EASTER SUNRISE 1966
"THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTION"
A Sermon by Herbert Beecher Hudnut, National Chaplain of WWI Balloon Corps Veterans
Delivered at Arlington Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966, at 7:30 AM
(Nationally Broadcast on NBC radio)
Our Lord’s resurrection is the most beautiful message in the Gospel. It is above us and beyond. How are we poor mortals to comprehend its glory when it is so far removed from our everyday experience? If we were only closer to the event; if we had only been privileged to walk with Mary Magdalene in the garden and watch as she knelt before the Risen Christ, or to have walked with Him on the road to Emmaus when He entered the Disciple’s home and sat with them at table and was made known to them in the breaking of bread! Or to have been on the shore of Galilee as He asked Peter for a declaration of his love: “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?”
We cannot, nor should we wish to go back to that first century. The present is given to us by God’s mercy. We live these days because He has put us here to be His 20th Century children. I say “children” because Christ Himself said, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the Kingdom.” All that has gone before in human history is our heritage – ours fully to enjoy, ours to share with others, ours to cherish so that the Kingdom of Heaven may be enfolded in men’s hearts.
The Resurrection is a symphony with full orchestra, a mural on a sky-wide canvas. It is a Hallelujah Chorus in which we, Sir Knights and Ladies, lift our voices and join in the marching hosts of God. “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed: Hallelujah!” It is the fulfillment, the consummation, the answer to men’s hopes since time began. When knights of the Crusades survived peril, toil and hardship, to win through to the Holy City in the 12th Century, they carried with them an immortal hope that was their heritage from countless earlier generations. The hope of eternal life was built into the Egyptian pyramids and stamped on Babylonian clay tablets long before Abraham set out from Ur of the Chaldees – not knowing whither he was going, but confident in God’s leading. Men do not travel safely in the desert without food and water; neither should they set out on pilgrimage in this puzzlesome world without a sustaining faith in Immortality.
No man can say that he has proved Immortality as he has proved that he can land a space vehicle on the moon. He can say that he accepts the idea of Immortality by faith. Faith really underlies our every act. It is a basic ingredient in life. By faith, today, Sir Knights set out on quest. By faith they build hospitals and homes for the aged. By faith they establish a nation-wide Eye Foundation to give sight to the blind. By faith they provide leadership for boys. By faith they create a finer moral climate in their communities – and by faith Prelates lift our dead into the waiting Hands of God. The fulfillment of Templar Masonry lies in our faith that Comrades of the past, friends of the present and the hosts of the future have marched and will ever march in God’s Eternity, even as we march today:
“Glory, laud and honor
Unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages
Men and angels sing.
Onward, Christian soldiers
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.”
This is our faith. Do others choose to argue? We can’t! It is a choice – we choose Christ! We must put an end to our reticence in affirming the Resurrection. The Good News must be proclaimed to a cynical world. Derision and scorn may greet the messenger. Place then, your trust in Jesus’ words. Let Him open our minds to understand the Scriptures as He stands among us today in this garden spot. “Why are you troubled? And why do questionings arise in your hearts?”
There was no reticence in St. Paul’s preaching. Follow him for a moment. This is what he said: “Christ died for our sins.” He was buried and rose on the third day. He appeared to Peter, to the five hundred followers, to James, the Head of the Jerusalem Church, and then to all of the Apostles, of whom I am the least.” St. Paul based his preaching, his missionary zeal, and his magnificent service record on the fact of the Resurrection. It was his joyous faith that the Resurrection was a pledge of everlasting life for all who would love Christ and follow Him in humble and quiet ways. “In Christ”, he said, “shall all be made alive. This mortal must put on Immortality. Death is swallowed up in victory.” Lift up your hearts! Pray and be thankful!
Thus spake St. Paul. What of us, his 20th Century disciples, ambassadors of Christ, gathered this day in the silent city of our dead and by this honored shrine of the Unknown Soldiers? General MacArthur spoke of them in his farewell at West Point: “I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as we sought the way and the light.”
Here we might expect to see a burning bush and hear the voice of God saying: “Take off thy shoes, for this is hallowed ground.” We come reverently, washed of pride, humbled in spirit. To paraphrase lines from Gray’s Elegy – perhaps in this un-neglected spot is laid one who could have been like the brave Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, acclaimed as the world’s greatest heroes.
“A heart once pregnant with celestial fire,
Hands that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre.”
What shall we say to the Unknown Soldiers and those others who lie in this hallowed ground on this Resurrection morn? What could poet write above their resting place? Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet is a fitting answer:
“Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee!”
Sir Knights, the Gospel gives life to thee also, and to all who believe in the Savior Christ.
Do we come to such Service hesitantly, as though God were in the wings waiting to come on stage – but the curtain is never raised? Is God on such a precarious throne that no-one kneels in homage? Is the Gospel of the Resurrection a tale told by idiots or by some court jester who expects no return save ribald laughter? What is our answer? This is what matters supremely on this Easter Morn. Does death open the door to endless night or to the Eternal Morning?
Let our answer be “an everlasting yea” – wherein all contradiction is solved. The Risen Christ spoke to Mary Magdalene, to the men of Emmaus Road and to the disciples. It is the verity of the Christian Gospel that He speaks to us, through the written word of the Evangelists, in the silence of prayer, in the realization of all things beautiful and in the Communion of Saints. This is the final truth that each must accept for himself: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord!”
When we become aware of His living Presence, then His resurrection becomes a life force for us. A man’s moral fiber is toughened by his beliefs, especially if they are great ones. What a man thinks in his heart determines his action. Does he think that his life ends in death? Then why pursue good? Why nourish the soul if it be illusory? Why give oneself to any cause outside of self and greater than self, to aid the helpless, to comfort the sorrowing or to encourage the strong, if there be no purpose to our striving? Again it is choice. “As for me and my house”, said Joshua, “we shall serve the Lord.” And we humbly respond: “As for me and our house, we will serve the Risen Savior!” Watch the effect on those who come to that Garden where Jesus conquered death. They heard the great Te Deum of Salvation, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen, and goeth before you into Galilee.”
Communion with the living Lord converted them as they met Him in the Upper Room and on the shores of Galilee – they were changed from cringing cowards to brave Evangelists, sounding the tocsin of the Redeemed:
“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Let us come from that ancient garden now to the blinding reality of the present. Let us try with all our hearts to translate the Easter call to new Life into Christian Knighthood of the highest order. Let us find new courage to go Christ’s way. Let us renew the Church and refuse to sit in the seats of the scornful, or only in the cheering section. Let us find a new awareness of the Resurrection as we practice the Presence of the Risen Christ.
A man wrote, after the death of a mutual friend: “I do hope there is a heavenly hereafter. Otherwise, the loss of such a noble man is unbearably cruel and the essence of religion only a light, good hope and nothing more.” Easter answers him. The Gospel of the Resurrection answers him. Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant, triumphant song,
And hearts are brave again and arms are strong.
Herbert Beecher Hudnut (portrayed as Herkimer Brandle Hudson in EYES TO THE SKY) delivered this sermon on April 10, 1966 at the Easter Sunrise Service at Arlington National Cemetery's Amphitheater. It was broadcast nationally via NBC radio. He was invited to do so being that he served as the National Chaplain of WWI Balloon Veterans after the war. He was forever honored to have had this opportunity.