So year after year, I find myself drawn to search images of the
resurrection in order to find one which speaks to me. It probably
won’t surprise you to know that there are many more historical
and contemporary images of the crucifixion than of the resurrection,
and crucifixion images tend to be much more specific and graphic.
This makes sense -- we know what death looks like; we know that
people die, sometimes in violent ways. We know what death looks
like; we see it all the time, whether we want to or not. But only
one person has been resurrected, and that happened out of sight
of his followers: only angels or young men dressed in dazzling white
robes were witnesses to the resurrection event. The rest of us have
to take their word for it.
Looking at images of the resurrection is a delightful way to prepare
for Easter -- I would recommend it to anyone. There’s a great
variety of styles and different artists focus on different aspects
of the story. I want to show you a couple of my favorites, and end
with the one which best illustrates my message today. If you forget
my words and remember only these images, it will be enough.
I’ll give you my personal criteria for a great resurrection
image: it should be colorful and dynamic -- there should be motion
or something happening. That means a lot of the images from inside
an empty tomb don’t do much for me: they’re too static.
I also think a good image leaves something to our imagination.
[Slide 1 Stained glass] I like all of the color in this stained
glass, but I also like that it tells a story -- not just any story,
but THE story. From creation on the far left to communion and the
triumph of the Lamb at the right, the story has the cross at the
center. There’s not a specific image of the resurrection or
empty tomb, but that is part of this story. There’s a lot
going on, even though none of it is actually in motion.
[Slide 2 Wayne Pascall] This is my favorite Easter image to date.
This is a very different medium: an oil painting by Wayne Pascall.
Although the view is from inside the tomb, there is still a lot
of color, and the figure of Jesus seems to be running out into the
world. I love the impressionist style of this image, which suggests
what the scene may have felt like, rather than giving us a literal,
[Slide 3 Crowns] This image, for me, shows the transformation from
the crucifixion to the resurrection, from victim to victor, which
is where I want to focus this morning. And I need to say, in all
honesty, that neither victim not victor are terms which I am entirely
comfortably with: this is a growing edge for me in my understanding
of Jesus Christ.
I chose to use the resurrection text from the gospel of Mark, partly
because we have been using Mark’s gospel through Lent, but
also because it is the resurrection story in its simplest form.
In fact, the original text of Mark 16 ended at verse 9, with the
disciples being afraid. I think that’s a legitimate response,
given the political climate with the Romans, the religious climate
with the Sadducees, and what they had just seen on Friday. The crucifixion
-- not only what it meant to Jesus, but also what it meant for the
hopes and dreams and physical safety of the disciples -- would have
been very much on their minds.
Nobody wants to be a victim -- not then, not now. Some people are
pushed into that role, and some people slide into it to get sympathy
or to manipulate others, but I don’t think any of us would
encourage a child to say, “I want to be a victim when I grow
up!” To be a victim is to be hurt or even killed by forces
beyond your control. Things like automobiles, floods, or political
regimes. Victims may be innocent or they may not be innocent, what
makes a victim is that they lack power or lack ability or lack agency.
Nobody wants to be a victim, and maybe victims deserve our pity,
but sometimes they get our scorn. “What was he doing there,
anyway?” “What did she think would happen if she was
dressed like that?” Even when we are part of the problem --
especially when we are part of a system which victimizes others
-- it’s easier to blame the victim than examine our own responsibility.
This is exactly what happened to Jesus when he was beaten and mocked
and spit on by Roman soldiers. It’s so much easier to pick
on someone weaker than you than it is to be honest about beating
and spitting on a defenseless man.
Here’s what’s hard for me: If I feel like someone is
picking on me, my first instinct is to stand up and fight back.
