Der Vasken’s Sermon on April 17, 2022

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, the Saturday Evening Post ran a cartoon showing a man about to be rescued after he had spent a long time shipwrecked on a tiny deserted island. The sailor in charge of the rescue team stepped on to the beach and handed the man a stack of newspapers. “Compliments of the Captain,” the sailor said. “The Captain would like you to glance at the headlines to see if you would still want to be rescued!”

I thought this story was appropriate for today because of what took place last Tuesday morning on a subway in New York City and what’s taking place today in Europe. Sometimes the headlines do scare us. Sometimes we feel that evil is winning but then along comes Easter. Easter reminds us that there is no tomb deep enough, no stone heavy enough and no evil strong enough to keep Christ in the Tomb. Jesus has risen from the dead. The power of death has been destroyed and we have much to celebrate.

The truth is Easter is a day of faith, hope and love. Easter is the day when all the faith-filled and hope-filled Christians proclaim to the world that the Tomb is empty. Jesus Christ is not dead. The Cross did not destroy Him. He is alive. Because He lives, evil and death, pain and suffering, sin and sadness no longer have the last word in this life or in this world. Easter is the day when love wins—not hate, not death, not emptiness, not loss but love. Love wins. So today is a gathering of Easter love. It is the day of Easter faith.

Back in the day, the religious leaders thought that Jesus was someone who didn’t understand faith and that He was senseless and foolish. They called His ideas extreme and dangerous. When He was put to death, I think they were relieved. They thought the Crucifixion exposed Him as a phony. They thought that His idea that the Last will be First and the First will be Last was ludicrous. They thought that His teaching that everyone was equal in the eyes of God was nonsense.

They knew that Jesus had been popular but they thought all of that would come to an end on the Cross. That is what the cross was for after all. It was there to get rid of those who thought they knew better, better than the religious elite, better than Caesar, better than Rome. But you and I are here this morning because we believe that the Cross is not final. There is another side to the Cross. It is the Resurrection side and that is what Easter is all about.

By living on the Resurrection side of the Cross, we hold on to the promise that the Kingdom of God is real. We will always face challenges and struggles, subway shootings and fatal illnesses, evil acts and unjustified wars, but our spirits will be strengthened by the presence of the Risen Christ. This is the Good News of Easter.

When we live on the Resurrection side of the Cross, our illnesses don’t seem so final. Our fears seem to fade and our grief over those we lost is somehow lessened. On the Resurrection side of the Cross stand the people of hope because every time we bring hope into a situation, every time we bring joy where there is sadness, every time we forgive someone, every time we listen to someone who is alone, every time we speak the truth and every time we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, we point to the Empty Tomb and say, “He is Risen!”

The question this Easter morning is on which side of the Cross do you stand? When you see the Cross of Jesus Christ, do you see it as an instrument of death or do you see it as a reminder of triumph over evil? Is the Tomb open and empty or you or is it sealed tight?

I know that having Easter faith is hard because it seems like we live in a “Good Friday World” when we can’t listen to the news without hearing about death and destruction and dishonesty and greed and our own personal lives have their own struggles and pains as well. But as people who come from generations of ancestors, who were committed to this faith, we need to believe that this “Good Friday World,” doesn’t have the last word. There is a love that cannot be defeated. The same love that rolled away the stone and raised Jesus from the dead promises to raise all of us as well.

So on this Easter Sunday, let’s embrace that love all the more and help carry it out of the Tomb and into the world in which we live.

I will end with this thought. Several years ago, Newsweek Magazine published a letter from the Department of Social Services in South Carolina and in wonderful bureaucratic tradition, it was a letter to a dead person. It reads as follows: “Your food stamps will be stopped effective immediately because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. However, should your situation change, you may re-apply at any time.”

Today, Easter Sunday proclaims that our situation has changed and Christ has changed it. On the Resurrection side of the Cross our hopeless world becomes hope-filled. Love has conquered death. The Tomb is empty and our situation has changed because the Lord has risen. May you all have a very blessed and happy Easter with your families. I look forward to spending time with you on the Hollisian Plaza for some refreshments.

Amen.

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