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From the Rev. Joe Hensley, Rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Easter Sunday Year C March 27, 2016
Welcome happy morning! Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the principal of principal feasts in our Christian calendar. It has been said that without Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we don’t have a reason to be here. So on this day we ring bells and sing Alleluias and feast (and hunt Easter eggs?….I’ll come back to that later) and celebrate that love could not be killed, the son of God could not be shut up in a tomb. What looked like powerlessness on the cross was actually the beginning of the greatest act of power the world has ever known.
And we got it wrong. We got it wrong. Now when I say, “we” I am talking about human beings. We did not understand who Jesus was and why he came. Some of us got it so wrong we thought Jesus needed to die. Others got it wrong in that even though Jesus told us what was he was up to, we did not really believe him or understand what he meant. So on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to…the tomb. Why were they at the tomb? They thought Jesus was dead, and they were wrong. And then these two men in dazzling clothes appear and tell them, “He’s not here. He has risen, just like he told you. Remember?” And then when these women, Mary Magdalene and the rest of them, when they realize their misunderstanding and tell the other disciples, the disciples think they are crazy. The disciples are always getting it wrong. Peter, at least, runs to the tomb to see for himself, and he is blown away by what he finds, no dead body, the linen burial cloths, empty. And the text tells us, he went home, amazed. He was probably thinking to himself, “where did I get it wrong?”
We got it wrong about Jesus. We got it wrong about a lot of things. And yet, on Easter, this is not bad news. Fr. James Alison, a Roman Catholic theologian wrote a book about the resurrection with a strange and wonderful title: “The Joy of Being Wrong.” The joy of being wrong. Not the agony of being wrong or the humiliation of being wrong, but the joy of being wrong. And what he means is that we need to celebrate that we have gotten it wrong. Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus was not in the tomb where the women expected him to be? Hallelujah! Isn’t it great that the religious leaders put Jesus to death on the cross, expecting him to stay dead, and he didn’t? Fantastic! They got it wrong. It’s like thinking you were going to have a heart attack and then realizing that it was only gas! Awesome, I was wrong! We, as human beings, have grossly misjudged the power of God. We have misunderstood ourselves as God’s beloved children. We have been limited in our understanding and imagination, and we can be glad that God is right and we are wrong.
The trouble is, we usually do not like to be wrong. To even say the words, “I was wrong,” conjures up feelings of failure. When someone tells us, “you’re wrong,” it is probably not so that we will feel joyful. We try to avoid being wrong. And we like to be right. Four of the happiest sounding words in the English language: “I told you so.” Oh there is joy in those words – but there is also misery. So often we say them knowing full well that although it feels good in some twisted way, they will likely make life more miserable overall. Most of the world’s suffering, the wars, the cultural battles, terrorism, violence…can probably be traced back to someone wanting to say to someone else, “I told you so.” “I’m right and you are wrong.” So we may find it hard to believe that there can be any joy in being wrong.
On Easter morning, the angels at the tomb do tell the women, “He told you so.” They remind the women that Jesus had indeed predicted his death and resurrection. He was right. But the message is not intended for their humiliation. It is intended for their joy. Jesus is not around the corner ready to pop out and say, “I was right.” He’s not there waiting to exact his revenge on us. He’s not there at all. He’s too busy being alive again.
The fact that Jesus lives again does not just mean we were mistaken about what would happen. We missed the boat entirely. The fact that Jesus lives again is proof that we have been wrong about the truth of our whole existence. We tend to think that life has to end in death. And because of that understanding, we have often used death as a tool to get our way. We have killed or threaten to kill in the name of being right. We have threatened to kill, threatened to hurt each other so that we would not have to be wrong. So for Jesus, the one whom humans unjustly killed, to be alive again, shows that death is not always the end. It changes the whole equation. Death exists, but it is not necessarily inevitable. And for Jesus, the one whom humans unjustly killed to be alive again and not seeking revenge, shows that retribution is not always the end. Therefore the culture of death and punishment that we have created is not inevitable. What is inevitable is love and forgiveness. Love wins. Jesus does not live again after being killed in order to say, “I told you so” and beat us down. Jesus lives again to raise us up with him, to reveal our belovedness, to forgive us. Jesus lives again to show us that we are not defined by death and violence any longer. We do not need to threaten and hurt each other any more. And if we have been wrong about who we are and who God is, it does not really matter, because God’s love was never a test. God’s love was and is a gift, a gift that continues in spite of death, a gift that is revealed through death and resurrection. So hallelujah! We got it wrong, and the joy of our being wrong is that we see now the amazing gift of God being right.
The next time we are tempted to say, “I told you so,” the next time we think we are right and we are tempted to put someone else down, remember that Jesus was raised up. Remember that because Jesus lives again, we do not have to deal in humiliation and violence and death any more. Because of God’s gratuitous love and grace, we are not being punished for being wrong. We have been given a way out of being wrong, and it is not about being right. It is about being forgiven. The way is not about holding on, it is about letting go. In letting go, we are empowered by the risen Christ to hope, even when there is so much wrong with the world. Death will still exist, but we do not have to fear it or be controlled or defined by it any more. Death and violence no longer have a claim on us.
I said I would get back to the eggs…We have a cemetery outside this church. And this morning, the children will hunt for Easter eggs there. The youngest of us will walk in and among the oldest stones of those who have died already but who live in Christ. It is an Easter image. They will walk in and among the saints and the flowers (be careful around the flowers!) without fear. We have that cemetery not as a reminder of death but as a reminder of eternal life. But don’t get it wrong. Inside those eggs is not just candy or treats. Inside those eggs is wonder. Inside those eggs is amazement and delight, a token of our delight in God and God’s delight in us. Because God delights in us, Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ’s love, Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s mercy and power will come again and again. May we crack open the delightful, sweet joy of being wrong. Alleluia! With God’s help, we are becoming right.