Easter Sermon: The Prince of Life Reigns Immortal
“Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.”
With these words, the beautiful sequence of Easter Sunday announces the greatness of Christ’s Resurrection. For three days since His agony and death on the Cross, Christ has not merely been at rest. He has gone down to the underworld to vanquish the ancient foe of mankind. A literal translation of these ancient lines would read: “The leader of life, dead, reigns alive.”
Easter is not merely our chance to display our pastels and paisleys, but a celebration of victory. It is the victory parade of the greatest conqueror ever known. The conqueror in war claims a victory prize – “to the victor go the spoils,” it is said. What, then, are the victory spoils of Christ’s Resurrection? The Sacred Liturgy revels in irony: “The dead leader of life reigns alive.” “Oh happy fault, oh necessary sin of Adam!” The empty tomb and the words of the angel: “He is not here!” But here is the greatest irony of all: Christ’s victory spoils are you and me.
In baptism, Christ chose us for Himself as His victory prize for which He laid down His life and contended in that combat stupendous.” In ancient times, the human spoils of war became the slaves of their conquerors. But here is another irony: Christ the conqueror is Christ the redeemer, and He has won us for Himself precisely to make us free.
The task given to us this day, then, is to be a victory prize worthy of our great conqueror. Christ redeems us knowing that we are a work in progress, but He invites us today on a great adventure – a life of the true freedom of the sons of God.
The world will tell us that Christianity is moral slavery, because it restricts the paths open to us to those laid out in an old and dusty book. But we know that this is not true. The ultimate irony is that those who think that they are free are the ones who are truly the slaves – slaves to their own passions and desires, slaves not by the making of any conqueror, but by their own choosing.
Christ today invites us to choose life – the new life that He offers in His Resurrection. He invites us to leave behind sin and choose a life where He is at the center. And He invites us to this new life not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of the whole world around us. “Brothers and sisters,” St. Paul exhorts us this morning: “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough.”
A little yeast. So small as to be imperceptible when it is mixed into the dough. A great irony again appears – one year ago, yeast became hard to find. A staple item we were used to always being there on the grocery store shelf. A symbol of quaint days gone by when people baked at home. All of a sudden, people who had never open a packet of yeast in their entire lives became interested in this new phenomenon. Those stuck at home wanted to see bread rising before their very eyes.
The Christian is invited to be a leaven to society, to be the almost imperceptible speck that works from within, bringing life, love, and joy where it is lacking. Our world is more in need of this leaven than ever. Christ charges us with this mission today: “Go and tell my disciples that I am risen!” just as he sent Mary Magdalen to the Apostles.
I’m sure that some people came out of last spring’s lockdown with a renewed appreciation of baking. But I haven’t met any yet. Most people I know who got into the baking obsession have gone back to picking up the bagels, pastries, and bread from their local bakery or grocery. It turns out that most people are still not very good at baking – me included. Because baking, my friends, is a skill that takes practice. And though I admire those who have mastered the perfectly flaky pie crust or bubbly pizza dough – and though I am happy to help them enjoy the fruits of their labors – so long as such delicacies are a phone call or credit-card-swipe away, I have no intention of learning these arts.
Yes, the yeast does not have to be taught how to consume dough and emit carbon dioxide. It is among the simplest organisms in the universe. But we do. And we must practice. Living in the freedom brought by Christ’s Resurrection is not just something we can do once or twice a year. When He appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, Christ invited them to be a part of a new community of which they were to be the leaders – the Church.
The Christian, then, finds his home in that community established on the foundation stones of the Apostles, the witnesses of the Resurrection – the Church. But simply to belong to the Church is not sufficient either. These witnesses of the Resurrection, whose company we are invited mystically to join today, were sent out to be a leaven to the world.
We are as well. We stand at a decisive junction in the life of the world. Will we allow technological interaction to replace true human relationships? Will we continue to promote an economic system that disproportionately benefits those who already prosper? Will we value each and every human life from the moment of conception to the very end of their lives? Will we cede the formation of our culture to a small club of woke capitalists who program adherence to their new cultural orthodoxies into every device we use and purchase we make?
My brothers and sisters, we have a choice today! We have the choice of a new life, a life in which we fight on the side of Him who is already victorious. The challenges that confront us in this world can be overwhelming, but today we rejoice in the victory of Christ. He has conquered the sinfulness of this world, and He wants to conquer sin in us. Only by accepting His offer of forgiveness and salvation can we become the practiced yeast that will leaven our broken world. “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning! Amen. Alleluia.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
Sunday of the Resurrection, A.D. MMXXI
Image: Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). The Harrowing of Hell. C. 1430s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrowing_of_Hell#/media/File:Fra_Angelico_024.jpg