This Isn’t How This Was Supposed to Go: Sermon for Easter 2019

If you came here last Easter, you might remember the children’s sermon.

Let me remind you. I was trying to talk about surprises, and how Easter was a big surprise because Jesus was dead, and then rose again. So, I had these candles. They were just regular birthday cake candles. I lit them one by one, and then blew them out. 

That’s where the trouble began. It turned out that the matches burned more quickly than I expected, and some ashes fell on the floor. The candles did too, and wax dripped everywhere. The end result is that my friends tell me I’m not supposed to use fire anymore in children’s sermons.

But the big problem came during the finale. I had one of those trick birthday candles that you blow out and then they re-light themselves. The idea was that, just as Christ wasn’t supposed to rise again, the candle wasn’t supposed to light itself again.

And so I blew out the candle, and waited. And waited. And nothing happened. 

I always worry about what kids take away from children’s sermons, but I worried about this one in particular. Did I ruin some kid’s faith? Years from now are they going to think this whole Easter thing is a hoax because the candle didn’t come back on?

But that day mostly I just walked away from that whole thing thinking “This isn’t how this was supposed to go.”

That’s actually not a bad place to start on Easter morning. Because this story is, at its core, one about things not going the way they were supposed to go. On that first Easter morning three women were going to the tomb to do what they couldn’t on the day that Christ died. It had been the Sabbath, and so they hadn’t been able to prepare the body for burial until now.

But when they got to the door, and it was open. They heave stone had been rolled away. And when they went inside there was no body. And they were deeply upset because this wasn’t how this was supposed to go

But, they were used to that…because Jesus’ life hadn’t gone the way it was supposed to go. His friends and disciples had thought that he was something special. He was supposed to change everything. He had brought them such hope. They thought he could he be the Messiah who would change everything. And yet, in the end, the world destroyed him. On Good Friday the powers that be killed him, and buried him. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to go at all.

And now all they wanted to do was give him the proper burial he’d been denied, but they couldn’t find his body. They couldn’t even let Jesus rest in peace. And that wasn’t how it was supposed to go either.

But as they went into a tomb, they saw two men in dazzling clothes. Angels. And they asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”.

It was unbelievable. Quite literally. Because when the three women went back to the rest of the disciples, they didn’t believe them. One, Peter, had to go see for himself, and he found the same thing they did And you can almost picture the women being like, “Really, Peter? We already told you he wasn’t there.”

But, that wasn’t how it was supposed to go either. Women weren’t supposed to be trusted with news like that. Surely if Jesus were to come back he’d go tell the men first, right? I mean, they were the important ones. Nothing about this was making sense.

I think about that first Easter morning, about how nothing was going the way it was supposed to go, and I think about this world. Because, truth be told, this world is broken It is not bad, because nothing God creates is bad…but it is broken

The planet itself is in crisis. We are at a critical turning point. The world is filled with war and violence…early this morning attacks on churches in Sri Lanka killed hundreds of people. Meanwhile from Pittsburgh to New Zealand to Parkland, senseless violence and bigotry reign supreme And all around us, unkindness and incivility continue to rule the day, even at the highest levels. This is the example that we are giving to our kids. This is the world that we are happening on to the next generation, essentially saying to them “this is your mess to clean up”.

And sometimes, I imagine God looking down on God’s good creation, full of so much promise and potential, and saying, “This isn’t how this was supposed to go”. 

The reality, though, is that on some level that’s always been true of this world. After all, Jesus was the living embodiment of God’s love and goodness, and look what happened to him? Not even Jesus could escape being broken by this world

And yet…that was not the last word.

Because on Easter morning, when those three women went to the tombs, expecting only to see the broken body of this man they had loved so deeply…he wasn’t there. And these angels were talking about how he was alive. And absolutely none of it made sense, because no one comes back from the dead This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

But yet, it was true…he was risen…he was alive. The world had done its absolute worst to Jesus. But in the end, God’s love was stronger than that. God’s love was stronger even than death. 

