It's the Third Day!

1 Corinthians 15: 11-11              Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 24: 1-12   March 27, 2016

“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.

Prayer:  O Risen Christ, your resurrection resounds in our community of faith!  May we let it resound in our hearts even more so!  Amen.

[singing]  This is the day (echo)  That the Lord has made (echo)  We will rejoice (echo)  And be glad in it (echo)  For this is the day that the Lord has made!  We will rejoice and be glad in it!  This is the day (echo) that the Lord has made!

Wonderful song!  I’ve sung it for years—especially raising children.  As you may know, we used to change the lyrics to help the kids with potential night time fears… sing with me… [singing]  This is the night (echo)  That the Lord has made (echo)  We will rejoice (echo)  And be glad in it (echo)  For this is the night that the Lord has made!  We will rejoice and be glad in it!  This is the night (echo) that the Lord has made! Amen!

Well, this is the day that the Lord has made!  This is Easter Sunday!  This is the day!  Today!  The song doesn’t say “This is the yesterday…”  Not only doesn’t it flow well, it doesn’t make any sense!  This is the day that we say, “Christ is risen!”  (Christ is risen indeed!)  Amen!  This is the day that we say, “On the third day he rose from the grave!”

When the women first arrived at the tomb, it was the beginning of the third day.  When the angels spoke to Mary and the women, they reminded them that Jesus said he would be raised on the third day.  When Peter and the other apostles heard the words from the women, it sounded like nonsense to them… but Peter went to see for himself, and he was amazed because it appeared to be true—on the third day he would rise again as Jesus told them.

And, it’s been the third day ever since.

The “third day” is a metaphor for the era of Christianity.  It’s been the third day for almost 2000 years.  We’ve been living in the third day!

The third day also a metaphor signifying the new life that can be found by accepting in your heart that Jesus is God’s Son and is your personal Savior and Friend.  As that acceptance happens in you, you realize you’ve been living in the third day all along!  God’s grace is experienced profoundly as God’s forgiveness permeates your soul, as God’s love touches your heart, as God’s mercy inspires you to start again in this new life… no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, God loves you. Turn to your neighbor and say “God loves you!” God accepts you, and you are welcome here by God and all of us!  It’s the third day!

Take Paul as an example.  In his letter to the church in Corinth, he tells them that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter and the apostles, and a whole bunch of other followers, but then he appeared to Paul, whose name at the time was Saul.  And as Saul, he was commissioned by the religious establishment to seek out and persecute those who followed Jesus and claimed him to be the Christ.  A pretty bad man.  But, Christ called even him.  His name was changed to Paul, and he became the chief apostle among the apostles.  Paul was living in the third day!

And, I proclaim to us today—we’re living in the third day!  The new life we find in Christ means that death never can have the last word in our lives.  Only God has the last word. It is “love!”  We always have hope that we’re living in the third day.

After a traumatic event… we’re living in the third day.  Remember on June 17th last year, a white supremacist shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina?  Among the nine was their lead pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  Well, on January 24th, the congregation welcomed a new pastor, Rev. Betty Deas Clark.  In her first sermon she said, “God feels our pain, hears our cries, and God knows our every move.  While the dreams, expectations, and bodies have been laid to rest, we must not allow nor put our hope to rest” (The Christian Century, March 16, 2016, p. 16).  It’s the third day at Mother Emmanuel Church.

After death, it’s the third day.  One of our colleagues, Rev. Michael Piazza tells a story of how he and his partner used to have a sago plant as a potted plant in their house.  In the warmer months they had it outside.  Over a ten year period, it grew so big that they couldn’t bring it indoors anymore.  One night, even though covered, the hard freeze killed the poor thing.  With sadness they threw it out behind the shed where it

stayed over the winter.  In early spring, though, Mike saw a new sprout of growth on the dead corpse of a plant.  He dug that new growth out and re-potted it.  Death’s not final.  Life finds a way.  It’s the third day.

After years of ecumenical differences, we’re living in the third day.  Another colleague, Rev. Cameron Trimble describes “convergence,” where churches work together.  “We see a world where a United Methodist church is working collaboratively with a Pentecostal church to start a new ministry to address poverty in their neighborhood.  We see Roman Catholics partnering with the United Church of Christ churches to address climate change.  Convergence is a call to action for the Christian church to proclaim a generous Christianity that welcomes all people as children of God, reconciling us one to the other and to our earth (http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-10/church-s-new-foundation, retrieved March 25, 2016).  We even see our own Christ Church partnering with churches of the Brethren and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church by supporting the winter homeless shelter.  It’s the third day when churches converge and work together.

But even though it’s the third day, there’s still a long way to go.  The beauty and value of the third day struggles to come to fruition when we are slow or unwilling to let old habits die.  As long as old values don’t change, as long as old patterns continue, as long as old identities remain, the third day is not yet fully here.

It’s like the Australian aborigine who got a new boomerang, and then spent the rest of his life trying to throw away his old one!  [act it out]  As humorous as that is, it speaks the truth.  The old ways boomerang and keep returning, intruding on our lives.  We replay patterns of dependence or self-absorption.  We return again to harmful habits, hurting ourselves or ones we love.  We rely on old reactions in the face of new circumstances, refusing to grow spiritually or emotionally.

Some people fuss about the movement “Black Lives Matter.”  Their response is “All lives matter.’  Well, yes, all lives matter, but in truth and in practice, we’re not there yet.  Old, harmful habits and attitudes boomerang back.  Systemically, politically, economically, “all lives matter” is still a dream.  The third day where all lives matter is not yet fully here.

Globally, ISIS is wreaking havoc.  The sad events at Zaventem International Airport in Brussels, Belgium tell us that the third day is not yet fully here.

But, the fact of the matter is—Christ was raised by God on the third day.  I can’t prove it—but proof is not necessary.  Whatever happened on that first third day, we believe that Christ is rising and continues to rise in our efforts to make the era of the third day real.  And every year, when Easter comes around, whether we have belief or disbelief, we are asked to remember his words, that on the third day he would rise again.  This is that day.  Today is the day he is risen!  This is the day the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Amen!