Easter Sunday Sermon: "Freedom!"
Easter begins in the dark, in the quiet, before roosters and dogs begin to make their noise – no light, not a sound. Three women get up in the dark and assemble the collection of spices that they had bought the evening before, as soon as the Sabbath had ended. When dawn breaks, they start to make their way to the cave where their friend’s broken corpse was placed. Three days after his execution, their spices are not going to do any good; the stench of death and decay will overpower any fragrant things they could buy. They take their spices anyway. They know that when they get to the cave it will be sealed with a massive stone to keep the stench in and the buzzards out. They go to the tomb anyway. Think of all that we could accomplish if we prepared well for a task that common sense proclaimed to be hopeless, that wise heads dismissed. Think of all that we could do if, like those women, knowing what it is right to do, we let nothing deter us!
Those faithful women get to the tomb and they find it empty. Well, not entirely. An angel in white is sitting there and he tells them that Christ has been raised, and has gone back home – home to Galilee where it all began. “He goes on ahead of you,” says the angel. “He’s waiting for you at home. Go and see him there.” Christ had been freed – raised from the dead – and Christ wasn’t still for a moment. He was on the move! Freed from the tomb, there are many things for him to do right away. It is not enough even to open heaven, to bring to humanity God’s greatest gift of life after life. There is more freedom work to be done, and it starts again in Galilee, back home, with the gathering together of his disciples and friends so that they might be commissioned to bring the Good News to all the world.
We shouldn’t be surprised, should we, that the very moment that Christ was freed from death he would continue his work to liberate others. He had set so many people free while he lived – he freed them from mental illness, driving out the demons that had gripped beautiful, beloved people, and forced them to live in a different and anguished reality. He had set people free from diseases and physical suffering, restoring them to the fullness of life and freedom from pain – hemorrhaging, withered arms, lethal fevers. He freed people from hunger, feeding thousands at a time. He freed people from sexism, like the woman at the well and the woman about to be stoned for having been caught in flagrante delicto with a man (for whom there were no apparent consequences). He freed people from their hate and prejudice again and again, teaching people to see one another not as categories worthy of their loathing or discrimination, like Samaritans and lepers, but as beautiful human beings made in the very image of God, equally beloved of God. Jesus’ earthly life was a mission of freedom – salvation from all that traps us inside a cave behind a large stone – our illnesses, the discrimination we receive from others, the prejudice we heap on others, the daily struggles that reduce our humanity, the ways in which we shape our lives to acquire possessions and accolades that do not reflect, and that distract us from, the reign of God that is evolving in our very midst. We can opt in to that reign, or we can decline.
Jesus of Nazareth has spent his life, and his eternal life, inviting us to join him in “the life that really is life.” He wants to set us free, to welcome us into the freedom that comes to those who hold fast to the Gospel, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. On this Easter morning, let us reflect together on all from which we need to be freed. Let’s begin by considering our sins. We sin not because we are bad but because we are human. We do things that contradict our integrity, harming ourselves; we do things that harm others; we do things that insult the purpose that God has for us, for others, for our societies, and for our world. We sin. As we read in our passage today from the Book of Acts, we receive “forgiveness of sins through [Christ’s] name.” My old minister, William Sloan Coffin, liked to say that Christ’s resurrection from the dead does not save us from sinning, but it saves us from the consequences of our sinning. We now receive forgiveness for our sins and an invitation to life eternal. This Easter morning, I ask you to think of this fact of our freedom from the consequences of our inevitable sinning as permission, encouragement, and mandate to live out the noblest purposes you see for your life without fear, and with courage and joy. Our sins are covered. We may live boldly as we, like the Psalmist said, “walk in our integrity.” We are not invited to sin, but to know that we may take risks as we pursue the well-being of ourselves and of others, those people we know and those whom we will never come to know but whose humanity is inextricably bound up with our own. We love the whole hurting world because all are God’s children and we are called to love them as we love ourselves. We may live with holy audacity knowing that any sin we commit we may ask forgiveness for, receive it, and be freed to move forward in grace to serve ever more boldly. The French statesman, Paul Claudel, once wrote poems to accompany organ music by Marcel Duprés on the theme of The Stations of the Cross. At those poems’ conclusion, Claudel wrote:
Now that his heart is open and his hands are pierced,
There is no cross among us on which his body will not fit,
There is no sin in us to which his wound will not correspond.
Indeed, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ encompass and relieve every kind of suffering that could come to us, every kind of sin done to us or committed by us, even most willfully. We are freed – freed to live without their consequences.
Another freedom bought for us by Christ’s resurrection is freedom from death itself. Imagine that! Yes, we all will die, as did Christ. But we will rise again, as did Christ, to a new form of existence that we cannot, as yet, comprehend, but that we know will be in a state of perfect love, grace, and justice. We are freed not only of the consequences of our sinning, but of our dying! Let’s reflect together on what that can mean for the consequences for our living! With what joy, risk, and purpose can we craft our days knowing that death is not the end? The resurrection permits us to live without fear – fear of death, certainly, but also fear of living. The resurrection permits us to love those who need and deserve our love – to love them without fear. We may love boldly those who are close to us, but also those with whom we have no connection but who need us, and need our love. We may give of ourselves endlessly knowing that doing so does not deplete us but only makes more room for God’s love and grace to be poured back into us. If we do not fear the grave, we need not fear today, now, risk, love, truth. Karl Barth once wrote, “The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse, and death, are beaten. Ultimately, they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them anymore.”
Another wise man once said, speaking of Jesus, “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” The speaker was not a Pope or a minister but Gandhi, and he was right; ransoms buy freedom, and so Christ did buy ours. It is a purchase, a gift, whose value is both limitless and eternal – our total freedom. It takes courage to live into such freedom, courage to live into the power of God’s present, into the power of all that is now possible for us. It takes courage to say YES to God and Christ, YES to the world they ask us to build right now, YES to abandoning the fears that we may not like but that yet give our lives their boundaries and even some sense of normalcy. It takes courage to say YES to redemption, salvation, when they don’t mean a life of leisure but of engaged struggle against all that is not of God. It takes courage to say YES to the freedom purchased for us by the resurrection of Christ from the dead on this beautiful Easter morning.
Let us pray and work for that courage. It can be ours, because of the resurrection. For this morning, the one whom we sent to the grave as a common criminal was raised as our redeemer by Holy Love. He has opened heaven. He has made new life possible for us in the here as in the hereafter. We are freed beings because of his gift to us. May we, in every moment, truly live as new beings, redeemed, making the whole of our lives into a testimony to the divine love and grace that is our liberation! Happy Easter! Amen.