The angels ask the women “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” In their defense, I think they were just doing what made sense. It was the last place they had seen him. I think about that question, though, and I think maybe it was the angels, not the women who didn’t understand.

I think the women, who unlike the angels lived in this world, knew that sometimes you look for the living among the dead because there are so many broken places around us. 

And I think that they were pretty incredible, because they dared to go to one of those broken places and do this small act of kindness, this taking care of Jesus’ body, because they knew it was just a small sign of love, of mercy, and of justice. 

Why do you look for the living among the dead? Because sometimes we have to dare to do so. And because they did, because they were the first who dared to go to find Jesus, they were the first ones to know something amazing had happened

I’ll close with this. I grew up in a staunchly evangelical area. People would often invite others to church by asking, “Have you found Jesus?” And those of us who weren’t really into that would often ask, in fake seriousness,“Why? Is he missing?”

I don’t think Jesus is missing now anymore than he was that first Easter morning. I think he’s still around, showing us that God’s love is bigger than the worst the world can do. I think he’s doing some unexpected things. And I think that if we aren’t careful, we could miss them pretty easily

The reality is that the signs of resurrection are all around us. They’re in the people who know who overcome great obstacles. They’re in the hope that new generations bring. They’re in signs that maybe the world can change for the better. And I believe God is behind that. 

I think God is saying, “This isn’t how this was supposed to go…and so now we are going to fix this”

That’s the message of Easter.  And so the work for us becomes the same as the work for those three women that morning: Go and tell everyone what you have seen. God’s love could not be destroyed. God’s love has won the day. Christ is risen, and so now may we rise.

Because that is how it’s supposed to go.

Risen Together: Sermon for Easter Sunday, 2018

On very rare occasions, Easter falls on April 1st. Or, as we often call it, April Fool’s Day. So, as we were preparing for worship today many of us who are clergy wondered if that meant we needed to make our sermons funny. 

My spouse is a pastor as well so we started to tell each other bad Easter knock-knock jokes as a way of preparing. Mine was this:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Not Jesus!

Yeah…they groaned at the sunrise service too.

So, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell any more of those, but I’ve heard a lot of people saying this year that Easter is an April Fool’s story in the sense that when everyone thought Jesus was dead and buried and that hope was gone, God’s love and grace had the last laugh. It’s as if Jesus jumped from the tomb with confetti and yelled “April Fools”!

But the Gospel story we read today reminds me that it didn’t happen quite like that. You see, that first Easter, Jesus wasn’t playing a joke on his friends, hiding out in a tomb, waiting to surprise them. Jesus was plain and simply dead. The worst that the world could do had been done to him. He had been betrayed, abandoned, beaten, and crucified. 

On Friday night they had hastily buried him before the Jewish sabbath began, which is what his faith required. It had needed to be done so quickly that they hadn’t been able to prepare his body fully before the sun set. And so on Sunday morning, after the sabbath had ended, three women, three friends of Jesus who had loved his dearly, went back to his tomb to finish.

As they were walking there, they thought about the big, heavy stone that had been rolled across the entrance to the tomb, and they asked themselves, “who will roll it away for us”? It was far too heavy for them. And as the tomb came into view, they saw something that only compounded their grief and fear; they saw that the tomb was open. And looking inside, they couldn’t find Jesus. And they assumed that something even worse had happened, and that his last resting place had been disturbed. They wondered why, even in death, Jesus couldn’t find any peace.

But then, they saw a man sitting there dressed in white. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed!” 

Now, that’s probably the most unhelpful thing you could say in that situation. “Do not be alarmed.” And yet, the man knew why they were there. He said, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Scripture tells us that the three women were “seized” by “terror and amazement”, and that they ran from that place. 

That’s fair. If I went to my friend’s grave and someone said, “oh, they’re not dead anymore” I think I might be running too. At the very best, I might think that someone was playing a particularly cruel April Fool’s Day joke on me.

But this was no joke. There was no prank. This was something different entirely. This was Resurrection. The world had done its best to destroy God’s love and grace, embodied in Jesus Christ. But God’s love and grace refused to stay in the ground. God’s love and grace triumphed over even death. 

