This is the night …

Sermon preached at the Easter Vigil, 19 April 2014

Rosebud Episcopal Mission (Western side)

Bishop Jones Building, Mission, S.D.

The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley

(Sung, from the Exultet)

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and man is reconciled to God.

This is the night, my friends, THE night, when death lost its sting, its hold, its final grip on us.

This is an incredible night, the night when God reached down from heaven and overcame all of the world’s struggles, all of the world’s resistance to God’s love, and brought God’s love back into the world.

We know all this.

Because we know this story.

We know the story of Jesus’ birth.

We know the story of Jesus’ life.

We know the story of Jesus’ death.

We know the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

For us, it is our theme in glory, that old, old story of Jesus and his love.

We know all this, and we take it for granted, and as a result, Easter becomes more a celebration of family and flowers and good food and for some, a four-day holiday in which to bask in the sunlight … without ever realizing the power, the surprise, the audacity of this night.

Face it: We are not, on this holy night, filled with despair, because for us, the ultimate story of love has already come to an end.

We are not Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, stumbling through the dark hours of the early morning, filled with grief and despair, on their way to the tomb so they could properly care for the one whom they thought would save the world.

For far too many of us, there is no shock for us, no awe.

Because for far too many of us, this is, alas, just another old story, one that we have heard all of our lives. It is, for too many of us, just like an old, favorite movie that we watch over and over again, knowing every line of the script, knowing who is hiding behind which doors, with all the suspense gone.

We know the end of the story, and so for far too many of us, this is just another night.

But let me assure you: This is NOT just another night.

This is the night, the night when earth and heaven are joined, and man is reconciled to God, and death is defeated, and love reigns triumphant!

Picture this:

Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples – and yes, she was a disciple, despite the fact that she is not named as one in the male-dominated world of the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (and to be honest, we aren’t certain which other Mary) are on their way to the tomb.

It is dark.

It is probably cold (Jerusalem sits atop a small mountain, about 2,500 feet above sea level, the same elevation as the Rosebud, and we all know how chilly it can get here in the mornings).

They are grieving, these two women. The man they loved – not physically, I’m not pulling a Dan Brown here; no, they loved Jesus with all their souls because Jesus loved them for their souls – was dead.

They were there when he died. They witnessed that awful death.

They were there when he was taken down from the cross, his body broken.

They were there when he was laid in the tomb, hastily buried because it was the day of Preparation for the Feast of the Passover.

They were there when the stone was placed in front of the tomb, to keep anyone from stealing Jesus’ body in order to make the ridiculous claim that he was brought back from the dead.

And now they were on their way, to care for their Lord’s body properly, to make sure he was anointed with the right oils and incenses, to make sure he was wrapped properly in burial shrouds.

And suddenly …

Suddenly …

There was a great shaking of the earth!

And there was an angel – an angel of the Lord!

And that angel moved the stone from the entrance to the tomb!

And then he sat on it!

The guards posted at the tomb were so scared they shook and became like dead men (I’m guessing this means they fainted straight away).

But the women?

Did they faint?

No, they stood their ground.

Terrified they might have been, but they stood their ground nonetheless.

And the angel of the Lord said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

(Isn’t that soooo God-like? Isn’t that what God always has his angels say, because God knows that angels can be very frightening messengers?)

And then the angel of the Lord gives them the very best news of their lives, the news that shocks them, surprises them, has them in complete and total awe:

He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.

What?!?!

He’s not there?!?!

He really and truly has been raised?!?!

Our Lord, our leader, our teacher … is not here?!?!

With some fear and great joy, the women turn around to tell the other disciples, to carry to them the rest of the story: Go tell the others to go to Galilee, just like Jesus said.

And just as they have started running, who appears right in front of them?

Jesus!

The Risen Lord!

Right there! With them!!!

He, too, tells them: Do not be afraid. (I am telling you, if you ever get a message that begins, “Do not be afraid,” you know you’re in the presence of the Lord.)

And he tells them, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Can you imagine what that must have been like?

Can you imagine what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary felt like in that moment?

Sure, we knew what would happen. We’ve seen this movie a thousand times; we know the ending, and we are not surprised.

But those two women?

They had their socks knocked off!

They were filled with shock and awe and delight and hope and joy beyond words!

Because this wasn’t some old movie for them. This wasn’t some repeat.

This was good news … no, it was awesome news!

This was the Best. News. Ever!

Jesus had defeated death!

He was back!

He was risen!

And they Could. Not. Wait. To tell the story!

My friends … I know we’ve all been through this before. That’s there’s nothing new to this story, nothing to see here, move along, move along …

But the fact is, we should be surprised.

We should be filled with awe. And joy. And delight. And most of all, with hope.

Because this story? It is our story.

And it is one worth telling, over and over again, to everyone who has ears to hear and hearts to listen.

Please, I beg of you:

Be shocked.

Because God has fulfilled God’s promise to us.

Be awed.

Because God did what had never been done before – defeated death.

Be filled with hope.

Because what God did for Jesus, God does for us.

Those two women? They got it. They got that this was good news.

And they told that story, far and wide.

And across the centuries, they are asking us to do the same.

We, the present-day disciples, are called to do this:

To go into the world … and tell the story …

That old, old story of Jesus’ love.

(Sung, from the Exultet)

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and man is reconciled to God.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!!

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No need to be afraid of the truth

Mark 16:1-8

For the past month, I’ve been working via a temp agency at a non-profit in Falls Church. We were at a staff meeting recently when the boss asked me why I hadn’t finished some work he had assigned to me.

“I don’t have all the information,” I said. “If I had the information, I could do the job.”

The boss looked at me and said, in some exasperation – for he did not have the information either, “Well, why don’t you just give me eternal life while you’re at it!”

Immediately, I shot back at him: “I can do that! I’m a priest! It’s a done deal! You already have eternal life! Now can I have my information?!”

My boss’ reaction to this was … well, it was a bit startled. In the month I worked there, he kept forgetting that I’m a priest, and that proclaiming the Gospel is a more important to me than anything else. He kind of laughed off my remark, and meeting went on from there, but I couldn’t help feeling that his remark is emblemic of the challenge that we face as disciples of Jesus these days.

