Sermon for Easter - 20190421

Sermon for Easter, Year C
April 21, 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18

I have to admit I’m in a bad place, emotionally.  I look around me and I see signs of ending all over the place – assaults on the environment, assaults on civil liberties, assaults on the rule of law, assaults on churches and synagogues and mosques, assaults on school children, assaults on immigrants, assaults on health care, assaults on everyone who disagrees with anyone, assaults on the press, assaults on the Congress, assaults on the president, assaults on bureaucrats, assaults on educators, assaults on experts, assaults on farmers, and on and on and on.  We are living – if one can call it living – on a diet of hate, vituperation, insult, distrust, unkindness, anger, and hopelessness.

Call it a modern version of Holy Saturday.  Our messiah, who was supposed to save us from oppression, died on the cross, and the only good thing about that is that it only took him three hours; because we know that many people can take days to die.  We had so much hope, so much excitement.  All the miracles and all the stories he told us were signs pointing to God breaking into the world with new life, with healing and understanding, fulfilling all the ancient promises – the poor raised up, the rich cast down, the hungry fed and the sick healed, a new creation.

And it’s all gone now.  The darkness has descended and we are devastated.  All we can see is what we have lost.  God’s promises have come to nothing, after all.  It was too much to hope for.  We were fools, and now we have nowhere to turn.  How do we pick up and go on, knowing what we know, having seen what we have seen, having held such hope in the power of love and forgiveness, and then it all comes to nothing?  What do we do now?

First, we weep.  We wail, we cry out, we double over in our pain.  We don’t know what will come next.  We know things now we didn’t know before.  How could everything just dissolve like this?  Is this the end?  Are there any grounds for staying in this place, with these people?  What can we make from this destruction?

I think we’ve all seen the pictures and videos of the fire at Notre Dame.  There’s one on the bulletin this morning.

The building was burned; and the fear was very real that it would be wholly destroyed.  That fear came across as the flames rose higher and higher, and as the spire fell.  People on the streets across from the cathedral stood and knelt and prayed and sang hymns, and yes, took selfies, everyone there felt the need to be there and to document this event and their experience in some way – with pictures, with prayers, with presence, and with watchfulness.  The pain was visceral, palpable, and pervasive. 

But as it turns out, the photograph tells a deeper truth: that destruction is never the end of the story.  The cross remains.  And the structure is sound.  And funds are available to rebuild.  And the bees survived – the hives on the transept tower are still active. 

Life goes on.  Bp Steven Charleston wrote, “Notre Dame will always be a symbol, but now for more than before.  After the fire, it will remind us that permanence is no stronger than smoke, that faith is more lasting than stone, and that what we make we can make again, but what we have lost can only be regained when the symbol gives way to the reality behind it.”

“What we have lost can only be regained when the symbol gives way to the reality behind it.”

Without Jesus’ death on the cross, without Holy Saturday’s broken hearts and hopes, the resurrection would, quite simply, not be the resurrection.  The cross still hanging in the cathedral reminds us that God has entered our pain, our fear, our temptations, and even our deaths, God has entered fully our humanity, our frail and mortal nature, and will never leave us alone.

Even if we don’t feel the presence of God, even when we are convinced there are no grounds for hope, that we’ve made too much of a mess of everything, even when we our reason and our emotions tell us everything is destroyed, that cross in the darkness of the raging fire’s aftermath tells us that GOD IS STILL HERE.

We might be sure that we must wall ourselves off from all the bad thoughts and bad things; we have built walls and fortified the gates between us and them, and we have closed those gates.  We have made them strong and mighty as we can, in a desperate desire to separate the evil in this world from ourselves, to defend ourselves from all that stuff that’s out there, to protect ourselves from facing our own fears and our own faults and our own failures.

But Jesus?  He’s out there with the fears, those faults, those failures.  And the only way to get to Jesus is to open the gates and face them.  Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, that the king of glory may enter. 

When the women came back from the tomb, the other disciples doubted their story.  Luke says they called it an idle tale.  Barbara Brown Taylor says that’s a problematic translation.  While we hear that “they considered it an idle tale,” the actual Greek text uses a much stronger word than “idle.”  Much stronger:  Absolute nonsense.  Completely impossible.  Total crap.  They were convinced it could not be as the women said.

Now, John doesn’t say what they thought about the women’s story, but that Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb as a result.  Why?  They all assumed Jesus was dead, and they had good grounds for doing so.  Yet they went – perhaps they thought someone had taken the body?  But having come to the tomb and seeing it empty, they both left again.  Peter was left wondering, and we are left wondering what the beloved disciple “believed.”

But Mary of Magdala remained behind, weeping.  But wonder of wonders, in her deep sorrow and despair, Jesus came to her. 

The wonder of it all!  The amazement!  The joy!

I have seen the Lord! 

When things are dark, when the flames are rising, when everything is breaking, when we lose our hope and fear the worst, when we are sorrowing and cowering … the Lord still lives.

The Lord still lives.  God’s Spirit still abides with all who suffer – and we all suffer.  It can be hard to see God in the world around us, at times.  It takes practice, because we may want to see God in one way, but God may not be that way.  We are invited, by the Scriptures, by the traditions, by the saints, by our prayers and our liturgies, to seek God at all times and in all places. 

We want God to fix what is broken in the world, what we have broken, but all God will fix is what we allow to be fixed, and it will be that which is broken in us, and we will have to figure out what comes next ourselves.

The broken world cannot be fixed until we are fixed in ourselves. 

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
behold, the King of glory waits;
the King of kings is drawing near;
the Savior of the world is here!

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
make it a temple, set apart
from earthly use for heaven's employ,
adorned with prayer and love and joy.

We have seen the Lord!

Only in seeing the Lord, can we be healed.  Only in that way will we be an Easter People, an Easter Church.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

[And the people say:  “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”]

  May 2021  
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