Day of Pentecost (C) – 2013

'Nothing but' misses the point

May 19, 2013

Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers on Pentecost, empowering the frightened pack of disciples to become a brazen bunch of evangelists. The curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed in one amazing outburst. At Babel, people were divided. Former fishermen and other followers of Jesus became interpreters par excellence. In this Babel scene played backward, the devout Jews from Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia and the like now hear the Good News of what God has done through Jesus each in their own native language.

The gospel is spoken not in confusing babble but with a crystal clarity that leaves the hearers cut to the quick. Before this amazing day is over, 3,000 devout Jews will be baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ. The result of Pentecost was to take a diverse group of people and to bring them together into a common understanding of what God’s deeds of power meant to their lives.

Yet not everyone understood what was happening in their midst. The account of that day in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some onlookers took the excitement for a drunken mob. Certainly, it feels safe to reduce the disciples’ behavior as coming from heavy drinking. It might also be comforting to relegate Pentecost to an outbreak of religious hysteria. But the Pentecost experience was not due to alcohol and is not so easily reduce to nothing more than hysteria.

This is an ongoing tendency about lots of phenomenon for which we have no ready understanding. The physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, said in his book “Quarks, Chaos and Christianity,” some people are “nothing butters” when it comes to the world we live in. Reductionists see a thing is “nothing but” its physical explanation. They need only look at the most elemental form of a thing to explain everything.

For someone with a “nothing butter” way of making sense of the world, the compositions of Bach and Beethoven are nothing but vibrations that interact with our eardrums to create the effect we call music. The Mona Lisa is nothing but flecks of paint that we experience as differing colors. Baptism is nothing but water poured over someone’s head as a part of a ritual observance, and the Pentecost experience was nothing but religious hysteria.

Yes, Bach and Beethoven’s greatest works do reach our ears as nothing but vibrations against our eardrums, for that is how the beauty of the composers’ work is transmitted. But you can’t reduce their music to mere vibrations hitting your eardrum.

Of course, the Mona Lisa is just flecks of matter we call “paint” put on matter we call “canvas” in ways that we experience as an interplay of colors. But her enigmatic smile cannot be reduced to the physical matter that forms the art. In these works of art, the notes of music and the paint on the canvas convey so much more, that reducing them to the essential physical phenomena misses the point.

So also, the Pentecost experience of the Holy Spirit coming to Jesus’ disciples on that fiftieth day after the Passover, would have created some emotionalism akin to religious hysteria. Yet whatever caused some in the crowd that day to wonder whether the disciples had been drinking, was not all there was to the event.

We know that there was something more because of the immediate and the lasting impact of that day. The immediate effect was to begin sharing the Good News of Jesus with those who were far off as well as with those who were near to the Jewish faith. The centuries-long change is that the way of Jesus became a light to the gentiles. It is in this change, which began in these earliest days of Christianity, and which expanded through the ministry of both Peter and Paul to invite everyone into the Reign of God, that we see something more than an emotional event is taking place.

The Pentecost event defied any “it was nothing but” explanation. We can’t reduce Pentecost to “It was nothing but emotionalism,” or “It was nothing but mass hysteria,” or even “It was nothing but a long-ago event we can no longer explain.” The closest we can get is “Pentecost was nothing less than the presence of God.”

That day, the Jesus Movement was transformed not by human will, but by an act of the Holy Spirit. The main aspect of Christianity that was transformed in that first Pentecost was that the gospel moved beyond Israel and Judaism and became a unifying event. Pentecost showed that what unites us is God’s spirit and that is more important than what divides us.

Pentecost is a time to remember that God’s spirit is still present in a mighty way. That’s why our worship can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine, any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting.

Beyond this, we know that today we cannot limit who is in and who is out of the reach of the Reign of God any more than it could be limited to Israel.

For when we encounter nothing less than the presence of God, we come to know that we cannot limit who God is and how God acts, no matter how we might try. We who follow Jesus now are called to act on our love of God as much as those first disciples were called to share God’s love. We are to share the love of God freely, without limiting who God might love.

We are to take this Good News that God loves us, and share that gospel in our deeds as well as our words with everyone we meet, as we leave worship, going in peace to love and serve the Lord. We are empowered to do this by nothing less than the power and presence of the God we experience this day in our worship.

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia.

7 Easter (C) – 2013

An in-between place

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The Seventh Sunday of Easter always seems to be a sort of in-between place; the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated just a few days ago, and Pentecost is still another week off. Like the disciples, we seem to stand metaphorically staring into the heavens, awaiting the next chapter of our story to unfold.

The lessons for the day appear to have run out of resurrection appearances, and instead we get a delightfully odd grouping of texts, ranging from the curious tales of Paul and Silas in Philippi involving a slave-girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling,” an earthquake, and prisoners who do not escape; to the Apocalyptic visions of St. John the Divine; with a prayer from Jesus for all disciples in all times everywhere.

The Bible’s apocalyptic literature always strikes modern and even post-modern ears as strange. Interpreted literally, it has been used as the foundation of strange, scary and even dangerous Christian cult and fringe groups, many of whom like the Millerites of the 19th century, predict when the world will end and the day of the Lord begin. So we tend to shy away from these rich metaphorical verses, divorcing ourselves from the comfort and assurance they mean to offer people who live in frightening and uncertain times.

And who among us would deny that the times have become all too often frightening and uncertain? Spontaneous and even planned disasters and tragedies of horrific proportions seem to mar the landscape of our common life with greater frequency and untold damage to our individual and collective psyche. I am reminded of standing in one of Israel’s ancient cities looking down on the ruins of a Dionysian temple that had been toppled like so many pick-up sticks, massive columns scattered all about, by an ancient earthquake, and wondering out loud what sort of impression that must have made on the ancient inhabitants; what must have seemed like a structure that should last for centuries was scattered in pieces in just a few moments of earth-shaking horror.

