Posted on Tue, Apr 26, 2011
Rev. Jim Merritt's Easter Sermon
A Season of Overcoming Death and the Grave
Rev. Jim Merritt
Easter Sunday 2011
HE IS RISEN: HE IS RISEN INDEED –. Picture it. Four months ago, tomorrow, God looked at all of creation and felt the most amazing sense of love ever experienced. God wanted insure that you and I and all of humankind would always be in relationship with God. So our heavenly parent took God’s sweet little baby boy, and gently and lovingly laid him in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. The baby’s other daddy; that’s right, he had two daddies, and his mother Mary named the baby Jesus, as the angels had told them to do. Jesus was a wonderful boy, full of life, full of mischief, and full of joy. At the same time, he was quickly labeled “different,” like many of us have been labeled “different,” too. Jesus challenged exclusive power. He especially challenged exclusive power built on the backs of the very ones who were excluded from the benefits of power. Ultimately, Jesus challenged socio-political norms so much that the Roman government assassinated him. “There,” they said, “we finally got rid of him. Now maybe things can get back to normal around here.” We’ll see about that…
In first century Roman territories, it was common that crucified bodies would remain on the crosses as food for birds. They were left there and denied a proper burial as a deterrent against further unrest against the empire. Especially during times of revolt, Jerusalem would be surrounded by crucified bodies as a powerful statement of Rome’s absolute rule.
Jesus was not crucified during a time of revolt, so it is historically possible that Pilate ordered Jesus’ body to be given to Joseph of Arimathea after he had asked for it. What also makes this possible is that it was during a Jewish holiday. Allowing the burial would have been a gesture of keeping peace.
In the Gospel of Matthew’s story of Jesus’ resurrection, the event is a fulfillment of a promise: the promise of the messiah’s victory over the injustice of Roman rule. Jesus did not fulfill the role of “messiah” as many had hoped he would, overthrowing the government by force. Instead, he redefined “messiah” in saving his followers from becoming like the oppressors. Jesus had laid the foundation for the kingdom or better, the kin-dom of God by awakening his followers to realizing its presence in and among them, and not even death could take that away.
To the author of Matthew, Jesus’ resurrection is an apocalyptic event, following end-times thought of the Jewish people. The concept of resurrection in Judaism at that time had risen out of the need to affirm the ultimate justice of God despite the injustice of the present. In this gospel, Jesus’ resurrection was not the end of the story, but the beginning of a series of events that would wrap up history, at least as they knew it. The gospel offers us eschatological hope, or hope even for the end of time. We see signs in the text of end-times theme: the angel descending with its radiance, the earthquake.
We also know there is hope for our community and for other marginalized people. People on the margins of society, especially sexual minorities and gender variant people, are persecuted by harsh laws and by strict social norms. Our bodies and lives are treated as subhuman. Our differences are demonized. Often, when we attempt to stand up for our rights, we are not heard, or in some places around the world are executed like Jesus was executed.
However, the death of individuals is not the end of the story. If we remain the “resurrection people,” we allow the spirits of the deceased to rise in us. We take on their passion for justice in community in ways that victims of anti-queer murder could not have done on their own. We are the risen queer Body of Christ, alive and called to action. We take on the spirit of Matthew Shepherd, we take on the spirit of Harvey Milk, we take on the spirits of all those kids who killed themselves after being brutally bullied last year, we take on the soul of David Kato who was murdered while trying to make a difference in people’s lives. We take on the spirit of Dr. King, and Sister Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer who lived their lives demanding equality and justice in Jesus name. Finally, my sisters and brothers, we take on the spirit of Jesus who came up out of that grave to say I love you and together we WILL take on the systems that oppress us. We will take on governments who build wealth for the rich on the backs of the poorest of the poor. We will overcome everything that hold us back, in Jesus’ name. We are overcoming temptation. We are overcoming doubtfulness. We are overcoming barriers that stand in our way. We are overcoming expectations that have held us back. We are overcoming in our times of deep sorrow. We are overcoming old ways of living that have interfered with our relationships with each other and thereby with our relationships with God. Can I get a witness in here this morning? Tony Campolo says, “It’s Friday; but Sunday’s coming” And this morning, Glory hallelujah, we are overcoming even death and the grave. Do you hear it, Friday was just a couple of days ago, but Sunday has come. This very morning might have been your Friday but it’s Sunday NOW and WE WILL OVERCOME in Jesus name. We will overcome it all because Jesus has overcome it and he tells each and every one of us, “You will do even greater things than these……
There’s an old Happy Goodman’s song that says, “Oh, oh what a story, I love you was written in red. Rivers of mercy were flowing between to thieves was the Son. The ransom was paid for everyone’s soul. On an old rugged cross the great love story was told.” The son of God, the son of humankind has overcome it all, including death and the grave. Really, we’re left with only one question.
How will you respond this Easter day? Will you respond to Jesus? A word of personal testimony: When I was eight years old I walked down the aisle of the Eastside Baptist Church in Auburndale, Florida, and I gave my heart to Jesus. I knew already that I was much different from most every person I knew in my family, at school and in that church. More importantly, Jesus knew it too. In that very moment, Jesus, this same son of God, wrapped his loving arms around me and as I stand before you 40 years later, he has never let me go. Yes, I’ve been labeled, yes, I’ve had to suffer some, but I have never been alone. Jesus loves you that much too and he’s ready for you. I recommend him highly today. Let me leave you with this, “No one ever cared for me, like Jesus. There’s no other friend so kind and true. No one else could take the sin and darkness from me. O how much he cares for you. And, No one ever cared for you, like Jesus. There’s no other friend so kind and true. No one else can take the sin and darkness from you. Oh how much he cares for you.
From my family to yours; Happy Easter, dear ones. Happy Easter. JESUS IS RISEN; HE IS RISEN INDEED. HALLELUJAH!
©James Edward Merritt Jr. 2011