For us, the Resurrection – the triumph of God’s life over mortal death – is a done deal. Happened 2,000 years ago, outside the gates to Jerusalem, on a Sunday morning. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt to boot.

But for so many, the Good News of God’s love is not a fact around which they center their lives.

For so many, it is … well, it’s a special brunch on a Sunday morning. Or an Easter Egg Hunt. Or a chocolate bunny.

You can’t really blame people for not knowing this Good News, for reducing it to off-hand comments like my boss, for making it seem impossible …

Not when you read Mark’s Gospel, you can’t.

Because Mark’s Gospel ends in such a way that it’s amazing anyone knows the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

Really.

Women Arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi

Listen to it again:

So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

You may not realize it, but this verse is considered the true ending of Mark’s Gospel. That’s it: The women left and said nothing to anything, for they were afraid.

No actual resurrection moment.

No Mary Magdalene going to the others to say, “He is risen!”

No disbelieving disciples.

No other appearances, not to the 11, not to the two walking along the road.

No charge to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”

Nothing.

For they were afraid.

How many of us are as afraid as the women to proclaim the Good News?

How often do we, who gather joyfully on Easter morning to celebrate, to say “Alleluia!” again, go out into the world and actually use that word?

How many of us are willing to overcome our fear and tell the truth, God’s truth?

The ending of Mark’s Gospel – the true ending, not what has been added on later – is as abrupt as its beginning. In his beginning, Mark doesn’t present a long genealogy like Matthew, he doesn’t tell a sweet story of the birth in the stable like Luke, he doesn’t engage in theological discussions like John.

Mark simply and brutally lays out the truth:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

The ending is the same: He has been raised; he is not here. … And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

And if you think about it, wouldn’t you have been afraid, if you had been the first ones to go to the tomb, filled with grief, because the man you’ve followed for so long, the man you’ve seen done miracles, the man who preached a truth such as the world had never heard, if that man were dead, crucified by the cruel Romans in the cruelest way possible, in a way that in your own tradition was nothing less than total humiliation?

Wouldn’t you have been afraid, if when you arrived at that tomb, you discovered it was … empty? And that some young man … a man you do not know, whom you have never seen before … was sitting there, clothed in a white robe, telling you that Jesus was gone, that he had been resurrected (“What?” you think. “What does he mean, ‘resurrected’?), and that you are to go tell this improbable, this impossible so-called “truth” to the rest of the disciples?

Wouldn’t you have been, like those three women, scared to death?

And wouldn’t you, like those three women, have kept your mouth shut?

Well, thankfully, the women did not keep their mouths shut, nor did the disciples, because obviously someone girded up their loins and told the truth, God’s truth, and the world soon knew … with astonishing speed, if you think about it … that Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Because – think about it – if no one had told the truth, God’s truth, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

But that still leaves us with the question, on this Easter morning, of whether we are afraid, in this day and age, to tell that truth, God’s truth, ourselves.

Commentator David Lose believes that Mark intentionally ended the Gospel as abruptly as he began it “precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the Good News squarely on our shoulders. … By ending his account in this way, [Mark] invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell the Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as promised.”[1]

In other words, no matter how afraid we might be, it is our job to tell this story, to finish it. It is our job to tell people, like that boss of mine at the non-profit, the meaning of Easter.

It is our job, my friends, to set aside our fear so that we can stand up for Jesus.

• • •

I remember the first time I tried to proclaim the Gospel, tried to tell the story of Jesus. I was a child in Catholic elementary school – I was probably in fourth or fifth grade at the time – and I, the little Roman Catholic who had cut my teeth on doctrine, tried to tell my little Protestant friends about Jesus. The problem was, I had cut my teeth on doctrine, and that’s about all I could proclaim, whereas my little Protestant friends had cut their teeth on the Bible and actually knew the story of Jesus. I can tell you, it was a good long time before I tried proclaiming the truth of God’s love in the Risen Lord!

So I know what it’s like to be afraid … I know what it’s like to be like those three women who went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, and to be confronted with a truth bigger than I could handle.

Now, as you all know well, you can’t keep me from proclaiming the Gospel!

So … on this Easter morning, I am asking each of us to dig down and think hard and long:

What are we afraid of?

What is it that keeps us from proclaiming the truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world?

If we can’t speak the words – He is risen! – in public, then can we at least live those words with our lives?

Can we do what St. Francis is purported to have said, to “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”?

Because, I can assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Because I can assure you, this is true: Christ is risen.

So let’s get to it.

Let us set aside whatever it is that scares us, let us stand up for Jesus, and let us proclaim that truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Sermon preached on Easter morning, Year B, at Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 8 April 2012.

 


[1] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Just the beginning,” on workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=574, posted 1 April 2012.

 

 

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The little things …

Amazon Kindle 3

1 Peter 2:2-10

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a rather convoluted trip covering six states in 60 hours. This is what I do: I’m a missionary who travels constantly to preach and teach and witness.

Halfway through my trip, I discovered that I somehow had managed to lose my Kindle.

Y’all know what a Kindle is, right? It’s the Amazon e-reader that literally changed my life as a missionary. It kept me sane and kept me company when I was alone, a stranger in a strange land.

I’m very partial to my Kindle. I have about 400 books on it, and it has traveled the world with me. Partway through my travels, I realized I had left my Kindle on the plane.

I tried valiantly to get it back, I really did: I called the airlines, I filed a report, I went to baggage claim (where I found someone else’s Kindle, but not mine), I called Amazon, I even posted a note on Facebook (you know, just in case) … to no avail.

But my Kindle didn’t show up. And didn’t show up …

So I ordered another one, and pretty much gave up on ever finding the one that was lost.

Imagine my surprise, then, when last Wednesday I received an email from a man saying that his son had found my Kindle on the plane and had tried but failed to connect with me on Facebook. That morning, the teen-ager asked his father: Can you find the owner? He did.

The father and I had a marvelous conversation, not just about the Kindle but about our families and my service as a missionary and what I do and what he does, and where I’ve been and where he wants to go. In the end, I sold the once-lost-now-found Kindle to him for a severe discount, telling him that the balance of its worth was my gift to them, because they not only found my Kindle, they took the time and made the effort to track me down.

Then, because I’m a social creature, I shared my good news on Facebook.