That was the first miracle. But the second was this; the second was getting the world to believe it.

Like the three women at the tomb, we hear a truth that we can’t yet fully process or believe. A hope rises in us, and we begin to wonder, “Can this possibly be true?” “Can what was once destroyed live once more?”

It’s no wonder that the three women had trouble believing. And it’s no wonder that we sometimes do too. Because though we live nearly two thousand years later, though we know what our faith teaches, though we know that the stone was rolled away, and Jesus was not there, sometimes that is still as hard for us to believe as it was for those women at the tomb. 

That’s no surprise. That’s no surprise because we live in a world that is sometimes so broken. We live in a world where children are afraid to go to school, where neighbors distrust neighbors, and where corruption and abuses of power speak louder than kindness and understanding. 

It has often been said that Christians are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. We are people who believe in the promise of new life, but we live in a world where we are surrounded by pain and suffering. 

I get that, but I wonder if the truth isn’t closer to this. I wonder if we don’t live in a Good Friday morning so much as we live in a very early on Sunday morning – before anyone has heard the good news – world. I wonder if we live in a world much like those women did on that morning, when they had heard an unbelievable story, and were running from the grave terrified and amazed, and yet, they dared to hope that maybe, just maybe it was true.

I think that for those of us who want to follow a Resurrected Christ, we live like Jesus’s friend did in those earliest hours. We live in the hope that these rumors of Resurrection are true, even as we acknowledge the reality of the world around us. We live as people who come at dawn, prepared to weep, and yet who are met with the baffling evidence that perhaps something amazing has happened. 

And so, we start to spread the news. Tentatively at first, and to one another.

“Christ is risen?” We ask, in hushed tones. 

“Could it be true? Is Christ risen?” Our friends whisper back.

And later, dumbfounded, the first ones to see him would begin to tell one another. “It’s true. Christ is risen.” 

And slowly, the news begins to sink in. “Christ is risen. Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen!”

And we respond to one another, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!” 

And then we begin to tell the world, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

For Christians, the work of our life is to live in such a way that we witness to the victory of God’s love and grace, even in the face of the brokenness of the world. We spread the good news of resurrection not by what we say so much as by how we live, and how we work for new life in this world. We live in such a way that even on the hardest days, we can proclaim through our every action that “Christ is risen” and that there is hope.

A funny thing happens when you live that way. You start to see hope and resurrection everywhere you look.

Last night I went to a meeting held in a nondescript room here in town. A friend of mine just celebrated one year of sobriety, and she was celebrating by speaking and getting her medallion. And as I listened to her speak, all I could think was “Alleluia! Christ is risen, and she is risen too.”

And then about a week ago, I watched some high school kids do some amazing things, standing up for themselves and for their classmates in the face of violence, and all I could think was “Alleluia! Christ is risen, and they are risen too!”

And so often I sit in my office talking with someone who has survived something unimaginable, someone who is still fighting day to day to believe that the Resurrection is true, even for them. And though they might not yet believe it yet, I can still see it, and I think to myself, “Alleluia! Christ is risen, and they are risen too.”

Recently someone who has found their way out of their own metaphorical tombs, told me this: “Resurrection is real and can never be taken away.”

That’s true. That’s true for me, and that’s true for everyone. Even you, the person who might be sitting there today, wondering if it’s even true for you. It is. “Christ is risen, and you are risen too.” It’s not an April Fool’s joke. Just like Christ, your resurrection is real, and it can never be taken away from you.

When God Jumps In: Sermon for Easter, 2017

An audio podcast of this sermon is available here or on iTunes

There’s a story about a guy who falls in a hole.

A man is out walking one day and all of a sudden he trips and falls into this deep hole. He lands at the bottom and no matter what he tries, he’s stuck. So he starts to call out to the people that he knows are passing by.

“Help me!” He says. “Get me out of here!”

