Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sixth Easter, 2011

(A)John 14: 15-21

Grace and peace on this Sunday, and as we would note this morning a confluence in our calendars of several themes. The Sixth Sunday of the Easter Season, with continuing focus on the central Christian affirmation of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus, and the message and meaning of that resurrection for us. Thus our gospel reading from St. John, continuing in the 14th chapter, which we began last Sunday with the reading from the first part, “In my Father’s House are many mansions,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The promise, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also.”

And this morning that is followed by the promise that in the meantime, before he comes for us, we will be sustained and nourished and empowered to live in the Father’s love and in Christ by the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, who will abide with us and keep us connected to the Father and the Son. Anticipating Whitsunday and Pentecost, now just Sunday after next, and we can almost hear those great hymns: Come Holy Spirit, come!

In the mix with the Easter season moving toward its dramatic festival conclusion, though, we also would know that by very long tradition the first weekdays of this Sixth Week of Easter have been called Rogation Days (“rogation” a word meaning a certain kind of prayer, as we still have in common English the word “interrogation”), the Sixth of Easter Rogation Sunday, and the custom is that these are days when the church blesses the fields as they are planted in anticipation of the harvest to come, with prayers of thanksgiving for God’s continuing care and with supplications for those who labor, and for seasonable weather, and for the material well-being of the community. To take the seasonal turning of the earth from winter to spring, darkness to light, barrenness to abundance, and to let those patterns speak to us of resurrection. Renewal. New life. Abundant and eternal.

When I was rector of St. Paul’s in Bloomsburg we had relationship with a little chapel about 20 miles north of town in the old farming community of Benton, St. Gabriel’s, and it was our custom to go up there in the afternoon on Sixth Easter for Evensong and a blessing of the seed and the fields and for a fun potluck supper with games and music. A day about our dependence on God, and about our stewardship of God’s world. And perhaps we in our urban and suburban gardens this week will want to say a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, as we had reflected for us in the introit and opening hymn this morning.

And of course also the flags out this weekend in front of our homes, and ceremonies in cemeteries, and vigils and brass bands and parades, for Memorial Day, as we have reflected in the final hymn of this service. I believe the holiday on the calendar originally “Decoration Day,” from a time after our American Civil War when mothers and wives and children would go out to the burial grounds to mark the graves of the fallen. Though of course we have more on our mind and in our hearts today than ancient history or even the stories my grandfather would tell from the time of the Great War, or that my dad and so many others would tell from the time of the Second War, and to think of Korea, and Viet Nam. As we offer in our own prayers every Sunday and through the week remembrance of those dear to this congregation serving now in so many places around the world, and of those who go out into battle, and those loved ones at home who have them in their hearts. We give thanks for their service and sacrifice, on this spring Sunday, and pray always for a lasting peace. And in this moment of national prayer, also, gathering in our thoughts all the departed, those we have known and loved, those no longer of living memory, but known to God, and also all about resurrection hope.

So a rich Sunday in the midst of a late spring holiday weekend, and with thanks for the word that Bishop Price shared with us about the first part of John 14 last Sunday morning in that wonderful service, I would like to pause just over this passage the continuation of that great chapter as we have read it this morning, and simply to highlight one sentence, one verse, John 14:18: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” John’s word here in the Greek, the adjective, orphanous, literallly something like "bereft," in the NRSV the easy translation “orphaned," with the association of a child who has lost a parent, some translators give “desolate,” and in the English of the familiar King James translation Jesus says, “I will not leave you comfortless.” All in any event to speak of, to remind us of the consolation and companionship and love and spiritual sustenance the disciples knew and experienced in the presence of Jesus.

And there in the scene of that Upper Room and Last Supper Jesus says, again and again, what is to happen tomorrow on that hilltop outside the city is a departure and separation and loss that is at one and the same time and in a more profound way an arrival and a reunion and a restoration, a renewal and a deepening, an extension, a completion.

