So who does not know why we are here? There are no secrets, though there is a Great Mystery. Even people outside of the Church, outside of the Covenant are aware of what Easter is to Christians. I submit to you, however, that there are many both outside AND inside this Covenant who do not fully comprehend what Easter means beyond a Moment 2000 years ago!
To one facing imminent death, this Great Mystery is about to unfold; but for the time we think we still have in this life, for all we think we know, for all we think we have figured out, nothing is quite so settled. And this is because when we finish this celebration we will pretty much go about our business as if nothing happened. Though I will grant that it takes a little more devotion and discipline to get out of bed earlier than we need to and requires a certain knowledge of something worth rising early for, we will pretty much walk away unchanged.
Those we love ... we will still love. Those we hate ... we will still hate. The things we must do ... we will do. And the things we don't have to do but need to be done ... we probably won't do.
Why is this so? Of course we hope lives will be touched, we hope souls will be transformed, and we hope our society will clean itself up. We hope new guests will come to church on Sunday. We may be confident in the psalmist's declaration that "I shall not die", but whether we will "live AND recount the deeds of the Lord" remains to be seen. I am afraid it is just another Easter Sunday.
St Paul wrote to the Romans: "How are they to call on One in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in One of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And who are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!' But not all have obeyed the Good News; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?' So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ."
So indeed, who is to be believed? Perhaps more importantly, what is to be believed? A message never heard? A message never proclaimed except safely in church on Sunday? Yes, and more: a message we are ashamed to proclaim!! It is scandalous! It is radical! It is pure insanity!
As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "The message of the Crucifixion is insanity to the lost! But to those of us who have life it is the power of God!" But even we who have life don't want to be perceived as one of those Holier-than-thou Bible-beaters who talk constantly about Jesus and being saved! We are Christians; respectable, wholesome, socially responsible Christians.
It is easy to tell people what we think they should do (or not do) and what they should or should not believe, but it is easier still to just keep our mouths shut, mind our business, and just go to church ... most Sundays. And we mean well when we do (or don't do) these things, but there is a significant component present in our best intentions: fear. We are afraid. We are afraid of what people will think of us. We are afraid of alienating friends. We are afraid of being challenged on something we cannot prove. We are afraid of being labeled as anything other than simply "Christian". Actually we would probably just prefer to be known as "good" people.
But where does fear actually come from? Are we not afraid most often when we lack confidence? I used to believe I was just a bad test-taker in high school when I didn't take my studies seriously, so I was always afraid when test time came around. But my fear, while in that moment well-founded and well justified, was the result of my own neglect. My fear was the result of my own failure to engage in my education in a meaningful and life-transforming way!
Now I had hoped that just by being in class and listening to the teacher would be enough; that I would retain the knowledge imparted in that single moment without having to do any more than to simply listen that one time. Clearly it does not work that way, and our Wesleyan heritage affirms this.
We must understand Methodism did not come strictly from John Wesley's opinions and good ideas about what Christians should or should not be doing. Methodism arose from the confidence gained by disciples who intentionally engaged in the many means of grace including the fellowship of the Church and mutual accountability; becoming and being purposeful students of the Good Teacher. Confidence came from willfully and purposefully engaging in the WHOLE life of Christ Jesus and following faithfully - in spite of the obstacles and the derisions of the general public, even from those within the established and respectable Church.
So much has changed - and remains the same. Yet this morning, on this grand and glorious morning, I submit to you this is indeed a New Day. It is a day for rejoicing for it is the Day our Lord has made for just this moment. It is the Day in which our confidence may be restored and our souls to be uplifted and even transformed - if we are willing. It cannot be just another Easter Sunday. For it is the Day our Lord has made for us to rejoice and be glad! For there is Life beyond the one we think we live now - for Christ is Risen indeed!
Glory to Almighty God! Amen.