Eventually someone comes by. She looks down at him and he says “help me”. She’s says “okay”. And she’s a doctor, and so she writes him a prescription and throws it down to him.

sky-ditch-eye-holeStill stuck, he waits for the next person to come. And this time it’s a minister. And he looks down in the hole and the guy says “help me”. So the minster says, “I’ll help you”. And he says a prayer for him and then moves on.

But down there at the bottom of the hole, the man is still stuck.

I’ll come back to that story, but first I want to talk about the story. That story is the reason we’re all here today. On Easter morning we proclaim an incredible truth. It starts with this: nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was dead and buried.

And three days later, early in the morning, his friends were still devastated. And so they went to his tomb. But when they got there they found that the heavy stone that blocked the door had been rolled away, and Jesus wasn’t where they had left him.

They were, understandably, distressed. That’s because in the moment they didn’t know that the fact Jesus wasn’t there is the best part of the story. Because the world had done the absolute worst that it could to Jesus. It had put him in the ground, and closed the tomb. But Jesus would not stay put. Love would not consent to remaining buried. Light would not tolerate being snuffed out.

Put another way, Jesus was down at the bottom of the hole, but he wouldn’t stay there.

That’s good news for us. And that’s good news for the guy from that first story, the one who was there at the bottom of his own hole, looking for a way to get out. The doctor couldn’t save him. The minister couldn’t save him. No one could save him, and things looked bleak.

But then a third person came by. And, if you’ve ever watched the show The West Wing you might have heard this story before. The third person was the guy’s friend. And when the guy saw him from the bottom of the hole he yelled out “Friend! You have to help me.”

And so the friend did what the best of friends do. He jumped into the hole himself.

Now the first guy couldn’t believe it. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Now we’re both down here.”

“Yeah,” said the second guy. “But I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

The most stunning part of the Easter story, the most amazing part of our faith, is this: God loves us enough to jump into the hole with us and to show us the way out.

In the church we believe that Jesus was more than just a great guy, though he was certainly that. We believe that Jesus is nothing less than God-with-us. Jesus is God loving this world so much that God chooses to actively participate in our world.

This means that God is not some divine chess player in the sky who moves us around like pawns, occasionally making us fall into holes. Instead, God chooses to be on the board with us. It means that God doesn’t just come to the edge of the holes that are of this world’s making, but God loves us enough to jump in with us, and show us the way out.

And that is what Jesus did in his life. In a time when injustice, cor

Easter guy in hole

A picture drawn by a child in church during the Easter sermon on Sunday: The friend who jumps in the hole.

ruption, and cruelty reigned, he jumped down into the hole. And on Easter morning, he got back out.

Now, we hear this story today, and we have the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight. You came to church this morning knowing how it goes. It’s no surprise to us that the tomb is empty, and Christ is risen.

But to the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, it was more than a surprise. It was shocking. Jesus wasn’t there, but an angel was telling them, “Jesus has been raised from the dead. Go tell the others, and Jesus will meet you.”

It sounds impossible to them, but they go anyway. And Scripture tells us that the women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell” the others.

I love that phrase: “with fear and great joy”. I love it not because I like the idea of being afraid, but because I believe we can all relate. I love it because fear and joy are the natural reaction to the surprise of resurrection.

They had no idea what was happening. But they did know that it was something big. They didn’t have words to describe it yet, but in their hearts they had started to believe that resurrection was possible. And so, they ran.

And it was while they are running that they meet Jesus along the way. And seeing him, they know that it’s all true.

Like I said, we have hindsight faith. We are not surprised by resurrection the way that those disciples were. But maybe we should be. Maybe the news that resurrection is possible should be that jarring to us. Maybe it should cause us run quickly, ready to tell the world, wrestling between our fear and joy every step of the way.

But then again, maybe in some ways resurrection really does still sometimes surprise us. And maybe when it does we understand Easter more clearly than we ever could, even on a beautiful Easter morning.

Have you ever been down in a hole? Have you ever been there wondering how in the world you would ever get out? Have you ever felt like the people who are walking by aren’t really getting it? And have you ever had an experience of grace, maybe one where you felt God nearby, or maybe one when someone else jumped in the hole with you and showed you the way out?