This is something like we see in our portion from the Acts of the Apostles today. The slave girl with powers of divination is announcing to all who will listen that Paul and Silas are “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” We are told that this annoys Paul, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are in Philippi to do! Perhaps Paul feels he does not need the services of a public relations campaign. At any rate, he performs an exorcism that silences the girl and frees her from demonic possession. Her owners realize they are going to lose a sure source of income, and have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. The woman is restored to wholeness, free to live a life of freedom from slavery to her owners and the demon, and all anyone cares about is money. With stories like this in the New Testament canon, one wonders how it is that Christian charlatans throughout the ages justify taking money for performing exorcisms under revival tents or on television.

Despite being jailed, Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns into the night, when all of a sudden an earthquake opens the prison doors. The jailer is about to take his own life, believing the prisoners must have all fled, when Paul stops him from harming himself, saying, “Look! We are all still here!” Suddenly the horror of the earthquake gives way to the miracle that these Christians are truly out to save him, and before you know it, the jailer and his family are added to the thousands recorded in the Book of Acts that turn to Jesus.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is praying. It is Maundy Thursday, the night before his execution. He knows he has been betrayed. He knows he faces capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. Yet, thinking not at all about what lies ahead of him, he takes time out to pray for his disciples. And not just his disciples, but as he says, “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. … So that they may be one, as we are one.”

That is, he is looking far, far ahead. He is praying for us. He is praying for you and for me, and for all Christians everywhere.

Do we ever stop to consider just how disappointed he must be? We see his last act of devotion is directed to us so that we might be one, united with him, in him, with Jesus and the Father, as one people, one body, through one baptism. And here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, at a time in history when our profligate misuse of God’s creation is eliminating one species of creature daily, while at the same time we further splinter the body of Christ into more and more denominations and groups.

How is it that we conspire to contribute to the body of evidence that prayer is utterly ineffective by spending so much time, energy and resources – yes, money – asserting that our puny little corner of Christianity is the “true church”? People must say to themselves, “Why can’t these Christians spend more time trying to live into their Lord’s prayer for unity with one another, themselves and with God?” To borrow from Joe Hickerson and Peter Seeger, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

Which brings us to today’s reading from Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The final words of Holy Scripture are “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift come. Come, Lord Jesus!

Are we among those who hear? Are we thirsty enough to come? Are we willing to let “anyone who wishes” to take the water of life as a gift? How long can we pretend to hold people – faithful, seeking people – at arm’s length with all sorts of conditions, rules, rituals and behaviors, from the waters of life? Are we to be gatekeepers or those people who open the floodgates of God’s unconditional love and mercy?

Are we really prepared to cry out with one voice, like John the Revelator, imploring Jesus to come?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Year C poses some very serious questions to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that some congregations opt to celebrate the Ascension today rather than wrestle with all that today’s lessons have to challenge us with?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter offers us these odd stories in an attempt to shake us open, just as the earthquake opened the doors of the prison in Philippi, and loosed the chains on all those in the prison. The world is looking to us to live into our Lord’s most devout moment of prayer. The world looks to us to be unbound so that we might be those people who make the waters of life, the waters of God’s unconditional love and mercy, truly and honestly available to all persons.

Yet, we find it so hard to believe that we can do this.

It should be no wonder that the last words in the Bible are “Come, Lord Jesus!” If ever we need him to come into our lives, it is here and now, in this time and in this place.

The Good News is that he promises he is with us to the end of the age!

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Ascension Day (C) – 2013

Opening our minds to the Ascension

May 9, 2013

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

The commemoration of the Ascension passes us by in this country. In places where the Eastern Church is prevalent it’s an important feast day, up there in importance with Christmas and Pentecost. In many places, it’s a work holiday. Always falling on a Thursday, the word “Ascension” passes through lips casually, but it is doubtful that those who speak it contemplate its meaning. In our church it is celebrated but on a minor key; we have to admit that the Ascension is a difficult image to create in our minds and it’s difficult to make sense of it. Coming 40 days after Easter Day, it is mostly ignored since it falls on a Thursday.

On feast days, it’s interesting to look at some of the remaining customs of ancient people, because even under the veneer of superstition and legend, a core of truth may be found. In many parts of Greece where the Orthodox observe the day with great joy, village people stay up on the night of Ascension staring at the skies. Legend tells us that those “who are pure in heart” see a light ascending to the heavens. For some reason, in Greek villages the day is associated with shepherds, so milk features greatly in the recipes set aside for just this day. And the water of the sea becomes symbolic also: This is the first day of the year when people enter the sea either to swim or to wade, and then to carry some of the water home to ward off evil.

The first custom, that of looking at the skies, reminds us of the unquenchable longing of the early Christians for the Lord’s return. There is a poignant scene in Lloyd Douglass’ book, “The Robe,” where Christians are pictured as always looking to the distance as if waiting for someone, longing for someone, so convinced were they of Jesus’ imminent return.

Luke is the only one of the evangelists who gives a particular image to this event, starting with the end of his gospel and continuing it in the Acts of the Apostles. Fascinated by his words, countless great artists and iconographers have painted their interpretation of Jesus’ Ascension. In these paintings, icons, and frescoes, Jesus is literally ascending, his feet no longer touching the earth, sometimes surrounded by angels, a cloud above ready to hide him from human eyes. And thus it is that many of us probably imagine the Ascension.

There is nothing specifically right or wrong in this image. We are visual thinkers. Words help us create images that we remember even though we have seen them only in art or in our own minds. This is not the place to inquire in what form Jesus returned to the Father. Some hints are given throughout the stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances: He enters a room suddenly, without using a door; he appears next to couple walking together on the road to Emmaus; he cooks breakfast for Peter and his friends by the shore. But he disappears just as suddenly as he appears. So the hints tell us that though the resurrected body is visible, the qualities it demonstrates are different from the body that was crucified. This is enough for us.