Especially if I think I’m right -- and I usually think I’m
right-- it takes a huge effort not to come back swinging. What to
do with that impulse to strike out, take revenge, hold on to the
injustice of how other have wronged me. This crown of thorns is
a reminder that Jesus chose not to fight back; He was innocent --
not only innocent, but entirely blameless -- something I’ve
certainly never been. Jesus was innocent, and he had power. He had
the power of forgiveness, strong enough to conquer that impulse
to fight back and lash out and curse those who hurt him. He actually
forgave soldiers and religious leaders while they were unjustly
executing him. He the whole host of heaven-- power beyond even the
mighty Roman Empire and its legions of soldiers. But he didn’t
use that power -- at least not on Friday. Why would Jesus allow
himself to be a killed? To be a victim? Why would God allow that
I think the answer lies in the other half of this picture. If the
victim is the crown of thorns, the victor is the crown of the king.
That is the Easter Sunday half of the picture. I said earlier that
I’m uncomfortable with being a victor as well as with being
a victim. I’m sure this is the legacy of growing up in faith
tradition which teaches non-violence. I like to win, but I worry
that me being a victor will make someone else a victim: if I win,
someone else will have to lose -- I get stuck in thinking this is
a zero-sum game: my victory will mean suffering for someone else.
I’m here to tell you that the kingdom of God is not a zero-sum
game; Jesus Christ changed that equation. I realized this partly
though my study of Celtic Christianity and the Celtic view of Christ.
The Celtic lands where St. Patrick brought the message of Christianity
were not very civilized -- certainly not by Greek or Roman standards.
There were lots of separate clans led by local chiefs or warlords
who were fighting with one another for localized control. They had
never had any kind of centralized administration and couldn’t
agree to be ruled by a single king. The thing which ultimately united
all of these factions, without bloodshed, was Christianity. How?
Unlike countries in Europe, no one forced the Celts to accept Christianity
by putting a sword to their throats. They didn’t have to choose
Christ or become victims. The Celts converted to Christianity because
they recognized that Christ was the king of kings. And in their
experience being a king was the same thing being a warrior--being
a successful warrior -- the warrior who won. The Celts valued military
strength, skill and courage in battle, and they recognized that
Jesus was the only human being who was strong enough to accept the
challenge of the cross and to confront evil and death and win that
battle. Military imagery was built into the Celtic view of Christ:
think of the verse of the hymn Be Thou My Vision which begins “Be
Thou my buckler, my sword for the fight.” Christ is the warrior
who fights with us in our battles, and Christ is victorious.
The image of Christ as a warrior, as the Victor is one that I am
still learning to understand and to accept. I do not believe other
people have to be victims in order for Christ to be victorious.
The sword of Christ was wielded against evil and death, not against
unbelievers, sinners, Pharisees, or even those puny Roman soldiers.
By allowing himself to be a victim-- even though he was innocent
and powerful and could have taken control -- by allowing himself
to be a victim, Jesus surrendered his need to fight back. He conquered
the evil which needs to meet violence with greater violence. Christ
broke the power of the zero-sum game which demands an eye for an
eye, or that makes it OK to take revenge because someone has hurt
us. Christ’s victory means anyone who believes can have victory
over death: the disciples who deserted him, the Roman centurion
who realized at the foot of the cross that Jesus was God’s
Son, the apostle Paul who persecuted Christians until he became
a believer himself. Saints and sinners like you and me. The grace
of Jesus Christ can transform anyone who recognizes that they need
Here is the crux of Easter for me: we are both victims and victors.
We rise with Christ who has conquered death and evil -- that’s
what we celebrate today and that promise is ours every day. But
we can’t rise until we have been crucified with Christ; until
we have broken the chains of believing we can save ourselves: because
saving ourselves is a death sentence. We cannot win the battle until
we have experienced powerlessness and accepted that all of our own
gain counts as loss, and the most precious thing we have is something
we cannot earn and do not deserve -- the grace of Jesus Christ.
Only then can we understand and experience what it means to be victors
This, friends, is good news. It is the best news that there has
ever been, and it’s why we are here today. It’s worth
traveling the path to the empty tomb to see that Jesus is not there
-- Jesus has won. Forever. It’s even more important to turn
around and walk away from the tomb, through this chancel and out
those doors. There’s a world of people out there who need
to hear that news that Jesus is alive and Jesus is victorious. Christ
is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Halleluia.