The responses were astounding! People from all over the country commented, all seeing such good news in this story. This is wonderful, they said. You all are blessed! they gushed. This is a soul-to-soul connection, they wrote. This is not a co-incidence, one opined, but a “God-incident.”

Now … I know this story really only affects a few of us, and in the grand scheme of life it means very little. But for those of us involved, it is an important story. Because out of my carelessness, a new connection, a “soul-to-soul” connection has been established.

One little thing has brought us together – a family in Cincinnati and me, a missionary who gallivants all over the country on a weekly basis.

This, my friends, is what the Apostle Peter is talking about in his Epistle this morning … he’s talking about the little things of life, the little things we do not because we have to do them, but because we belong to God.

When Peter writes that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy tribe (that’s a better translation from the Greek than

The Apostle Peter

“nation,”) God’s own people,” he’s not talking about us saving the world single-handedly.

Peter is talking about us saving the world one little thing at a time.

Remember … Peter is writing this letter to people who thought Jesus was coming back any second now – only Jesus hadn’t come back yet. So Peter is instructing the people how they are to live until that moment happens.

Does this sound familiar?

Doesn’t this sound rather like what we just went through yesterday, with the alleged Rapture that Harold Camping and his followers told us was going to happen at 6 o’clock last night?

Now you and I can laugh and make jokes about Mr. Camping and his predictions.

But in Peter’s day, Jesus’ followers were just as confident as Mr. Camping’s followers that the Risen Lord was due back at any second.

And since the Risen Lord hadn’t come back yet, Jesus’ followers were a bit confused, and rather anxious, and a tad uncertain how they were to live their lives.

So the Apostle told them:

You are a holy tribe … you are God’s own people. Your job, your mission, is to live your lives in holiness.

In every little thing.

We live holy lives when we love one another as God loves us. Every word we say – or don’t say … every gesture we make — or don’t make … everything in our lives is to reflect God’s wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for us.

I know this sounds rather simplistic. But the truth is, those little things we think aren’t all that important? The ones we may be tempted to think don’t really matter … especially in the greater scheme of life? They are important and they do matter.

Because those little things add up. Those little things are the mustard seeds that start out so very small and grow … and grow … and grow … into huge bushes. Trust me, you plant a mustard seed and it will grow so big so fast that you’ll be astonished. You think kudzu is bad? Try mustard. It’s one of the little things.

Face it, my friends: We live in a world that does not support us in our calling as God’s own people, a holy tribe. We live in a world that tells us we have to get ahead – and leave others behind. That tells us we have to spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy … so that we can die with the most toys. That whispers that it is OK to forget those in need … because those in need? They’re not us.

But we are God’s own people.  We are God’s holy tribe. And we are not called to live our lives as society tells us. Because we are, as Father Michael said in his sermon a few weeks ago, homo eucharisticus, thankful people whose mission is to live lives of thanksgiving.

And we do that one little thing at a time …

We live lives of love because we are created in love. Remember: God did not need to create us. We are not necessary to God! God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God! We know this is true, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God wants us, that God desires us, that God loves us into being.

And since that is how God created us – in love — that is how we are to live our lives: In love.

This is our calling.

This is our mission.

This is what it means to be a holy tribe. To be God’s own people. To be homo eucharisticus.

And it doesn’t matter what the world has to say about this, what society tries to teach us!

Every moment of our lives, because we are God’s own, we are called, in every little thing, to live in the same wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for others that God has for us.

And we know what God’s incredible love looks like, don’t we? We know the way and the truth that lead us to life.

By caring for those in need. Mourning with those who are mourning. Rejoicing with those who are filled with joy. Feeding the hungry. Giving water to the thirsty. Making the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute sing and the lame leap for joy! By proclaiming the year of the Lord not once every fifty years, but every year!

We know how to do this and we can do this!

But … we can’t do this all at once! We can’t just wave our hands and cure the world of all its ills. Because we are not God!

But we are God’s holy people.

And as God’s holy people, we can cure the world one little thing at a time.

We can live our lives in love, every single moment of every single day in everything we do, big, little or anywhere in between.

We can take the time to greet the stranger … and let her know she is welcome. We can let that person who is in such a great hurry on I-65 pass us … without saying a bad word, without making a gesture we will regret. We can, as Robert Fulghum once famously wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learn in Kindergarten: Hold hands crossing the street. Help little old ladies. Share your cookies. (You think sharing your cookies is not important? Let me tell you, I’ve lived in countries where we didn’t have enough to eat, and anyone who shared a cookie with you let you know that you deserved to live!)

We can hold this child Timothy Alexander, who was baptized this morning, and tell him, over and over again, that God loves him. That we love him.

We do not have to save the world all by ourselves.

That is God’s job.

Our job, our mission, is to save the world one little thing at a time.

You know … like returning my Kindle … even when you don’t have to.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta echoed Peter’s words when she said, “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God,” she said, “results are not important. Faithfulness is ….”

In every little thing.

Mother Teresa even gives us guidance on how we are to live our holy lives:

‎”The good you do today,” she said, “may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.

“What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

“People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.

“Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.”

You want to live as God’s holy people? You want to show the world what it means to be homo eucharisticus, to be God’s holy tribe?

Do good.

Be honest.

Help those in need.

Give the world your best.

Every single day.

In every little thing.

And if I ever lose my Kindle again?

I’d appreciate it if you’d return it to me.

Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 22 May 2011, Year A, at Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

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Risky business

John 10:1-10

It is odd, in the midst of Easter season, to be thrust back into the life and times of Jesus as he walks purposefully toward Jerusalem and his death, to hear again his words, not as the Risen Lord, but as the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, castigating those in power, telling stories that no one can really understand.

But this is where we are on this 4th Sunday of Easter. No resurrection story for us this day: Rather, a return to the teachings of Jesus, the teaching of the Good Shepherd, of Jesus being both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold.

Now, we could spend our time today looking at what it means to be a sheep – are they dumb or smart? Dependent or independent? – and how that makes us feel, and how we really don’t know much about sheep anymore, because we are not an agrarian society and we don’t have sheep wandering our streets and fields.

