SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV'D ALLAN B. WARREN III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
EASTER DAY, SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2011

Easter is very, very late this year. Almost as late as it can be. Today’s great feast is one of those odd celebrations, like the Jewish Passover or the Muslim Ramadan, which moves around on the calendar. In fact, Easter can fall on any one of thirty-five different days of the year from March 21 to April 25.

When I was a child my mother made me memorize the formula for Easter, and I can still repeat it: “The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.” At the time I wasn’t sure what that really meant, but I was quite pleased with myself for having learned it. My mother would also give me a task in church during the sermon to keep me occupied. You may remember that in the former Prayer Book there was a section at the beginning which gave one instructions for finding the date of Easter. Five pages of instructions with six different tables which involved wonderful-sounding things called “Golden Numbers” and “Dominical Letters.” Mother would give a particular year, and I had to figure out the date of Easter. And I had to do this without cheating, for one of the tables did in fact give the date of Easter all the way up to the year 2199. My mother expected me to use the other four and then, after church, show her how I did it. It was a game to keep me quiet while Dr. Capers Satterlee preached his sermons.

Well, you know, I must have been quite a bit brighter at eleven or twelve than I am now. I pulled out the old Prayer Book last week and went over those five pages of Easter computations. Pretty soon I was entirely confused and could feel a headache on the horizon. So, here’s the bitter truth: you can count on me for many things as rector of this parish, but don’t ask me to figure out the date of Easter. I can’t do it anymore. We’ll just have to look it up.

There have been many people over the centuries who have wanted to fix the date of Easter. In fact, just a few weeks ago a British scientist proposed making it April 1, which, I suppose, shows how out of touch academics can sometimes be. But those who wish to fix the date do have a point. Easter is so unpredictable and “messy,” ranging over, as I said before, a possible thirty-five different days. Why not pin it down like the Fourth of July or even Christmas? Easter, however, is quite unlike the Fourth of July and even Christmas, and that’s why I, at least, like its messiness and unpredictability. July 4 and Christmas are about something which happened in this world and in the past – the beginning of a revolution, the birth of a child in a particular place at a particular time, and so, appropriately, we remember them on a particular day of the year. Easter, however, is about something happening in the present and it points to the future. Easter is about the end of this world and the beginning of a new one. It’s not really about remembering at all. And so it is altogether fitting that Easter is not fixed in time and set in the calendar. It should always be a surprise and it should take us by surprise, for it is the beginning, the creation of a new time, a new order of creation, which breaks into, which invades, the old world of time and transforms it.

Easter is not about the yearly cycle of rebirth and the delight of springtime after the depression of winter. When the two coincide it is a happy coincidence. But this year, how could that be? Today the feast falls just about as late in the year as it can, but I can still see quite a few overcoats in the church this morning.

And, be certain of this – it may surprise you – Easter is not about a miracle. A miracle is something which happens in this world. It may well be that when something miraculous takes place the normal order of this world is suspended, superseded – however you wish to put it. Nevertheless, a miracle is something which happens in this world, and when the miracle is over and its action is accomplished, the normal order of the world once more obtains.

For instance, one of the most prominent of Jesus’ miracles or “signs,” as St John would have it, is the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead. John records this and he does so in detail, ringing the changes on every astonishing aspect of the miracle. Lazarus rose from the dead, but he rose into this world, and after his rising, the rules and the order of this world still applied. Years passed, and Lazarus died.

Easter is completely different, for when we celebrate Easter we are not looking back at something which happened long ago. Rather, we look around us at something which is happening right now: the risen presence and person of Jesus, right now with his people, right now loving them and nourishing them and forgiving them when they fall and changing their lives, the risen presence and person of Jesus right now creating a new world within this old one.

There was a beginning – yes – on the first Good Friday Jesus took upon himself all that evil and the demonic could muster. He took on hatred, lies, envy, betrayal, pain, terror, desertion, and finally death. And in obedience to God, by obedience to God he defeated them. And on the Sunday which followed, the first day of the week – whatever day that may have been – he rose and in him, through him God created a new world.

When we sing – as we did this morning – “Jesus Christ is risen today,” we mean the words quite literally. Having risen once, he is always risen, always present, always powerful and life-giving and loving, and in his people he brings a new world into being. Jesus Christ risen today. Jesus Christ is risen last month. Jesus is risen next year. The calendar cannot contain him. We only look back in order to look around us and look ahead of us, for wherever we look, he, risen, is there.

* * * * *

We’ve heard a great deal about gardens in the last few days. Last night we heard the story of the world being created as a garden. And humankind – man and woman – came into being in a garden. And in that garden they disobeyed and fell away from God and were made to leave and then to live in what became old and tired world of sin and death.

And we heard about another garden where a young man prayed to be given the power to obey the fearful and mysterious plan which God had for him. And in that garden he was betrayed and taken away to be tried and finally killed.

This morning we heard about yet another garden. It is a quiet scene, like, I suppose, the silence of the cosmos before God called it into being. One of his followers, Mary Magdalene, comes to visit Jesus’ tomb to weep and to mourn her dead Master. There she meets two angels who question her sorrow. But then, puzzled, she turns aside and she sees him – and she does, for he is risen – but when she sees him, she mistakes him for the gardener. It is, however, no mistake, or rather it is a holy and blessed mistake, for, in fact, for he is the gardener. He, Jesus, like the Lord God at creation, is indeed the gardener – always the gardener. He is the new gardener who takes us back to that first garden and makes it even better. He is the new gardener who in his risen and victorious life is planting the seeds from which shall spring up in you and me and in all humanity a new and blessed world. Christ is risen.

Christ is risen, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Christ is risen! Praise God!