In the passage we read from the first part of this chapter last Sunday Jesus said, “and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and bring you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” And as Bishop Price told us, this promise addressed two truths at once. The truth of the return of the Son of Man at what will be both the last day and the first day, in the place prepared for us in the eternal presence of the Father, and the Truth of the anticipation of that return here and now in the lives of his disciples, here and now in those who are and will be Christ’s Body, and who will share in the foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet. Here and now. Soon and already. “I will not leave you orphaned, desolate, comfortless; I am coming to you.”

One of the most influential theologians of the 20th century was an American, Howard Thurman, whose work was especially influential on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His most famous work—and the one which I have read—is called “Jesus and the Dispossessed.” And in that book Thurman takes a long, hard look at Christianity in its faithfulness to the life and message of Jesus, to ask whether in so many places in in so many eras the Church hasn’t become simply a resting place for the comfortable. He asks the Church instead, in a memorable phrase, what good news is there here “for the man whose back is against the wall?” I’m going to have some things to say next Sunday, as we come in the calendar to the Sunday of the "season within a season" of the Ascension, about the recent buzz around the radio evangelist Howard Camping and his prediction of the date and hour of the second coming of Jesus a week ago Saturday. I’m going to talk some about what he got wrong, but I also want to talk about what he got right, and we have an anticipation of it here. To ask, Christian people, if I’m really in trouble, is there any hope for me, any hope that things can get better, get good, get right for me, here and now, here and right now?

I’m not going to be able to unpack all that here this morning. Perhaps something we can continue to do in our thoughts and prayers together. But Thurman’s point is straightforward, which is that if the good news is true, then it needs to be good news here and now and for real. It needs to make a difference. And what we’re going to see in the Ascension and in the miracle of Whitsunday and Pentecost is that Jesus didn’t tell his friends simply to hunker down and lie low and wait patiently in quiet corners for his return. What he says to them instead is that for them, for us, in him, the future is now. The future is now. And this all Holy Spirit. When we turn to him, he comes alive in us. It begins today.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend, 2011

John Christopherson, my grandmother's older brother, died in the Great War and is buried in England. His photograph in uniform, taken at the drug store in Stanley, Wisconsin, shortly before he departed, always had a place of honor on my grandmother's bedroom bureau. On this Memorial Day weekend, with deepest thanksgiving.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou has begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fifth Easter, 2011

At St. Andrew's today we welcome to our 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services as preacher and celebrant the Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price Jr., Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church. We rejoice with Dominic Barbarino, Dawna Byrom, Pamela Groff, Dell Miller III, and Sophia Peterson, as they will receive the sacrament of Confirmation; with Ellie Abel, Molly Rose Danko, Ellen Gray, Hugh Gray, Bryce Matway, and Reid Stasolla, as they are to be admitted to Holy Communion; and with Jack Bowyer, Maeve Denshaw, and T.J. Montgomery, as they will receive their Acolyte pins. Festive coffee hour receptions to welcome Bishop and Mrs. Price and to honor our Confirmands, our First Communion class, and our newest Acolytes, will follow both services.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fourth Easter, 2011

Special Schedule for the Pittsburgh Marathon
Saturday, May 14, 2011, 5 p.m.;
Sunday, May 15, 2011, 9 a.m. & 11 a.m.

May 15, 2011 Fourth Easter (A) John 10: 1-10

Today, this fourth Sunday of Easter, and to reinforce the theme, as we hear as we pray the collect together and the psalm and lessons: Good Shepherd Sunday.

For the first four centuries or so in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition “Good Shepherd” Sunday came a week earlier, the Second Sunday after Easter, what we would now number as the Third of Easter, receiving that name because of the appointed gospel reading from the tenth chapter of St. John.

The older Prayer Book tradition had just a one-year lectionary cycle, and the Good Shepherd reading then was chapter 10, verses 11-16, which is essentially the reading we now have appointed for Fourth Easter in Year B of the three year lectionary—and chapter 10, verse 11 begins exactly with Jesus saying these words, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And then on in Year C we have the third extended passage from the last section of chapter 10, verses 22-30, in which Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Out in the narthex here at St. Andrew’s we have a lovely stained glass window of the Good Shepherd. A traditional image and a touching story really. Jesus with a lamb in his arms. The young rector of St. Andrew’s, Harry Briggs Heald, who died in 1924, suddenly and unexpectedly in his mid 40’s, in the third year of his service as rector, and this window in his memory given by the Children of the Church School, having raised the money themselves. The good, tender, loving pastor.

