Collect: Almighty God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:
Last summer, when I came St. Mark’s to interview with the Vestry, they took me on a tour of the church. One of the things I was most struck by was the series of Creation windows on the north side of the church: six windows in a wonderful style, expressing the six days of creation. They add a great deal of color and warmth to the church, and I appreciate the complementing contrast they offer with the other windows, especially the Tiffany windows opposite. We were all saddened a few weeks ago when news came of the artist’s death, Don Drury, at the age of 90.
Creation is not frequently the chosen theme for a series of church windows, but I think the choice in this case was an insightful one, especially because of what seems like an error: there are six creation windows, but there are seven days of creation. Where is the seventh window? The book of Genesis describes the first six days as the days God made the world; and on the seventh day, as much a part of creation as any other day, God rested. Where is the seventh window? Where is God’s rest?
I’m not sure if the artist intended it, but I have my own theory, and it begins today, on Easter Day. Today Christ has risen from the Dead. Easter Day is the conclusion, the epilogue to the previous week, during which we traced the last steps and experiences of his earthly life. Easter Day is a kind of extended coda on what came before: the whole experience of Jesus’ passion and death, the whole experience of the people of God across uncounted generations, and the whole experience of humanity from the very beginning. Easter Day is in some senses the end of that story: Jesus rises from the dead, and we know that Death, our ancient enemy, holds power over us no more.
But Easter Day is also the beginning of a whole new thing. In ancient times Sunday wasn’t the end of the weekend, but the beginning of the new week. It was a workday. And Christians met to worship in secret in the morning before they went off to the day’s tasks. For Jesus to rise from the dead on the first day of the week, with worship occurring then too, is a way of saying that in his resurrection, God is doing something entirely new.
The Church has taken that to heart, and over the course of the last twenty centuries or so, has built an unprecedented, all-pervading network of humane ethics and institutions, even as the faith spread all over the earth: all of it fired by the belief that the resurrection reveals every human being as of inestimable worth in God’s eyes, and lasting value; that not only am I forgiven, but that God is calling us all to something new, something higher, a new humanity, a restored earth, in which no one is left out or excluded from God’s healing, loving purposes, which no powers of death or hell itself can stop or defeat, and which has its proper end in the very heights of heavenly glory.
These days the narrative often takes a different tone, however. The Church, this denomination among them, has been in the throes of statistical decline. It has been difficult to connect the resurrection’s power and overwhelming mandate to the daily realities of shrinking endowments, crumbling buildings, and cultural changes that threaten the Church’s confidence in its core identity and mission.
The rest of the world is in the same boat: we all hear the news about eroding civic institutions, and we experience, every day, the increasing difficulty to understand what people On The Other Side are saying, let alone empathize or reconcile with them. Scandal and corruption strike at the heart of our ability to come together as a community, as a nation, as a world. Meanwhile, in a sardonic twist, the very scandals that threaten the integrity of our society seem to have become our favorite means of entertainment. We know all too well that the church does not stand apart from all this mess, and that we are merely one more institution among many with egg on our face.
In the midst of all this, Easter Day continues to insist, the end has come: the world as it is, as we’ve known it, is over. God has taken all of its hypocrisy and shame and borne it himself to an ignominious death. The world is over, and a new one has begun. As Christians the world we live in is a world where the innocent can get crucified, but where their innocence remains forever and death itself is revealed as passing away. As Christians the world we live in is a world where powers and authorities can be morally bankrupt, but where such bankruptcy leads only to its own demise, while the meek really do inherit the earth. As Christians the world we live in is a world where I screw up every day, and where I often can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but where mercy is personal, and where the kindness of God stoops down to touch our eyes and open them to the sunrise beaming through the darkness. As Christians the world we live in is a world where loved ones still die and loneliness still prevails; but where the Spirit of God unites us continually with all who have gone before in one communion and fellowship of abiding love.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of a new world. Our challenge — and our joy! — is to live in this world, as citizens of the new. So, while the church is certainly its own worst enemy, and the world seems bent on its own demise, you and I are in the right place. Here, today, on Easter Day, we assert unequivocally, with music and flowers and glad hymns and a big party, that Jesus is risen from the dead, and life has triumphed over the grave.
We will not see in our lifetimes the completion of God’s good purposes on earth. But here, in church, on Easter Day, we can identify with confidence just what it is that is passing away, we can name the evil and decry the wickedness, while we greet again with joy the victory of goodness and life.
So back to our Creation windows. Where is the seventh day? Where has Drury depicted the Sabbath rest of God? My own theory is that he meant for this church to be his seventh window; for all of us here to enter and to live the Sabbath rest of God, where every tear is wiped from every eye, death is no more, and we rest in joy.
My prayer for all of us on this Easter Day, is that we enjoy some glimpse, some taste, some participation in this new world that Jesus’s resurrection creates; and that as we do, we might rest, and be at peace.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.