Sunday, April 20, 2014


Friends: Grace and peace to you, blessings, joy--all the riches of God’s favor, all of them in abundance, on this First Morning of the world.

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (I Cor. 5)

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6)

And as we remind ourselves every year, the ancient  greeting of this day and season.  Before you sit down, let’s say this together:  Christos anesti! Christ is risen!  And the reply,  Alithos anesti!  He is risen indeed!  And we would share that greeting. 

Christos anestiAlithos anesti!

Easter blessings, and in abundance.   (Please be seated!)  Wonderful to see you this morning.  It was in the low 80’s in the afternoon of Palm Sunday.  Then it snowed on Tuesday afternoon.  Easter morning dawns with a more seasonable forecast, somewhere in the middle, April in Pennsylvania.  C.S. Lewis writes somewhere about walking to church on an Easter morning in the spring sunshine behind a family with a little girl who was skipping along perhaps after a long winter like ours and singing to herself a joyful refrain, “Chocolate eggs, and Jesus risen!”  In any event-- whatever the weather, the day above all days, for sure, as in our hearts and minds and imaginations we return again year by year to stand with the women at the opening of the Tomb, in the presence of the angel, flashing bright as lightning, shimmering white in the new morning, and with them there in that wild, strange, disorienting  moment, to hear this news, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

It’s true he had spoken directly about this to his friends.  In Matthew 16 at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter had first put into words his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” -- “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  At verse 21 then, Matthew says, “from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribe, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  And the Evangelist tells us that they simply couldn’t accept this, or even comprehend it.  “And Peter took him and began to rebuke him saying, ’God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!’”  Not long this, shortly after the experience and vision on the Mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples return to their home district.  At Matthew 17:22, “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ “ And Matthew says, “They were greatly distressed.”  I’ll bet they were.  How in the world to make sense of what all that might mean.

They had seen Jesus before all this, at the time of what I guess we would call the “healing” of the daughter of the synagogue official.  The crowd that afternoon had already begun the mourning rituals, as recorded in the 9th chapter of Matthew.  Then Jesus arrives and without even seeing her announces, “the girl is not dead but sleeping.”  The people laughed at his presumption, but then, at verse 25, “he went in and took her by the hand . . . and the girl arose.” 

Hard not to think of the word of Jesus to Martha of Bethany in John 11, by the tomb of her brother Lazarus, as we heard it in the gospel reading week before last, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

“As he said.”  The scriptures have been preparing us from the beginning.  From Noah to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jonah, Elijah, Elisha, the prophets, the exile and return--all the pattern of death and resurrection.  The divine pattern, the way God works, in all his mysterious glory.

The angel says, “Don’t be surprised, don’t be afraid—it’s all happening just as he told you it would.”  And yet they are—surprised, confused, afraid.  And so we continue to be.  This reality of a power, an event, an assertion, so far outside our own frame of reference and expectation crashes over us like a wave, knocks us off our feet.

The temptation always to deny the event, to rationalize, maybe we might say to “spiritualize.”  To retreat into the idea that this is all metaphor and art, speaking to “deeper truths” about the nature of existence.

This is I suppose exactly why so many people will say they are “spiritual but not religious.”  Makes it just that much easier to step back.  But as we prepare to come forward to the Table on this Easter morning, I would simply offer as pastor and friend and fellow-traveler a word and sincere encouragement, that we would resist that temptation, and resist it with all our heart and mind and strength.  And that we would instead insist with confidence and faith and certainty based on the credibility of the report and the authority of scripture and the power in us of the Holy Spirit that what the scriptures say happened that Easter morning happened.    And not in a different world than our world.  In our world.

I would quote a poet against poetry here.  John Updike, in his wonderful  Seven Stanzas at Easter.  Not to read the whole thing, though I would recommend it to you and will have it posted up at my Rector’s Page blog for those who would like to see it there, and with a link also on the St. Andrew’s Facebook page.  But here’s a part of what he says –

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.  [Ah--I love that.  “Let us walk through the door.”]
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

“Let us not mock God with metaphor.”    St. Paul gives his account of Easter at the beginning of First Corinthians 15 and then concludes by saying the same thing Updike is saying: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise, if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”  Then a long pause, before First Corinthians 15:20, a new paragraph.  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  A new paragraph.  A whole new world.  As in our Psalm, “On this day the Lord has acted: we will rejoice and be glad in it!”

This is the foundation.  All I really have to share this lovely morning.   “In fact”—and that’s got to be the key word, or none of the other words matter—“In fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”  For each of us personally.  As he stepped out of the shadow of the Tomb, he pictured us, you and me, each of us.  Good Friday for each of us personally.  As he hung on the Cross, we were in his thoughts.  Not as a crowd, but each of us.  Easter for each of us personally.  Revealing our origin and charting our destiny.  As Paul says in Romans 10, “if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.”  The foundation also of what any of us who would call ourselves Friends of Jesus and Christians would have to say when we walk out of this great place on Easter morning and into the wide world.  To have a word of power to speak into cultures and systems and patterns of life and behavior that hurt and oppress, that wound and kill.  A world of wars and rumors of war—sin and death.  A word of power spoken into this real world.  Not a metaphor, but a fact.  A hard fact.  A reality.  That God is doing something new, it has begun, began at Easter, and that trusting in him, we can dedicate our lives to being a part of what he is doing. 

Grace and peace, blessings, joy--all the riches of God’s favor, on this First Morning of the world.  Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!   The song for us to sing.  Easter.

Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!

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