And as we may remember a few years ago in 2002 we undertook the repair and conservation of that window to honor the Rt. Rev. David Leighton, 13th Rector of St. Andrew’s Church and the only of our now 15 rectors ever to be elevated to the episcopacy, as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. One of the Chief Pastors of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and of course always a great friend of this wonderful parish.

So here this morning as we are, again, Fourth Easter in Year A, and we have the first part of the “Good Shepherd” chapter of John , verses 1-10, and what I want to note first is something that will be obvious to you as soon as I say it: which is that in this section of Chapter 10 Jesus doesn’t talk about himself as the Good Shepherd. He will do so very soon, but before we get there, we have this first and somewhat more obscure image to address. Chapter 10 verse 7, “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” And then again, verse 9, “I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

So, "Door Sunday," or "Gate Sunday." I’m not sure about how to visualize Jesus as the image of the gate, the door to the sheepfold. Perhaps there may be a stained glass window or two with that picture, Jesus as a door, though I don’t recall right off hand that I’ve ever seen one. I’ve seen him standing next to a door, as in the 19th century Holman Hunt painting based on the text from the third chapter of the Revelation to John, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” But never Jesus as door. Would have to be Salvador Dali or something . . . .

Nonetheless it is how this chapter begins. And though we may not imagine it all that clearly in terms of visual or artistic representation, we can see that it means something fairly specific in context here if we’re simply reminded of what has come immediately before this chapter 10, in chapter 9, which is the story of Jesus healing the Man Born Blind.

That chapter begins with the dramatic healing, where Jesus makes a little mud by spitting on the ground, you’ll remember, and then has the blind man go to the pool to wash, which he does, and suddenly is able to see. But actually then the bulk of the chapter focuses on the controversy that follows, as the issue of whether Jesus could lawfully heal on the Sabbath becomes more important than the healing itself, as the Pharisees seek to interrogate the man and his family and other witnesses. Then the man meets Jesus again, and when he discovers who Jesus is, he says, “Yes, Lord, I believe,” and he worships him. So not just sight, but insight, true seeing, seeing and knowing who Jesus is.

And Jesus finally then says something like, “This is what my ministry is about, bringing sight to those who are blind, and demonstrating that those who think they see everything that they are truly blind.” The Pharisees object, “are you saying that we’re blind?” And Jesus says to them, again to paraphrase, “if you’re telling me that you can see what is happening here right before your eyes, and that you refuse to believe that it’s true, then you are convicting yourselves of willful rebellion against God.”

So this becomes a question we might say of authority. Who are you going to trust? A question of discernment. The Pharisees in this great rabbinic tradition claim to be spiritual guides and authorities for the people. But can they be trusted, if they can’t discern God’s hand even in a work as wonderful as this as it happens in their very presence?

And then we follow along into Chapter 10, this morning’s gospel. Jesus says, there are two kinds of people who want to get into the sheepfold. The kind who belong there and the kind who don’t. The kind who are about their business in a wholesome and constructive way, and the kind who are only about theft and destruction. There are shepherds--and there are rustlers. Those who have the well-being of the flock in mind, and those who are out for their own profit and self-interest, lawlessly and destructively. The ones who climb in through the back window, and the ones who enter by way of the front door. And then Jesus, again: “I am that front door.”

If you want to know about who someone is in terms of discernment and spiritual authority, and whether they are to be trusted, the question to ask is, “where do they stand in relationship to Jesus?” Do they come in by way of Jesus? That’s the key, the mark, the central question, as we relate to our teachers, and in the life of community as we relate all of us to one another, since we all in a reciprocal way may be this for one another. So not just about a few, but about many, and about all of us. Coming into relationship to one another through Jesus. Guiding, inspiring, teaching, living with one another. Entering by the door. Not for ulterior purposes, to serve ourselves and our own interests, not defensively, but in relationship first to him. This is how to be with one another, how to give ourselves to one another and how to receive from one another. Through Jesus. The door.