Or …

We can spend our time concentrating on out what it means to be led, to have someone

Good Shepherd, He Qi

(the Risen Lord?) calling us – by name  — and leading us through our lives. We can spend our time together this morning figuring out what it looks like, what it feels like, to follow the Risen Lord so closely that we practically step on his heels, and how the Risen Lord leads us to life abundant (or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, to “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of”[1]).

In this Easter season, we are called to focus on just what a risky business it is to do that which God has commanded us: to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and how risky it is to do what Jesus commanded us: to love one another as he loved us. And believe me, living as the Risen Lord calls us to live is very risky indeed .

Start with being called. We all know what it means to be called, don’t we? To be called by name?

Because someone is calling us all the time.

Every day of our lives, we hear the siren song that beguiles us, that beckons us …

To get ahead.

To leave others behind.

To spend, spend, spend … buy, buy, buy!

Every single day, someone out there tells us that we need this new thing or that new thing, that our lives will be incomplete unless we forsake all else to get that particular thing of the day. Do we buy an iPhone 4 or wait for the iPhone 5? Do we get the iPad 2? Or the latest Xbox?

Every single day, someone out there tells us that if we would just do this one little thing – fudge a little on our taxes (“no one will know”) … ignore pleas for help from strangers (“someone else will help her”) … beg off caring for a friend (“she’ll be all right”) – if we would just do that, we will get ahead in the world.

Every single day, we hear the message that if we just work harder, or do this one extra task, or this one little favor, or get this one more promotion, or defeat this one other enemy, we will be able to rest secure.[2]

So we know what it means to be called … because someone is always calling us to stray from the paths of righteousness that the Risen Lord asks us to tread.

Turn your back on all of that, plug your ears so you can’t hear or don’t pay attention to those calls, and listen instead to what the Risen Lord has to say, and trust me, the world will tell you you’re wrong. You’re crazy. You’re a loser. You’re just like one of those people who thinks the Rapture really is going to happen next Saturday, and that the end of the world is coming in October.

See what I mean when I saying that following the Risen Lord is risky?

Face it:

In this world today, in which something like 20 percent of us have more than enough … way more than enough … and 80 percent have nowhere near enough in their lives … enough water, enough food, enough medicine, enough education, enough work, enough money, enough security … it is risky to lead lives of love, instead of hate; to help instead of harm; to share instead of hoard; to give instead of take.

In our society, we aren’t supposed to love wildly, radically, inexplicably and eternally. Far too much of our society is focused on hating someone, on not trusting anyone, on labeling people (Unpatriotic? Un-American? Liberal? Conservative? Left? Right?), on dividing people.

But the Risen Lord, who died for us – for each of us – and who was raised for all of us – didn’t teach us to live like that. He taught us to love. Wildly. Radically. Inexplicably. Eternally.

Society tells us not to live, not to love, like this. But the Risen Lord is calling us, beckoning us, leading us into exactly this kind of life.

This is the Easter season, my friends, when we focus on the fact that God loves us so much that he destroyed death – he demolished death! – so that we can have abundant life! So that we can have lives so much better than anything we ever dreamed of!

Our lives are not supposed to be focused on how much stuff we have, on how many things we can buy, or who has the most toys when they die!

Abundant life isn’t about stuff!

It’s about loving.

It’s about giving.

It’s about caring.

Think about it: What would our world look like if we dared to follow the voice of the Risen Lord, each and every day of our lives?

If we were to focus not on ourselves, but on each other?

Even if those others are people whom we do not know, do not see, have never met and probably never will meet.

• • •

I have been reading a lot lately about how the Church needs to change – not just to adapt to changes in society, but to change how it goes about its business. We are a Church that came into its glory through the Roman Empire, which once despised Christianity and then catapulted it to the religion of the Empire. Our vestments, our hierarchy, the way we do business – far too much of it has been based on the glory days of old.

Now, many voices are crying for us to make straight the crooked paths in the wilderness so that we can bring about this new way of life, a life focused on loving each other as Jesus loved us.

This new life means that we are going to have to do exactly what Jesus did: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, proclaim the Good News that God indeed does love us, the Good News that sets us free from the fetters of a society that doesn’t care enough, that doesn’t love enough.

The Risen Lord is calling us each by name so that we can be the ones to make this new life take root – in our hearts, in our families, in our churches, in our jobs, in our society, in our world.

We are being called out of the tombs of our lives so that we can have this new, abundant life right here, right now!

I know, I know … it is much safer for us to stay home. To do things the way we’ve always done them. To listen to the siren song of society.

But there is another voice out there, another song being sung for us, a song that calls each of us. By name. Right now:

Come. Follow me.

Love one another as I have loved you.

This other song is being sung by the Risen Lord, who seeks to shepherd our lives along paths of righteousness, so that we do not simply survive what life throws at us but thrive in the goodness of the Lord. When we listen to that song, when we allow the Risen Lord to be our shepherd, we find new meaning in our lives. We thrive. We have purpose. We find fulfillment. We know, and we are known. We accept, and we are accepted.[3] We love, and we are loved.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I’m willing to take the risk of following the Risen Lord on the paths of righteousness if it means I will thrive … be fulfilled … be known … be accepted … and most of all, be loved.

That’s a risk I am more than willing to take.

Anyone else want to engage in some risky business?

Anyone?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011, Year A, at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Montpelier, Va.



[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (NavPress Publishing Group, 1993), John 1:10.

[2] Paraphrased from Sarah Dylan Breuer, Dylan’s Lectionary Blog: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, on www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/04/fourth_sunday_o.html, 12 April 2005.

[3] Paraphrase of Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., Abundant Life, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=475, 8 May 2011.

 

 

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Walk on, walk on …

Luke 24:13-35

(Before the service at St. Philip’s, I was introduced to the congregation as a former missionary in Haiti. I also had gotten lost on the way to church, and had to ask for help getting there.)

Before I served as a missionary in Haiti, I served in Sudan, in the Diocese of Renk, for four years. While I was there, I lived on the border between the North and South, on the border between Arabs and blacks, on the border between Muslims and Christians. It was a very tense time, because the civil war had just ended and they were beginning their movement toward independence, which happens on July 9 of this year.

