This Is the Day

Sermon for Easter Sunday
April 9, 2024

They say that nobody fully understands rejection until they’ve been ignored by their cat. And maybe that’s true. I have two cats, and they’re pretty good at ignoring me. There’s no meanness to it. They just have a way of reminding me that their self-worth doesn’t necessarily depend on my attention.

Which brings us once again to Psalm 118 and the building-blocks that were rejected. They were used to build the temple of God. And one of them—perhaps the biggest reject of them all—was used as the cornerstone that held the whole structure together.

That’s how Holy Week began for us. We read a processional psalm that told us about how there was One who would go from being rejected to becoming the centerpiece of something amazing and new.

When Israel returned from exile to a Jerusalem that had been burned over and dismantled, the nations laughed at them. “They’re using rejected stones—many of them scorched—to rebuild their city,” they said. But they didn’t care what others thought. And neither did the Lord. For those same rejected stones were used to build the very house of God.

If you ever go to Germany, one of the places you ought to visit is the city of Dresden in Saxony. In modern times, Dresden is probably most famous for having been bombed near the end of World War 2. Between the impact of the bombs and the resulting fires, the once beautiful city was nearly completely destroyed. In fact, some of it lay in rubble until after German reunification.

And one of the last buildings to be rebuilt was the beautiful Frauenkirche—Our Lady’s Church. Though much of the rubble of the church was hauled away and either disposed of or used elsewhere, when they started rebuilding the Frauenkirche in 1994, they used all the old stones they could find. And when the church was finished in 2005, you could see exactly which stones were old and which ones were new. The newer ones were pristine, but the old ones were discolored—not just with age, but also scorched because of the fires that destroyed the city sixty years earlier.

This monumental church in Dresden is one of the world’s prime examples of how destruction can be turned into beauty, and how scorched stones can be used as the building materials for something amazing.

In the Bible, those ill-used stones are a metaphor for God’s people. How others view us isn’t important. What matters are the plans God has for us. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to behold.

But in the very next verse we see something else—an Easter message like no other.

This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it. —Ps. 118:24

Whether beautiful or ugly, perfectly dressed or poorly shaped, new or scorched—what if those stones aren’t just the people of God’s Kingdom, with Christ being the cornerstone? What if they’re also the days and hours and moments of our lives, with the cross and the empty tomb being the crossroads of all time?

To wake up on Easter morning and say, “This is the day the Lord has made!” is to say that all the days that led up to it meant something—something important. There wasn’t a day in the life of Christ that was wasted. And Jesus taught us that the same thing was true of us. Live for today, he taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. Life is more than the things we worry about and the material things we strive for. Instead, strive first for the Kindom of God [see Matt. 6:25-34]—the Kingdom of God which is already within your grasp [Matt. 4:17], the Kingdom of God is within us [Luke 17:21].

To say that this is the day the Lord has made transforms the present. Knowing that today didn’t just happen by chance, but that it’s a gift of God, helps us to realize why the present is called the present: because it’s a gift—a gift that we shouldn’t waste.

But what about all the other days, the days that made today possible? They, too, were days the Lord made. And without them we could not experience today. And just as Psalm 118:24 transforms the past and present, it also transforms the future. No longer is it something to worry about or fret over.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’re all building blocks of God’s time. The days we treasure, and the days we wish we could forget are all part of who we are and what got us to this Easter morning. Just as God redeemed creation and just as God redeems people, God also redeems time.

Maybe you can picture what it’s like for many of us during the winter months. The world is frozen—often covered with snow. There seems to be so much we cannot do. And so we wait for something better. Into that frozen void, God speaks, as the Belovèd spoke in the Song of Solomon [2:10-13]:

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

When God calls, time is redeemed. The long winter days of waiting are not wasted. They show themselves for what they really are: Building blocks of a new age. Overworn, jagged, and scorched, God speaks them into a new existence—a life in which each moment matters.

On that cold day of earliest spring, the sun barely above the horizon, Mary Magdalene must’ve thought her own days were now meaningless. She came to the tomb to do her duty, to pay her last respects to the corpse of the Person who had changed her life. But even that pittance of dignity was denied her, for the body of her Lord had been taken away.

When she saw the gardener, she asked him for help. And then he spoke her name, and with the sound of his voice came the end of the season of death. “Mary,” he said, “don’t cling to me, but go—tell others what you’ve seen” [John 20:16-17].

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away, for winter is past and the flowers spring up from the ground. Arise, my love.

On Easter, we listen for the voice of our Belovèd. We hear our name and we realize the days of waiting weren’t wasted. Time is redeemed, and we discover that whoever it is that we thought we were—that’s the one Jesus loved all along. Arise, my love, and come away, for this is the day.
—©2023 Sam L. Greening, Jr.