Easter Day 2009: What’s the big deal?


Preaching Why is this day such a big deal? Because Jesus’ came back from the dead? Because his tomb was empty?

Other people have cheated death. Some of them – like Elijah – and (according to many) the Virgin Mary – managed to avoid dying at all.

That’s not it apparently.

At least not if you read the text carefully.

It's reasonable to expect that the women at the tomb on Easter Morning were present with Jesus in Bethany the week before when Lazarus was raised.

Even if they weren't present, surely they must have heard all about it from those who were there.

There’s something else going on here.

Why were they afraid?

They'd been hanging around with Jesus all this while, you'd think they were used to miracles and unusual events.
Jesus raised people from the dead during his earthly ministry. Remember the daughter of the Synagogue president? Remember the son of the Widow of Nain?

Even the disciples themselves (after Easter had happened) managed to raise a few people from the dead by the power of Jesus' name.

The bible doesn't make a big deal about those miracles.

Certainly not the way that gospel authors do about Jesus' turnabout that we’re focusing on today.
But, this is different, at least apparently, because of that difference what ever it was, those women were afraid.

They were literally filled with fear, with awe.

There's something about this particular event that is different from all the other events like it in the biblical witness and the traditions of the people of Israel.

Now normally we point out that Jesus was resurrected.

This isn't a resuscitation.
Lazarus was resuscitated and eventually Lazarus died a second time.

So did the widow of Nain's son, and the little girl and all the others (with apparently the exception of Elijah and the Mary the mother of Jesus.)

Jesus will never die again.

Having died once, he lives now for ever.

But even that doesn't explain why WE make such a big deal about this.

Yay for him and all but…
We don't have a big festival for Lazarus.

We don't have a big festival for the Widow of Nain's anonymous son.

(Some denominations make a big deal about Mary, but we've never done that in the Episcopal Church, at least not consistently.)

So what is it about Jesus and this day that's such a big deal?

(One) it's not a big deal because Jesus was able to cheat death.
(Two) it's not a big deal just because Jesus will never die again.

If that were all it was, bully for him.

We're acting like this has something to do with us.

It is a big deal.

It is a big deal not so much because of what happened, but because of who Jesus is.

It's not enough to simply say Jesus is God incarnate or more specifically the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate.

A God who comes back to life is hardly unique to Christian thought.

Osiris does the that. So too, in a fashion, even does Prosephene.

Mythology is full of accounts of springtime festivals of God's who die and are reborn – probably as part of common fertility rites attempting the mysterious experience of Spring and the rebirth of Nature that its coming brings.

What we're talking about is different. Because while Jesus is God, he's more (so to speak).

Jesus is God and Man.

Both together at the same time.

Fully God. Fully Man.
Together but not commingled.

It's not easy to understand, and frankly it took the Church more than 300 years to work out some of the details – which is what the Nicene Creed represents. But…

Jesus is the bridge who connects what it is to be human to what it is to be divine. He is the hinge which binds OUR humanity to GOD.

OUR humanity to GOD.

To fully explain what this means I would have to take about a month of classes and explain the underlying philosophical and epistemological concepts of the writers of the New Testament.

They were Platonists.

If you know what that means, great.
If you don't, don't worry.

Bishop Smith was very clear with me that I had to avoid giving a lecture on neo-platonic thought in the first century this morning.

And, being the ever obedient Cathedral Dean that I am, I am doing as directed. (whisper: Check out the Encyclopedia if you really want to know more.)

Suffice it to say that Jesus is the true image of what it means to be a human being.

The story of Adam and Eve in the garden explains to us that the image that God created us to have somehow got distorted along the way.

We're not sure how, and the full implications of that distortion are hard to explain, but imagine God created us to be vehicles, cars if you will, that would travel ever onward to full, loving, eternal communion with God.

Soon after we started rolling off the assembly line something happened and all the models started appearing with bent axles.
Those busted axles meant that we couldn't roll in the straight line toward God as we were supposed to have done.

I think we sometimes downplay how bad the situation was and is.

I mean, look at Peter. He wanted to be faithful to Christ. He knew Christ. Literally.

He even had Christ wash his feet.

And yet, before the dawn at the end of that night, even though Peter had loudly promised how faithful to Jesus he was going to be, Peter managed to deny his master three times before the sun rose.

We know the good we want to do, but we can not do it.

Jesus, the great mechanic, fixed that.

He fixed it by somehow swapping out the bent axle with a new one.

One that lets us steer the way were supposed to be able to steer.

And he did it while we were rolling down the road.

He fixed us in "mid-flight" as it were.

He did this by dying to self and rising to new Life on Easter morning.

And since then, all the axles on all the cars made have been able to steer correctly.
Precisely what we say, actually, is that Jesus changed what it means to be human.
We were given a precious gift of life and we misused it.

God saw that the only way to repair that was to change our fundamental nature so that -with Jesus as the bridge, the hinge, the way, we have been forever bound to God.

And because God is Life, we live.

Because God is Immortal, we now are immortal.

This isn't a big day because of something that happened to Jesus.

This is a big day because of something that happened to us human beings.

We have been given back our hope.

And not in a simple or trivial way.

You know, it would have been one thing to stop making the vehicles with the bent axles, to have torn down the factory, redrawn the plans and started all over.

God did this “big deal thing” as we were careening all over the place, God did it on the fly, by placing in us a permanent and indelible link to God's very nature.
All the new axles have "Product of Heaven" stamped on them.

THAT's the wonder of it all.

We have in us something from beyond us.

Something that was alien has become a fundamental part of our nature.

Because he lives, we now live.

He gave us life again, abundant life.

Life such as we never were able to have before.

THAT's what the big deal is today.


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Father Knisley,
    Happy Easter….Thank you for Shepherding your brothers and sisters, on Twitter, through Holy Week. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”. (Proverbs 16:9)…Blessings, Pixie

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