Where I lived, we liked to refer to as “beyond the back of beyond.” That’s how far away it was. It was 250 miles south of Khartoum on the White Nile River. It was 250 miles to the next white person, and it was 250 miles from chocolate ice cream. If I wanted chocolate ice cream, I had to go on the terrible roads up to Khartoum, but to do so, I had to pass through up to 50 military checkpoints, with a bunch of people who didn’t like me. They didn’t like me because in Sudan, I had five strikes against me before I even opened my mouth. I was a white, female, Christian, American priest. At every checkpoint, there would be somebody who had an issue with one of those five.

So I would stay in Renk – after I would fly into Khartoum, I would go down to Renk, and I would stay there and not go back and forth to Khartoum because it just got to be too dangerous. It was not just dangerous for me; it was dangerous for the Church in Sudan, because the government in Khartoum – the government – is a fundamentalist, Islamic government, and was actually friends with the late Osama bin Laden. They had real issues with Americans, and they did not like Christians, and they were not impressed with white, female, American priests. What the government would do is check up on me, and through checking up on me, it would spy on the Church, because the government in Khartoum despises Christians and it despises the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which is the fastest growing portion of the Anglican Communion in the world.

I was there for three months and then I got thrown out because the government likes to play these games. Then I received permission to come back and when I got back, I got what is called my “residency visa,” which made me fully subject to all the laws of Sudan. Being an American wasn’t worth spit. And it made life even more difficult for all of us, so I stayed for six more months, then came back to this country for some work, and then went back to Sudan.

I had been there long enough that there were days when it was difficult. There were days when I wanted to know whose stupid idea this was, for me to move to Sudan. (Mine.)

And then April came. April is truly the cruelest month in Sudan. It’s 140 degrees every day. We were living on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We had a gallon of water per day in which to bathe. I had to filter every drop of water that I drank or it would kill me, because it came out of the While Nile, which is filthy.  There was no electricity. There were no fans. I taught under a tin roof. And I reached a point where my faith began to waver some.

I didn’t lose faith in God.

I didn’t lose faith in Jesus Christ.

What I lost faith in was my call, and whether I actually belonged there in Sudan.

And so I wrote an e-mail to a friend of mine.

Now because we had electricity on a very sporadic basis, and because the Internet was just beginning to spread over Sudan, there were days when nothing would go out over the Internet. It could take weeks for an email to go out. I had a friend who wrote to me every day and I would write a message to her.

Now … I would write them, but they wouldn’t go anywhere. One of the emails I wrote to her was actually 32 printed pages long. Every day, I would say, “Well, the Internet’s not working, but let me tell you about today.” In that 32-page-long document, I wrote to her and I said, “I am not certain what I’m doing here any more. I am not certain that this is what I’m called to do. This is hard. And we’ve had nothing setbacks. Even though we have a peace agreement, we do not have peace. It’s really, really difficult right now.”

My friend, God bless her, wrote back to me (and I have to quote this, because I get this quote wrong all the time), she sent back to me a quote from a U2 song – y’all know U2, the band, and Bono, its leader? – that’s called Walk on, walk on.

All my friend sent to me was the song’s refrain:

“Walk on, walk on …

“You are packing a bag for a place none of us has been

“A place that has to be believed to be seen.”[1]

You are packing a bag for a place none of us has been,

A place that has to be believed to be seen.

That song could be theme song for this morning’s Gospel from Luke, the story of the two people on the road to Emmaus. They are walking along, having left Jerusalem. Now remember, this is the third day. They have been followers of Jesus. They have seen Jesus perform miracles. They saw him feed the 5,000 – heck, they helped Jesus feed the 5,000. They have seen him cure people, restore sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. They have seen the lame leap for joy. They have experienced the love and the joy and the hope of this man, whom they were convinced was the Messiah, and then … then he was arrested. He was beaten. And tortured. And crucified. And they laid his body in the tomb.

These two people are walking along the road, and all of the joy, and all of the love, and all of the hope, is gone. It’s in that tomb. With Jesus. Even though the tomb is now empty.

The baggage that they are carrying … this suitcase that they are carrying … is filled with despair … and loss … and very real fear that either the Roman authorities or the leaders of the Pharisees are going to come after them, because they have been followers of Jesus.

If you read this in the Greek, I want you to know, Luke is very, very clear. The word that he uses for walking along the road to Emmaus is not the normal verb for walking.[2] The normal verb that you use for walking is peripateo, which means to walk along with some energy. The verb that Luke uses instead is a verb (poreuomai) that talks about trudging along, carrying a heavy load. So these two are walking along, very slowly, trudging, and the baggage that they carry is despair, and fear, and hopelessness.

And then this man appears on the road with them (this is not unusual), and he says, “So, what are y’all talking about?” (I’m from the South; that’s how we say things down there: “What are y’all talking about?”)

And what do they do? They basically diss him, and say, “What are you, stupid? Are you the only guy in town who doesn’t know what was going on?”

Now, let me tell you something. The Romans, they crucified people all the time. Crucifying Jesus would not have made the front page of the Palestinian Gazette. So, really, anybody could have missed the news. But they insult him anyway.

And the Risen Lord says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Didn’t you guys get it? You were followers. This is all old information. You were followers. I mean, don’t you pay attention to the Scriptures?!”

So he opens up the Scriptures to them, beginning with Moses, about how he fulfills everything that has been written in the Scriptures. And their hearts are burning within them, but they’re not quite certain why.

When they get to Emmaus, it’s evening, and trust me, you do not want to be walking around at night in a place like that, just like you don’t want to be walking around at night in Sudan. You just don’t do that. Never mind the wild animals, you’ve got bandits out there. So they do what any good Palestinian would do: They provide hospitality. They say, “Come on in. Spend the night with us because you do not want to be out on the road at night.”

So Jesus comes in and he then does what we call the four-fold method: He takes the bread, blesses the bread, breaks the bread and he gives them the bread. It’s what we do in the Eucharist: Take, bless, break and give. And in that moment, they suddenly realize that this is the Risen Lord! And then he disappears from their sight.

Suddenly, they are excited, because they realize they have finally seen the Risen Lord, and maybe … maybe … it’s time to empty that suitcase that they have been carrying, and get rid of that baggage! Maybe it’s time to set aside the fear, and the hopelessness, and the despair!

