Year B — Easter Sunday

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD
Mark 16:1-8
Some years ago a pastor in SC was invited to a baptism by one of his parishioners who was a guard at the Central Carolina Prison in Columbia.
The pastor arrived at the prison early in the morning. He was searched, IDed, interrogated, moved from waiting area to waiting area for over an hour; all to simply move him fifteen feet from outside the prison walls to the inside.
Finally the pastor met his guard friend and they walked together down long, cold corridors to the prison chapel. It was a small room, with a few rows of chairs and a platform at the front. On this day the pulpit and piano had been pushed to the side against the wall.
In the pulpit’s place, flat on the floor, there was a large wooden box. In the box there was spread blue plastic sheeting that draped over the sides of the box and into the sheeting had been poured gallons and gallons of cold water.
As the small group gathered around the makeshift baptistery, at the very moment the convert stepped into the box full of water and the preacher reached over to grab his hands, lower him into the box and began to say, “I baptized thee. . . “ the visiting pastor had a realization that took his breath away.
The box was a coffin; a standard, prison-issue, pine-box coffin. The man was being baptized in a casket, he was going into and coming up out of the grave.
The Funeral liturgy in my tradition’s worship book contains these words at the placement of the pall as the service begins: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised by the glory of the father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 280)
Death and life, despair and hope, going under and rising again; those are our themes today.
When the women went to the tomb, they went in deep sadness and despair. They went into a place of coldness and death, a prions house of the soul.
They went with ho hope, no anticipation, they went reluctantly, to perform a duty, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, to put their friend into a grave.
But, when they got there they discovered that things had changed. The tomb was empty, the body was missing, there was an angel hovering about.
“Do not be alarmed,” he says. Easy for him to say. “So,” the angel goes on, “you’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, he’s not here. He’s been raised. He’s gone to Galilee. Go tell Peter and the others to meet him there.”
The women are stunned, reeling, speechless. The no wonder the Bible tells us they fled in terror and told no one, at least for a while.
This business of rising again from the dead has never been easy for anyone to believe. It’s not natural, it’s not normal. It wasn’t normal 2000 years ago and it’s not normal now. All of us who proclaim it know it’s not easy to believe.
But it is a story full of possibilities for all of us.
From death to new life isn’t just about going through physical death and then living happily ever after in heaven.
It’s about being changed, transformed, in the midst of our circumstances, here, now.
The prisoner who was baptized in a coffin didn’t get to leave prison because he got religion, far from it. He still had 20 years to go on his sentence.
For him, nothing external changed at all, and yet internally, everything had begun to change completely. After the baptism he gave a “testimony” he which he said he had gone from being a dead man walking, a person already dead in spirit waiting to die; to life as a man filled with the new life of Christ living in him.
The question for us today is this? What sort of prison are we living in? What darkness grips our soul? What cold and clammy tomb is holding us back from a joyous life?
The message of Easter is this:
You have to step into the cold waters of death in order to come out on the other side of the Jordan.
You have to bury what’s holding you back in order to embrace the new life God is giving you.
You have to lay down in acoffin in order to stand up with joy on Easter morning.
We are invited to a changed life today; a life full of hope and opportunity, overflowing with love and freedom; filled with the joy of the Risen Christ.
Christ is risen,
Christ is risen indeed!
Amen and amen.

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