Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Sermon

Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned at Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. "Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved. Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"
Welcome to Easter! An unbelievable tale! Jesus, back from the dead! For some the story is mere myth, it has no power or interest for them. And like Joey, they’d never believe it as it is told. But we are gathered here because we do, because the story of Jesus gives meaning to our lives and guides us. It is an extraordinary story of faith – Jesus who was dead is alive. Even for the women who knew Jesus, who heard it first, their reaction was both great joy and fear.

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb that first Easter morning, I wonder how they felt going to the tomb. They certainly could not have anticipated that a great earthquake would happen and an an angel of the Lord would sit on the stone and the guards would become like dead men, frozen in fright. But it did. Do not be afraid. The angel says to them. Remember what he said! - He is not here – he has been raised – go and tell the disciples – he will see them. And they do just that.

When they encounter Jesus along the path back to the disciples, Jesus says to them, do not be afraid and go & tell. Easter is here, be free from the fear, go and tell others, I live, Jesus says to them. We don’t need to be afraid either. Some will scoff at the resurrection, some will call it a joke. To the foolish it will seem an idle tale, but to those who believe it is the power of God and it will transform our lives. As Peter Gomes, the author we used during our Lenten Study put it,
“Because Jesus lives we too may live, with as much time as God gives us, free from fear of the past, free from fear of the future. Christ went to the grave; we need not fear the grave. Christ has gone into the future; we need not fear the future. Christ inhabits life; we need not fear life. Because he lives, so, too, we will. Life begins when we discover this truth for ourselves, and act upon it.”
To live our lives of faith, we like the Marys need to spread the good news of the Resurrection. In Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is sent to jail for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Released from prison with the yellow passport that identifies him as a convicted felon, Valjean is scorned and avoided; Valjean is consumed by bitterness and
"hatred for the law…which becomes hatred for the human race, and hatred for creation."
In his wanderings through France, Valjean meets a bishop named Bienvenu, who welcomes the tired, starving traveler into his home. In the middle of the night, as the kind old bishop sleeps, Valjean makes off with as much of the household silver as he can carry. But as soon as he steps out of the house, the police, who had been watching him, arrest him. The police wake the bishop and throw Valjean and the silver at his feet. Monsignor Bienvenu thanks the police for finding Valjean, and then, to their amazement, hands Valjean two silver candlesticks that Valjean had left behind. The bishop says that he was most concerned that Valjean have the candlesticks, as well. The baffled police leave, assured by the bishop that everything is fine. Valjean is even more baffled. The bishop helps Valjean to his feet. Why? Valjean wonders.
"My brother, you belong no longer to evil but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition and I give it to God."
Valjean then leaves the bishop's house with the silver and sets out to build a new life redeeming others as he has been redeemed by the bishop's extraordinary kindness. (from Connections) The Bishop frees Valjean from fear and helps give him his life back, his purpose. Likewise, it is Jesus in his resurrection that helps transform our lives from fear to life!

For the next 50 days, we will celebrate Easter, the new life that is gained for all who put their trust in Christ. But it is up to us how we will celebrate. May we follow the good examples of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who go and tell others. May we be like the Bishop in Le Mes who through kindness is willing to help bring new life for someone stuck in hate & dark thoughts. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it,
“From the resurrection of Christ a new and purifying wind can blow into the present world. If a few human beings would really believe this and would let themselves be moved by this in their earthly behavior, much would change. To live from resurrection - that indeed is the meaning of Easter."
May we celebrate this meaning of Easter and be willing to live into this Easter, into the resurrection, without fear and let our new lives unfold. Amen.

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