They hightail it back to Jerusalem, where the other disciples are. Now, the word that Luke uses in the Greek for “hightailing it back to Jerusalem” is very, very clear as well. It’s darned near running! It’s like a quick trot. Because they’ve got this good news that they need to share!

Now, I ask you to spend a moment thinking: How often in your life have you been filled with despair?  How many times in your life has something happened that has caused you to lose hope? Something that has caused you to be afraid? What baggage do you carry in your life that causes you to trudge along the roads of your lives?

We’ve all had this happen to us. We’ve lost a job. Somebody in our family has gotten ill. Perhaps a child has run out into the street to get a futbol and was killed. We’ve all had these moments of deep, deep despair, when we have lost all hope and we cannot find joy, no matter how hard we look. That moment in your life is the moment that these two disciples were at on the road to Emmaus.

Now, how often in your life has somebody shown up at that moment when you were down in the depths, in the pit? How often has somebody shown up in your life and said, “Let me carry that burden with you”? How often has somebody shown up and said, “Let me take that away from you. Let me give you hope again. Let me restore you to joy. Let me fill you with love.”

Has that every happened to anybody? When you’ve been down in the pit and somebody has come along?

My friends, when that happens to you, you are seeing the Risen Lord. That’s when you see the Risen Lord. When somebody comes along, and says to you, “I will carry that burden with you.” When somebody comes along and says to you, “Do not despair.” When somebody comes along and says to you, “God loves you. And God loves you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And God loves you … and you … and you … and you … and God loves you.”

We see the Risen Lord in our own lives, all the time, but we do not always recognize the Risen Lord in our lives, until our hearts burn within us and we realize that the despair we are feeling? We need not carry on our own. That the pit into which we have fallen? Others have been there, and they know how to get us out … and they will lead us out.  When we can no longer find joy, and somebody comes along and says, “Look! Look at this gorgeous spring day.” We know that God is alive and well in the world when you look at the nature around us – even as you’re sneezing from all the pollen.

You know that there is hope in the world when y’all make these beautiful peace cranes to send to the people of Japan, who are in the pit, who know despair, and who are living in sheer terror that one of those nuclear plants is going to melt down. You are sending the same message that the disciples received on the road to Emmaus.

We are all walking along a road, going to places that people have never been. We are all going to a place that has to be believed to be seen.

Bono’s anthem is the anthem for the road to Emmaus. We are always on that road where we have to go someplace that you have to believe to see.

Sometimes we are the people … sometimes we are the ones … who carry the load for others. Sometimes we are the ones who reach our hands out and say, “Hi. Let me help you with that.” In those moments, we represent the Risen Lord to those who are most in need.

We don’t get to see the Risen Lord the way the disciples saw him. We don’t to see the Risen Lord the way these two men walking along the road to Emmaus saw him. We don’t get to see the Risen Lord the way the 500 got to see him. We don’t even get to see the Risen Lord the way Paul got to see him, when Paul was still Saul and was on that murderous mission, going off to Damascus to arrest a bunch of people who had said they were seeing the Risen Lord, and then he met the Risen Lord face to face while he was sitting on his butt in the middle of the road.

We don’t get to see the Risen Lord in that way. You know why? Because the Risen Lord is in each of us. And it is incumbent upon us – it is up to us – to make the Risen Lord known to each other. To strangers you meet on the road. To your friends and your family. To the babies you’re holding in your laps. (To the person who gets lost on Sunday morning and says, “Really, church is starting in nine minutes and I can’t find it! Do you have any idea where St. Philip’s might be?” And the first person says, “No.” “Do you know where Chapel Road is?” “No.” “Do you know where any church is anywhere in this town?” “No.” “Would you like to come to church with me?” “No.”)

This is our call in life: To make the Risen Lord known.

We take the burdens from other people.

We bless those burdens.

We break those burdens, so that they are not so hard to carry.

And then we give them … we give those burdens back filled with love, and joy, and hope.

You want to see the Risen Lord, you look at each other. You look at yourselves in the mirror. The Risen Lord is within you. There are days when you are the Risen Lord to others, and there are days when others are the Risen Lord to you.

We are on a journey, my friends.

We are on a journey to a place that no one has ever been, to a place that indeed has to be believed to be seen.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, 8 May 2011, Year A, at St. Philip’s, New Hope, Pa.

 

[1] (Walk On, Walk On, U2, lyrics by Bono)

[2] Sarah Henrich, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., This passage ‘R Us, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=5/8/2011.

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Pansies and ‘pistos’

John 20:19-31

Last Wednesday night, I was at an Episcopal church for the installation of the new rector. I sat in a pew with the rest of the clergy, and at one point during the service, the priest next to me reached over and pulled out a card that had been filled out by someone and returned to the pew holder. It was a newcomer’s card – you know, the kind where the parish welcomes you and asks you to share some information about yourself. These cards are supposed to go into the offering plate, but this person put it back in the holder. Because the writer didn’t actually offer the usual information.

This note was actually a plea:

The Doubt of St. Thomas, by He Qi.

“Can anyone tell me if Jesus is real? (it read).

“Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

“I’m sitting here surrounded by people who believe, people who have faith … and I don’t know if I can believe.

“I want to believe, but I can’t.”

This plea was written on Sunday morning, on the first day of the week – on Easter morning. There this person sat, in the third pew on the Gospel side, surrounded by hundreds of other people shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”, not knowing how to believe!

I do not know who wrote this note – it was signed, “Anonymous.” Below that, the author had written, “I’m learning to believe.”

I do not know if this person was male or female, black or white or Latino or Asian, young or old, gay or straight.

All I know is that on Sunday last, on Easter, Thomas showed up at an Episcopal church and in the midst of celebration, surrounded by believers, said, “Wait just a darned second …”

We call today “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. Poor Thomas. Just because he wasn’t in the upper room when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples, we mock Thomas for wondering what was going on, and we hang an epithet on him – “Doubting” – as though nothing else he had ever done – none of the faithful following of Jesus, none of the declarations of “let’s go also, that we may die with him” – ever happened or even matter.

