What to Wear at Easter: A Sermon on the Resurrection

This sermon was delivered yesterday by Paul Walker, Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. […]

Mockingbird / 4.2.18

This sermon was delivered yesterday by Paul Walker, Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Happy Easter, everyone!

Welcome to Easter Day at Christ Church! Whether you are here every week or just once a year, Easter is THE day to come to church. The news we have to tell just doesn’t get any better than this.

Which is why the church is adorned with lilies and the choir is dressed up with brass. It’s also why you probably spent at least a little extra time thinking about what to wear on Easter Day. Easter stokes the urge, or remnant of the urge, to dress up for the occasion. So — what to wear at Easter? Spring is here, but Virginia Easters tend to be cold, so the choice of your wardrobe is extra challenging. How is one to balance the splash of color that the arrival of daffodils requires with chill winds of early spring?

Should you have consulted one of the many websites offering advice about your Paschal Haberdashery, you would have been rewarded with a myriad of options. The sites I visited were an interesting commentary on the meaning of Easter itself. A British site, where church attendance stands at 1.4% of the population, declares, “For some, Easter may mean nothing more than a couple of extra lie-ins (meaning, days to sleep late). But for others, it’s the perfect excuse to update your everyday wardrobe and be ready to impress family and friends — because at the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to do that?” Conspicuously absent from that What To Wear At Easter account is Easter itself.

So, leave it to Southern Living, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, to recommend no less than 25 Easter dresses that you can wear first to your Episcopal church of choice, then to brunch at the club, and finally onto an Easter Egg hunt on one’s perfectly manicured lawn. O, the versatility!

At Easter, we dress up, and we dress the church up, because we are looking for ways to acknowledge the ancient creedal affirmation we proclaim to one another in church at Easter: “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia.”  It feels right proclaiming this across the aisles at church, but a little awkward across the aisles at Whole Foods. This is because telling and hearing the news of Easter Day comes with its own set of challenges. How are we to receive the message of the resurrection, which is at once familiar (this sermon is about the billionth Easter sermon delivered in the last 2000 years) and yet, totally unfamiliar. What are we, whose bodies have yet to die, to make of the One who raised bodily from the dead?

The protagonist of Walker Percy’s novel The Second Coming is a prosperous but troubled man in midlife, having retired early after a successful career in law. He lives on a golf course and is surrounded by what are supposed to be the good things in life. Yet, he is nearly suicidal in his despair. Wondering if Christianity has the answers, he says, “I cannot be sure that (Christians) don’t have the truth. But if they have the truth, why is it the case that they are repellent to the degree that they embrace and advertise the truth? One might even become a Christian if there were few if any Christians around.”

He then goes on to give our denomination a backhanded compliment, saying, “The main virtue of Episcopalians is their gift of reticence. Seldom can an Episcopalian be taken for a Christian. Perhaps that is what I like about them.” Ha!

Percy’s character then concludes, “If the good news is true, then the God of the good news must be a very devious fellow, fond of playing tricks.” It may be April Fool’s Day, but the God of the good news is not playing tricks, and today is the day of all days that we proclaim that the good news is true.

I began this sermon talking about Easter fashion for a reason. You may be surprised to know that biblical accounts of the resurrection are very interested in what one wears at Easter, particularly the gospel of Mark. Like all good writers, Mark includes details that are layered in meaning. For instance, let’s look at the young man who makes a strange appearance in Mark’s passion account. We first see him right after Jesus is arrested. “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:51–52).

There is more to this odd tidbit than just a wardrobe malfunction. Mark is telling us something deliberate and purposeful. The young man is a follower of Jesus who, like all the rest of the disciples after Jesus’ arrest, turns into a flee-er. He abandons his Lord. As one scholar, Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, puts it, “The ignominious flight of this anonymous sympathizer serves to underline the complete failure of Jesus’ disciples.” What’s worse — he flees naked! Nakedness was the symbol of shame. This young man chose his own shame over fidelity to Jesus. This young man once covered in linen and now fleeing in shame is a symbol not only of the disciples, but of you and me as well. Who here hasn’t chosen his or her own shame, time and time again?

But this two-verse story in Mark is not over! We aren’t left in our nakedness and shame. Interestingly, the only other reference in Mark to a “linen cloth” is in reference to the burial shroud of Jesus. Jesus’ corpse is wrapped in a “linen cloth”, the same kind of cloth the fleeing young man left on the ground as he turned tail and ran. The cloth that represents our shame buried Jesus in his death. You might say that Jesus takes our shame upon himself in his crucifixion. It is what he wears on Holy Saturday. But Jesus’ story, and our story, are not over.

In our account this morning, we find none other than a “young man” sitting in the empty tomb. The other gospel writers call the messengers angels. That Mark calls this angelic youth a “young man” must tie him to our young man who once fled in shame. Not necessarily the same young man, of course, but an important literary device for the author. But now, this young man is not wearing the linen cloth of shame. Instead he is “dressed in a white robe.” And, lo and behold, the only other appearance of this white robe is at Jesus’ transfiguration, where he revealed his glory — shining in a white whiter than has ever been seen on this Earth.

You see what’s happening don’t you? Now, that glorious robe is on the young man. Now, that glorious robe is on you. The shame of our failure is exchanged for the glory of the risen Lord. And that, my friends, is what you are wearing for Easter.


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One response to “What to Wear at Easter: A Sermon on the Resurrection”

  1. Jim McNeely says:

    Wonderful observation of the young man in Mark! I really loved this.

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