Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Sermon

The preacher was standing at the front door, shaking hands as his parishioners came out. He pulled one man aside and said, "You need to join the Army of the Lord, son!"

"I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor," he replied.

"How come I only see you at Christmas and Easter?" asked the preacher.

"Because I'm in His Secret Service!"

Today, no one is in the secret service for we all called to celebrate and proclaim that Christ is risen! Alleluia! God has shattered the silence of Good Friday, when evil and darkness seemed to have won. We stood by the cross as witnesses on that day but in that prayerful silence we waited and hoped. Now it is God who shouts out new life to our world! God has renewed the earth and this has happened through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Church sees this and proclaims we all must celebrate! We all must proclaim Christ is risen! And for the next 50 days we will celebrate, we will party for Christ who has died, is alive, and we all can live into that new beginning!

As the author Nora Gallagher put it:

"Clearly, on that Easter morning, something happened to Jesus. But something happened to his disciples, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion but after the news of Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, and the resurrection appearances, they walked back into the world. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers; they healed the sick. It’s not only what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them.

What if the life after death Jesus reveals is not a life exclusively for the dead? What if it’s a life available to us all — something that we the living can participate in, too? What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone but also about what those appearances pointed to, what the Risen Jesus asked? The resurrection of Jesus is a resurrection within us, now, in this time and place. A new pattern of events is set free around us, a new way of looking at one another and our world is opened up. It is what we do with this new freedom that matters. We have to practice resurrection."

[Adapted from Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment and Moments of Grace by Nora Gallagher.]

And to practice resurrection means we need to live it in our lives; not keep it as some best kept secret we lock away in our vaults for no one to see. But maybe its not a secret that we keep, but rather we are in awe and fear of the resurrection and we are not sure what to do.

Certainly Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome who went to anoint Jesus were so shocked at the Good news, they fled in terror and amazement…could it be true? He lives? For a time, they kept the news to themselves afraid of what others might say… But we would not be here celebrating if they never told anyone, for they finally did tell Peter and others, and all came to believe that Jesus burst from the tomb, and was indeed risen.

Maybe what we fear is the change in our lives if we truly celebrated and practiced resurrection. If we truly celebrated the resurrection, would people see us as crazy? What would practicing resurrection look like?

The author Megan McKenna tells a story about a time when she was leading a Bible study. She writes,

"Once in a parish mission when I was studying scripture (Luke 7: 11-17) with a large group, someone called out harshly, 'Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?'

My response was 'Yes. Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.' "

[Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible by Megan McKenna]

From the Bronx in New York City, I hear the words of the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood on practicing resurrection…

"The reason we're here this morning is not just because a resurrection happened, but because there's one goin' on. Every time I see a brother or sister come to Christ, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man put down his bottle, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see someone [a man] go back to school, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man hug his son, there's a resurrection goin' on.”

[Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church by Samuel Freedman]

Jesus has brought us new life, new beginnings. It is there for us to live, to experience, to celebrate in our lives. The resurrection is God’s gift of redemption to us. But it is up to us to aceept that gift and then to live it in our lives. We have to make that new start, we have to love, to forgive, to listen, to change, to hope… And we can help bring that resurrection to others who are still living Good Friday lives. Let me end with the poet, Wendell Berry and some more thoughts on living in the light of Easter…

“So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap.
Practice resurrection.”

[Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry]

Today, tomorrow, for the next 50 days of our Easter celebration and beyond, let us practice resurrection! Amen.

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