The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
April 21, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
Like many of you, I spend far too much of my life on my phone. I’m part of a group text message string that includes about 10 of my friends, most of whom are not religious. Beyond scheduling happy hours and birthday celebrations, we generally use this medium for snarky memes or silly jokes to make each other laugh. A couple of years ago, my phone buzzed on Easter Sunday, and when I looked down, it said, “Happy Zombie Jesus Day!” One of the other persons on the text string texted me separately, concerned that I might be offended. Of course, the friend who sent the silly message knew I wouldn’t be offended, not because I believe Jesus is a Zombie, but because he and I have had long talks about what Christians believe about Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, and that ultimately, he can’t bring himself to believe that a human being could rise from the dead.
I mean, I get it. Generally, people don’t rise from the dead.
But here we are. It’s Easter Sunday, and we’re here celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, like we do every year. And like every other Easter Sunday, we hear about Jesus’s resurrection from several different Scripture lessons, from different authors with different perspectives.
From John’s gospel, we hear of Mary Magdelene’s utter despair upon finding the empty tomb. “What happened? Did someone steal my Lord’s body,” she may have asked herself. Her despair is turned to joy upon seeing her risen Lord. She initially thought he was the gardener, meaning she recognized him as a living, breathing human being with a real body that can be touched.
In the epistle lesson, Paul connects Christ’s resurrection theologically with Adam, the first human being. He says, “But in fact Christ has been raised form the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
And in the reading from Acts, we hear the apostle Peter, the disciple whom Jesus loved, testify to what he saw. He said, “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” It’s no accident that Peter emphasizes the fact that he’s giving an eyewitness account, and it’s also no accident that he points out that Jesus ate and drank with his disciples after he rose from the dead. Neither spirits nor zombies eat and drink. Peter was emphasizing the historicity and the physicality of Jesus’ resurrected body.
Often, we tell ourselves that we no longer believe in such legends because we know better, because everything we have learned about the world has taught is that such stories cannot be true, and because we are educated and sophisticated people who will not be manipulated by tales that the church uses to get us to do as we are told. Often, we no longer buy into such foolishness. But it might also be true that we no longer pay attention to such things because we have stopped believing that the resurrection of Jesus at Easter has much impact on our lives. We have lost track of the meaning of the Resurrection. And this means that we have also given up on the idea that God could protect and save his people; that he is leading us to salvation; and that He who rose from the dead is our hope that tomorrow will be different from all our yesterdays.
Peter’s proclaims the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection simply yet powerfully: God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized by John the Baptist. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed. He was put to death on that awful tree, but God raised him on the third day. Everyone who believes in him is forgiven of sin.
But before Peter says all of this, he realizes something new about the God he’d been serving: God does not show partiality or favor. Rather, God offers salvation and healing to all people. In Peter’s understanding, Jesus’s message had only been for the Jews. But now he’s realized that God loves everyone - even those who aren’t Jewish – unconditionally and extravagantly. For Peter, this was more than just a nice theological idea that made him feel good. God’s impartiality forced him to actively change how he lived his life. He sought out the Gentiles, even though it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. He actively sought peace with them.
And that is the focus of Peter’s message: “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ.” This peace that Jesus brings to humanity is an active, reconciling kind of peace. Through his death on the cross, Jesus restored peace between God and humanity. And this peace between God and mankind makes possible peace between human beings.
Oh, how our world today needs this peace! The polarization of our society seems to grow and grow. Republican vs. Democrat, Protestant vs. Catholic, rich vs. poor, white vs. black, and so on. I have a friend who has not spoken to his parents since the last presidential election, for he and they cannot stand to be in the same room as one another. Friends, Jesus’s resurrection from the dead has the power to bring peace between divided peoples. His unconditional love is not only for you, but for you and you and you, and even me. His love is so great that it cannot be contained by political or religious or socio-economic boundaries. Whatever group of people you dislike the most…God loves them just as much as he loves you.
On Easter Day, we are reminded of the historicity of Jesus’s physical resurrection from the dead. He wasn’t an undead, reanimated corpse – he wasn’t a zombie – his actual body was raised from the dead. As we will sing after communion, “Had Christ, that once was slain, never burst his three-day prison, our faith had been in vain.”
Let us rejoice, friends, for our faith is not in vain. For Christ is risen, making peace between God and humanity, and extending love and forgiveness to anyone who will receive it. Anyone, for God shows no partiality or favor. No matter how unworthy you may feel, no matter the awful things you’ve done in your life, no matter, God loves you.
Let us be renewed and refreshed this morning with the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let us leave this place believing that He who rose from the dead is our hope that tomorrow will be different from all our yesterdays. For by his glorious resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ ushered in the peace that passes all understanding. Peace for our souls, peace among divided peoples, and peace for the world. Amen.
 Adapted from a sermon preached by Fr. Sean Mullin, rector of St. Mark’s, Philadelphia. http://www.saintmarksphiladelphia.org/sermons/2019/4/19/the-sparrow-the-crown-amp-the-thorns
 Acts 10:36, NIV.
 Hymn 192, Hymnal 1982, “This Joyful Eastertide.”