An Easter Sunday Sermon
preached on April 21, 2019
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
“He is risen!” I said this morning to my husband, Andy, at 5 am.
“Shut up,” Andy said.
You’re supposed to say “he is risen indeed.”
“Shut up," Andy said.
The women were the first to proclaim the resurrection. The men didn’t believe them.
“You’re the pastor of this church?!” someone who attended a funeral I led said to me once. “But you’re a cute chick!”
“You’re my first woman priest,” another says. “You did pretty good, considering.”
“You don’t LOOK like a preacher,” another says.
“Thank you,” I say. (I mean, what else does one say? I feel truly lucky that I don’t have a beard. Yet.)
Folks tell me in one way or another all the time that “chicks” don’t belong leading Christ’s church. That’s the unfortunate message the church has given its flock for millennia.
Remember, the church is not God.
The message given by the Church to and about women in general over the years has been an abomination, in fact. If the Church were Christian, every corner of it would ordain women pastors, preachers, teachers and priests. If the Church were Christian, it would LISTEN TO WOMEN.
Because women were the first witnesses to the resurrection, and the first commissioned to preach the Gospel.
Perhaps that’s because they stuck around to witness the pain of the crucifixion.
According to all of the Gospel accounts, the women were the ones to stand unflinchingly by the cross while the other disciples ran away, denying and betraying their Lord. You can’t blame the disciples, really. Stuff was getting REAL and they believed themselves to be powerless against the might of the Roman empire. They were rightfully afraid.
I read somewhere once that FEAR is an acronym for Face Everything And Rise.
The women were the ones who stayed to face everything. They were the ones, who in the midst of their terror and grieving, bore witness to the death of the One they loved. Even Mary, Mother of Jesus stood at the foot of the cross…her body, her blood, her only son, crucified before her eyes.
It was not easy, but the women knew that together they could do hard things… Even watch, helpless, as their friend; their teacher; their rabbouni; their God; bled out, struggled to breathe, died in front of their eyes— along with all of their dreams.
The women didn’t just stay to watch him breathe his last. The Gospel accounts say they accompanied his lifeless body to the tomb.
Even then they didn’t leave. They came back to the hastily buried body the next day early in the morning while it was still dark to anoint the body with spices.
Because the women faced everything and rose, they were the first to see that he was no longer in the grave where they laid him.
Early in the morning, they approach the tomb, trembling. A stone was rolled away. Inside there were grave cloths, but no body.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Two men, transfigured in dazzling clothes ask. “He is not here. He is risen. Remember? He told you this would happen.”
The scripture says the three women are terrified…but they rise. Yes, they remembered. Yes, they believed. So they ran to tell the others.
Shaking, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, mother of James ran back to the city to find the apostles. They proclaimed, breathless:
“He is not there! He is risen!”
The men didn’t believe them.
But the women knew what they saw. They stayed at the cross, so they witnessed. They remembered, so they believed. They believed, so they proclaimed.
He is risen!
Our work as the church is to be like the women in the crucifixion and resurrection accounts of the Gospels: to accompany one another to the cross, to journey to the tomb where the lifeless are laid, to bear witness to the resurrection.
To witness, to remember, to believe, and to proclaim.
Too often, with a little bit of embarrassment, we make the mistake of marking this day as if this is a historical, even fictional, event that we are remembering together. The product of some ancient hallucination.
But beloved, we don’t sing Jesus Christ “has” risen today, we say Jesus Christ IS risen today.
The resurrection is not a moment in history. Jesus is not over. Jesus is now. He is not a “has been,” he IS an “is” and a “was” an “all that will be,” and an “always will be.” He is the risen Lord: the Love of God that cannot be killed or swept away.
AND HE COMES BACK IN THE MIDST OF ALL THAT IS DEAD TO PROCLAIM LIFE! Love has won. LOVE IS WON.
Why do we need this message on this day, and every day?
Far too many of us die before our bodies have died.
What’s that horror movie where the creepy girl says, “I see dead people?”
I see dead people who aren’t yet dead. Everywhere I go. Death before death.
People who are numb. Who believe themselves to be alone, and act like it. Who are too afraid to love because of what they might lose.
And it’s not just people who are going through the motions of living a life.
We watch death on the news every day. And not just on the streets of Chicago, or at the mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand, or in the war-torn streets of Syria...we see death in the division of this country.
We see death in the dehumanization of God-imaged people. We see death where walls are built instead of bridges. We see death in the mindless consumerism that so often takes the place of building meaningful, life-giving relationships. We see death in our addictions that keep us numb so that we don’t have to feel our emotions. We see death in the internet comment sections, and in the words of the pundits demonizing the other side as if there are sides in Love’s kingdom.
We are rotting from the inside out.
But there is life before death, and life after death.
In Orthodox iconography of the resurrection, Jesus is never alone. He is always depicted taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs. As the song goes, “made like him, like him we rise. Alleluia!”
Many of us are alive today because someone reached out their hand to pull us out of the grave. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, a parent, a pastor, a therapist, a doctor, a lover, an AA sponsor...Someone held out their hand and helped us rise up out of the darkness we found ourselves in. Someone stayed at the cross with us; bore witness to our pain. Someone who didn’t stop loving us, even at our most unlovable. Who didn’t turn away when the going got hard, or when the rot began to smell.
That person reminded us somehow that Love rises up, and rises us up.
So believe it. Why do you keep looking for the living among the dead? He’s not sealed away in a tomb. Christ is right here. Christ is right now. He is risen indeed.
So, Beloved, be an Easter people. Face Everything And Rise.
Witness to the suffering of the world without flinching. Don’t turn away.
Remember you are impossibly, extravagantly beloved by God, and you are to love one another as God loves you.
Believe that God’s future belongs to all times and all seasons. To believe in God, we must believe in US. For we are glorious.
Proclaim heaven is here on earth! (ooo baby do you know what that’s worth?) Preach that Gospel. If necessary, use words.
Jesus is not over. His story is not over. You are his story. Made like him, like him we rise.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.