Easter Day B’24 “You Can Have a Fresh Start”
31 March 2024
I Cor. 15.1-11; John 20.1-18
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“Anyone who is united with Christ gets a fresh start, and is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges!” In the Name of the One who has died, who has risen, and who continues to come into the lives of all who will open their hearts, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
• From II Corinthians 5.17-18

“And on the eighth day God made the Razorbacks” thus saith the bumper sticker on a die-hard fan’s car bumper. The message is simple – The Razorbacks are set apart from all others in their greatness in some years maybe and in off years, certainly not.

The concept of the Eighth Day began with the first Christians who used it as a way of setting apart the Day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead as well as differentiating it from the traditional Jewish Sabbath. In numerology, eight is a number that signifies a new beginning. The eighth day of the week is Sunday that follows a seven-day period with the start of a whole new week. In music 8 is the number of notes in an octave thus when singing or playing the eight note is the beginning of a new octave. The most traditional form of the baptismal font is one that is eight-sided, symbolizing the new beginning of new birth into Christ’s kingdom. In most church’s the font is somewhere near the entry to the place where the congregation sits, often the first piece of ‘furniture’ one encounters in church buildings – thus is “the way in-to the Church.”

Easter has a lot riding on the event of Christ’s rising from the dead that has come to be called “resurrection.” In fact, St. Paul would later write: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”1 But how can we know there was an actual resurrection?

The difficulty can be better understood through the lens of a court room trial where the burden of proof is to either prove or disprove that a crime was committed or an event actually happened. In court the best and most reliable form of evidence is direct evidence where there are actual eye witnesses who were on the scene and witnessed the crime or event taking place. Anything short of direct evidence becomes circumstantial with a jury left to try and connect the dots of the physical evidence left behind. In the case of the resurrection there was an empty tomb with the stone rolled away, a broken Roman wax seal that had been placed over the seam of the stone and the tomb, a couple of sleepy, guilt-ridden Roman legionnaires whose job it was to guard the tomb, but had fallen asleep and missed the resurrection, and finally some embalming spices and aloes and a linen shroud. A lawyer in this case would have their work cut out for them to prove the resurrection. Attorney, Kent Collins points out, “To get a conviction based solely on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution would likely need to produce multiple pieces of evidence or witness testimony that, when considered together, are consistent and point conclusively to the defendant’s guilt.” This combination of evidence discovered at the scene plus witnesses who have corroborating testimony could result in a conviction. This combination is the type of evidence we have for the resurrection.

The first witness of the empty tomb is Mary Magdalen, who visited the tomb early on Easter morning to find the stone rolled away with no Jesus inside. She runs to tell Peter and another disciple, and they take off running with the other anonymous disciple reaching the tomb first. He looked in but waited for Peter who entered the tomb to discover the linen wrappings/graveclothes. Peter and the other disciple head home but Mary Magdalene wracked with grief stays outside the tomb weeping. She decides to look in and when she does, she is startled by the sight of two angels where Jesus had been laying one at the head and the other where Jesus’ feet would have been. They ask her why she is weeping, suddenly Jesus appears behind Mary she turns around but doesn’t recognize him, and he asks her why she is weeping mistaking him for the gardener. But when Jesus calls her by name – Mary! Mary recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd, and cries out Rabounni (which means Teacher) Jesus then tells her to go and tell other disciples that she has seen him – she does and becomes known throughout church history as the first witness of the resurrected Christ.

The period from Easter Day until Christ’s ascension is when the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples and many others who experienced the resurrection! All of a sudden, all the claims, parables and stories that he had told all crystalized and none of their lives would ever be the same. Each of them became bold witnesses to the fact of Christ’s resurrection and their personal experience of the death of their old life and their personal new birth – their new beginning!

If the resurrection had just been a doctrine written down in a book the Christian faith would have been short lived and written down the annals of history as yet another religious sect that died out. The fact that I believe is observable is that the resurrection had to have happened because, quite frankly resurrection has never stopped! The encounter with the living Christ results in a direct experience that is self-authenticating and untouchable by any argument – Mary Magdalene just knew, Peter, James, John just knew, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany just knew, Mary the mother of God just knew – they all just knew that it was real – that He was real, and the new life they were experiencing was actually happening!
New life coming out of death!

In recent days I have seen new evidence in the lives of people I have encountered. [for the 8 am service: One of these is a 14-year-old young man by the name of Nikolai Grigoryivich Grishanov that I will have the privilege to baptize at the 10 o’clock service today!]

[For 10am service: One of these that I have encountered is Nikolai Grigoryivich Grishanov, a 14-year-old young man who has been drawn to the living Christ, who has been discerning if this Christ was real, in fact who would not receive Holy Communion but would come to the altar rail and cross his arms to receive a blessing only and not the bread and wine. At least until he decided to follow Christ in baptism. Way to go Nikolai!
I was approached by another one of our children on Maundy Thursday night who explained to me their awareness of their sins and a desire to be baptized into the living Christ. Hopefully they will be baptized on Pentecost Sunday. There is an adult that I was called to visit in the hospital who appeared to be dying, with severe difficulty in breathing. There was healing prayer offered in the name of the living Christ and that person was healed and is planning to present at today’s service [or “and they are here today!]

Finally, another adult who has been in church their whole life having much knowledge about Christ, has had a personal and spiritual encounter with Christ that has been transformative. I can personally testify that they physically look different, in the facial expressions and most notably in their eyes you can see the difference. Dramatic, powerful, tangible. All four of these individuals are experiencing the eighth day of the week of a new beginning.
“Anyone who is united with Christ gets a fresh start, and is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges!”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

1 From I Corinthians 15.13-20, New Revised Standard translation