Old Testament: Jeremiah (31:1-6)
At that time, says the LORD,
I will be the God of all the families of Israel,
and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
the people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when
sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God.”
The Response: Psalm (118:1-2, 14-24)
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
The Epistle: Colossians (3:1-4)
Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
The Gospel: John (20:1-18)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
OK, I admit it. Like many people who have reached my stage in life, one of the parts of the newspaper that I check every morning is the obituary section. (As the old saying goes, if you don’t see your name there, that’s a good start for the day!) When I look at the obits, I am amazed at some of the photos that families include with the notices. Some days, there are quite a few of them that picture a very young man or woman, maybe 20-years-old or so; but when you glace at the article, you find that the person who died was actually 95. What’s going on here? It seems as though their family members were trying to roll back the clock to a supposedly ideal time in their loved-one’s life, and they have somehow settled on this age. To me, that is a strange approach to begin with; and, in choosing it, whoever made the decision apparently decided to disregard and to try to erase, in a way, most of their loved-one’s life: all the experiences that they had, both positive and negative, in all the years and all the stages of their life, all those people and other influences that combined to enrich their life and to make them who they were.
In contrast to that approach is the one that you can see in the image of Jesus’ resurrection as it is portrayed on the cover of today’s service bulletin. Take a close look at it, if you will. It is a photo of an icon from the Church of St. Andrew Holborn in London. In keeping with the Eastern tradition, this image of Jesus’ resurrection does not present a picture of a glowing Jesus, standing triumphantly and especially alone outside his tomb. Instead it portrays Jesus, standing on the gates of the underworld, the land of the dead, reaching out and taking the hands of Adam and Eve to raise them to a new life. The emphasis is not on Jesus alone, separated from the rest of humanity, but on the difference that Jesus’ resurrection has made in the life of all of humanity.
Notice also Adam and Eve’s faces. These are not the fresh, young faces of two people whom we could envision living in a Garden of Eden, newly formed (literally!) by the hand of God, free from the effects of everything that would have taken place in their subsequent lives. Instead, they are older, worn faces: faces that have been shaped by the years of their lives. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes them in a recent book (The Sign and the Sacrifice: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection, page 102), “Their faces are lined by suffering and experience, by guilt, by the knowledge of good and evil, scarred by life and by history.” Their faces seem far more familiar to us than the idealized images found in a lot of so-called religious art. They look much more human, much more true-to-life, much more real. Maybe they even look like the faces that we see in our mirrors; and that is probably exactly what the icon’s artist intended.
The resurrection of Jesus that we began celebrating once again last night is not about God wiping away all the challenging and difficult and sometimes painful aspects and experiences of our lives and somehow magically turning back the clock, taking us back to some sort of imagined pristine state, and remaking us as though none of that had ever happened. It’s not about God miraculously starting the whole story of humanity, or even the whole story of our individual lives, over again.
Instead, the resurrection of Jesus is about God taking us as we are today, together with all those things that have made us who we are, positive and negative, life-giving and life-negating, and raising us up to a new creation. As Rowan Williams puts it, “It’s this flesh and blood, this history, these sufferings and these failures that the risen Jesus touches and transfigures.”
The resurrection of Jesus is a radical new beginning. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that the resurrection is the only completely new thing that has ever happened since the creation of the world. It is the beginning of a new creation: of God’s work of transforming all of reality in order to make it all that God had intended it to be from the beginning.
But “new creation” in this sense does not mean that God was scrapping everything that has been, that God was abandoning this world in order to form a different world, somewhere in a place that is sometimes called “heaven.” Instead, it is about God starting with this world as it is, and with us as we are, and beginning the work of transforming it and transforming us, so that we might experience the fullness of life, so that in us and in the world in which we live, the ideal might become the real; or, to use Jesus’ term, that the reign of God might come in all its fullness.
But the wonder of that transformation, that new creation, in which we already have begun to share by our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, is that it will not be the work of God alone. Instead, God has taken us – not in some imaginary, idealized, pristine form, but just as we are now – God has taken us and made us co-creators with God and participants with Jesus in the work of making all things new.
We, who have been raised up with Christ, have been commissioned by God to do what Jesus has done. We have been sent to go out to all the Adams and Eves in the world – to those whose lives have become a burden, to those who struggle not only to find the means to live but also to find a meaning by which and for which to live – to go out to them wherever they are, and to reach out and to take them by the hand and lift them up to a new life: to one in which they have all that they need to experience a fully human life, to a life in which they share a sense of their own dignity and self-worth, to one in which they know that they are deeply loved by God and in which they experience first-hand the love of the people of God.
The resurrection of Jesus is not just a promise of a life for us beyond the grave, but a way of life for us and a commission in life for us on this side of the grave. It is a joyful proclamation that, in Jesus, God has begun the renewal of the world. And it is a call to action for us, a call to engage our lives fully in making that renewal a reality by dedicating our lives to God’s work: to the work of raising up all people so that all might come to recognize and experience, both in themselves and in others, the very image and likeness of God, in which and for which we and they were created.