I think a couple of chapters ahead, in John 12, after the great miracle of the Raising of Lazarus, when in increasing conflict with the authorities Jesus returns to Bethany and to the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, and that wonderful scene when Mary opens the bottle of costly oil to anoint Jesus’ feet. An act of pure, loving worship, adoration, like that of the worship of the Blind Man at the end of chapter 9. It’s not about her. It’s all about him. All about Jesus.

At that moment Judas—the one who will soon betray his Master—interrupts the scene by questioning its propriety. Raising other values, and certainly an important one. “Shouldn’t we sell this valuable ointment and give the money to the poor.?” I think John is suggesting that the Evil One is already operating in Judas here, as he tries to change the subject. Not because of an interest in the poor—which John doesn’t believe Judas truly has in any case—but because of this reactive desire to move away from Jesus. To shift the spotlight. It’s almost as though Jesus makes him uncomfortable. As he of course does make a great many people very uncomfortable. Including sometimes, sadly, even in the Church. But the invitation today, the invitation of St. John’s gospel, with the image of the healed blind man before us, of Mary on her knees to pay him homage, is not to move away from Jesus, but to come nearer. To see, to know, to worship the one who is truly a "Good Shepherd."

And we would come near him, as it might be so today. Not to run away and not to change the subject when he comes near us. As the scriptures are opened. “My sheep hear my voice.” The bread broken and the wine poured out: his Body lifted up, given for us. To heal, and to bless. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Bruce Robison

Monday, May 9, 2011

Third Easter, 2011

Knowing the Risen Lord
~~The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate

There are two ways of looking at the resurrection accounts. Some people approach it like this: the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, it happened exactly the way the various New Testament accounts describe it. Others approach it like this: the resurrection is not a historical event, but a spiritual experience of the continuing power of Jesus in the lives of His followers. And most people who look at it one way are convinced that those who look at it the other way are at least missing the boat, and possibly dangerous heretics or religious maniacs. What Scripture says is that both things are true, and that Christian life in its fullness includes both. And nowhere is that made more clear than in the story of what happened on the road to Emmaus.

The context, of course, is the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning; remember that when the women found the tomb empty and were told by an angel that Jesus had risen, they went back to the disciples to tell them what happened, and Luke’s gospel tells us that they did not believe them because these words seemed to them an idle tale. Actually the words ‘idle tale’ are a watered down translation of the Greek, which means ‘nonsense’; lh/roj (leros)—from where we get the word delirium. They thought the women were raving mad!

And in today’s passage Luke tells us how two of those same unbelieving disciples came not only to believe that the story was historically true, but also to experience His continuing power in their lives. These two had left the house where the women had told their story, and were on their way to a village called Emmaus. They were probably on their way home; Jesus and his followers had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, and now, sadly believing that Jesus’s death meant that all that He had promised was not going to happen after all, His followers begin to drift away. John tells us that even Peter went back to his old living as a fisherman in Galilee. But as these two walk, Luke tells us that Jesus Himself began to walk with them—but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. They think He’s just another traveller on the road. Why would God do that? Luke doesn’t speculate, but it as the story unfolds, the reason becomes clear.

The person they think is just another traveller gets into conversation with them, and they are soon talking about everything that had happened in Jerusalem over that weekend. They express their own disappointment and sadness about it: We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. And they also describe the ‘idle tale’ they had heard from the women. Then the unknown traveller says a strange thing: how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. The traveller began to show them passages from what we now call the Old Testament that explain that it would happen just the way it did happen. It wasn’t cause for sadness, but rejoicing—He had redeemed Israel and the whole world! Later they realised that they could have known that Jesus was still at work simply by reading about Him in the Scriptures: after the two disciples have realized that it was Jesus Who had been with them, one turns to the other and says, Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? The Scriptures lead us to the risen Lord; whenever we open our Bibles, Christ is present with us, and if we remember what Jesus has taught us we will feel our hearts burn with joy—and because of this story, we will know why. That feeling in our hearts is a sign that Jesus is risen and alive!