IMG_4389 2

The sun coming up over the Squamscott River on Easter morning.

 

If so, you get what resurrection means. You get what it means to balance fear and joy as you climb your way out. And you get that those two things are the essential elements of hope.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that it was only when the women were running with that hope, with the first inklings that new life might be possible, that they ran into Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I need hope like that. I need to know that somewhere between my joy in life and my fear for the world, resurrection is true. I need to know that I worship a God who loves not just me, but the whole world enough to jump down into the darkest places with us. Because in days like this, when so often it feels like the whole world is stuck down at the bottom of an ever-deepening hole, who better to show us how to get out?

But more that that, every time we are shown the way out, every time we are given a little taste of resurrection, we become a part of this work too.

Martin Luther once said that it was the job of Christians to become “little Christs” to one another. That’s a tall order, and I know I’m never going to get that exactly right.
But I think I know what he meant by that. I think he meant that in a world where too many fall through the cracks and into deep holes, it’s our job to be like Christ, and to jump in after them. It’s our job to say “hey, a friend of mine once showed me the way out too.”

And so, maybe right now more than ever we who would follow Christ are called to be the people who jump into some pretty deep holes.

When violence and war drive some down into the depths, we jump in with them, and we work for peace.

When fear and ignorance shut the doors of our hearts to others, we jump in, and we open them wide again.

When addiction drives down our friends and our communities, we jump in, and we support recovery.

And whenever injustice causes any beloved child of God to be pushed into a hole, we jump in, and we work to make it right.

Resurrection happened on that Easter morning all those centuries ago. But it didn’t end that day. Resurrection is happening still. The work that Christ began on Easter morning continues. But the really amazing thing is that Christ no longer does it alone. He calls us to do this work with us.

On Easter we decide: will I stay here, unmoved by resurrection? Or am I ready to jump in?

May we always have just enough joy to allow us to conquer our fear, and to give us just enough hope to take the plunge.

The Gift of Forgetting Our Place: Sermon for Easter 2016

Many of you know I grew up in the South. And, one of the things I remember hearing about growing up, at school and in the neighborhood was the importance of “knowing your place”. Where I grew up, for instance, children were supposed to know their place and to be quiet and obedient.

Girls were supposed to know their place too. I remember trying to play Little League baseball with my friends. I loved baseball, and I could hit or throw better than almost any boy I knew. But when I tried to play, the everyone made it very clear to me that I had forgotten my place.

That was pretty frustrating. But, sometimes, things were a little more serious than baseball.

Where I grew up there was a train track that ran through the center of town, and it was literally a dividing line. If you were white, you lived on one side of that track. And if you were black, you lived on the other side. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me that, but I do know that we all knew it. And I know that we all were all expected to know our place relative to it.

Things like that don’t just happen in the South. And they didn’t just happen in the past either. There is still injustice today, and there has been for longer than we know. And throughout history, time and again, when someone has “forgotten their place”, at least in the eyes of people with power, there have been heavy consequences.

Jesus knew about that. He was a Jewish man living where the Roman Empire controlled everything. He wasn’t a citizen, and he had no rights. And even in his own community, he really had no standing. He was just the son of a carpenter. No money. No power.

But, when he grew into a man and started to attract followers, that’s when things became really dangerous. He was teaching the crowds. He was healing people. He was being talked about like a new king. And that was dangerous, because there he was, showing the Romans and the religious officials and the powers that be, that he had forgotten his place.

And so, they decided to remind him. They arrested Jesus, convicted him, and sentenced him to die by crucifixion, a punishment that only a non-Roman citizen could receive. Even by his manner of death they tried to put him in his place. And as his tomb was sealed, they thought they had succeeded.

That’s the story of Good Friday. It’s a grim one, perhaps one we don’t want to hear on Easter morning. And yet, it’s one we hear everyday. That’s because this world, while not a bad place, is a badly broken place. It’s filled with pain and suffering, war and violence, hatred and injustice.

