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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006

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Sermon preached by
The Very Rev. N. DeLiza Spangler

April 16, 2006
Easter Sunday

I once read a story about a little girl who was playing an angel in a Christmas pageant. Throughout all the rehearsals, a doll was used for the baby Jesus. The child was unaware that the night of the pageant, the doll would be replaced by an actual baby. So on the night of the pageant, when she approached the Holy Family and saw the baby, the child shrieked with delight: “He’s real—and he’s alive.”

That may have been her Christmas proclamation, but in the end, it is our Easter proclamation. And it’s an important one—because the reality of the resurrection so long ago—that Christ was real and alive—has a direct affect on our lives here and now. For the resurrection is not only about God calling Christ out of his tomb, but calling us out of ours. It’s not only about Christ being raised to new life, but about we ourselves being raised to new life—and not only hereafter, but here and now.

There are so many things that keep us entombed, emtombed in the past rather than living in newness of life: fear, anger, hatred, dread, despair, addiction, loneliness, loss, the inability to forgive, the hurts we can’t let go of, the grief we can’t move beyond. The promise of Easter is the promise of a new life that calls us out of those tombs, that takes us out of the past into the future. Yet oddly enough, that isn’t necessarily what we want—and Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene reminds us of that.

When Magdalene finally recognizes Christ, he finds it necessary to say to her “Do not hold on to me.” Mary wants to keep Jesus right there, to ensure things will be the way they were before. She calls him “Rabbouni,” which means “teacher” the name she probably used for him during his lifetime. He now stands before her, risen from the dead—and she addresses him in the same old way. In so doing, she perhaps conveys her desire to go back to the old life, where he was her teacher and not a Risen Lord, “where everything was familiar and not frightening [and strange] like it was now.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way, p. 111)

In telling Magdalene not to hold onto him, maybe Jesus realizes that Magdalene was looking for things to be the way they were before he died. That she was looking for the old, not the new; that “she was looking for what she had lost instead of what she was being given.” (Susan Andrews, “Why Are You Weeping,” Lectionary Homiletics, 3/02, p. 36)

You and I understand Magdalene. We want things the way they used to be. We want to go back to the way things were before: before the children were grown, before our parents or spouse or child died, before the friendship ended, before everything on our body went south, before work got awful, before our faith became confused, before all those hurts and life changes that have entombed us. (For the idea of wanting things as they were before, see Id.) But just as Christ was calling Magdalene from the past into the future, so he does the same for us—because when we remain stuck in the past, we’re unable to see what God is giving us now.

This movement out of the past doesn’t mean, of course, that there haven’t been some wonderful times for which we will rightly be forever grateful. It doesn’t mean we should forget about any tragedies that have struck our lives. It doesn’t mean that we should gloss over difficult events because “Oh well—Christ is risen, so none of this really matters. We’re just being called into something new.” Of course it matters, it matters profoundly. The joy of the resurrection didn’t dispel the pain that Magdalene and the others experienced on Good Friday.

And the same is true with us. There are hurts that have changed us, losses that have devastated us. As individuals we have experienced despair and heartbreak. We have experienced the death of certain parts of our lives through the loss of jobs or relationships or health or loved ones. And as individuals our life will never be the same. Life as we knew it in the United States was lost one September day a few years ago, and as Americans, our lives will never be the same. All these things matter and they change our lives in fundamental ways. But life is not over—unless we allow ourselves to be trapped by the past—because the resurrection calls us out of a darkened tomb into the light of new life.

And that new life is possible because the resurrection we celebrate today is real. God’s power to create and heal is real. Easter is not about chocolate bunnies, baby chicks and dyed eggs. Easter isn’t even about the miracle of the dead of winter turning into the life of spring. Easter is about a God who has the power to call life out of death, a God who, in that early morning dawn of so long ago, didn’t just fill the heart of Mary Magdalene with such a warm fuzzy feeling that she figured Jesus would always live in her heart. We’re talking about a God who truly raised Jesus from the dead as evidence that he is a God of new life and love and forgiveness and grace. And if we believe God can bring life out of death, then we must also believe there’s absolutely no end to what God can do in our lives.

In C.S. Lewis’ book (now a movie) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch who rules over the magical land of Narnia deals with her enemies by turning them into stone. The courtyard outside her castle looks like a museum, with statues of both the people and the talking animals of Narnia who dared to cross her path. But when Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure, rises from the dead and takes the land of Narnia back from the witch, one of the first things he does is go to her castle courtyard. There, one by one, he breathes on the statues. The people and animals who were dead behind the stone are given new life.

On this Feast of the Resurrection we celebrate the power of a God who breathed on his Son, dead behind the stone, and gave him new life. On this Feast of the Resurrection, we celebrate the power of a God who, in resurrected glory, called Magdalene to leave behind her weeping for the old life and move into the new. On this Feast of the Resurrection, we celebrate the power of a God whose love will not allow us to sit in darkness and the shadow of death, here or hereafter. On this Feast of the Resurrection, we celebrate a God whose breath can melt the stone of our hearts and breathe life into piles of dust. All that we can celebrate on this day, all that is possible, because Christ is risen. Or, as a little Christmas angel once announced, “He’s real—and he’s alive.”

 

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2006 The Very Rev. N. DeLiza Spangler
St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Buffalo, New York
Reprinted with permission