A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, Easter 2022
Luke 24:1-12: 24.1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 1
Easter has taken on new significance this year for me and my family. You helped me just two weeks ago celebrate my wife, Kelly’s, life, and her entry into her own Easter reality. This Easter, you might say, I am paying more attention to what it’s all about and what it means practically for you and me. Let’s remember beloved, Easter forces the people of God to see differently. I mean, everything. Easter is God’s ophthalmological procedure whereby we see everything anew, different, and more clearly. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Joanna along with the other women entered the tomb and were given Easter eyes1. Peter as he ran to the tomb and peered in inspecting everything, he was given Easter eyes. The other disciples locked into the basement of their home refusing to believe or even examine the women’s Story, remain stuck with their spiritual cataracts, and fail to comprehend anything differently; that Sunday morning was just another ordinary day; to them, the women’s Story was nothing but twaddle. You see, a person must personally explore the meaning of Easter on his or her own. God will honor a person’s desire to find the deep meaning of Easter with the gift of Easter Eyes. So, beloved, have you begun to look at the world through your Easter eyes? Does the resurrection make you look and see your life, death, and the world differently?
Yet, before one receives the gift of Easter eyes, he or she must go through a crisis. For the women and the others, their crisis was the death of their Master, Jesus.
You cannot see it but on my left shoulder are the two Chinese characters which depict the word crisis. One character represents risk. The second Chinese character represents opportunity. When these two characters are written together, it is translated as crisis. 3 Over the Triduum, the three days comprising this Easter weekend caused a crisis; before us then, is the reality of both risk and opportunity. What do we do with this crisis? How does it place you at risk? What are the opportunities it opens for you? What do we do with this crisis?
There was the risk the Jewish people would break out in rebellion against the empire. There was a risk on God’s part for allowing his only beloved son to be nailed to a Roman instrument of death. The religious officials were aware of the risk of having their stronghold on the Jewish faith highjacked by some backwater Rabbi from Nazareth. But Jesus, amid all the risk to his life and friends, saw an opportunity. Jesus saw the opportunity to redefine, realign, and restore humanity and the created order back to stasis – to equilibrium – where once again the peace and reign of God would thrive, not in following an exaggerated Book of Order called the Law, but in modeling the very character of God to each other and to the earth with selfless love. The Triduum, the Three Days from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter morning was a cataclysmic crisis of universal order! There was a risk but oh, look at the opportunity the empty tomb provides! We can see clearly again! We can live again in the fullness of joy and confidence that nothing can separate you and me from the longing love of God through Jesus.
Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Charlotte, Pendleton Peery, notes that “We tend to see the resurrection as the epilogue to the story of Jesus’ life and death. Through our ordered worship and well-rehearsed liturgical routines, we work our way right up to the empty tomb of Easter morning, only to walk away from the experience as if nothing has changed.”4 He’s right. We have the tendency to work our way up to Easter and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and then that’s it. Life returns to the way it was before. The chocolate eggs have been eaten and the baskets are put away until next year. Oh, my friends, we’ve got it all wrong! The Easter Story is not an epilogue to Jesus’ Story; Easter initiates an entirely new beginning of a new chapter in the Divine Story of our lives.
A former professor of mine and Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, indicates that Easter morning, the empty tomb, is the initiation of a new world order occurring right now and it highlights a way of living and dying that is strikingly different from the culture surrounding us. He says, “The new truth of Jesus…is that self-giving love is the wave of the future, and we are called to follow. The Lord of the cosmos has signed on to this alternative we see in Jesus because love is the very character of God.”5 He indicates that Easter causes you and I to stand with our feet in two different worlds: One foot stands in the world of our popular culture and the other foot stands in the inaugurating Kingdom and the world of promise. We stand with feet placed firmly in both and now, Church, we are left with the choice. Do we rest our gaze on the broken, self-seeking, bleak, and depressing world, or do we like the women, fall with our faces to the ground and remember what Jesus has taught and promised us and then run and tell those we know that everything has changed! We remind ourselves and others that Jesus in his Easter provides us our Easter, too! And we begin to live that transformed life once we fully embrace Easter as the new Story, the new way of living with God and one another. We see the world, each other, God, with Easter eyes!
Have you ever had one of those experiences whereupon you have looked at something or someone and it made such a mark in you that you cannot unsee it? One of those experiences was seeing the birth of my girls. It totally changed the way I see the world and human life. I cannot unsee the painful determination in Kelly’s face as she labored or Lauren and Kate’s faces when the doctor held them up the first time. This is what the women at the tomb experienced that morning. This is what Peter saw when he investigated the empty tomb with a pile of empty grave clothes sitting there. The women, Peter, all knew that they have seen something extraordinary and now they cannot unsee it. They may not have fully understood at the time what the empty tomb meant but its emptiness jolted them to look at their everyday life in a whole new way. It jolted them to begin looking for Jesus with their new Easter eyes. It jolted them to remember all that Jesus told them, taught them, and demonstrated to them. Does the Story, the news that the tomb is empty, still jolt us today?
In the ancient language of the New Testament, the word for ‘grave’ or ‘tomb’ and the word for ‘remember’ originate from the same root word. When one remembers, he or she is transported back to a specific time and place. A grave, a sepulcher, is a place one goes to relive the memory and preserve those moments of the person buried there. Well, our Story this morning says, “Remember what Jesus told you; there’s nothing to be seen here; He has risen, and the tomb is empty!” What does Jesus want the women, Peter, along with you and me to remember? He’s not there. He’s out loving on the people once again and he’s expecting us, Church, to be out doing the same!
He wants us to use our new Easter eyes to see those around us as walking images of God in our midst and then treat them that way. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the systems of injustice, inequality, and greed and do something about them, by addressing them, and by flipping the tables of the status quo just like Jesus did. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the light of promise, possibility, and hope the empty tomb provides. He wants us to wake up each morning with the light of love on our faces so that when the world tries to assault us with war and images of war, with sickness or death, we face them with full confidence that nothing can prevent the ways and will of God from taking place. As one scholar wrote, we are a people “That refuses to participate in the anxiety of the world, because it’s a world that imitates birds and lilies in the sure confidence that God in heaven knows our needs and supplies them.” 6
Yes, this Easter is different for me this year. My bedroom is empty, Kelly’s not there. But I expected that. I am at peace with that simply because I remembered Jesus’ promise. I see everything now through Easter eyes and I know I will see her and the risen Christ again. I just must keep remembering the power of the Easter promise.
Blessings and happiness to you this Easter Sunday and the Holy Spirit give you Easter Eyes! Amen.
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 I am indebted to my colleague and friend, Dr. Robbie Carol, for this phrase ‘Easter Eyes’. It was in the title of a sermon he preached in 1987 at the Decatur First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.
3 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22. The literal reading for the second character that we read as opportunity is ‘a change point.’
4 Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 948 (https://a.co/2jlyxm3).
5 Brueggemann, Walter. A Way other than Our Own (p. 86). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
6 Ibid, https://a.co/gpM7aqc.