But a little warning here:

Nowhere in John’s presentation of the Risen Lord’s appearances in the upper room does the word “doubt” appear.[1]

The Risen Lord does not say to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

What Jesus says, instead, is that Thomas is apistos – without trust or faith. He was just like those other disciples, who had been apistos as well. They were untrusting just like Thomas (remember, when Mary Magdalene came to them that very morning with the news of the Resurrection, they for darned certain didn’t trust or believe her, because if they had, they wouldn’t have still been huddled behind locked doors in that upper room, praying no one would find them!). They had not been pistos – faith-filled – until the moment the Risen Lord had bid them his peace and showed them his wounds.

So when Jesus showed up the second time, a week later, what Jesus literally says to Thomas is, “Do not become untrusting (or faithless) but trusting (or faithful).”[2]

So you see, it’s not that Thomas doubted. It’s that he wasn’t quite ready to trust again – not this soon.

Remember, Thomas had been with Jesus for a large part of Jesus’ ministry. He had walked with Jesus, heard him preach, seen the miracles, felt the hope, saw the love, reveled in the joy …

And then …

Well, then, Jesus was arrested, tortured, killed.

And all those words, all those miracles, all that hope, that love, that joy … all of that had died on the cross and been laid in the tomb, and now … now … just three days later, the other disciples want Thomas, who has given up all hope, to hope again? They want Thomas, who saw his trust violated, to trust again? Just three days later?

You know what Thomas was thinking, right?

Give me a break!

Thomas needed more than just the word of the other disciples – because he had believed once and been burned, and he wasn’t going to get burned again, at least not that easily. It took another appearance by the Risen Lord to convince him.

Sounds just like that person who showed up at that church on Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

Thomas two thousand years ago … an anonymous person on Easter Sunday 2011 … they’re asking the same questions, they’re caught in the same bind.

They want to believe.

They just can’t.

Which leads to the question:

How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

How many witnesses do you need?

Let’s do a little experiment in faith, shall we?

Let’s see what happens when together, we do something rather unbelievable, and you have to convince others – let’s say, the people at the 8 a.m. service, because I wasn’t here for that – that what is about to take place actually took place here this morning.

Do you see these flowers here?

They are pansies – I know this because I went to a nursery yesterday and specifically asked for them.

They’re pretty, are they not?

They’re lovely harbingers of spring.

They come in an assortment of colors, which I have carefully chosen, because believe me, colors make a difference.

Why?

Let me show you …. (eat pansies)

Mmm … quite tasty, actually.

And yes, just to let you know, it is perfectly safe to eat pansies. Not so much other flowers, but pansies are fine.

Now … if one of you were to call someone who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, “You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” that person probably would not believe you.

Because unless I’m sorely mistaken, preachers do not normally eat pansies in the pulpit. It simply isn’t done.

But that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? (eat more pansies)

Now … if, say, ten of you were to call that same person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, ““You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” there’s a good chance that person still won’t believe you. Because, after all, ten of you could be pulling off an elaborate joke, right?

But what do you think would happen if all of you were to call that person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and proclaim, “The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!”?

Do you think they would believe? Because all of you were witnesses, and all of you proclaimed the truth?

My friends, I assure you: If enough of you testify to the truth, others will believe.

And the truth is, this morning, I am eating pansies in the pulpit.

So again, the question: How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

Going back to the Scriptures and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, how many witnesses do you need to believe the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection? Because we have witnesses. We have lots of witnesses.

We have the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week and met the Risen Lord.

We have the disciples, hiding in fear in the upper room.

We have Thomas, who eventually did trust enough to believe.

We have the various other followers of Jesus, who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus … in their villages … out in the open …

We have the 500 to whom the Risen Lord appeared at once …

And then we have Paul, who then was still Saul, who was on a murderous mission to persecute those who claimed to have seen the Risen Lord, and who met the Risen Lord while sitting on his butt in the middle of the road to Damascus …

Exactly how many witnesses does it take to convince you that the unbelievable is believable?

What does it take to make us move from Thomas’ “I do not trust your story and therefore will not believe” to Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God!”?

Do I need to eat more pansies to make the unbelievable believable?

Because I will, if that’s what you need.

Just as the Risen Lord made many more appearances to his disciples, which John did not write in his book, because that’s what those disciples needed.

To have their trust restored, to be able to believe again, to become pistos again, Jesus came back, again and again, so that his disciples could know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that he was raised from the dead.

My friends, we are not the witnesses to the actual Resurrection.

But there were witnesses – lots of witnesses, hundreds of witnesses – who saw the Risen Lord, and because of that they became pistos – they trusted again, they believed again.

And because they trusted and believed, we trust, we believe.

That’s why we’re here this morning – because we trust and believe their eyewitness accounts, the ones they have been passed on to us.

So what are we going to do with this trust, this faith that we have received?

How are we going to tell the story in such a way that those who do not yet believe – like that anonymous person who wrote that poignant note last Sunday – can indeed learn to believe?

How are we going to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus?

We don’t get to hear the story of the Resurrection just so that we can put that story in our back pockets. We hear the story, we become pistos, so that the whole world can hear the story, so that all can become pistos.

It’s kind of like me eating these pansies in the pulpit.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do something with it.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home and pick up the phone and call someone from the 8 o’clock service (let’s call him “John”) and I want you tell him that the preacher ate pansies in the pulpit. I want you to convince him that this really happened.

And then, I want you to talk a little Gospel. Talk about where you have seen the Risen Lord in your life, today, and everyday. Convince him that the Lord is risen indeed. And talk about where he sees the Risen Lord in his own life.

I guarantee you, there are more Thomases out there. Thomas might even sitting right here this morning. Any one of us could be Thomas.

Whoever Thomas is, wherever Thomas is, he needs to hear from us. He needs to hear that the Lord is risen indeed.

Our mission is to tell the story in such a way that those who are apistos can become pistos, those who aren’t sure, who don’t trust, who want to believe but can’t quite get there, become certain, dare to trust and do believe.

I’ll even give you some pansies, if that will help. (eat pansies)

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011, Year A, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, Va.



[1] This discussion is based on Brian P. Stoffregen’s Exegetical Notes on Crossroads Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm, accessed 26 April 2011.

[2] Stoffregen’s translation, along with The new Greek-English InterLinear New Testament, United Bible Societies’ Fourth, Corrected Edition, 404.

 

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Tweeting Resurrection

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked on Facebook what we would say if we had to Tweet the Good News of God in Christ Jesus on Easter morning.[1]

You all know what Twitter is, right? It’s that instant messaging service in which you can say whatever you want in 140 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation.

