Easter Sermon

IMG_0449Easter Sermon is about living between Good Friday and Easter

Throughout the season of Lent we refrain from using the word “alleluia” in our formal worship. Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality with the ashes of Ash Wednesday placed on our foreheads along with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lenten practices involve acts of self-denial, walking the way of the cross, confessing our sins, practicing repentance. And, of course, Lent ends with the proclamation of the resurrection: “Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia.”

Oh, how I wish that we lived fully in an Alleluia world. We come to church on Easter with the beauty and aroma of glorious flowers and magnificent music. We sing, “Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia.”

But in the back of our minds may be a relative’s disease, a friend’s looming surgery, a loved one’s diminishing mental ability, or our own worries for ourselves. The media bring us news of troubles, tragedies, and evil near and far.

In some real respects we continue to live in a Good Friday world: a Lenten, “alleluia-less” world. The landscape is littered with crosses—real and imagined. And so we exist in the tension between Good Friday and Easter, between grief and alleluia, between death and life, always hoping that life will prevail, but realistic enough to know that the angel of death still looms, still roams the world.

Interestingly enough, that seems to be the very place that the Gospel of Mark says the first witnesses to the resurrection were. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for final burial. They found the stone that covered the opening had been rolled back. Inside they encountered a young man dressed in white, who told them that Jesus wasn’t there, he’d been raised, and that they and the disciples would see Jesus in Galilee.

There was no unmitigated joy for the people who experienced the resurrection on that first Easter morning. It seemed that it raised more questions than it answered. The text says, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[1] In fact, some ancient authorities believe that Mark’s Gospel ends right there – with terror, amazement, and flight.

In other words, they didn’t quite know what to do with Easter. “Alleluia?” Maybe. But Good Friday was still too real. So there they were, caught in-between. Mark suggests, with his abrupt ending, that Easter—although a present reality—still lies ahead as well.

Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and writer who has lived among the poor and marginalized. He has witnessed a great deal of human pain and suffering. Boff suggests that the resurrection is not a one-time event but an ongoing activity. He has written,

“The resurrection is a process that began with Jesus and that will go on until it embraces all creation.Wherever an authentically human life is growing in the world, wherever justice is triumphing over the instincts of domination, wherever grace is winning out over the power of sin, wherever human beings are creating more fraternal mediations in their social life together, wherever love is getting the better of selfish interests, and wherever hope is resisting the lure of cynicism or despair, there the process of resurrection is being turned into a reality.”[2]

In our human experience, there are long stretches of life without “alleluia’s.” But when those Easter moments occur, life is indeed filled with hope and joy.

What was or is an “Alleluia” moment for you where you experienced a sense of meaning and purpose, where your life was filled with hope and energy . . . where for even a moment you felt like you and God were on the same track? Perhaps it was when you fell in love, birthed a child, gave yourself over to some good cause, or were transported by a symphony. Such moments might have been in church where you experienced closeness to God that caused you to devote yourself to the Lord’s work; or when you pondered a sunset or beheld the stars in the night sky.

Or maybe an “Alleluia” moment was in the midst of the mundane: washing a floor, driving a car, preparing a meal, finishing an exam, reading a book, helping a neighbor, serving another.

Easter doesn’t cancel Good Friday. They both recur. We dwell in the tension between them. But it is our faith that out there ahead of us, in some future Galilee, we will, indeed, see the Lord. In the meantime, we hang on to our Alleluia moments and trot them out when we need them.

Today, we baptize three people into our Easter faith: Stephanie and her two daughters, Sophia and Charlotte. Stephanie’s husband and the girls’ father, Matthew, is her sponsor and his daughters’ godfather.

Easter Eve and Easter morning are traditional times for Baptism—and have been so from the early days of the church. One of the reasons for that was because those early Christians knew that they lived in a Good Friday world: a world of danger and possible martyrdom. But they refused to live only in fear. So they baptized – acknowledging Good Friday as they were symbolically drowned – but proclaimed Easter faith as they were raised from the water into life.

Cross of Nails | Christ Episcopal Church Dayton Ohio

Cross of Nails

One of our friends here at Christ Church is Andrew White who is a partner with us in the Community of the Cross of Nails that works for reconciliation in various places around the world. Andrew presently serves as the priest of St. George’s Anglican Church in the heart of Baghdad, Iraq. He is fondly referred to as the Vicar of Baghdad. Andrew writes that when he baptizes a child, he is very aware that he may be signing not only the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, but he may be signing his or her death warrant as well. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But he does it anyway. Why? . . . because all the Good Fridays we experience cannot be the last word. Christ is alive, he’s still out there in some Galilee ahead of us, waiting to greet us and to fill us with Alleluia’s.

This is our faith. It is the testimony of the witnesses to the first resurrection. And it is the witness of our Alleluia moments.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia.

[1] Mark 16:8

[2] Deane W. Ferm, Third World Liberation Theologies, Wipf and Stock Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, 2004, p 31.