Introit: (Ps. 139) I am risen, and am still with thee, alleluia: thou hast laid thine hand upon me, alleluia: thy knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me, alleluia, alleluia.  Ps. O Lord, thou hast searched me out, and known me: thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine uprising.  Glory be … I am risen …

Collect: Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and here is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: Who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.  (Isaiah 45.18-25)

Gradual: (Ps. 118) This is the Day which the Lord hath made: we will be joyful and glad in it.  V. O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever.

Epistle: Brethren: Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (I Corinthians 5.6-8)

Alleluia, alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Alleluia.

Christians, to the Paschal Victim 
offer your thankful praises!

A Lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless, 
reconcileth sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended 
in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.

Speak Mary, declaring 
what thou sawest wayfaring:

“The Tomb of Christ, who is living. 
The glory of Jesu’s Resurrection;

Bright Angels attesting, 
the shroud and napkin resting.

Yea, Christ my hope is arisen:
To Galilee he goes before you.”

Happy they who hear the witness, 
Mary’s word believing 
above the tales of doubt and deceiving.

Christ indeed from death is risen, 
our new life obtaining. 
Have mercy, Victor King, ever reigning!

The Holy Gospel: At that time: When the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint the body of Jesus. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.  (St Mark 16.1-7)

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“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” (St John 12.24)

On Easter morning, preachers often feel compelled to try to mount some sort of defence or explanation of the resurrection, or to attempt to prove it through convincing argument.  But Easter is not so much a time for explanation as for proclamation.  It is a time to meet the One who changes everything.  “I am risen, and am still with thee, alleluia.”  The central question of Easter is not “What happened to Jesus way back then?” but rather “Where is Jesus now—for us?”  The question, then, is not “How?” but “When?”  Easter is not a matter of our questioning the resurrection, but of allowing the resurrection to question us.  Who are we now, and what must we become, in the light of the risen Christ?  Our mission is to embrace the Easter experience and consent to its transformative power.

Easter is sometimes mistaken for a commemorative anniversary of a past event, but the resurrection, although breaking into history on a specific temporal occasion, is not confined to the past.  Easter belongs to all times and all seasons.  Jesus is alive now, still manifesting Himself as a powerful transformative presence in a world all too fraught with absences.  The story of the risen Christ is not finished; Easter is not something we remember as a past event, but something we live and breathe, not just once a year, but each and every day of our lives.  The resurrection is more than just a theological notion we talk about or believe theoretically.  It is something we become, something we “prove” in the way we live.  Rowan Williams describes it this way:

The believer’s life is a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus: he or she demonstrates that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the never-failing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment and enlargement—a pattern, a dance, intelligible as a pattern only when its pivot and heart become manifest. The believer shows Jesus as the centre of his or her life.

The “proof” of the resurrection comes through us.  Unlike in Western art, in Orthodox iconography of the resurrection (as in the image above), Jesus is never standing alone by Himself.  He is always depicted as taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs.  Christ’s hand snatching us from death is a vivid image, and George Her­bert, the 17th-century priest and poet, em­ploys it artfully in several of his works.  In his poem “Easter,” for instance, he writes:

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise

Without delayes,

Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise

With him mayst rise . . .

But those things that are killing us exert a powerful gravity, and we flag under the weight of our despair, resisting the hand that draws us upward.  Nevertheless, Christ persists.  Therefore, “Arise, sad heart,” says Herbert in “The Dawning”:

Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,

Christ’s resurrection thine may be;

Do not by hanging down break from the hand,

Which as it riseth, raiseth thee.

Do not by hanging down break from His hand.  Christ came to save us from our baser selves.  That is the gift—and the challenge—of the resurrection, and it applies to our common life as well as to our private lives.  The resurrection is about the healing and restoration of the wounded and severed relationships between God and humanity and, ultimately, all of creation.  Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras expresses it in cosmic terms: “The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.”

Sceptics look at the resurrection as a superstition of gullible and archaic people.  But the women at the tomb, the disciples, and many others, did what most modern sceptics will not do: they looked at the evidence, which was beyond their reason or understanding, and were honest enough to be challenged by it, allowing the evidence to bring them to the conclusion that Jesus indeed rose again from the dead.  Sceptics of our day come up with all kinds of alternative theories, but none of them stands up to careful scrutiny.  Some claim that Mark and the other Gospel writers knew they were writing a myth.  But all the evidence says otherwise.  For example, in today’s Gospel, Mark makes sure to name the first eyewitnesses—three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.  It is even more interesting to note that Mark would not have chosen women if he had really wanted to convince people, since in ancient cultures the testimony of women was not accepted as legally reliable.  Yet, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, ignoring the biases of their world, all report that three women were the first eyewitnesses.  They simply present what they have seen and heard and experienced, and let it speak for itself.

The women had come sorrowfully to anoint a dead body.  They expect a heavy stone, a smelly tomb, and a corpse.  Instead they find an open door, an empty tomb, and an angel with a divine message: “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is risen; he is not here… But go, tell his disciples—and Peter—that he goeth before you into Galilee. There shall ye see him.”  Then, Mark continues, the women were astonished, and departed trembling and afraid.  This experience was so shocking and unbelievable that it scared the daylights out of them.