But that’s not the only thing that helps the two disciples experience Christ’s presence. When the two disciples and the unknown traveller have arrived at Emmaus, it’s late in the day, so the two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them, and He agrees. As they sit down to dinner, the traveller again does something unexpected. As though He were the host, rather than a fellow guest, He takes the bread that’s on the table, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Then, Luke says, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. There’s really only one thing that this can be referring to: the events of the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke the bread, gave it to His disciples and said, This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. Now it’s true that these two disciples weren’t there on that night; Luke tells us that one of the disciples was named Cleopas, and we know that only the twelve were present with Jesus at the Last Supper, and Cleopas was not one of the twelve. Nevertheless, the things that Jesus did that night were highly unusual things for a Passover Meal, or any other meal, and it would be surprising if the twelve hadn’t talked about it to the others. In any case, the language Luke uses here of taking, blessing, breaking and giving is so identical to the language used in his description of the Last Supper, that it is hard for me to believe that anything else is being referred to. And later when the two disciples are back in Jerusalem telling others about it, Luke tells us that Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread—using the Greek phrase which by the time Luke wrote his gospel had become a standard way of referring to what we now call Holy Communion. So here is the other way that these two disciples have come to know the risen Lord: in the Holy Communion. When we obey Jesus’s commandment to do this in remembrance of [Him], He is present with us, and when we receive Communion with faith, just as when we read His word with faith, we know His power and presence.

Now we know why God kept their eyes from recognising their Lord: so that even during the period of the physical resurrection appearances, two at least of the disciples come to know the truth of the story and the spiritual presence of the risen Lord in exactly the same way that we can today. These two couldn’t see Him with their physical eyes, even though He was physically present; we can’t see Him with our physical eyes, either, but if they can experience His presence through word and sacrament, we can too! That’s what Luke’s story teaches us: these two disciples needed nothing more than these two things, word and sacrament, to know the historical truth and the spiritual power of the risen Lord: as soon as they understood, the physical body of Jesus disappeared—He didn’t need to stay with them physically, because they had the Scriptures and they had the Lord’s Supper.

A mature faith knows both of these things. There are some who read Scripture every day, but they are ‘lone ranger’ Christians, part of no Christian community, they never gather with their fellow-believers to share the sacraments of the church. There are some who receive Holy Communion regularly enough, but hardly ever open their Bibles. So their hearts do not burn within them; their intellects may accept a theoretical presence of Christ with them, but their hearts are not on fire. The living Lord remains an idea, He never becomes an overpowering reality in their lives, filling them with the power of the Holy Spirit and enabling them to carry His presence to others. The historic Anglican definition of the church is “a congregation of faithful men and women, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered.” Believers need both agents of Christ’s presence in their lives. Sometimes we, like those two disciples, feel that we are unable to recognise Jesus even though we hope He is with us; the way to know that He is, is to read the Scriptures and make the sacraments part of our lives.

There is one thing more, though. Luke’s story doesn’t actually end at v 35; in v 36 Luke says, they told what had happened on the road, (ie how He made Himself known through the Scriptures), and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. And while they were talking about this, says Luke, Jesus himself stood among them. When they shared their experience of Christ with others, they experienced Jesus’s presence in even greater fullness. When we share with others our own experience of what God’s word has said to us, and what Holy Communion means to us, and how Jesus becomes present to us through those things, Jesus becomes even more clearly present with us, and we give others the opportunity to share the blessings He gives to us. This is His recipe for not just knowing about Him, but knowing Him, being in a living relationship with God through Him.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Easter: Annual Parish Meeting 174

(Year A) Acts 2: 22-32; I Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31

Friends: Grace and peace, and continuing joy of Easter. As we learned once again to proclaim last Sunday, and as would be our song not simply for a day or even for the Great 40 Days of this Easter season, but the banner over all our lives: Christos anesti! Christ is risen! Alithos anesti! He is risen indeed! This morning we may not have quite the gathered throng of Easter morning worshipers and certainly miss the wonderful brass ensemble. But there would be Easter hymns echoing. “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing praise to our victorious King.”

And of course once again around us this morning a vibrant sense of our life as we share as witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection—each of us having seen this in perhaps a different way, from a new and fresh and unique perspective, each of us living out the implications of that witnessing in unique ways.