Two details are surprising in this final story in Luke’s gospel. One is found in verse 45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” There is something liberating in this statement. Our minds must be open to understand, not closed. We see so much evidence today of minds that refuse to understand the truth of the scriptures, preferring to stay closed and limited by what they think they understand. Reading the Bible with open minds, open because Christ has done the opening, reveals something new each time we read a passage.

The other detail is that even though Jesus disappeared from their midst, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” These are the same people who, with great fear and grief, had hidden during the crucifixion and burial. Why are they joyful now? Their dearest friend has disappeared from their eyes. They will not see him again and this time apparently they know that he will not be making another post-resurrection appearance. Why are they joyful now? Is it that now, finally, they truly understand him and believe him?

The opening of their minds to understand the scriptures has much to do with this joy. “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them. What a powerful word this is: “witnesses.” They have witnessed a new creation, and they know it. They have witnessed love in action. They are now witnesses to the resurrection.

The fear of death has been replaced by the joy of knowing life. They believe in his promises. The Paraclete, the Advocate shall come. They will stay in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, they have been given a job to do. Their life has a purpose and this fills them with joy. In our reading from Acts, Jesus tells his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We are included in that last phrase, “the ends of the earth.” The disciples fulfilled their mission. They did the work. Now it’s up to us to continue it.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of “Around a Greek Table” (Lyons Press, 2012). She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

6 Easter (C) – 2013

A home to long for

May 5, 2013

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Today we come to what is, for practical purposes, the conclusion of the biblical story, the climax, the consummation, the finale. We hear from the last chapter of the last book of scripture, and what we hear is glorious.

Do you want to know something of heaven and why it is a home to long for? Then ponder the words of this passage found at the end of the Bible. Let its rich colors and images soak into your soul, enlighten your heart, renew your faith and hope and love.

John, the author of the Book of Revelation describes the city that has come down to be the center of the new heaven and the new earth. He extols the beauty and perfection of this city, challenging the capacities of human speech.

This new Jerusalem is a golden city, and crystal clear like a rare jewel. The wall surrounding this four-square city has a dozen gates, with three gates on each side, each a giant lustrous pearl, each one guarded by an angel. This is a stable city, resting not on a single foundation, but on twelve foundations, one atop another, each foundation made of a different precious stone.

Hearing of this new Jerusalem, as John describes it, can elevate and enliven the desires of our hearts for God and the consummation of God’s purposes. But what we learn of the new Jerusalem can function in another way as well.

It can help us recognize glimpses of heaven that intrude into our lives. For when we live by faith, heaven is not a far and alien country, but rather we find ourselves dwelling, some of the time at least, in the suburbs of the new Jerusalem; and moments come when we are granted sights of its golden crystalline splendor, often when we least expect this to happen.

There are three points to remember about heaven that influence the glimpses of heaven that we have here on earth: Heaven is a community; heaven is a place of healing; and heaven is a place of vision.

First, heaven is a community. The story of humankind in the Bible takes us from a garden with only one couple to a vast city with a cosmopolitan population, this new Jerusalem.

Away then, with any small, narrow, cramped view of heaven or the salvation it represents! Away then, with any spirituality that distorts the intimate and the personal, turning them into merely the private and the individual.

There is intimate, personal encounter with God, with Christ, but properly it always leads us to a generous embrace of the world, which God created and for which Christ died.

Yes, the new Jerusalem described for us is a vast, cosmopolitan city with people of every kind, people from every nation. It is the capital of the God who delights in diversity.

If you want a foretaste of heaven, a little nibble to whet your appetite, go on a fine summer day to a city park where there are several big family picnics taking place. Catch the spirit there in the hubbub and the conviviality. Or go to a playground in that park where dozens of kids dash about in perpetual motion, each on a different trajectory. There before you on a fine summer day is a slice of what heaven will be like.

Second, heaven is a place of healing. John points to this when he describes what we may call the horticulture of heaven. Through the city runs the river, the beautiful river, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, more splendid than your favorite waterway. On the banks of the river appear rows of magnificent trees, bearing fruit not once or twice a year, but a super tree astoundingly fruitful. Then John slips in the kicker that we miss if we do not pay attention. He tells us that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The healing of the nations! So heaven has medicine for the wounds that separate and scar nations on earth. The new Jerusalem is thus a place of reconciliation, where old and deep antagonisms no longer produce their poison, where traditional enemies enjoy peace with one another. It is not that these costly antagonisms, these wars and feuds and oppressions, are forgotten, repressed or ignored. What happens is that the wounds are healed. Brokenness gives way to wholeness. Hatred gives way to love. Nations once at odds now together bring their glory and honor into the new Jerusalem. Leaving behind anything false or foul, they freely offer their particular gifts. All this happens because of the healing leaves of the tree, and the tree bears the shape of a cross.

If the national wounds can be healed, so too can smaller but no less painful wounds: strife between tribes and clans and families and classes and groups and individuals. All these are healed in heaven at the price of the cross. Everyone leaves behind what is evil and makes a particular offering to God.

So if you want to see a bit of heaven on earth, go someplace where reconciliation is real, where wounds big and small are treated and healed. Or bring this heaven to earth yourself. Work for justice and peace. Or bring it still closer to home: forgive someone who does not deserve it, maybe even yourself. You’ll catch a bit of heaven’s glimmer; you’ll be in the near suburbs of the new Jerusalem.

Finally, heaven is a place of vision. Note the references to light in today’s passage from Revelation. We hear that the light of the new Jerusalem is God’s glory and its lamp is the Lamb. By this light the nations will walk. The gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there.

And what is the object of vision in this city of purity and light? John tells us in a few words: “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

God’s servants will be marked as belonging to God, even as now the church marks the brows of newly baptized with the sign of the cross, the seal of the Spirit. It is the privilege of these servants not only to worship God, but to see God.

This, the sight of God, is what, above all else, makes heaven, heaven!

Here in our present life, worship remains indirect. We use sacraments and signs, images and words that suggest the divine reality to our hearts and minds. There, we shall see God face to face.