Fear is probably the last emotion we would associate with Easter Day.  But then, maybe we ought to from time to time.  Think about it: If Jesus is risen from the dead, this means He has done the impossible, and defeated the great equalizer—death.  But more importantly, it means He is alive right now.  It means that He is with us always, even to the end of the world.  It means that everything He said about Himself is true.  He is God in the flesh.  He is Lord of heaven and earth.  He is the Paschal Lamb, the sacrificial Victim who accepted our sin and death in order to put an end to them both once for all in His body upon the Cross.  And He will come again in power and glory to judge the world, just as He said!  If this is true, it should cause us to “tremble, tremble, tremble.”  The man who died on Good Friday is actually GOD.  God became one of us in order to do for us what we could never do for ourselves!  He has overcome sin, death, and the grave, as well as everything else that afflicts us day by day—pain, sorrow, guilt, loneliness, despair—all have been taken into Himself and overcome by the power of His resurrection.

Up until this moment, throughout all of human history, death has been an executioner, but now that Christ is risen from the dead, death is only a gardener.  Jesus, the grain of wheat, has fallen into the earth and died, and now has sprung forth with an unimaginable abundance of fruit.  His resurrection bears with it the fruit of all the resurrections of every righteous soul who has ever lived and believed in Him, as the Icon of the Resurrection shows, from Adam and Eve onwards, to our present day, and beyond.

We are challenged by the resurrection.The Gospel closes seemingly asking us, What will we now do with the story?  Will we tell and live the resurrection story, or will we just go back to our homes paralyzed in fear.  The resurrection is not passive, just waiting to be believed; it requires a response from us.  Ultimately, what we believe about Jesus must change what we believe about ourselves and the world around us.  All is given a new perspective by the resurrection.  Jesus has given us a mission.  We can still go home, shut the doors, and act as if nothing happened.  Perhaps that is what we want to do, but the resurrection simply will not allow us to carry on with our lives in a business-as-usual fashion.  And if we find Christ’s teachings challenging, they become ever more so when we realise that they are issued by the resurrected Jesus.  In Revelation, it is from this very position—the resurrected Lord—that Jesus speaks to the seven churches, commanding them to turn away from idolatry and mediocrity, abandoning those things that pull our love away from Him, and to embrace suffering and anticipate the re-creation of the world through Him.  Jesus says all this after announcing Himself: “Fear not. I am the First and the Last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, amen; and I have the keys of hell and death.” (Rev 1.17-18)  The resurrected Jesus will not be satisfied with lukewarm faith and lacklustre devotion.  He will not be followed half-heartedly from a distance.  He demands our all—all that we have, and all that we are, and He demands it from the position of being the Lord, the Risen One, and yet, as one who is present and who works within us and through us to accomplish His mission.  St Paul prays that the Ephesians would become aware that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead works within them and within us.  We must learn to live in that place of awareness, not just of Christ’s resurrection, but of our own.  We live in the resurrection now.  The new world made possible by Our Lord’s defeat of death and His power to re-create the world is even now actively at work in us, changing us, building His Kingdom within us, and calling us to help Him restore the world.  He bids us come and live in the resurrection now, to believe it, to understand ourselves anew through it, and to take up the mission upon which it sends us, with the power of the same risen Christ working those things into reality within us.  That is our version of the resurrection story.  This is how we prove Christ’s resurrection.

Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;

                                    Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth;

Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns:

                                    Thy Saviour comes, and with him mirth:

                                                                        Awake, awake;

And with a thankfull heart his comforts take.

                                    But thou dost still lament, and pine, and crie;

                                    And feel his death, but not his victorie.

Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,

                                    Christs resurrection thine may be:

Do not by hanging down break from the hand,

                                    Which as it riseth, raiseth thee:

                                                                        Arise, Arise;

And with his buriall-linen drie thine eyes:

                                    Christ left his grave-clothes, that we might, when grief

                                    Draws tears, or bloud, not want an handkerchief.

“The Dawning” – George Herbert

Rather than argue the evidence for the resurrection, our primary task is to become that evidence. The resurrection means that anything life can throw at us can never be the end of us.  Loneliness cannot end us, for we have the constant presence of Christ with us, as well as the fellowship of all the Saints in heaven.  Sickness cannot end us, for we have the promise of a fully restored and resurrected body that will live forever.  Even death itself cannot have the last word, for Christ has trampled death by death, bestowing life even on those in the tombs.  Death is not the executioner, but the gardener at best.  We have been planted into the ground, buried with Christ in Baptism, and raised with Him in His resurrection—we are the spoils of Christ’s great victory; we are the seeds of His planting.  All that lies ahead is fruitfulness. May the whole world one day see and know the glory and power of our risen Lord.

“… But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Χριστός ἀνέστη!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Collect: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the resurrection from the dead of thine only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we who celebrate this Paschal feast may die daily unto sin, and live with him evermore in the glory of his endless life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.  (Hebr 13.20-21)

And may almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, bless you and keep you. Amen.

—Father Kevin+