A sermon preached by the Rev. Justin Clemente on Resurrection of the Lord, April 1, 2018 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD
A Spectator Sport
Gordon-Conwell professor Ryan Reeves writes of Holy Week, “I often tell students that Easter week is a spectator sport. The week is all about what Jesus did, what Jesus accomplished, what Jesus alone was capable of doing. He alone takes up the cross and dies for the sins of the world. Christians, of course, are called to imitate Jesus, to be salt and light in the world; and for the Christian, it is more than telling a story that happened long ago. Without Christ’s willingness to be our sacrifice for sins, however, we could do none of these things. The Christian life begins not with obligations, but with a person. And that man, Jesus, and his work—those are what we reflect on during Easter.
To come through Lent to the Resurrection of the Lord means to be brought back anew, to see in fresh light, the work and love of God for us and on our behalf – it is, as Reeves put it, a spectator sport, and God is at the center. This morning I want to focus in on that theme in one particular verse at the ending to Mark’s Gospel.
The Words of the Women
“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3)
The first group of Resurrection evangelists in the Gospel come not in triumph, but in mourning. As a matter fact, they don’t leave in triumph either, but in fear! By the way, this continues to be one the best arguments for the truthfulness of the Gospels. No one came to the tomb expecting to find life – they came expecting the usual – death. And, in shocking unvarnished earwitness and eyewitness accounts, the first who hear of and see Jesus are women. Their testimony was not allowed in court, but Christ forever blessed this group of women with this high dignity. Nevertheless, despite all that Christ said, they come to anoint a dead Jesus, not a risen Savior. I think we come with there with them, too. Helpless. Pressed up against the reality of death, the cruel, crushing brokenness and sinfulness of the world. We come with a longing for redemption and victory that we can’t bring about ourselves. In fact, I think we can say that in the words of the women, the longing of all God’s people across time is summed up as we hear the cry go up – who can roll away the stone? Doesn’t that question sum up the status of the world before and without Christ’s resurrection?
Personally, I think one of the most beautiful services you can take part in is the Easter Vigil service. Anglicans usually celebrate this together, though we haven’t done one yet. In that service, as the light of Christ’s resurrection rises upon us, the whole story of Scripture is read and summarized as we wait in literal darkness. We hear the longing for home restored as our first parents are exiled from the Garden.
We hear of the faith of Abraham as he offers up his son, Isaac, trusting God to provide for the sacrifice. We hear of the desperation of Israel under bondage in Egypt and then later in exile. We hear Ezekiel, as he prophesies over the valley of dry bones that only God can make live. Again and again the question I hear raised is the same as those women – can anyone break open the tomb? Can anyone conquer the grave? Can anyone the permanency of death?
Is He Worthy?
Revelation 5 is a glimpse of heavenly worship. It also gives us a similar picture of something sealed over history, over the earth, over our lives. In fact, the world’s destiny is bound so tight, that what is sealed – a scroll (a book, as we would say) – is bound with seven seals, and no created person can open it – angel or man alike. Here, breaking the seal representing liberating the world from the consequences of sin, death, and evil.
John says, “2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
At these words, all heaven breaks forth in praise to the Lamb:
“11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Songwriter Andrew Peterson captures this heavenly scene in his song “Is He Worthy?” in a way that is absolutely powerful. Here are some of the lyrics:
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
One of the amazing truths we’re brought back to on Easter Morning is that Scriptures aren’t about us – they are glorious and wonderfully about the Lamb who was slain. My invitation here this morning in simply this – that you would enter in, either for the first time or once again, as the Good News breaks forth upon us. And, I pray, that entering in, you might become part of the chorus singing forever, “He is worthy!”
Four of Seven Stanzas
I can do no better than to end with a few lines from John Updike’s Seven Stanzas at Easter:
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of death and the devil: Grant us the grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection, through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.