Here we encounter God amid the shadows and uncertainties of life. There we shall see God in the bright light of eternal day and in the delightful rest of eternal sabbath.

We shall have achieved the purpose of our existence and entered into abundant joy from which there will be no exit. In the celebrated words of St. Augustine, “We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.”

We do not now live in that great city, but from time to time we find ourselves, perhaps to our surprise, in one of its near suburbs. And so, as John might put it, we catch a glimpse of its golden crystalline walls, its gates of stupendous pearl.

This glimpse may come as a strange warming of the heart. A refreshment of hope and courage. An assurance in time of hardship. A beauty that beguiles and delights.

The creator of all things, the lord of all time is versatile in giving us glimpses of that great city, reminders of our true home. We cannot dictate when these glimpses will happen, but we can leave ourselves open to recognize and welcome them when they occur.

We can learn and re-learn that heaven is a community, a place of healing, a place of vision. We can long for heaven in its fullness and also enjoy the glimpses that appear to us now in moments of vision and healing and community. Then, when we come to the new Jerusalem, it will not seem like a strange and alien city, but will feel a lot like home.

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals“ (Cowley Publications, 2003).

5 Easter (C) – 2013

The repentance that leads to life

April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

By now, our bold and joyful refrain of “Alleluia!” has surely lost a bit of its shiny newness.

The bright dawn of Easter Sunday has passed, and the news of our Lord’s triumphant resurrection has begun to settle into our hearts and minds.

But as was the case with the first Christians, the full magnitude of Easter takes more than a day or two to settle in.

Christians who follow the liturgical calendar observe the season of Easter for 50 days.

Fifty days to spread the Good News; 50 days to proclaim resurrection to the world; and 50 days to travel to far-away places with the message that God is doing a new thing in Jesus Christ.

It was during the first Easter season some 2,000 years ago that the disciples discovered that the rumors were true – that Jesus Christ had in fact been raised from the dead. And so, they wasted no time spreading the Good News.

The appropriately named Acts of the Apostles reports how the first Christians spread the Easter message to the world: by teaching and preaching, and by baptizing many into the faith.

But as modern-day Christians know all too well, growth cannot happen without at least a few growing pains.

As we heard tell in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was no stranger to growing pains.

There was perhaps no more passionate a believer in the early church than Peter. He had been teaching and preaching about Jesus among the gentiles in Caesarea with great effect.

In Acts, it is reported that the Holy Spirit came into their midst and they began “extolling God.”

But even before the days of e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, rumors traveled fast.

Soon, the news of Peter’s work among the gentiles reached the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

They knew that Peter had been teaching and preaching, but now they had gotten wind that Peter was also eating with the gentiles.

They summoned Peter to defend his actions.

Teaching the gentiles? Fine.

Preaching to the gentiles? Fine.

But eating with the gentiles? Absolutely unacceptable!

For Jews – including Peter – the observance of strict dietary laws was not a matter of ritual piety or cultural observance; it was a matter of worship and identity.

In the midst of an empire that was not only non-Jewish, but also often hostile to the Jewish people, dietary observances served as a reminder to Jew and gentile alike of the distinction between those who were included in God’s covenant with Abraham and those who were not.

And so the religious leaders in Jerusalem received the news that Peter had been sharing meals with the gentiles with mix of anger and fear. For them, Peter was not only blurring the lines between those who were God’s people and those who were not God’s people, he was forsaking God’s laws.

But Peter didn’t see it that way – at least not anymore. He had been converted.

He tells the authorities in Jerusalem the same story he had told several times before. He had a vision in which all sorts of animals appeared before him. He heard God’s voice telling him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But as one would expect from an observant Jew, Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

But then the voice of God spoke again and said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

As Peter went with some friends to a nearby house, he couldn’t help but think about what he had heard the voice say.

“Did I hear that correctly?” he must have wondered. “Surely God didn’t mean that the gentiles are to be treated the same as we are.”

But then he remembered the words of Christ, reminding the faithful that one day soon, they would be baptized, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

And then, Peter asked himself one final question: “Who am I that I can hinder God?”

The religious leaders who had summoned Peter didn’t respond with a long, carefully articulated theological treatise as to why Peter was in error. They didn’t rebuke Peter for his actions or label him a heretic. And they didn’t make a motion to enter executive session to discuss what they had just heard so they could render a verdict.

Instead, they fell silent for a moment in awe of what God was doing in their midst. And then they rejoiced, praising God for extending to the gentiles “the repentance that leads to life.”

Far too often, the church forgets that last part.

Far too often, the church forgets that, every now and then, the only worthy response to what God is doing in our midst comes, not in the form of a theological treatise, not in an official church-sanctioned rebuke, and not in deliberations or verdicts. Sometimes, the only worthy response is silence, coupled with awe and praise.

And so, now that Easter has settled into our own hearts and “Alleluias” can be found on our lips once more, perhaps our ongoing Easter mission is to keep watch for the places and people in our midst who have been labeled “unclean,” or “excluded,” or “outsiders.”

These are the people in urgent need of hearing the news that Easter has come. These are the people who desperately need to hear that there is a “repentance that leads to life.”

As the blessed Apostle reminds us, every time we exclude or label someone or something “unclean,” we run the risk of hindering God.

Peter gives us a glimpse of a world in which the news of the resurrection shatters earthly parameters of clean and unclean, accepted and excluded, or insider and outsider. Peter’s Easter witness is lived through preaching and teaching and baptizing and fellowship with all who yearn for the repentance that leads to life.

And if we will allow it, our own Easter witness can reach to the ends of the earth and to the ends of time, proclaiming the miraculous news that in Christ, God is making all things new!

 

— The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Florence, Ky. He holds a BA in American Studies from Transylvania University and a Master’s of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He also serves on the steering committee for Reading Camp, an international ministry begun in the Diocese of Lexington that promotes the growth and development of struggling and at-risk children by providing non-traditional summertime educational opportunities.