As I’ve said many times before, and often on these days of our annual meeting, it seems almost providential to me that we of St. Andrew’s should be situated where we are in this corner of the city and right up next to the park. So that when folks ask me for directions—“how do we find St. Andrew’s?”—I am able to say, with a smile, “just follow the signs to the zoo.” And here we are, indeed, every breed of cat.

An amazing assembly. Men and women, boys and girls. So many different backgrounds and perspectives, so much life experience, so many interesting stories, so much creativity and potential. Old timers and newcomers. Sharing times of joy, and times of sadness and loss, called in wonderful and exciting ways to reach out in mission and service in our Lord’s name. Some who have come to this place after years of searching, some who have arrived it seems almost by accident.

And as we might from time to time tell stories about how we “found” St. Andrew’s, it would be most profoundly my prayer that in those stories as well we would discover the deeper story of how Jesus has found us. Mary in the Garden, Thomas in the Upper Room. How we like Mary have heard his voice saying our name. How he has met us where we are, so that we like Thomas could touch him, know him face to face, have come to know his life-giving presence in our lives. How we have experienced for ourselves his healing, his forgiveness, his grace and peace, and so how we have found ourselves lifted up in him to be signs and agents of his healing and forgiveness and grace and peace in our families and with our friends and in our neighborhoods and our church and in all the wide world. “New every morning.” –Easter at St. Andrew’s. “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing praise to our victorious King.”

The lessons appointed for us on this Second Sunday of Easter certainly seem appropriate for a day that is also a celebration of life at St. Andrew’s. A day of giving thanks for the lives and ministries of those who have gone before us. 174 years. A day to celebrate what God is doing in and with us here and now. A day to catch a glimpse of the great things he has in mind for us, and for those who will come after us, in years to come.

Peter’s great Whitsunday sermon in the second chapter of Acts, the first great public exposition of the Easter gospel. “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” The great power of God, revealed in the Resurrection and continuing in new and wonderful ways in the baptismal community. Those who share with Christ in his death, and who are raised with him to new life in his resurrection. A lot for us of St. Andrew’s here. Individual stories to be sure of lives turned around, of miracles.

And then there is of course this familiar story of Thomas. Who was missing from the Upper Room on that First Easter night, when the disciples had seen altogether the Risen Christ. Who was confused about what the others were telling him, who couldn’t make sense of the story. But for all that, his famous week of “doubt,” the week later Thomas hadn’t abandoned the community of the disciples. They hadn't abandoned him. He stayed with them, they all stayed together, listening, open. Waiting. And then Jesus came to them, and to him, and Thomas has his encounter with the crucified and risen Lord, deeply personal and experiential. “My Lord and my God.” Perhaps that inner journey something of a reminder for many of us of the journeys that we have travelled. A season, for some of us a very long season, when we have tried to make sense of what others were saying about him. And then a moment, when he has come and made sense of us.

And I love this brief passage finally from the First Letter of St. Peter. Written to a Christian community that has experienced some hardship, opposition, persecution. But even in these opening words, overflowing with hope, excitement, enthusiasm. All about hope. About an excitement for the good future that God has in mind for us in Christ. As he showed Mary in the Garden and Thomas and all the disciples. “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing praise to our victorious King.

One of my favorite poets as many of you know is the 19th century English Jesuit Gerard Manly Hopkins, and in his great poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” he gives us one of his great lines and moments of insight to turn Easter from a noun to a verb: “Let him Easter in us,” he says, “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us . . . .”

This afternoon we’ll spend a few minutes talking about the life of the congregation, to think about elected leadership and the stewardship of our buildings and grounds and the care of our financial resources in all the work God has given us to do. Which is all good and important, and I thank you if you’re able to come and to be a part of it today. But let us hear most of all this morning an invitation not so much to a meeting or even to a new year ahead of services and programs and activities, important as these all are to our Christian life. But to hear the invitation of Christ, that as we have died with him in our baptism, so we would share with him in the fresh and new life of his resurrection. "Let him Easter in us."

As Peter again, for us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you . . . .”

Blessings and peace. Alleluia. Christos anesti! Christ is risen! Alithos anesti. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Bruce Robison