.82 red - that was the vote. A strong consensus in the affirmative on the proposition. That was the vote of the scholars assembled two decades ago. Using established criteria they evaluated the historical basis of every saying and every action attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Scholars of history and the Biblical text, they could approach received opinion with a detached, even skeptical eye.
They would discuss each proposition brought before them and come to a consensus - or not.
What they did was vote. A red bead in the ballot box affirmed the proposition: YES. A black vote meant NO.
Sometimes they widely disagreed. Sometimes dissenters were few and consensus was strong. On this proposition one dissenter before the vote said something very similar to what Hamlet said to his friend, “There is more in heaven and earth than is contained in all your philosophy.”
It was Holy Saturday and they voted. The consensus was strong: .82 red (out of a possible 1.0).
The proposition before them was this: Jesus’ body decayed.
That is as far as that method can take you. (Holy Saturday) What you can see, what you can measure, what could be recorded with a camera or microphone if one existed at the time - that’s the kind of historical fact their criteria could evaluate.
We know there is more. We have, some of us, perhaps in this room, experienced more than that. And so the question is, what if Jesus rose from the dead? What if it’s true?
If it’s true that Christ is risen, evil has been vanquished. No longer can the powers of this world – Pilate, Temple guard, the coterie of power brokers – none of them hold sway after all. The real power is in God’s hands, the hands of a Savior.
If it’s true that Christ is risen, the gates of death have been shattered, torn from their hinges – he has walked freely through them. Beyond death there is life, new life in Christ. Baptism, the immersion into the waters of mortality and re-emergence into life, shows us that as we die to sin, we are raised to new life in Him.
If Christ is raised, life means something beyond itself. Our petty purposes and grand schemes, the bumps and slingshot wounds of daily life, the deep disappointments of tragic news and wearing sorrow, come around the compass to a new bearing: the compass-needle of our lives now points beyond ourselves; our true direction is found in Christ.
If it is true that Christ is risen, then Jesus is alive – now. You can get to know him – in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup, the anointing, baptism, prayers and peace; you can get to know him through friend and stranger: his image is all around you.
If it is true that Christ is risen, he is offering us a friendship of transformative power: both stern teacher and careful shepherd, he guides us through the painful metamorphosis of our lives into a new life of sacramental meaning and purpose.
If Christ is risen indeed, then we are right to believe in LIFE against DEATH, a revelation of life that is the opposite of the obsessive vision of death and violence so often purveyed in our worldly world, as if it were the end of the story.
If Christ is risen, then the limits are off. If Christ is risen indeed, LIFE is possible – we can do anything through the One who strengthens us.
If Christ is risen, the life of the world – politics, science, art and music, all of it – matters; it is redeemed, it is transformed, it has value and purpose and honor because God has given life value and purpose and honor through the resurrection of his Son.
If it’s true that Christ is risen, then justice is a given. It is going to happen. And how can we do less than work for justice, when God has given his own Son that we might be free?
For by raising his Son from the dead, God has given all of us new life. God sent his Son into the world – bringing his justice indeed – not to bring it condemnation but to redeem it, not to render it meaningless but to give it meaning. For God gave his Son so that who ever put his trust in Him would not perish – would not be sent down to death and shadow – but would be brought into the light and life and love and laughter and joy of the day that dawns today, the new life in Christ that we celebrate on Easter morning.
Death no longer can claim the last word; beyond death is the triumph of the Son of the living God: life everlasting, flowing as a river, in the presence of the Son of the living God.
And we are called to enter the new life in Christ now, today, as we speak, on Easter morning: Christ is alive!
And this present moment is the moment of freedom: we define ourselves as we choose life; we define ourselves as his people, children of the day. We live no longer in darkness, no longer subject to the powers of sin, but in the full light and joy of the Day of the Lord.
This is the Day that the Lord has made – the day when behold! He has made all things new – let us enter into that new day, and the work and the play and the love and the laughter, the burden of sorrow shifted onto the broad shoulders that carried the Cross, the joy of his emerging Kingdom present & effervescent in our hearts and in our lives – this is the Lord’s Day; indeed He is risen: Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
Easter Day Year A: Acts 10:34-43. Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24. Matthew 28:1-10.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 592-3
John Pritchard, Living Easter Through the Year (SPCK, 2005) p. 33-36.