4 Easter (C) – 2013

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd on Earth Day

April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

In today’s readings we are presented several times with the familiar shepherd motif. The text from Revelation declares that the “lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” and the gospel reading is about belonging to God, as sheep belong to a shepherd. Perhaps nowhere is this metaphor more poignantly presented than in beloved Psalm 23, which assures us that God the shepherd guides, leads and restores us, even in the darkest of times.

The Bible often refers to political and religious leaders as shepherds. In the Old Testament in particular, bad leaders are portrayed as bad shepherds, while God and the future Messiah are described as good shepherds. Furthermore, it is the voice of these shepherds that lets people know their trustworthiness. Jesus tells us that his sheep will listen to and know his voice, not that of the hired hand. Just before today’s reading in the book of John, Jesus explains to a group of Pharisees that, “the sheep follow him [the Good Shepherd] because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Whose voice is so familiar that you trust it unconditionally? And what is that voice telling you?

Today it is perhaps harder than ever to distinguish between voices of the good and the bad shepherds, simply due to the large number of loud, public voices competing for our attention and our loyalty. And furthermore, these voices that attempt to shepherd us through confusing paths often contradict one another. It can indeed be quite challenging to discern the voice of a trusted guide out of a cacophony of facts, pseudo-facts, speculations, opinions and falsehoods that bombard our ears every day. Some voices employ the tried and true tactic of taking unpleasant or threatening truths and casting them into the realm of doubt or uncertainty. When the jury still seems to be out, we can go with business as usual rather than confronting harsh realities and enacting some changes.

But there is yet another voice to consider here. This voice is constantly speaking but seldom heard. It is the voice of the earth, and it is groaning. Romans 8:22 states that “all Creation is groaning” alongside ourselves.

Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day – the 43rd Earth Day since its beginning in 1970. On this day we honor creation and recognize its groaning. In one sense it is strange that we devote just a single day per year to reflect upon our home – the tapestry of life that allows us to breathe, eat and function. One day only to praise and marvel at the unfathomable complexity and splendor of life on this earth, and one day only to mourn and repent what we now recognize as the large-scale deterioration of every single system that supports life on this earth, while the other 364 days of the year we condone business as usual in un-creating these complex life systems that God has placed on this earth. We do indeed walk through a valley in the shadow of death.

In a 2010 Pew survey, Americans were asked whether religion influenced their thinking on tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment. Around 5 percent said yes.

What a lamentable shortcoming of our churches and faith leaders. The created world is a revelation of God’s power and gracious presence, a table that God has prepared before us. It is green pastures and still waters, but is also a finely tuned atmosphere and complex network of biodiversity; it is interrelated earth systems that allow life to flourish. This sacred quality of creation demands sharing and moderation, antidotes for our excessive consumption and waste that end up harming the poor most of all. Rich people and countries contribute most to changes in Earth’s climate, resulting in catastrophic events like droughts and superstorms, whose victims are the poorest and most vulnerable, largely in Africa and parts of Asia.

Serving as a good steward of creation means accepting these painful truths, hearing the groaning voices. In the gospel reading today, Jesus says, “I have told you and you do not believe.” Perhaps he was exasperated as he said this, much as today’s many climate scientists, scholars, community and faith leaders are with us. “I have told you – and you do not believe.”

We are called, not just to believe, not just to honor creation and hear its groaning, but to act in response. A humorous headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion reads, “‘How Bad for the Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder.” This tongue-in-cheek jab draws attention to a sentiment that surely many of us feel: I am only one person – what difference can I make? But the truth is that we are never just one, we are never alone. And we must act, alongside our brothers and sisters and church community, because God calls us to be engaged, fruitful humans on this earth.

Where do we begin to act in the face of a seemingly insurmountable crisis? Can we see ourselves in the position of those in Revelation, who will hear the elders explaining that “these are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal”?

The reading from Acts offers guidance. In this reading, Peter is summoned to a seemingly insurmountable crisis situation: In the town of Joppa, Tabatha, a devoted discipline, has just died. In what unfolds next, we find meaningful direction on taking action, whether we identify as Peter or as Tabatha. First Peter knelt down and prayed. Fruitful, grounded action begins with prayer. Next, Peter told Tabatha to “get up.” Some of us are equipped to extract others from a state of stupor, a proverbial deathbed and get going. Others need to have ears to hear the voice of Peter and “open our eyes.”

Then Peter “gave her his hand and helped her up.” Both giving and accepting encouragement are crucial in a long and difficult process or reawakening and enacting change.

Finally, Peter “showed her to be alive,” demonstrating to all who were gathered there the good work that had occurred.

And so, as we reflect this day on God’s creation around us and the work that lies before us, we know that in this task we are not alone. We know that God walks with us, that the incarnate Christ joins the earth in groaning, and that there is a way out of this dark valley if we can allow ourselves to be led by the trustworthy voice of the Good Shepherd.

May we be equipped to distinguish and heed this voice, one that guides, cajoles, urges us to follow the paths of goodness and mercy. May we recognize the goodness of the earth’s complex, beautiful systems and feel mercy for those who suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental degradation.

And may we have ears to hear the voice of the earth, one that has been speaking all along and desperately needs our attention.

 

— Frederica Helmiere teaches eco-theology at Seattle University, and environmental writing at the University of Washington. She holds a Master’s of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School and a Master’s of Environmental Science from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Freddie and her husband serve a new church start in South Seattle called Valley & Mountain, a spiritual community rooted in deep listening, radical hospitality and creative liberation. Find out more at www.valleyandmountain.org.

 

3 Easter (C) – 2013

The work of Easter

April 14, 2013

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

In today’s gospel story of breakfast on the beach, we enter further into the Easter season, and the work of Easter: working out what it means to have Resurrection set loose in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

One of the oddest experiences of Easter is that it can feel empty, after the graphic realities of Holy Week: bread broken, feet washed, thorns pressed into Jesus’ scalp, crosses raised, a body laid in a newly hewn grave. Easter, by contrast, is about an absence: the body is no longer in the tomb; and we are left to work out what that means.

