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Bible Search
Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter - March 31 2018

Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, Year B
March 31, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

This is the third of four sermons in a Holy Week series, which I began last Sunday, when I outlined several themes that I hoped to explore with you. On Palm Sunday, I pointed out two ideas:  first, that Jesus seemed to know not just the “big plan” but also all the little details for the days to come, from the existence of a foal for him to ride, or the presence of a man carrying a water jar who would lead the disciples to the house where they would hold their feast of the preparation for the Passover.  And there was more: about Judas, and about Peter, and more besides. 

And in discussing these revelations, I pointed out that how we interpret scripture matters, and we need to be careful when we do. 

We don’t want to take St John’s constant harping about the Jews as grounds to blame the death of Jesus on the Jews alone, without implicating ourselves.  And we know that people in our own country have supported slavery based on just a few texts, or people even today condemn GLBTQ persons based on how they read six or seven verses (out of something like 31,000 total).  I also said that, if we read selectively, we might conclude that God (not we) killed Christ, and that God would have killed us for our sins, but instead killed Christ, and that God did this because our sin needs to be punished.  I’ll get back to this in just a couple minutes, after I clear some more of the brush here on the edge of the metaphorical forest.

On Thursday, I spent some time with the question of what it means to suffer for Christ, for our faith.  When the apostles and disciples suffered, it was because they, like Jesus, argued for a way of life that upset the status quo and threatened the halls of power in their time.  And if they were martyred, they saw it as a way to enter into the sufferings of Christ – as a privilege and an honor to die as he had done for the truth that God alone saves, and does so out of love for creation and humankind. 

In short, suffering for the faith does not mean being prevented from oppressing others, no matter how properly we live our own lives otherwise.

Moving on, then … God did not kill Jesus as a proxy for killing humankind for sin.

So why did Jesus die?  Simply put, it was for love.

When we say, Jesus died for our salvation, we are saying that all the things that we think must separate us from the love of God, don’t.  St Paul famously said nothing can separate us from the love of God.[1]

I don’t know if we really believe this to be the case.  If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, why do we tell people that God cannot love them because of something they have done or something that they are?

If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, how can we tell people God will punish them for their sins?

If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, how can we justify – even to ourselves – our hatreds and our jealousies and our denial that how we live matters?

No, no.  If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then we can allow ourselves to love ourselves and our neighbors.  If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then we can allow ourselves to serve one another without counting the cost.  If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, we can relax and let go of the idea that somehow we have to earn God’s love before God will love us, and we can relax and ask forgiveness when we need it.  Even now, right now.

If we really believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then we can live as God desires we do – kindly, gently, with patience, joyfully, peacefully, faithfully, and with self-control – for these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are given freely and abundantly, if we will but accept them.

Barbara Brown Taylor, some 20 years ago, wrote about a spirituality conference she attended, where one of the questions asked was “who in your life best represents Jesus?”  The participants were all listing people who had made a positive impression in their lives – mentors, helpers, healers, teachers, friends, even strangers or people in history.  One woman had difficulty, however.  When asked for her input, she said, “I had to think hard about that question. I kept asking myself, ‘Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill them for it?’”[2]

Friends, we are privileged to know that God loves us – let’s not shoot the messenger, okay?  Let’s not deny the truth that is revealed in the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of this Jesus: we are loved.  And that God’s love extends to all creation, all humankind, all people, no matter who or how they are.

By taking on humanity, and being born of a human woman, Jesus was fully human – not just appearing to be human, but fully human, no holds barred, no I left un-dotted or T left un-crossed. 

And as we all know, human beings die – we don’t have to like that, but eventually you and I will all be nothing but dust and ashes, just as was promised to us on Ash Wednesday. 

Which meant that one day, even Jesus was going to die, no matter how much the disciples hoped otherwise, because he was the Son of God.

But here’s the thing – since he was human, just as we are, when he died, his humanness died too.  And this where things get strange – he rose again.  His body was seen walking around on earth after his death.  It wasn’t a “seeming,” or an “appearance.”  He proved it by having Thomas place his hands in Jesus’s side.  He proved it by sitting down by the fire on the beach and eating a bit of fish with Peter and James and Andrew and John.  His humanity rose.  His humanity was not like a coat he could take off; having been born human, he remained human even in death.

And when he ascended into heaven, he took his humanity with him. 

Now we know of course that he wasn’t only human, he was also, because he was the Son of God, divine.  Therefore, when God’s divinity was joined to our humanity in him, something new became, and we became able to accept the divine into ourselves as well. 

It’s okay to have questions; it’s okay to have doubts, about all sorts of things, and how this all works in practice.  It’s also okay to accept the love that God offers so freely, and to spread it around as widely as possible.  I think you’ll find that once you start doing that, it just gets easier and easier over time.

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

 

[1] Romans 8:38-39.

[2] Christian Century, March 18-25, 1998.