Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Homily

Easter, of course, is a time when even those who do not think of themselves as particularly religious feel an urge to connect with spiritual roots—if not their own spiritual roots, strictly speaking, then the spiritual roots of a spouse or a parent or grandparent, or the roots of the larger, still somewhat Christian, western culture. There are a variety of ways by which we acquire faith, by which we put down spiritual roots. Faith can be passed along through a family member, a friend, or even a chance encounter with a stranger.

And there are different levels of faith. There is the naive and trusting faith of a young child. There is the skeptical and questioning faith of a teenager or young adult. Some have a practical sort of faith, demonstrated by concrete and disciplined acts of devotion or service. Others have a more mystical kind of faith, with spiritual flights of fancy and ecstatic experiences.

Whatever our style of faith or stage of development, it is possible to persist for years, maybe even a lifetime, in a faith that is maturing and growing—that is, in a healthy way, changing— but very much untested. We can feel secure in such a faith, and even be in a position of spiritual and religious leadership. It feels authentic, because it’s connected with our experience. It gives us a sense that “God is in his heaven and all well.”

But often—dare I even say “usually” or “inevitably”?—such a faith is tested in a new and unanticipated way. Something happens—or, perhaps, fails to happen. Health fails, a loved one is lost, a romance goes sour, a marriage fades, a career crashes or never gets off the ground in the first place, a child disappoints and embarrasses, addiction and codependency dominate. Crisis and adversity can test faith, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Or it may just slowly shrivel up due to malnutrition. Faith that is untried, untested, is susceptible to atrophy, to losing its tone, and eventually becoming a mere shell, a husk, an outward appearance with no substance.

Either way, faith that is compromised, whether by adversity or by complacency, is faith that is easily jettisoned. It is easily tossed aside because it seems to take up more space than it’s worth. Many sailing vessels perform quite well in a light breeze and calm seas, but when the wind picks up and the water gets rough, it’s easy for them to wander off and end up smashed on the rocks or at the bottom of the ocean. In a storm, a boat needs an anchor, a lifeline to something solid, something reliable. A human spirit, a human soul, when facing the storm of adversity, or malnourishment and atrophy, also needs an anchor.

My friends, the good news that I announce to you, the gospel that I proclaim to you, on this Easter feast in the Year of Our Lord, 2012, is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the anchor that secures our faith in the storm of doubt. The resurrection is a fact that is blessedly independent of how I feel or what I do at any given moment. When I am bouncy and joyful, Christ is risen from the dead. When I am forlorn and depressed, Christ is still risen from the dead. When I am laid low by illness, Christ is risen from the dead, and when I recover from the illness, Christ is risen from the dead. When I inflict harm on others, Christ is risen from the dead, and when I suffer the consequences of that behavior, or escape those consequences through the miracle of grace and forgiveness, Christ is risen from the dead. When I am betrayed or disappointed by someone I love, Christ is risen from the dead, and when that same person thrills and delights me, Christ is risen from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is simply a fact.

Of course, it is not a universally acknowledged fact, but, as history goes, it is at least as credible as any other event from which we are separated by 2000 years, and more credible than many occurrences that are simply taken for granted. When the women arrived at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body at dawn on the first day of the week, the tomb was empty. Now, some have suggested that the body had been stolen. But that’s hardly plausible, given that it was guarded by soldiers who were subject to the death penalty should they fail in their duty. Others have conjectured that Jesus wasn’t really dead, but only in a deep coma, from which he was roused sometime before Easter morning. But the soldiers who took him down from the cross were apparently convinced he was dead, and even if the crucifixion didn’t actually kill him, it is hard to imagine surviving being stabbed in the side with a spear. And even if he did, he would hardly have been strong enough to move the stone that sealed the tomb.

Then there are the intangible factors, and these are actually the most compelling. The disciples were transformed from a broken and disillusioned band to a force that changed the world veritably within their lifetimes. They proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with unflagging zeal, even in the face of legal sanctions. They suffered imprisonment, torture, exile, and death for the sake of that proclamation. If they had not really seen and touched and spoken with the risen Jesus, what motivation would they have had to throw their lives away in such a spectacular fashion?

No, an honest and fair and thorough examination of the available data does not make it easy to dismiss the claim of the church that Jesus was raised from the dead. Quite the contrary, it makes a compelling case for affirming the core Christian belief that underlies our celebration of Easter. While it may not be possible to prove the resurrection according to the standards of science, virtually no fact of ancient history can meet those standards. But by the standards of modern legal practice—“preponderance of evidence” in a civil case, “beyond reasonable doubt” in a criminal case—those who profess belief in the Risen Christ need not hang their heads in any degree of shame. So, wherever we are on our walk of faith, Easter is a feast worth keeping.

But it is particularly so if we are finding ourselves tossed by the storm, by the raging seas of doubt. If we are feeling our faith susceptible to cynicism, anger, grief, fear, or just boredom, the fact of the resurrection is supremely good news. It is our anchor. It is our lifeline to the solid rock, the rock which is Christ, who will “be there” for us no matter what else happens, who is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life to those who dwell in the tombs . . . whether we like it or not!

I’ll leave you with this: If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then Easter doesn’t matter. Not at all. If Jesus is risen from the dead, then Easter is the only thing that matters.

Alleluia and Amen.

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