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Job 19.23-27

I Corinthians 15.20-26

Present Perfect

Easter Day 2023

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

After my mom passed away in 2015, my Dad, who was always an excellent driver even into his nineties, drove every week from Old Lyme to Meriden’s Walnut Grove cemetery to have a conversation with her.  He’d talk to her about how his week’s been, some of the things he’s done around the house, maybe describe his daily constitutional along the DEP at the mouth of the Connecticut River, and he’d tell her how much he missed her.  The trip from Old Lyme to the cemetery and back is between seventy and eighty miles, depending on the route he took – Dad was fond of the back roads, they’re the same back roads he used to bicycle as a young teen between Meriden and the shoreline – and he’d spend about thirty or forty minutes with her before he got back in his car for the ride home.  This Friday, I plan to have a conversation with both of them – Dad joined Mom in 2021, and I’ll be in Walnut Grove that morning o say goodbye to another member of the family, my Dad’s older sister Ruth, my aunt and godmother, who passed on Tuesday.  In the spirit of Easter, I cannot think of a better way to spend some time with family and remember that death does not and cannot and will not keep us apart, but rather in many senses it brings us closer together.

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

If you’ve ever stood with me at a graveside service I’ve conducted, you’ve heard me talk about visiting loved ones in the cemetery – the phrase we usually use is “paying our respects.”  We can do this in a lot of different places: we can pay our respects right there, at Walnut Grove or Deep River’s Fountain Hill, where, appropriately, we greeted the resurrection dawn earlier this Easter morning, or wherever the final resting place might be, but we don’t need to visit a cemetery to pay our respects.  We may find ourselves looking out the kitchen window at the birds building their nests in spring; we might hear a familiar song on the radio; we might be reminded of a certain turn of phrase, or a story, or a joke; we may find ourselves saying or doing something exactly the way a parent or a spouse or a good friend did while they were still with us.  And if you have stood with me at graveside you’ve heard me say that these too are the appropriate times and the places to pay our respects, no matter where we might be nor when it may happen; these are the moments we can stop and offer a small prayer of thanksgiving to God for the life of someone we knew and loved.

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

I appreciate the fact that the UCC Lent Devotionals we’ve been reading this season don’t end with Lent, which concluded yesterday, but go all the way through to Easter Day.  A devotion that Matt Fitzgerald wrote for Easter Day a few years ago stays with me still.  It began, “Mary Magdalene stumbled through the dawn until “Christ is risen” destroyed her faith in the grave.  Mary heard it first, early in the morning.  Death had been defeated.  Not just Christ’s but, because of his, hers as well.”  She stumbled through the dawn until “Christ is risen” destroyed her faith in the grave.  What would it be like if our faith in the grave were destroyed?  What would we be like if we decided that death is not something to be afraid of, or to avoid at every cost, sometimes at prohibitive cost, but instead decided it is just another fact of life?   “Death had been defeated;” Matt wrote, “[and] not just Christ’s but hers as well.”  And not just hers, but yours as well.  And not just yours, but mine as well.

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

Let me add quickly that I don’t mean to diminish death by any means.  Between the national epidemic of school shootings, the death and destruction caused by recent storms in the south and Midwest, and the casualties in the Ukraine, we are bold to pray enough!  Enough already!  As my friend Jim Antal, former Minister and President of the UCC’s historic Massachusetts Conference has written,

“We know that this time of tension will be resolved when the power of universal love is fully revealed.  But first there will be misunderstanding, stumbling, sacrifice, sorrow and grief…  And in a mystery beyond our understanding, as Holy Week unfolds, let us join our hearts with the victims… with the suffering refugees… with peace-loving people from every faith tradition, and with the least of these among us.”

In Johann Sebastian Bach’s oratorio for the Easter season, Christ Lag in Totesbanden, or “Christ Lay in Death’s Strong Bonds,” we hear these words:

 “It was an amazing battle / where life and death collide / Life kept on winning / it has devoured death / the scripture has proclaimed this / as death ate up the other / death has become a mockery.”

Or as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

This is a curious use of grammar, isn’t it:  Christ is risen; rather archaic, actually.  Today we would be more likely to say, “Christ has risen,” or “Christ raose,” or as the creeds put it, “Christ was raised.”  But no, Christ is risen, the present perfect tense, a present verb, nearly always with a past participle, although not in this case.  I still remember my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Nadile, a true grammarian if ever there were one, telling us about the present perfect tense:  it indicates something that happened once in the past whose effects are still ongoing in the present.  Usually it takes the helping verb “to have” instead of “to be,” but in this instance it makes perfect sense:  Christ is risen:  something that happened once, 2000 years in the past, whose effects are still being felt today; and not just being felt, but shaping the way that our world is ordered as well as the way that you and I live today, how we make our choices, how we prioritize our time, how we apply our talent, how we share our treasure.  Both grammatically and theologically, Christ is risen states an eternal truth that not only did he rise once all those many years ago, but he remains risen to this day, and that risenness inflects and impacts you and me and everyone and everything in creation.

            Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

We know the effect the risen Jesus had on Mary Magdalene.  She received the news with a combination of fear and joy, which is why the first words out of the angel’s mouth were, “Don’t be afraid.”  Jesus said the same thing when Mary first saw him:  “Don’t be afraid.”  And her fear slowly melted into gladness as she brought the good news began to seep into the depth of her spirit.  We know the effect the risen Jesus had on Mary; what effect does he have on us?  If the good news of Easter, Christ is risen, is based on something that happened in the distant past whose ripples are still being felt today, those ripples don’t just occur over the course of history in general, but like Mary Magdalene and the disciples they have a direct impact on you and me in particular centuries after the fact.  What does the risen Christ change in you?  Has it eased your fears, like Mary?  Has it emboldened you to do good things, big good things?  Has it opened up your sense of generosity?  Has it awakened you to the abundance of life, the blessing of life?  Has it destroyed your faith in the grave?  Has it slowed you down, as you take a fresh opportunity to appreciate your surroundings, your family, your neighbors, your friends, and not just the people around you, but the trees, the skies, the river and the sea?  And I make the point of using the word “you” instead of “we” because I cannot answer that question for you; you can only answer it for yourself.  For myself, I can say the risen Christ has reminded me there is no reason to be anxious about death.  The end of this life is not the end of everything, it is only a step along the way through eternity.  Because he is risen, death does not have the last word anymore; “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  And this is why I’m going to have a conversation with my parents and my aunt later on this week.  Because the resurrection of Jesus Christ has rendered the past determinative, the future guaranteed, and the present perfect.

            Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed.

Alleluia and Amen. 

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


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