And if you listen too much to the world that surrounds us, you might believe that this is the way it’s supposed to be. And you might believe that there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Put another way, you might know your place, and you might even accept it.
That’s not surprising, really. You can’t be a realist and live in this world without being aware of what surrounds us. But accepting it, and accepting your place in the whole thing? That’s not mandatory. We may live in a Good Friday world, but the doesn’t mean we have to have Good Friday faith. We don’t have to accept our place as passive participants in that world.

picmonkey_image-1That’s especially true because of what today’s Scripture tells us. On the first day after the Sabbath, at her first opportunity, Mary went to Jesus’ tomb. But when she got there the stone that was supposed to be sealing it had been rolled away, and Jesus was gone.

Mary went to the man she believed was the gardener and asked what happened, and in that moment the possibility that Jesus had risen was so ridiculous, so unbelievable, that at first she didn’t even realize that she was talking to Jesus himself. Even Mary, perhaps his most devoted follower, couldn’t believe that somehow Jesus wouldn’t accept his place and that, somehow, Jesus wouldn’t just stay put.

That’s the good news of Easter. When the world told Jesus he had forgotten his place, he showed them that he did indeed know it, and it wasn’t in the tomb.
And that good news still matters today. Because for all the ways the world tries to extinguish hope, for all the ways it tries to put that God’s love back in the tomb, it just will not stay put.

That’s true no matter what. And that’s why even in a world dominated by injustice, by narcissism and self-interest, by a culture where too many look out only for themselves and those like them, Jesus reminds us that’s not who we are supposed to be. That’s not real life. That’s not real wholeness. And that’s not real hope.

Put quite simply, that’s not our real place.

I believe at some level we all know that, and that today we are here, because, at some level, we believe in a better way. We believe just as he was risen 2000 years ago, he is still risen today.

And, because of that, we begin to know our real place in the world.

One of the greatest examples of moral courage I know comes from the stories of the young African-American students of the 1960’s who tried to integrate lunch counters throughout the South. They would enter these restaurants and stage sit-ins, staying perfectly still even in the face of verbal taunts and horrible violence.

The students were often accused of forgetting their place. But how wrong those accusations were. They knew their place, and it was sitting right there at those lunch counters.

So many of those who participated in those sit-ins were people of faith. They believed in a real way in the Jesus who knew his rightful place, and so rose again, and they drew strength from a faith that said they would rise to theirs too.

That is an Easter faith. It is a faith that rejects the lies of hate and violence, fear and bigotry. It is a faith teaches us our real place and that raises us up with Christ.

Easter wasn’t a one time event that happened 2000 years ago. Easter still happens, every day of the year and all around us. Because Christ triumphed over death all those years ago, we now rise in the face of a whole new set of tombs, and the Easter story lives on.

It lives on when an addict lays down their addiction and chooses life. It lives on when a gay kid, bullied for years, refuses to believe that they are anything less than God’s beloved. It lives on when we cross lines that were drawn by fear, and extend our hands to those who at first glance seem nothing like us.

But mostly it lives on when we forget our place, and least the one that the world tells us about. And it lives on when we start proclaiming an Easter faith that says that no living person’s place is in the figurative tombs of this world.

That’s the good news of Easter. But that’s also the easy part, because there is a challenge. Even in good news there is always a challenge.

And the challenge is this: if Jesus doesn’t stay put, than neither can we. After all, Mary went looking for him just three days after what was supposed to be the ultimate end, and found he wasn’t where they had put him.

And so, 2,000 years later, where is Jesus now? What is he up to? And where does he want us to be?

That’s the big question. Each of us needs to find what is holding us back in our old places, and to remember our real places in this world. For each of us it will look a little different. I cannot tell you where yours is exactly, but I can tell you this: wherever it is, there will be life, and there will be light, and you will be more fully yourself in that place than you have ever been before.

