Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Easter Sermon

O Loving God, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on Easter, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Andrew was watching his father, a priest, write a sermon for the Easter service.
'How do you know what to say?' Andrew asked. 'Why, God tells me', his father replied.
Andrew thought about it then said, 'Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?'
Today, God has crossed out death and has written in life!

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb that first Easter morning, they anticipated the stench of death. They had watched their beloved rabbi, the messiah die on the cross. They watched Joseph of Arimathea bury him in his tomb. Now they were going as religion dictated. They did not anticipate that a great earthquake would happen and an angel of the Lord would sit on the stone which was rolled back! But then it happened, and the angel said to them: Do not be afraid. Remember what he said! - He is not here – he has been raised – go and tell the disciples – he will see them. And they leave with both joy & fear.

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.

They did not encounter death at the tomb. They found life in the garden!

Elizabeth Jennings’s poem Resurrection puts herself in that garden:

I was the one who waited in the garden
Doubting the morning and the early light.
I watched the mist lift off its own soft burden,
Permitting not believing my own sight.

If there were sudden noises I dismissed
Them as a trick of sound, a sleight of hand.
Not by a natural joy could I be blessed
Or trust a thing I could not understand.

Maybe I was a shadow thrown by one
Who, weeping, came to lift away the stone,
Or was I but the path on which the sun,
Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown?

I heard the voices and the recognition
And love like kisses heard behind thin walls.
Were they my tears which fell, a real contrition?
Or simply April with its waterfalls?
It was by negatives I learnt my place.
The garden went on growing and I sensed
A sudden breeze that blew across my face.
Despair returned but now it danced, it danced
It is the recognition that everything had changed. And the breeze blew and life not death danced!

Fear, despair, and death did not rule the day. Life did. God had turned the unjust death of Jesus into the resurrected life, and such a life is given to us all by God’s grace. I think of the words of MLK, Jr.:
“God who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the day break of joy; from the sunset and darkness of Good Friday to the dawn and light of Easter.”
As Dr. King put it, it is God who transforms our gloom and sorrow of Good Friday, through the quiet of the tomb on Holy Saturday, to the joy of Easter. God has crossed out death and has written in life!

And God continues that work in our world today, this is from a story I read on Maundy Thursday.
A story from Iran (By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin BBC Persian)

It is Wednesday, early in the morning. Balal is walking to the gallows to face execution in the city of Nour, in northern Iran. It is before sunrise but hundreds of people have gathered near the prison to watch it. His mother and sisters are crying hard, but blindfolded Balal cannot see them as he steps on the wooden stool.

Some in the crowd start shouting "forgive him, forgive him". They are asking the family of the victim to pardon him. Balal murdered Abdollah Hosseinzadeh seven years ago in a street fight. He was 19 at the time, Abdollah was 17. The guards put the rope around Balal's neck. Now he cries hard.

As the dramatic scene unfolds, the mother of Abdollah goes towards Balal and slaps him in the face. Then, in front of the surprised crowd, she takes the rope from around his neck. She has forgiven her son's killer, sparing his life. Now even the police officers start crying.

The mother says she had a dream that her deceased son had asked her not to take revenge… They finally agreed to forgive Balal. They said they would build a football school under their son's name using the compensation collected.”
Their hearts were moved to mercy and forgiveness. They crossed out death and spared his life!

Easter is ours to celebrate. Today, we are the witnesses to new life born from death and like Mary Magdalene and the other women to this surprising and amazing event of Easter. For God still astonishes us today because he constantly creates life out of death and we are called to live out of that mercy, hope and love in our lives; to help cross out death and live in that life written by God for all. Let me end with a poem by Emily Dickinson that speaks of the Easter life!
While it is alive
Until Death touches it
While it and I lap one Air
Dwell in one Blood
Under one Sacrament
Show me Division can split or pare—
Love is like Life—merely longer
Love is like Death, during the Grave
Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection
Scooping up the Dust and chanting "Live"!
For God has crossed out death today, scooped up our mortal dust and chanted live!
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Amen!

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