Victory is ours (Easter Day Sermon)

Victory is Ours

Sermon for Easter Day 2019

Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18

 

May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

 

These words, by Desmond Tutu (former archbishop of Johannesburg) set to music by John Bell of the Iona Community, are what came to me as I have been praying and thinking in these last few weeks about what is at the heart of the meaning of Easter.

Easter is the celebration of Christ’s endless victory over sin and death:  Jesus is the risen, conquering Son of God the Father.  He is alive; risen from the dead and Easter is our victory celebration!  Today we shout and sing: Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

This is victory but we know that Easter begins in darkness and death, when Jesus’ life is brutally ended by oppressive and evil powers motivated by hatred.  Good Friday feels more like defeat than victory – it is a tragic end to all the hopes of Jesus and his followers and that is where the story of Easter begins.

It is still dark when Mary goes to the tomb.  She does not go with any sense of victory or hope, but only grief and loss.  She goes to perform one last act of love by anointing Jesus’ body so that he will have been properly buried, bestowing some dignity where crucifixion had bestowed shame and curse.

The Easter dawn brings with it a mournful cry of loss: “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”  In the early morning light, two disciples race to the empty tomb to see for themselves.  They are met by absence and discarded grave clothes.  They do not understand, but something begins to dawn in them. The beloved disciple sees and believes, even though as yet there is nothing to see except that the one he loves is not there.

In the early light of Easter, Mary is the first to see the risen Jesus in person.  She meets him but does not at first recognize him.  The mournful whisper persists: “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Only when she is called by name by her living Lord does she realise that it is not the gardener speaking to her but Jesus himself.  Mary is entrusted with bringing the full light of Easter to Jesus’ disciples.  He sends her to announce to them that he is risen. She goes to tell them that she has seen the Lord.  He is alive!  Jesus is alive!

Easter is all about life:  new life!  Life in all it’s fulness.  Eternal life beginning here and now.

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

 

Victory is ours for we share in Christ’s victory… Mary’s message that Jesus is alive has come down to us, passed on by generations of witnesses.  We, too, have heard the good news that in Jesus’ death and resurrection the power of sin and death has been defeated.  We have faith, we trust, we dare to believe that life is stronger than death.

Something that I have come to realise is that how we understand life makes a huge difference to the way we live our lives.  Some people approach life with the attitude that life is difficult, or that life is a competition, or even that life is a disease that no one survives.  If that is one’s starting point then life is spent confronting challenges, striving to win no matter what the cost, or seeking cures for all of life’s ills.  Being a Christian makes it possible to approach life in a different way.  As Easter People can have a different attitude to life:  that there is hope, that new life is always possible and that life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

Yes; there are challenges and difficulties.  Yes; there is suffering and pain.  Yes; there is evil and hatred.  Yes; there is death and loss.  We know that.  Jesus knew that.  That is the reality that Jesus embraces with arms open wide on the cross.  Easter is not some kind of false happy ending tacked on to the end of Good Friday; Easter embraces the horror of Good Friday and transforms it.  Darkness and death is where Easter begins, but it is not where it ends.  Easter means that death is never the last word.  Easter means that in our darkest night, there is a light that will never go out.  Easter means that all who try to spread hatred in the world will ultimately lose.  Easter means that every act of goodness and loving kindness has worth and meaning even in the face of evil.

That life is stronger than death is our Easter faith that we chose to live by.  Traditionally Easter was a time for people to be baptized: choosing publicly to affirm their faith in Jesus as Lord; choosing life.  In baptism we share in Christ’s death and in his resurrection and so share his victory and share his life.  Baptism also brings us into the church, a conspiracy of hope and a community of people learning to live life in the light of the Easter vision.

Beside the empty tomb, Mary only knew the risen Jesus when he called her name.  When we are baptized we are called by name and our identities linked with God as we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  As baptized people we have the promise that our living Lord is with us and will be with us always; we know that we are loved utterly and unconditionally; and we know the hope and joy of the resurrection illuminating and animating our lives.   May all of us, as we try to live as disciples of the risen Jesus, face each day in the confidence that:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

Victory is ours, victory is ours

through him who loved us.

Alleluia. Amen.