Dear sisters and brothers, it is good that Easter has come again. Nice that we can be joyful again and say the Easter greeting to each other: The Lord is risen...
... he is truly risen!
I admit, there have been years or moments where I have also found this Easter greeting very formal, and the pressure of expectation behind this greeting has annoyed me. Someone addresses you with this Easter greeting and then you have to respond like this. I sometimes found that compulsive, uncomfortable.
But if you try to push aside what might be compulsive about the Easter greeting, what remains is an incredible, life-changing message: the Lord - meaning Jesus - is risen.
And the Easter greeting multiplies this message. Today more strongly than on any other day of the year: the Lord is risen.
What does this message of the resurrection mean?
I think, similar to last Sunday when I talked about Holy Communion, it means many things. Many things at the same time.
The resurrection means the victory of life over death. Death could not captivate Jesus because God raised him from the dead. It is only with the resurrection that the way of Jesus becomes a way that hasn’t failed, but became a way of fulfillment. A story that brought all the good promises of God to a good, healing, gracious and reconciling end.
Then the resurrection also means the decisive alternative to violence. The violence that was done to Jesus, and which he suffered without resistance, did not win. It does not have the last word. Jesus could not be silenced and removed from the world by force. Jesus rose from the dead and broke the spiral of violence. Jesus gave one of the strongest signs for non-violence, peace and love.
And with the resurrection a third very important issue becomes clear: Jesus did not lie. Or claimed things just like that, but in the light of the resurrection, truth emerges. Universal truth. Only the resurrected can credibly say of himself that he really bears the sin of the world and is or can be the true sacrificial lamb.
Easter is therefore indeed the epochal, world-changing happening, after which nothing is as it was before. Without the resurrection, faith in Jesus and therefore Christianity would not exist - I think that can be said without exaggeration.
And at the same time, it must be said that the resurrection of Jesus only becomes this godly happening with his suffering and voluntary surrender.
People have risen from the dead before. Before Jesus.
I am thinking not only of Lazerus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, but also of the widow's son in Sarepta, whom God raised from the dead after Elijah asked him to do so (1 Kings 17:22). Or to the son of the Shunemite woman, a story that has to do with Elisha found in the 2nd book of Kings.
From this we see that only in combination with Good Friday does Easter become this epochal happening that I have tried to describe. From today's point of view, it must be God Himself who gives Himself for us humans on the cross and who then rises from the dead. So far so good, one would think.
All that remains is this "tiny little thing" that we heard in today's Gospel.
I don't know if you can still remember Easter 2020. Yes, it has been a long time and yes, there was something like a pandemic and yes, there was a lockdown at that time. So we couldn't have a Sunday Service. And so I made a little film back then which had this very gospel that we heard today as its content. Here, too, I might have to help your memory a bit. The film was about the empty tomb, a bag of lime from the swamp and a large window panel on which I drew lines with a long brush. In the process, I described the situation during the current pandemic. And then, as a punch line, so to speak, I made a change of perspective, turned the window panel upside down, and the brushstrokes that had previously looked random formed a word: Maria.
And what I said then, I can only repeat today: This "Maria" either hits you with full force or it doesn't.
It hits you right in the heart when you realize that you are meant.
That Jesus is addressing you.
This "Mary" is you.
This is me.
Without this "tiny little thing" Easter remains an entry in the calendar. The name-giving event for the Easter vacations and the Easter Bunny.
In fact, it is quite crucial that we let ourselves be addressed by Jesus. And that we understand that Jesus did this for us. For our guilt. For our remoteness from God. So that we do not miss our goal, which is full communion with our Creator.
With Easter everything changes. It is a new beginning of God with his creation and it does not matter if God has always known this. For us humans, who live in the time, it remains a new beginning. Because now Jesus acquires a significance that did not exist before. And so this year I want to ask myself and you the question: What has changed in your life since you believed in Jesus?
That's a worthwhile question, I think. The search for answers to this question will lead us, on the one hand, into gratitude and, on the other hand, show us where we still have room for development. It leads us to where we thank God for the good things that have already happened, and to where we ask God to let us grow.
Since I have already had some time to consider this question, I would like to tell you a story about myself at the end of this sermon.
To the question: What has changed in your life since you believed in Jesus? I would answer, for example: that I am trying to become more truthful.
And I can offer you a story that is on the one hand terribly embarrassing, but on the other hand so human and true to life that perhaps some of you can find yourself in it.
When I was in Rome a few weeks ago for vacation, I borrowed a bicycle. Actually, one should say rented, because it cost 20 euros a day. And with some negotiating skills, or because of a nice lender, I was able to negotiate a price of 54 euros for 3 days. Anyway, I then paid the rental for 3 days, with the option to extend it by another day - totaling to 4 days. And because the lender wanted cash, but couldn't give me back the money for lack of change, he noted these 4 euros on my receipt. I should pay them when I return the bike.
So far so good.
But now, when I returned the bike on the fourth day, another lender was there. He took my bike back and he neither knew what I had rented, i.e. cell phone holder, bike lights, lock, straps, nor did he know that these 4 euros were noted on my receipt. He didn't even know that I hadn't paid for the fourth day. Smiling, he took everything I gave him and gave me back my driver's license, the deposit for the bike. I could have left. And I did go, and I even gave him the 20 euros for the fourth day - but not the 4 euros.
Back home in Graz, I thought to myself: Frank, you’re such an idiot. You want to be a pastor and that’s waht you do? Because of 4 Euro?!? What is wrong with you?
When I then found the retaining straps in my backpack, which I really hadn't taken on purpose but by mistake, I sat down and looked up the address of this bike rental company on the Internet. Then I made a package, put in the straps, the receipt with a 5 euro bill and a note explaining the straps and the money. And when I walked out of the post office in Neutorgasse, I looked up to heaven and said quietly to God: God - I'm working on it.
There are indeed things that are more important than 4 euros. And sometimes it takes detours, but my faith in Jesus changes me.
And for that I am very grateful.