I have to be honest: I have not been a fan of Twitter. I find it to be terribly narcissistic, that most of what goes out to the world is useless, vainglorious nattering.

But Twitter now has a place in our lives. Look at the role it has played in the Arab Spring … in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. More than 26 million Americans alone use Twitter … tens of millions more people use it around the world, and tens and tens of millions more people follow it without every posting a thing.

Which means that if we can come up with a really, really, really great Tweet on Easter, we could reach tens of millions. And if our Tweet is really, really, really, really great, we can reach maybe even hundreds of millions of people!

All we have to do is figure out what to say about the Risen Lord in 140 characters or less … including spaces and punctuation.

So here’s our challenge on this Easter morning:

What should we say?

How should we announce the greatness of this day?

The Women arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi.

Should we edit Peter down and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all, raised from the dead on day three. He is ordained by God as judge of all. All who believe receive forgiveness”? (That’s 138 characters, by the way.)

Meh … too complex.

Perhaps we could turn to the Psalmist: “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! The right hand of the Lord is exalted! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”? (That’s 139 characters.) But … that’s not quite clear, is it? And it is very triumphalist. So this won’t work either.

Now we could quote Paul, the apostle who never met Jesus in the flesh, only the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. His Tweet could read: “You have been raised with Christ. Set your minds on things above where Christ is. For you have died, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Ha! That one is exactly 140 characters!)

Um … I’m thinking this isn’t the good news we were looking for.

So what about quoting the Risen Lord himself? “Jesus says: Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Ninety-five characters – pretty concise.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell people that Christ is risen, does it?

There’s the message from the angel: “Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised.” That’s fairly straight-forward, and it only takes 53 characters.

It is Good News, but is it enough? Does it really convey what we want it to convey? Is it enough to convince people that this is the Good News of their lives? I don’t think so.

So even though we know what the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, is and what it means, we still don’t have a message to Tweet that is good news for our readers.

And we do want to convey good news, because this is our job. We don’t just get the Good News this morning … we have to give it as well. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, on the day he died for us, “It is finished.” He was saying that his work on this earth was done, and now he was turning it over to us.

Make no mistake: This is our job. We have to spread the Good News to a world that does  not know the Good News is even there! There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t quite gotten the message. For far too many people, this day isn’t about resurrection. It’s about Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies!

But Jesus gave us this job, and we’d better get working.

So tell you what.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s build a Tweet together.

Let’s figure out how to share with the whole world the Good News we receive on this holiest day of our lives.

We can start with the words of the ancient song, the Exsultet, which can only be sung on Easter.

The Empty Tomb, by He Qi.

 

(chant)

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,

And let your trumpets shout salvation

For the victory of our mighty king.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,

Bright with a glorious splendor,

For darkness has been vanquish’d by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,

And let your holy courts, in radiant light,

Resound with the praises of your people.

That’s a pretty good message, don’t you think?

A little long, though … it kind of blows the 140-character limit.

So let’s reduce it down.

Let’s just make the first part of our Tweet say, “Rejoice!” That’s eight characters – still plenty of room to work with.

But to be effective, we have to be clear why we’re rejoicing.

What is it that makes us so happy on this holy day?

Is it the knowledge that Jesus died for us? For each of us? Personally?

Yes. But what does that mean?

That God loves us, perhaps?

That is why Jesus died for us, you know – because he loved us.

So I think that might be the next part of the message.

God loves you.

That’s another 14 characters, so we’re still in good shape.

But even though that message has been repeated many times before, there are still some people who don’t quite believe that God loves them. Some people don’t believe Jesus died for them, and others say, “Yeah, OK, he died for us, but how does that prove that God loves us?”

Well, we have that answer, don’t we? It’s pretty simple, actually:

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

(chant)

This is the night,

When Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,

And rose victorious from the grave.

The women went to the tomb on the third day so they could anoint Jesus’ body, but he wasn’t there. He was gone. It was the angel who told them the God’s-honest truth: He has been raised from the dead – just like he told you.

In that rising, my friends, God proves his love for us by not just defeating but by annihilating the one thing we fear the most: death itself.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us – for each one of us, right here.

God loves us so much he destroys death for us – for each one of us, right here.

So let’s make that the next part of our Tweet:

The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen!

That takes us up to 83 characters. Meaning, we still have some room to get more of our message across.

So let’s explain some more why this is all Good News.

(chant)

Easter Morning, by He Qi.

 

This is the night,

When all who believe in Christ

Are delivered from the gloom of sin,

And are restored to grace and holiness of life.

How blessed is this night,

When earth and heaven are joined,

And man is reconciled to God.

And there you have it.

The gloom of sin, which leads to death – emotionally, spiritually and physically – has been lifted. Our lives, which sometimes can seem so empty, so pointless, so difficult, so draining, are restored to grace and we are made holy again.

Any separation from God that we may have experienced in our lives is over and done with. We have been reconciled to God. Our relationship has been put to right, we have been brought together, our accounts have been squared. We are reunited with God, and all our differences have been patched up and resolved.

By dying for us, Jesus wiped the slate clean.

By raising Jesus from the dead, God keeps that slate clean … forever.

And that is Good News indeed. Why, it’s such Good News that I think we ought to praise the Lord for it.

So let’s put an “Alleluia!” in our Tweet. We’ve got the room.

And look! We still have some room left.

He Is Risen, by He Qi.

So let’s go back to where we started. Let’s put in another “Rejoice!

Put it all together, and I think we just might have our Tweet. I think we are ready to proclaim to all the world what makes us so very happy on this Easter morning.

Rejoice! God loves you! The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen! All of us are reconciled to God! Alleluia! Rejoice!

And we did it in 135 characters, thank you very much! I think my friend on Facebook would be pleased.

Yeah.

We have Good News to share this morning:

God loves us, and we can prove it. The tomb is empty, Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

And you can Tweet that!

Amen.

Easter sermon, preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va., 24 April 2011, Year A.

 

[1] The Rev. Mark Delcuze, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beverly Farms, Mass., “Tweeting the Resurrection,” 13 April 2011, https://www.facebook.com/mark.delcuze?sk=notes

 

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