Easter Sermon preached April 24, 2011 at St. Christopher's by-the-Sea
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Praise God! It’s good to see you. Good to be gathered together like this. Family and strangers and good friends next to awkward acquaintances. All together. All in praise. Singing 'Christ is alive!' Alleluia! Perhaps more this year than most, the last few days have been sustained by this conviction at St. Christopher’s, by the unending life of the Risen One. On Wednesday, just before we entered into the three Great Days of Holy Week, we lost a long-time saint of our parish family, Les Maley, who passed on into the nearer presence of the Lord. The next evening, we were gathered at this altar, washing feet, as the sanctuary was stripped and, on Friday, the death that is common to us all fell on the Lord of all life. These days have been severe. But today he lives! If today has a place in the long procession of death that have brought us up to this day it is because, on this day, death, too, has died. He is risen!
Bishop Reed was with us as we began the Holy Week journey last week, on Palm Sunday. Before the service, he told me about his mentor priest, under whom he studied as a student. Father Sam Todd. Father Sam, evidently, was a character. A parishioner came up to him one morning after worship and said, “Father, I didn’t get much out of service today.” Father Sam was overheard saying back, “To what spiritual flaw in yourself do you attribute that?”
Yikes. And one year he began his Easter sermon this way. He said, “If you don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t know why you’re here. If you do believe Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t know why you’re not always here.”
Not very pastoral, but straight to the point. There we are. Get out the way. Today’s not about me, not about you; today's about him. The Jesus whom we crucified, is risen from the dead. Lo, he lives! Let no fear of death or self or failing detain you; let no self-consciousness nor guilt on your part block the way. Let no petty grievance with your brother keep you from the news on which the whole universe bends and turns and finds its meaning: Jesus Christ is risen!
May all be gathered. Let every voice sing the hymn. If you feel like you can’t – maybe that you lack the forgiveness you need, find it here, in his hands and in the wound in his side. If you feel like you won’t – that you somehow lack worthiness, wouldn’t want to muck up the feast, consider that Jesus’s first risen act is to seek out his friends – the same ones who betrayed him. Let every self-doubt be silenced and every obstacle removed, every stone rolled away. The Lord of all life has come back for us. Alleluia! Today is God’s YES to us.
Take a second just now to soak this in: the one with power over death is alive and wants to eat with his friends, to take you out to dinner. That’s the whole mystery called Church. That’s who you are: God’s supper guests. And it begins with this day. The living YES of the living God. And the dinner we share, the bread that we break, is meant not just for us, but for everyone. All of them, too! To be a foretaste of the life that we celebrate on this day.
The everlasting YES of Jesus Christ for us.
Very Good News, but still not the whole story, because today is actually about two yeses. Not just God’s YES to us, though it’s very much about that. It’s also about a second YES, the Father’s YES to the Son. And this is where things get good.
I wonder if you remember a television game show called, “To Tell the Truth?” It started in 1956, but has aired at least one episode in six consecutive decades. This is how it works. “The show features a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The celebrity panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn "to tell the truth". After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.”
“Once the votes are cast, the host asks, (and this is the famous tag-line) "Will the real [person's name] please stand up?" The central character then stands, often after some brief playful feinting and false starts among all three challengers. The two impostors then reveal their real names and their actual occupations. Prize money is awarded to the challengers based on the number of incorrect votes the impostors draw.”
The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson says that the risen Jesus is God’s answer to a deep question about who God is: Will the real God Almighty please stand up? And every generation asks this question. The question as it connects to this day goes like this: Will the God of all things stand to be affiliated with a Son who hangs out with prostitutes, tax collectors, makes friends with the ungodly, loves his enemies, even dies for them, puts the sword away, drinks the cup of judgment so that we might drink forgiveness; will the Maker of all that is stand to be represented like this, by this One?
I remember an interview I read with a prominent atheist once who said that he couldn’t take any god seriously who at the end of the day said to love your enemies and to do good to those who hurt you. That was no way to win friends and influence people. That’s the question at stake: will the Maker of all that is stand to be represented like this, by the crucified friend of sinners, Jesus?
And the answer is YES!
Jesus is risen, and God as He is stands up. The character of Jesus’s life is held up this day be the Father. The resurrection is the Father’s YES to the Son. To the question: “But is God really like that?” the Father’s answer is YES.
So, finally, this is the joy and challenge of this day for you and me: we don’t have to wonder what God is like anymore. Praise God. If you’ve ever wondered what God is really like, wonder no more. Only follow this Jesus. The risen Jesus. Keep company with his friends. Stay at his table. This Jesus reveals the very heart of God. This is our joy. And this joy is our challenge just to the extent that we, like the atheist, might have wanted a more respectable God. We might have picked a better looking Savior. We might have wanted to make sure he kept kosher, that he tithed, and wouldn’t do anything that we wouldn’t do, but of course he did and he does, and he invites us to follow. Maybe there’s room for one more YES.
The God who is is the God who rose this particular Jesus of Nazareth from the grave. For us and our salvation. For freedom to live lives that start to look like his own. Of course, we know that we cannot will lives that look like his own, but we can begin to live them. Because he lives.
May we sing the praise of this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with our words, in our lives, with greatest joy, forever. Amen.