Sermon: This Is (Still) the Day

Sunday, April 4, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Easter Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 16:07; sermon starts around 23:16)

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It’s one of my favorite bible verses – partly because of the obvious: you know, “this is the DAY” and all.  But it’s also because this verse reminds us that today is indeed a day of great joy.

I’ve gotta say, though – if the only thing you read today was our gospel reading from Mark, you might not be left with the impression that this is a joyful day at all.  While the author of Psalm 118 is jubilant, joyously extolling the wondrous things that God has done, Mark goes in a bit of a different direction.  Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead begins with grief and confusion and then ends abruptly with terror and fear.  “Praise to you, O Christ”?

And this isn’t just the end of Mark’s telling of the resurrection – these verses are the end of Mark’s gospel, period.  If you look, your bible probably includes a shorter and a longer ending of Mark that were added in later, but the original ending of Mark’s gospel ends with this: the young man tells the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here… But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  But instead of going to find Jesus and spread the good news, Mary and the others freak out and run away and they say nothing to anyone.  We don’t get to see Jesus after his resurrection – there are no encounters in the garden or lovely brunches by the sea or walks to Emmaus, or any of those stories in Mark’s gospel.  

Instead, it’s an ending that just kind of leaves us hanging.  The stone is rolled away, and there are rumors that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but that’s really about it.  There’s not the sense of resolution or satisfaction that we get with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Yet even so, this is the day that the Lord has made – and we know that eventually everyone will get to rejoice and be glad in it.

In some ways, this feels like the perfect gospel reading to read during the second Easter of a global pandemic.  Because, like our gospel reading from Mark, Easter this year for many of us just doesn’t quite have the joyful feel that we usually associate with it.  And, to me at least, it feels like that’s even more true of Easter this year than it was of Easter last year.  I think it’s safe to say that we all hoped that we would be done with this pandemic by now – that we would all be back here singing full-throated “Alleluia”s in time for Easter, without a care in the world.  But instead – like Mark’s gospel – this pandemic isn’t getting wrapped up neatly with a bow.  It’s ending slowly and ambiguously, in a way that is often unclear and unsatisfying, that leaves us without a sense of resolution.

And that means that Easter this year just isn’t quite like the Easters we remember from years past.  God knows I have many fond memories of what Easter used to be like for me.  We always used to go up to my Grandma Kay’s house for a big Easter feast, and then the big cousins would hide Easter eggs for the littler cousins, and we almost always ended up over at the field behind the school to go fly kites.  And even further back than that, I can remember waking up on Easter morning to a basket full of goodies and the new clothes that my mom used to sew for us every year.  I don’t doubt that many of you also have favorite Easter traditions that you are missing this year.  And I can imagine that one of the most significant traditions you’re missing is getting to gather here for worship.  I share your disappointment and grief about that too.  

Without all these traditions and practices that we’re used to, it can be kind of hard for us to feel like it’s really Easter.  Or if it is Easter, it feels like it’s only a pale shadow of what Easter is supposed to be.  

But this IS the day that the Lord has made.  This is Easter, the day of joy.  

And this Easter, we have actually been given a unique kind of opportunity.  The pandemic has peeled back some of the layers of paint and plastic grass and glitter and well-worn tradition to give us a better glimpse of what is really there underneath.  And it reminds us that, as much as we may love all these things, Easter really isn’t about family gatherings or egg hunts or candy, or even about a particular set of rituals and songs.  

Easter is about the good news.

Easter is about waking up to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.  Easter is about the wondrously, miraculously, impossibly good news that Christ, who died out of love for us, is risen – he is risen indeed.  Easter is about the good news that is still good whether Easter feels like Easter or not.

For all those whose lives have been touched by the sting of death and grief – like mine has – the true good news of Easter is beyond anything, beyond any of the wildest dreams we ever dared to hope.  Christ died and rose to life again.  He has broken the power of the grave and defeated death itself – forever.  And for everyone.

For all those whose hearts ache with grief over the brokenness of this world – all the hurt and violence and selfishness and hate – the true good news of Easter is news of the greatest hope.  Christ entered into the suffering of the most outcast and oppressed and marginalized of this world.  He suffered the cruelest kinds of torment that this world has to offer – and he emerged triumphant – and he triumphed not through stronger hate or crueler violence, but through stronger love and through inexhaustible grace.

And for all those whose souls are searching for deeper meaning and purpose in their lives, who long for something more, the true good news of Easter gives us life more abundant than we could possibly imagine.  And Mark’s gospel actually highlights this good news exceptionally well.  The tomb is empty; the young man says to the women: Christ has been raised; he is not here – go and find him in Galilee, and tell everyone what he has done.  But then the women flee in terror and don’t tell anyone anything.

Now, obviously, we know that that’s not really the end of the story.  If it were true that they didn’t tell anyone, we wouldn’t have this gospel account to read or even have any idea that we should be celebrating Easter!  But what Mark does by telling the story this way is that he leaves those words hanging in the air, unfulfilled: go and find Jesus, and tell everyone the good news.  It seems that he is telling us, the reader, that this is our call now – to go and tell.  Christ has been raised – and we’re not supposed to hang around here in the empty tomb, waiting for him to come back.  We are called to go – to go out into the world and look for him, in Galilee, in the faces of our neighbors, in all the places of this world most in need of love.  And we are called to tell the wonderful good news that we have received – the unbelievably good news of life and love and hope that this world is desperately hungry to hear.  That is good news indeed.

It is disappointing that so many of the parts of Easter we enjoy have been stripped away this year.  But those things are such a small part of what Easter truly is.  Because even without those things, we are still left with the real, true, gospel good news:  Christ is risen from the dead.  Death has forever lost its sting.  Love has won.

So let us rejoice and be glad, my friends, because this indeed is the day that the Lord has made.

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