Today’s story makes it clear that one of the functions of Resurrection life is restoration of relationship, and deep forgiveness.

Peter announces he’s going fishing, and several of the disciples decide to go along. In prior chapters in the gospel, Peter has denied Jesus and fled from the scene of his crucifixion. Though it’s clear that Peter loves Jesus without reservation, his fear has led him to distance himself from Jesus, and we are left to imagine his disappointment with himself, and his guilt and shame.

It seems that Peter has returned to what he knows; amid the confusion and grief in the aftermath of the crucifixion, he feels most like himself aboard a fishing boat, handling the heavy nets throughout the cold night. His efforts are fruitless, though; after a night of fishing, the group has caught exactly no fish. On top of his grief, and his sense of having failed Jesus, he is now confronted with failing at something he has done all his life.

But as the dawn breaks, the disciples see a man on the shore, and they see the smoke from a small fire. The stranger calls out to them and suggests something very odd: cast your nets on the other side of the boat, he shouts across the water. Surprisingly, the disciples comply – and suddenly the net is full to bursting with fish!

Suddenly Peter realizes that he has seen something like this before: on a hillside, with thousands of people, he watched Jesus break bread and fish until they were all fed. He remembers a wedding in Cana, when water was turned into wine of the highest quality. The beloved disciple shouts: “It is the Lord!” and Peter clambers toward the shore with his heart bursting with excitement.

In fact, it is Jesus, and he invites them to come have breakfast, as though this was just a normal morning after a night of fishing. The disciples shoot looks of amazement at each other across the fire and wonder if this is real.

This story provides a bookend to the Last Supper; this “First Breakfast” changes the trajectory for the disciples from grief and confusion to purpose and mission. Everything Jesus said to the disciples before his crucifixion – and in John’s gospel, he said a lot – is now coming to bear on the disciples, and their purpose.

But first, Jesus has some very specific business with Peter. It always bears repeating that Peter, in so many gospel stories, is a stand-in for us. His enthusiasm, awkwardness, lack of understanding, and enormous love for Jesus are just like our own. So when the gospel story focuses on Peter, it’s fair to say that we are also a part of the story.

Before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him, and sadly, his prediction comes true. Peter is accosted repeatedly by bystanders as he waits outside while Jesus is being interviewed, and each time, he denies knowing Jesus. He is absent at the crucifixion. He is among the disciples who meet behind locked doors out of fear. Now Jesus speaks to him directly: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asks him three times, and three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus. Each time, Jesus says: then feed my sheep.

Peter is given the opportunity to undo his denial of Jesus with three affirmations of his love. Jesus tells him what to do with that love: feed the flock. Though the word “forgiveness” never appears in this story, it is nevertheless a critical theme. Peter, the impetuous, big-mouthed disciple, gave in to fear, and failed to acknowledge Jesus, failed to stick around for the bitter end. Now Peter is given the opportunity to face his risen Lord and begin again – in the words of Hymn 304, “forgiven, loved and free.”

And this story offers some of the deepest implications of Resurrection for us: we are forgiven. We are invited to start over. We are completely loved. And we have a job to do. This isn’t only Peter’s story; it’s our story, too. When fear holds us back, love calls us forward. When we feel trapped by the way things have always been, Jesus invites us to cast our nets on the other side of the boat – change our perspective, in light of the Resurrection.

So what does this mean for you? Are you held back from the abundant life Jesus promises by guilt, shame and fear? If you understood yourself to be completely forgiven, completely loved, and completely free, how would that change the choices you make about your work? Your money? Your relationships?

The light of resurrection, shining into us, invites us to look clearly at how we have made choices out of fear rather than love, and to move away from the fears that bind us.

The implications of this story also resonate in our faith communities: Are we making choices about budget and mission based on our fear of failure? Our guilt for past failures? Or are we pointed forward, with the light of the Resurrection at our backs? If we are completely loved, completely forgiven and completely free, what does that imply about how we are to feed the flock?

We are called not only to proclaim God’s love, known to us in Jesus, but to act on it. That means setting aside fear, and the way fear binds us into small lives; and embracing love as the basis of every action we undertake.

God’s love, set loose in the world in the Resurrection, needs our hands and feet and hearts to make it concrete in our place and time. Like Peter, we’re invited to change our perspective, and cast our nets where the love of God is available for us and there’s plenty for everyone.

Jesus invites us: Come and have breakfast.

In the morning light of Resurrection, there is no room for guilt and fear. We are forgiven, loved, and free, and we have some sheep to feed.

 

— The Rev. Kay Sylvester is the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tustin, Calif. She is a teacher, trainer, retreat leader and preschool chaplain. Her prior experience includes teaching piano and guitar, and selling volleyball and wrestling equipment.

2 Easter (C) – 2013

Exchanging the Peace

April 7, 2013

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

We all yearn for peace and quiet, at least some of the time. We live in a noisy, intrusive world to the point when moments of silence may feel terrifying. Even when we are relaxing, there’s a good chance that the telephone will ring – a sales pitch for something we don’t need – or the doorbell ring, or the computer ping. Even if we decide to get away from everything, getting there can be stressful.

When we hear that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection and said, “Peace be with you,” we wonder whether he was being sarcastic. The disciples are in the upper room, huddled for fear. Fear denotes an absence of peace. The disciples feared their new title, that of Apostle, feared their Mission to go out into the world and tell about Jesus, and feared the outside world that seemed ready to pounce and destroy them as it seemed to have done to Jesus.

At one level, Jesus saying, “Peace,” was utterly normal. Just as we say, “Hi,” or “Hey,” depending on our tribe, or “How are you?” – greetings that have become so habitual they are blurted out before we think. In Israel, then and now, the habitual greeting was “Shalom,” peace. It was expected. The response, “Peace be with you also,” was the polite reply.

