Easter Day 2018 – April 1
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
On my first Easter as an ordained person, the Rector began his sermon by asking, “Where the hell have you people been?” I don’t exactly remember what else he said that day but I do remember noting: “I don’t think I’ll ever start an Easter sermon like that.” I guess I just did, but not for the reason you might be thinking.
We come to celebrate the great gift of the resurrection. Imagine living this hard life without some promise of hope. Imagine living life everyday thinking that there is no healing spirit which takes evil and turns it into goodness. Imagine thinking that the worst case scenario is always going to have its way. Imagine thinking we’re alone in a world spinning further and further into chaos. We gather to celebrate the great hope that Jesus Christ is for this sinful and broken world.
But as we proclaim that hope, we bring our own sense of shame and guilt. We have our regrets and personal failures. We look at the bar of our potential and we realize how short we have fallen. Sometimes that translates into such a deep sense of shame that we just cannot imagine anyone really loving us or caring for us. We measure ourselves by that potential and feel the emptiness of the gap.
Or sometimes we measure ourselves by the way we compare to others. Looking for some way to justify ourselves we look around and think that at least we’re not as bad as that guy. Either way our focus tends to be on how we are doing, how we are measuring up.
Even if I don’t ask, “Where the hell have you been?, it’s a question that’s on our minds. This great gift of the resurrection draws out our sense of unworthiness and our great judgment of others. We hear about the unconditional love of God through Christ and one of first reactions is that it doesn’t make much sense. We don’t love that way. Others don’t love us that way. We feel like we could do better. We feel like others could do better. And here we are all together. That’s an odd thing about the good news of the resurrection. We know we don’t deserve it. Or we try to convince ourselves we do by critiquing the behavior of someone else.
In the lesson from Acts, after the resurrection has begun to sink in, Peter shares his huge breakthrough: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” That makes absolutely no sense. It is such a radical proclamation that we try to tame it with some conditions. We say things like, “God offers us a gift but we have to accept it.” Or, “God gives us choices and those choices determine our lives.” We are so uncomfortable with that message of unconditional love that we jump ahead into the ethics of human behavior. But the truth remains that God shows no partiality. God loves indiscriminately and without limit. God never asks, “Where the hell have you been?” God loves those who are faithful and those who betray, those who do good and those who do evil. God doesn’t wait to see who we are and how we behave: God loves us first and then just keeps on loving us no matter what.
Over the next 50 days of the Easter Season we will read some dramatic accounts of resurrection appearances. Jesus will enter into a locked room, he will appear on the beach and ask for some fish to eat, he will reveal his wounds and invite people to touch them, he will ascend into heaven with angels around him. Those stories frankly don’t touch me nearly as much as the fact that the lives of the disciples are so dramatically changed. We will watch them go from being paralyzed in fear to boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus even when it costs them their lives. We will watch them go from being ashamed and sorrowful to feeling forgiven and empowered. We will watch them go from being self-centered and stingy to being generous and self-giving.
Judas isn’t the only one of them to betray Jesus. They all did, Peter perhaps chief among them. Jesus appears to all of them to mend their broken hearts and to say to them: “I don’t care where you went; I loved you before, I loved you during, and I love you now.”
We get stuck in asking who is doing best. God never compares us to anyone else or even to our potential. God sees us through the eyes of love and compassion. The cross is the very worst of human behavior. The resurrection is the very best of God’s love. God shows absolutely no partiality. God loved you before. God loved you during. And God loves you now. God gives us the gift of his love. We refuse it. And God continues to give the gift of his love. This day is not a judgment of our performance. It is a day that reveals who God is for all time.
And what we have to look forward to is being transformed as radically and completely as the disciples were. As this love of God has its way with us, less and less will we be filled with shame and guilt, less and less will we justify ourselves by judging others harshly. More and more will the love of God move us into his kingdom where we will be loving and kind and generous. More and more will we center our hearts on who God is as he is revealed in his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we have been. God’s love has a hold on us and it will never let go.