Practicing Resurrection Easter Sermon 2023
The preacher is charged with bringing fresh insights to the Easter narrative to bring it alive for the congregation. I believe this is my 38th Easter sermon. What’s left to find? This year I want to talk about the theme “practicing resurrection.” That is how we can apply it to our daily lives.
For inspiration this year, I turn to a lecture I attended several years ago by biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan at Chapman University. He said something that blew me away about how the earliest Christians thought about the resurrection.
During the lecture, he clicked through slides of the earliest artistic representations of the resurrection. At first, he displayed familiar images of Jesus standing by the empty tomb by himself. But as he traveled earlier in history, the slides were markedly different because Jesus was not alone. Your insert shows two images. What do you see? Jesus is pulling others out of the tomb. In many renderings, the first in line are Adam and Eve. (One way to tell it’s them is that Eve often has fruit in her hand). Jesus takes them by the hand, pulling them out of the tomb and into new life.
Does that mean early Christians thought Adam and Eve were bodily resurrected, too? No. They understood symbolism. Typically, Adam and Eve represent fallen humanity, that is, all of us. The Bible identifies the resurrected Jesus as the firstborn of a new creation. The resurrection is a sign of what is possible for all of us to move from self-destructive ways into more life-affirming ways and to experience a deep connection to the Divine Mystery of God.
Pulled into new life.
I love the thought that the resurrection did not just happen to Jesus but is something we can experience in the here and now. Jesus stands at our metaphorical tombs and pulls us into better ways of being, pulling us into being better people by showing us how to live with integrity, honesty, generosity, and compassion.
There are many metaphorical tombs that Jesus can help us out of. Here are just a few examples:
- The tomb of regret: Jesus can help us let go of our shame and move on with our lives.
- The tomb of bitterness: Jesus can help us forgive those who have hurt us and find peace.
- The tomb of hopelessness: Jesus can give us hope for the future, even when things are tough.
- The tomb of sin: Jesus offers forgiveness and affirmation that you are beloved.
Jesus extends a helping hand.
Jesus stands at the tomb’s exit extending a helping hand, saying, “Because I live, you also shall live.” You were not meant for a stinky old tomb but for life abundant.
Jesus offers a helping hand to assist you on your way out. He doesn’t teleport you out, you have to walk out, that is you have to do your part. How does Jesus assist? We find help when we follow the practices of prayer, service, and generosity and gathering in community. Often the hand of Jesus is in the form of people and professionals around you willing to help.
Farmer/ecological poet Wendell Berry ended a poem with the evocative phrase, “Practice resurrection.” I believe he was speaking to the idea that resurrection is an active daily process we can engage in. It means embracing the idea that endings are not final, that loss can be a doorway to new beginnings, and that hope can always be found even in the darkest times.
When we experience a “mini-death” in our lives, such as the loss of a job or loved one, a breakup, or a failure–it can feel like the end of the world. But as the writer Anne Lamott reminds us,
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
This is the essence of practicing resurrection: showing up, trying to do the right thing, and trusting that even in the darkest times, the dawn will come. It’s about building resilience in the face of adversity, finding renewed purpose amid struggle, and recognizing that even in endings, there is the potential for new beginnings.
I encourage you to reflect on what it means to practice resurrection in your own life. What endings have you experienced that have opened the door to new beginnings? How have you built resilience in the face of adversity? And how can you cultivate a sense of hope even in the darkest times?
We’re talking about practice?
Because I’ve said the word practice several times, in my head, I can hear former basketball star, Alan Iverson famous rant, “Practice? We’re talking about practice?”
Yes, because when we practice resurrection—getting up, keep moving, keep doing all the good we can, we are like athletes who practice the same moves thousands of times. They build muscle-memory so that it will be automatic when it counts. Before practices, basketball legend Larry Bird used to shoot 500 jump shots and had to make 99 free throws in a row, or he’d have to start over. His game on the court was legendary.
Practice resurrection in little ways so that it will be automatic, systematic, and hydromantic when life smacks you on the face. Like Greased Lightning!”
Like a physician who practices medicine.
Practice makes me think of physicians who practice medicine or attorneys who have a law practice. The term “practice” is used because medicine and law are constantly evolving fields, and these professionals must continually refine their knowledge and expertise. In the same way, practicing resurrection is like practicing medicine, and you apply what you’ve learned in faith to everyday life.
Ask a doctor, “What do you do?” Answer: “I practice medicine.”
Ask a lawyer, “What do you do?” Answer: “I practice law.”
Ask a Christian, “What do you do?” Answer: “I practice resurrection.”
As the theologian Howard Thurman once wrote,
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” May this Easter season be a time of practicing resurrection and coming alive in new and transformative ways.
Practical applications from Wendell Berry’s poem.
Wendell Berry in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” gives us some ideas for practicing resurrection. Here are a few lines from the poem:
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practicing resurrection makes something new appear.
It’s a good list reminding us that resurrection can take place any time/place. Newness available to all of us, not just the young. Sometimes our little practices seem woefully inadequate for all resurrection the world needs now. But we do what we can.
As a church, we stand for justice, forgiveness, and the dignity of all people. We share our building and offerings with organizations that do good and transform lives. When we create a little more justice and offer people respect, something changes in us and between us, right then, right there, right now, we practice resurrection and something changes. Something new appears.
Practice Resurrection poem.
For those of you trying to figure out how to put this into practice, here is a little poem I wrote to seed some ideas. Each stanza is about people in various stages of life practicing resurrection. I offer in the hope that you can write your own stanza about how you will practice resurrection.
On the playground being the last to be chosen, it’s often my fate
A feeling of rejection, for my time I must wait
But I won’t let this define my self-perception. I won’t strike back in hate.
I’m a beloved child of God.
I’ll step back in. With every step, I’m practicing resurrection.
My kids need me here, my boss needs me there,
I feel stretched thin, never fully anywhere.
I breathe deep and let go of what’s beyond my control to get a new perception.
With every breath, I’m practicing resurrection.
The diagnosis shook me to the core, the chemo’s draining toll I can’t ignore,
I feel weak, fatigued, and my body is sore.
But I won’t let the fear of the unknown halt my progression,
With every day I get up and embrace the good, I’m practicing resurrection.
Retirement’s granted me time, but purpose is what I’m after,
I’m searching for a meaning, a new chapter.
I’m pressing on until I make that connection,
With every new endeavor, I’m practicing resurrection.
My heart aches with a pain that words cannot convey,
As I grieve the loss of someone who made my world okay.
But I won’t let the weight of sorrow cause my spirit’s dejection,
With every positive action going forward, I’m practicing resurrection.
In every challenge I face, I find strength in this truth,
That life’s full of ups and downs, a mix of old and new.
But I won’t let the hardships lead to my spirit’s destruction,
By leaning on faith, I’m practicing resurrection.