Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sermon

Be present, be present, O Risen Christ, as you were with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread and in the Scriptures, we pray. Amen.

A teacher asked the children in her Sunday School class, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and give all the money to the church, would I get into heaven?” “No!” The children all answered.

“If I cleaned the church everyday, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I then get into heaven?” Again, the answer was “NO!”

“Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into heaven? In the back of the room, a five year-old boy shouted, “You gotta be dead!”

You gotta be dead. Out of the mouth of babes… And that’s where the holy story seemed to end on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Jesus, the messiah, the Christ, the one expected to change everything was killed. He was crucified like a common criminal. A spectacle to be held and we were left to watch and wait.

It was over. Hate crucified love. But God was still at work & new life was about to be born from his sacrifice…

In the little village of Eyam, located in the lead-mining region of northern England, is remembered for their sacrifice.

In 1665, much of London to the south was caught in the grip of a devastating epidemic. The north was largely spared - until a flea-invested bundle of cloth arrived from London for the local tailor in Eyam. Within a week, the tailor was dead and more began dying in his household soon after. That's when the 350 villagers decided to isolate themselves, in an effort to protect the neighboring settlements from contagion. Rather than fleeing their infected village, the people of Eyam made the heroic decision to stay, quarantining themselves in order to contain the plague. Their sacrifice may well have saved many thousands of lives in the north of England.

The villagers of Eyam marked out their isolation perimeter by a circle of boundary stones, one of which was a well. People from the surrounding area brought food, medication and news to the well and boundary markers and left them there to be collected by the stricken villagers.

Records show that at least 260 of 350 villagers died over the 14 months that the epidemic raged. Entire families died in the epidemic. We can imagine the remaining uninfected villagers treading to the stone wall and well, seeking the means to live for another day.

The well at Eyam became a powerful symbol of everything that wells are supposed to be: a symbol of life, of healing, of cleansing. [From Sacred Space: Stations on a Celtic Way by Margaret Silf.]

To this day, the well at Eyam and the stones that remain of the isolation wall honor the selfless sacrifice of the people of Eyam. The story of Eyam is a story of how the human spirit can discover its place of resurrection by entering the heart of the darkness, without evasion or circumvention, with courage and generosity.

Jesus knew his actions would cause a reaction by the Roman Empire and Jewish authorities, but his courage and spirit, were not stopped by the cross. His sacrifice became a beacon of hope that Easter morning, for everything changed in the resurrection.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? The angels asked the women at the tomb. He is not here. He is risen. As he told you. And they ran and told the disciples who at first did not believe it. Peter ran and it was just as the women had said. They were amazed at what had taken place.

Love had indeed won, Jesus had defeated death and won for us freedom… Life out of death.

In his book The Liberators, author Michael Hirsch details the stories, impressions and reactions of American soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camps as they chased the last remnants of the Nazi army in the final days of World War II.

Hirsch also includes in his book the recollection of one of those liberated. Coenraad Rood was a 24-year-old Dutch Jew who worked as a tailor. He was arrested in 1942 and spent three years imprisoned at a number of camps. In January 1945, he lay dying in a covered ditch in the camp at Ampfing when the US 14th Armored Division liberated the camp. Rood remembers:

"Suddenly, I heard my friend Maupy. I heard him speaking English, saying [to someone] 'go in there. My friend is dying. He should know that he is free before he dies.' [The trapdoor to the ditch] opened up and there was an American soldier there . . . I was laying in the dark, in the dirt, and he told me, 'come, you are free now.' And then I started crying. I try to get to him, but I was, like paralyzed . . . I was crawling on the ground, trying to get to the door. And then he picked me up by the collar of my little jacket [and] he was holding me. I remember I thought, 'Man, is the man strong!' . . . And he told me, 'You're free now. You understand? It's over.'"

"As dirty and sick as I was, that soldier, that American soldier, kissed me. And I kissed him back, and he was holding me and took me [outside to ditch, into the light] and said, 'See? You are free now.' And he cried to."

After the liberation, Coenraad Rood was reunited with his wife Bep, who survived the war in hiding, they became war refugees and they made a new life for themselves in the United States.

In the light of the empty tomb at Easter, every moment of forgiveness, every triumph of justice over persecution, every insistence of goodness in the face of horrendous evil, every act of compassion (no matter how simple or small),every act of selflessness to help others live, proclaims the good news that Christ is risen.

You are free; it's over - the words of American soldiers to the victims of the Holocaust. Why do you seek the living among the dead? - the angels ask of the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning. Easter is God's never-ending invitation to freedom, his raising us up from our "tombs" of death to life.

And, in turn, we become liberators ourselves, picking up others from among the dead and restoring them to life and hope. We do this when we welcome refugees to our country; we do this when we offer a hand to our neighbor in need; when we make sacrifices so others can live. We do this out of the love that would not be stopped on Good Friday.

As that old hymn tells us:

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

On this Easter Sunday, may we seek to bring such resurrection to the darkness we encounter; may we bury our own self-interests and wants for the sake of the greater good; may we practice resurrection in what we say and do in order that God may restore us to life in the well of compassion and mercy and love that is the Risen Christ.

Today, your friend, your liberator, your beloved, your messiah is not dead but alive.

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Amen.

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