Well, I became the pastor here at Douglas UCC in March of 2014, nine months after my mother died. She never got to see me preach a service, but I feel her presence all the time. That first Easter Sunday service that I led here at Douglas UCC seven years ago, was the first Easter without my mother, and I wasn’t sure how I would get through it without her.
Now, my mother wasn’t a reader, she didn’t knit, or do puzzles. What my mother did for fun was cut coupons. She was the Coupon Queen. She was a child of the Great Depression, and she took great joy saving money.
Well, the day before that first Easter without my mother, I was in the check-out lane of the grocery store, and an elderly woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and she said, “I notice you are buying that type of cereal. Well, I have a coupon for it.” And, as she handed me the coupon, I saw her beautiful smile, and I looked into her eyes, and (all of a sudden) I felt my mother’s presence so strongly and so powerfully. It was palpable and undeniable.
I am sure many of you watching today have similar stories to tell about feeling the presence of a loved one who has died.
I share this story as part of my Easter sermon each year, because that’s what Easter Sunday is all about. Jesus’s loved ones experienced his presence after he died. And, they came to the realization that death is an illusion. That life is eternal.
They came to see that Light of the World hadn’t been extinguished, but that it lives on.
Now, Biblical scholars and historians have no idea of the exact date that Jesus died, but the early church decided to celebrate Easter during the time of the Spring Solstice.
If you remember in December, I told you that the early church chose the date of Christmas to coincide with the Winter Solstice. These are celebrations of the Sun (S-U-N) and of the Light. Christmas is the birth of the Light, and Easter is the RE-BIRTH of the Light.
The Spring Solstice is a celebration of resurrection because what appears dead in winter is coming back to life. Martin Luther, the great theologian, monk, and Christian reformer, said: “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in Springtime.”
That’s what we’re celebrating today… that through the winters of our lives (that through our times of darkness), the life and the Light still shines. It cannot be extinguished. As it says in the beginning of John’s Gospel: “Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That’s what Easter is all about. Now, we as Progressive Christians understand that the stories of the Bible were written symbolically, and that they were meant to be understood symbolically, not literally.
Most Progressive Christians I know don’t literally believe in a talking snake, or Noah’s Ark, or that Jonah lived in a fish for three days, or that a virgin birth really happened. Yet many Progressive Christians today draw the line at the Resurrection Story. They say, “Yea, sure, all those other stories in the Bible are symbolic, but not the resurrection story. That one literally happened. Jesus physically rose from the dead. We can’t question that!”
After my Easter sermon a few years ago, one of our church members approached and said, “Pastor Sal, if Jesus didn’t physically come back to life then what are we doing here each week? Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? Isn’t that the basis of our faith?”
Well, as we heard in our Words of Integration & Guidance this morning, the earliest Gospel writers – people like Luke and Mark – didn’t write any stories of Jesus physically appearing after his death. And, Paul never once in any of his letters to the early Christians described the resurrection of Jesus as a PHYSICAL body coming back to life.
You would think that if Jesus had physically come back to life that one of the earliest Gospel writers would have written about it, right? The Gospel story we heard this morning (from John’s Gospel) was written generations after Jesus was born. And, in even that story, notice that Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus.
The man she’s talking to outside the tomb doesn’t look like Jesus. She thinks it’s the gardener. Could it be that Mary felt the presence of Jesus in that gardener like I felt the presence of my mother in the woman at the grocery store?
We say in our church’s mission statement that we are a church that is more about the questions than the answers. So, I don’t have the answer. I don’t know for sure whether or not Jesus physically rose from the dead, but what I do know for sure is that the resurrection is real.
And, the reason I know that is because I experienced it firsthand.
A man from Nazareth who died over 2,000 years ago is alive in me. I have felt his living presence in a very real and powerful way. In the silence of prayer and meditation, I have felt his love, his light, and his protection. I have felt his guidance and his wisdom.
He is alive in me, and he is alive in you. That’s what our faith is all about. That’s why we join together here every Sunday, because we have been touched and transformed by His Light.
And, that’s what I think those first Christians were trying to convey in the Resurrection stories. They were trying to convey that after Jesus died, they still felt his presence alive with them and within them.
That Presence (that Light) is called “The Christ.” And, that is why we say, “Christ is Risen.” Not Jesus. And, notice it’s PRESENT TENSE. Not, “Jesus HAS Risen” but “Christ IS Risen.”
We experience “the Risen Christ” in the PRESENT MOMENT. That’s why Scripture tells us to BE STILL AND KNOW the “I AM.”
The “I AM” (the “Christ”) existed billions of years before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. Jesus manifested the Christ Light within himself, and the purpose of Christianity is to teach us how to manifest (how to RESURRECT) the same Christ Light that is within us.
That’s what we mean as Christians when we say that we are an EASTER PEOPLE. It means we are “PEOPLE OF LIGHT.” And, when we follow the Way of Jesus (when we LIVE FULLY and LOVE WASTEFULLY), the resurrection becomes real. Very real.
Easter, then, becomes more than just a commemoration of a historical event more than 2,000 years ago. Easter takes place HERE and NOW. It’s not just about Jesus. It’s about YOU.
Jesus said, “YOU are the Light of the world,” and he said, “The Kingdom of God is within YOU.”
The Christ Light reigns within YOU, my friends, and the second coming of the Christ happens when you resurrect the Christ Light within you. That’s what Easter is all about. That’s what we’re celebrating today.
And, so, on this Easter Sunday, may you awaken more fully to the Light of the Christ within you, and may you shine that Light for all the world to see.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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