Jesus says hello to his fearful, bemused friends, as he says hello to us, just as we share the Peace during the Eucharist each Sunday. Too often at the Eucharist we use that greeting to engage in hurried conversations that have nothing to do with peace at all! “Wanna join us for lunch after church?” “Have you seen what Marty is wearing?” “That sermon was a bore!” Meanwhile, the priest tries to shake as many hands as possible, hopes no one is offended if their hands aren’t shaken, and worries that this noisy interlude won’t destroy the rhythm of the liturgy.

Yet when we emulate Jesus as we exchange the Peace, we remember what he was saying to the disciples in the upper room.

What was he saying?

Jesus was saying that his presence is peace; a peace, as St Paul puts it, that is beyond our understanding, far more potent than an absence of noise, or a feeling of well being. Jesus says, “Peace,” and we are reminded how costly his gift of peace is, and how extraordinary its depth. Because Jesus has died, has risen, has ascended, we are offered a share in the results of those costly actions. Baptism reminds us that we have died with Jesus, have risen with him, have ascended with him, and now live in his company, in the company of the Church, fed by Word and Sacrament.

Secondly, the peace Jesus gives us means that nothing can separate us from the love of God, except our own unwillingness to accept the gift, live in the gift and share the gift.

Accepting a gift is a moment of self-emptying, of acceptance and gratitude. For a moment we are beholden, vulnerable, dependent as we receive that which we lack. Receiving a gift can strike our pride, can be uncomfortable.

Living in the gift demands an active gratitude. It also means that we value that which we have been given. We feel it necessary to show it off.

And that leads to sharing the gift. The gift of “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” is to be received as a trust to share with others. Thus when we exchange “the Peace” today, we say to those we greet, “Here is the most wonderful gift, the gift of accepting Jesus into our lives and sharing that communion with each other and out into the world.”

All the orders Jesus gave to the apostles are about that Peace: Go tell about me; go baptize; do this in remembrance; love one another.

In short, hearing and accepting Jesus’ “hello” forms us and renews us. It is that peace for which we yearn and which we are given. The apostles went into a hostile world. Many of them were martyred. But through it all they were upheld and sustained by the “Peace” Jesus gave them. Today he offers that same Peace to you.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Easter Day (C) – 2013

He is risen!

March 31, 2013

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

He is risen! This is the proclamation for the day. This is the celebration that brings us here. This is the truth we know.

A number of comics that appear in the newspaper around Easter time can be expected to touch on themes of Holy Week and Easter. A “Wizard of Id” strip from 2001 was cleverly on target. The squatty little king comes upon a church with a sign out front proclaiming “Good Friday.” He says to the priest: “Lemme get this straight … God comes to earth as one of us … and we kill him?”

The priest says, “That’s right.”

The king says, “Your Lord is dead! … There’s a big earthquake, and the curtain in the temple is torn from top to bottom!”

“Right again,” says the priest.

The king: “What the heck is so good about that?”

Whereupon the priest says, with his hands clasped in front of him and a big smile on his face: “His curtain call.”

It is the curtain call we’ve come here to celebrate today. Think about all the Christian-themed movies and plays. This weekend alone a number will air on TV, and Charlton Heston will part the Red Sea as he does every year, leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Many films will depict Jesus’ short ministry and walk us through the drama of his last week, what we call “Holy Week,” from Palm Sunday’s entry into Jerusalem until Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb.

That is the drama, the main body of the play. The curtain call of his resurrection from the dead is so much more, though we need to be reminded that the New Testament offers no account of the act of the resurrection of Jesus. We have, instead, reports only of the empty tomb, and in the weeks to come, the weeks of Easter season, we will hear the stories of encounters with the risen Christ. But we have no stories, no account, no evidence, if you will, of the actual resurrection event.

What we have is an empty tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea claimed Jesus’ lifeless body and laid it in his own tomb, the one he had reserved for himself. The women saw this done, and then in keeping with Jewish law, left for the duration of the Sabbath, for the law prohibited any work on the Sabbath day.

And this is where today’s story begins.

The Sabbath has ended. It is the first day of the week, at first light. And the women come to the tomb with the spices they have prepared for the body. The great stone that had covered the mouth of the tomb has been rolled away, and when the women go inside, they find that the body is not there! Two men in dazzling array – heavenly messengers –ask, “Why do you seek him? He is not here! He is risen!”

The women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples and all the others. And that’s where today’s gospel reading ends, though it’s not the end of the story, and not even the end of this part of the story. Because when the women told their news to the apostles, what they had seen and learned inside that tomb, that empty tomb, the men didn’t believe them! “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” says one version.

There is a difference between standing in the tomb, as the women had done, and standing outside. The view is different. The perspective is different. One sees different things. One sees things differently.

The women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James – are named as being among the company that early morning. They had followed Jesus from his trial before Pilate to his crucifixion on Calvary. They had stayed with him at the cross and they were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Jesus had said to his followers that they must pick up their crosses to follow him, and certainly these women had endured the cross while the men ran away and Peter denied even knowing Jesus. The women stayed at the cross, and later entered the tomb to follow him. Their view – their perspective – was an Easter faith. They had walked the path to Calvary and so had eyes to see the heavenly messengers where they expected to see their Lord, and ears to hear them ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!”

And they believed.

The men were frightened. They ran away from the cross; Peter denied knowing Jesus. When the women came to tell them the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, the men didn’t believe them! And when Peter – ever-impulsive Peter – got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself, did he go inside? No. According to the story we have received, he stayed outside, stooping to look in.

Much fun might be had with the gender differences in this story, and how later faith traditions developed understandings along gender lines that so disparaged the first to believe and exalted the authority of those who did not. This is a ripe field for exploration. But while there may be a point the gospel writers wished to make about such matters, that is not the point of this homily.

The point for today is: There is a big difference between standing inside the tomb in the place of the resurrected Lord, and standing outside the tomb, stooping to look in. One is the place of an Easter faith, a conviction of things known, though not seen.

