all that. That might do something about hydro bills even in the face of a let-them-eat-cake credit on recent bills. But, that’s a first-world problem though isn’t it.
I wonder still though if there are times when you too just wish things were different. The whole system seems messed up. You can see how a person would yearn for something that can turn it all upside down and be able to start over. To have something that really does make a difference.
So, there you are back in Jerusalem along the steps of the days we now call Holy Week. Time to sift through what is really going on. Is Jesus a new king; is he a criminal; is he a prophet? Who is this fellow?
Holy Week is after 40 days of Lent. A time that has called you and me to reflect on what is really going on. A time to pause to still the noises. To sit in contemplation, to let go, give things up and to engage, to become prayerful. That’s what Lent was all about. Preparing to see things in a new way if we let ourselves be still to the noise.
Lent moves into Holy Week and then into the Upper Room, Gethsemane, betrayal, arrest and court proceedings, conviction, crucifixion and death. Not what was expected at the hopeful beginning of the week. Not what was expected in overthrowing a corrupt world order.
And then, after three days … Sunday. A silent day at the tomb where Mary approached. Silent from the earth shaking, the sky thundering, the curtain in the temple ripping, the clamour of the crowds. Silence. Stillness. Sadness.
Maybe we haven’t understood fully either. Maybe we have to be there again at the tomb to discover that it is empty. And to re-discover what that means.
Even for us it has not brought in any kind of new order that we would want for the world. One of peace, where all people live in freedom, where they have ample food and water and housing. Where all are treated equally. We still live in a fallen world.
So what about this empty tomb?
We live indeed in a fallen world that is broken in many places… but it is not a world without hope. It is a world not without hope because for the sinfulness of the whole world Jesus took it all upon himself in his sacrifice on the cross. That was for you and for me … and for the world.
His descent into hell was to atone for the sins of the world and to show in rising again that there is hope in the midst of any kind of hell or trepidations that you and I may face. He showed the way beyond the Gethsemanes that we face in our own lives. He showed a cycle that is the life of the faithful in experiencing downs and ups and being able to learn and begin anew by having faith and trust as we go through them. And in all that, he forgives us.
That is a taste of the experience of the eternal banquet he promises to all the faithful once their earthly life is done. That is his promise for those who have gone before us and who are now at peace with him. That is his promise and for now we have a glimpse of it.
You can have that glimpse when you see the tomb empty.
He is risen.
Hope is what the empty tomb is about. Living a new life thanks to the Resurrection is seeing things through the eyes of hope. And so no matter what the darkness, the clamor of noise or confusion, hope shines through. Hope overcomes the darkness of whatever sort. Things may not be as we might wish but the profound recognition is that no matter what we will be not be overwhelmed; we are not alone. There are things greater than the parts we can now see.
The empty tomb is the sign to greater things.
It is a call to know that in the midst of all the noise, there are few things that really make a difference beyond the basic necessities of life. And it’s a call to persist in finding ways to put into action the things that really do make a difference.
Love makes a difference, forgiveness makes a difference, compassion makes a difference. They give new ways of seeing the world. They give new ways of understanding others. They give new ways to understanding ourselves. They give new ways for growing the kingdom on which they’re based.
The resurrection from the empty tomb imprinted forever on the world the revolutionary message that Jesus brought into the world. The resurrection has changed the way of seeing things, the way of deciding what really makes a difference. The revolutionary message is that once we’ve learned how to practise that throughout the world, it will usher in a new world order.
The resurrection is the seed of the kingdom that is planted to change the world order. Maybe it will take another millennium. Maybe it will be when Christ comes again. But, surely also in the meantime, it will be through what you and I do, what each of us can bring by humbly walking with our God and doing justice through loving-kindness and by modelling that for others. And finally, even the princes of this world will hear the message.
The fact that the tomb is empty is the cornerstone of faith that leads beyond. We just have to venture forth along that pathway empowered by the hope that transforms us into being people who see things differently and who do things differently. That is the revolution that changes the world.
And so let us proclaim this Easter Sunday and always our profound message of faith: “Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
Blessings and Happy Easter to each of you.
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