Archbishop Haverland delivers Easter message

March 31, 2013 by Jonathan Foggin

Christ is risen!

Saint Mark xvi, verse 3 - Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

The three great feasts of the Christian year are Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  On Christmas we proclaim that the God who created us became one of us so that he could show us himself in the way we could best and most fully understand.  On Easter we proclaim that the chief thing that God showed us while with us was that what appears to be the final fact of human life, namely death, in fact is not final.  Death is not an end but a door; a narrow, sometimes difficult door through which we may follow our Lord who made us.  On Pentecost we proclaim that the God who made us, and then saved us for eternal life with himself, continues to offer us this life through his abiding presence in the world through the Church.  God created us, God saved us, God continues to be with us so that in the end we may be with him.

The Resurrection which we proclaim throughout Eastertide is not merely a metaphor, though it is that.  Nor is it merely a symbol or a story or an aesthetic object, though it is those too.  The Church proclaims the Resurrection as a fact that, while beyond history or proof or disproof, nonetheless had necessary historical effects and still has effects not least in the lives of Christians.  If the Resurrection is true as the Church has always proclaimed it, then it is also true that Christ died and was buried; it is true that Christ’s tomb then became empty; it is true that the risen Christ then appeared to his followers, who by the dozens and then the hundreds saw him, heard him, touched him, and ate with him.  The Church intransigently proclaims that all of these things happened.   ‘[I]f Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain,’ St. Paul most truly writes (I Cor. xv.14).  ‘Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God,’ in that case (15).  ‘But’, Paul continues, ‘now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.’ (20)  So the Church teaches, and so I proclaim to you this day: Christ who was crucified and buried, lives.  Dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus:  ‘The Prince of life who died, reigns immortal’ (Victimae Paschali).

Our Easter faith is neither easier nor harder to believe today than ever it was.  There have always been, and are, and always will be obstacles to this faith.  On the first Easter the loyal women, the ones who did not run away on Good Friday when all the men save one did, these women almost do not go to the tomb.  They prepare for themselves an obstacle that almost prevents them from finding the empty tomb: ‘Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?’, they ask.  It is a sensible question.  Faith, which can build upon the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Christ, is impossible by itself.  Faith cannot live without hope and love.  Hope teaches the women that there is something to be gained from going to Jesus, even if he seems dead and buried.  Love gives life to that hope: though Christ seems gone, yet they love him so much that they would be with him even in death.  Without hope, faith will wither in hopelessness and despair.  Without love, both faith and hope are cold and to no purpose.  But love enlivens hope, even in seemingly hopeless moments, and with love and hope, faith becomes possible.  It is no accident that in St. John’s gospel Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple are the first two people to believe in the Resurrection.  They are the ones who loved Jesus most, so hope and faith can come for them first.

Nothing has changed.  In our world the way to faith is still blocked by a thousand stones.  There are an infinite number of causes moving us not to believe.  The door to Christ is, considered from our perspective, so blocked by obstacles that we may give up in advance.  Who can have faith, when interests and pleasures and cares and science and pseudo-science and reason and irrationality and opinion and fashion all seem to object?  ‘Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?’, we may ask indeed.

But, again, this question is not new.  It is the same question asked from the first day.  And if the question does not change, neither does the answer.  The stone already has been rolled away by the God who made it and us.  ‘Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen’.  He is not in the tomb (St. Mark xvi.6).

We still come to the resurrection by hope and love.  Doubt is as easy as ever it was.  St. John tells us that St. Thomas would not believe; faith by itself was hard for him, as it still may be for us.  But Thomas loved Christ.  In John xi, when the disciples think that Jesus is walking into death, Thomas says to ‘his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ (16)  Thomas loves and is loyal, even if imperfectly, so in the end his doubt dissolves.  So too with us today.  The door may be blocked in a thousand ways, but hope and love will find that the way opens.  Then faith will give strength and shape to hope and love, and together they can endure.

Who shall roll away the stone to bring you to the risen Christ?  God shall do so.  How shall he do so?  –  by love and hope bringing you to faith.

‘Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.’  Christ has opened the way.  ‘Behold the place where they laid him’ (Mark xvi.6): it is empty now.  So ‘[s]et your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye appear with him in glory.’ (Colossians iii)  So the Church proclaims this Easter Day.  So may you believe.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.