The other place is stuck in the events of Good Friday, and can believe the horror, the fear, the death, but hasn’t quite made it to those things even more difficult to believe: the loving goodness of God, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, hope.

The difference between standing inside the tomb and standing outside looking in is the difference not of men and women, but of Easter resurrection triumphant over Good Friday death.

It is the triumph of a courage to believe over a skepticism that isn’t quite sure. It is the triumph of celebration and wondrous news over disappointment and despair.

It is the faith of Easter, which knows the agony of Good Friday, and knows that is not the end of the drama. There will be a curtain call.

When we stand in the place where Peter stood, stooping low to look into the tomb with our own doubt and our disbelief intact, what will we see? We will see a dark cavern, shadows and dust, an empty tomb.

But when we seek our Lord in that tomb and we stand with him in the darkness, what then will we see? Those same heavenly messengers in dazzling array? Probably not. But we will see the emptiness. And we will know its reason. It is an emptiness not of doubt, despair, disbelief, but an emptiness that signals something new, renewed, a triumph over the impossible, a hope and promise greater than our imagining. And when we look past the darkness of the tomb to the world outside, we will see light – dazzling light, blinding light, a shimmering curtain of light. The curtain call of Easter.

The light of Christ.

He is risen!

Alleluia!

 

— The Rev. Machrina Blasdell currently teaches religious studies for Park University, Parkville, Mo., following 12 years as executive director of an interfaith council in the San Francisco area. She enjoys her family life, growing roses, and making anything chocolate.

Easter Vigil (C) – 2013

No idle tale

March 30, 2013

Liturgy of the Word: Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]; Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]; Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]; Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]; Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people]

Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12

Every few years or so, it seems, a high-ranking ecclesiastic or cleric somewhere in the Christian world gets into hot water for appearing to deny the reality of the Resurrection. The hapless theologian’s name is in the papers and all over the blogosphere, and devout members of the church everywhere are scandalized. There is even talk of excommunication.

Usually the prelate’s statement or assertion, when examined more closely, turns out to be nothing as definitive as an outright denial of Jesus’ physical resurrection, but rather a vague – some might even say muddled – expression of uncertainty about its exact meaning and significance in the modern world.

Of course, if we review carefully the various scriptural texts dealing with the Resurrection of our Lord, we find plenty of precedent for ecclesial muddle and confusion surrounding its actual meaning. According to this evening’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, for instance, the remaining eleven Apostles – the first bishops, as many believe – upon hearing the news of the empty tomb reject the women’s testimony out of hand as “an idle tale” and pay no further attention to it. They simply cannot believe their ears.

Peter, of course, at least bestirs himself to visit the tomb and see for himself if the report is true – that the tomb is indeed empty – just as the women have reported. But beyond “stooping and looking in,” he seems immobilized and unable to act. Rather than breaking out into Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus” and proclaiming loudly and joyously the Good News of the Risen Lord, he instead heads straight “home, amazed at what had happened” – as Luke puts it – which seems to be a polite way of saying Peter went home not knowing quite what to make of it all.

Some apostle – or bishop – he turned out to be.

The befuddlement does not end there, of course. If we look further into the various gospel accounts of the empty tomb, we find that Mary herself, according to the Gospel of John, at first does not recognize the Lord at all, even supposing him to be the local gardener. And in the account of the story from the Gospel of Mark, the band of women first head home themselves and sit on the news of the empty tomb, telling absolutely no one of their experience, “for they were afraid.”

So for something we now proudly proclaim as being at the very heart and hub of our faith, the Good News of the Resurrection does not get off to a very auspicious start. It is perhaps reassuring – or unsettling, depending on your point of view – to know that things have not changed that much among us Christians even some 2,000 years on. We still do not know quite what to make of the Resurrection. It is still a sign of contradiction, a mystery in the most genuine sense. Perhaps we should actually find it encouraging that Jesus’ resurrection can still be such a hot topic today.

Yet if the Resurrection itself remains a sign of contradiction and a mystery for Christians and seekers alike, it also happens to be the only hope there is for our fallen and sometimes all too callous world. The sad truth is that for far too many people today, believers and non-believers alike, it is still as if the rock had not yet been rolled aside from Christ’s tomb. They do not share in our Easter faith and joy this night. Their way is blocked still by sin, doubt and death; and their vigil goes on.

It is to such as these that we now proclaim our firm conviction that Christ has indeed been raised. It is perhaps not what we, left to our own wits and devices, might have expected or anticipated. It does not make sense, as the world understands sense and meaning. And it might, in fact, still seem “an idle tale” to some.

But it is so.

For us Christians, life and significance can paradoxically be found only in the chasm of an empty and abandoned tomb. The place of death has become for us and for our world the gateway of life itself. And just as our everyday living is in some deeper sense a mystery and sharing in all life, so is the Resurrection for us a sharing in the very life of God.

Perhaps better put, it is God sharing through his Son in our life, infusing our humble world with divinity, and transforming us as Christ was himself transformed.

In Christ’s death and resurrection, as Paul tells us in our second reading this day from his Letter to the Romans, “We are no longer … enslaved to sin.” Perplexed or not, whether we realize it or not, the granite has been rolled aside for us just as surely as it was for the women at Jesus’ tomb. Unfettered by sin, we now are free, as Paul describes it, to “walk in newness of life,” perhaps with baby steps at first, but with an ever stronger stride.

We shall leave this church tonight, however tired or sleepy, nevertheless “alive to God in Christ Jesus,” knowing that, for us, the dawn has surely already come. For we “live with him” who has been raised immortal from the sleep of death. No boulder or stone can ever block our way again. But as we, like Peter perhaps, return home tonight from the empty tomb, amazed at what has happened, we shall arise soon enough to proclaim loudly and boldly – for the whole world to hear – an end to sin and death.

For Christ is risen. And we no longer look for “the living among the dead.”

Yes: The Lord is risen indeed.

Alleluia.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page at www.anglicanbudapest.com. Isten hozott!