And I can tell you this as well: you don’t have to find that place alone.
Last night some of us gathered here for the Easter vigil. It is an ancient Christian tradition that on the night before Easter new believers were baptized and welcomed, and the Paschal light was lit for the first time. That’s why the Paschal candle is burning this morning next to the baptismal font. It’s a visible sign that Jesus has risen.

That same flame burns now for all of us. It’s a sign that we are Christ’s, and that our place is with him. And it’s also a reminder that we have a job to do, and that is to carry this light out into the world, and to remind others of their place as well.

Because their place is as beloved children of God. Their place is as the ones for whom Christ also rose. Their place is as people who belong not in the tombs, but in the light.

Proclaiming that truth is the work of Easter.

And so, together we do that work. And as we seek to follow a Jesus who for our own good just won’t stay put, may we learn to forget our place, at least the one that the world has told us to accept. And may we guide one another by the light of Christ out of the tombs, and to a truer place than we have ever known. Amen?

Alarming and Amazing: A Sermon for Easter Sunday, 2015

Mark 16:1-8
16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

16:3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

16:4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.

16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

It is Easter Sunday in the church. It’s the day of flowers and trumpets, Easter egg hunts and the Alleluia chorus. It is a day of joy, one without compare, and no celebration is too big on this holiest of Sundays.

But I’d like for you to humor me for a moment, because before I talk about Sunday, first I was to talk about Thursday.

Last Thursday night we had our annual Holy Week Tenebrae service here. In that service the Gospel story of Christ’s last hours is told in pieces, and one by one the lights here in the sanctuary are lowered until we are left in almost total darkness. And Thursday night we left the sanctuary in silence and we waited for Good Friday, and for the day when the world did the worst it could to a man who was God’s love personified.

We do that in the church during Holy Week. We go through the motions of remembering Christ’s betrayal, and suffering, and death. And we are remembering something from the past, something that happened all those centuries ago. But in a larger way, we are telling a story that still makes sense today.

Because the reality is that though today is Easter morning, we live in a Good Friday world so much of the time. We live in a world where violence, addiction, injustice, hatred and poverty all too often surround us. A world where we see pain and suffering up close. And a world that some days may feel just as dark as the sanctuary was on Thursday night, and just as dark as the tomb was all those centuries ago.

But…what if it doesn’t have to be that way?

The Gospel today tells us that on the morning after the Sabbath, on the first day that they could, three women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. One of them was Mary Magdalene, and another was Mary, the mother of Jesus. And they hadn’t been able to properly prepare him for burial on Friday and so there they were, his mother and two women who had loved him, grieving deeply for Jesus and all the hope they had lost when he died. And they were trying desperately to just be able to say goodbye properly; to just have that one moment.

And as they walked they had one big problem: They didn’t know how to roll the stone away from the tomb.

That was a problem because in front of the tomb, the people who had buried Jesus had put this huge, heavy stone blocking the entrance. And they just had no idea how they were going to move that, and how they were going to be able to get in to prepare Jesus’ body.

And it’s while they are still trying to figure out how to do it, while they are really just talking about logistics, that they come upon the tomb and discover something shocking: the stone is gone! And they walk into the tomb and Jesus is nowhere in sight. Instead a man dressed in a robe is just sitting there.

Scripture tells us that the women were quote-unquote “alarmed”.

That’s one way to put it.

My guess, though, is that as they stood there in that empty tomb, with a stone inexplicably rolled away and the body of their son and brother gone, they were more than a little “alarmed”.

And the guy in the glowing white robe, the one they’ve never seen before, very helpfully says to them, “Don’t be alarmed!”

(I could be wrong, but I think “don’t be alarmed” is sort of the Biblical equivalent of, “Don’t be mad…I can explain this.”)

So, “Don’t be alarmed,” he says, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here.”

He tells the women to go on ahead to Galilee, and tell the other disciples. And he tells them, “you will see him there!”

And Scripture tells us that they did something that may seem surprising: they ran away, and they were afraid.

IMG_5277_2The three women had just seen the most unimaginable, amazing thing they had ever seen. They’d been given news that was literally unbelievable. And contrary to the way we think of Easter, their first reaction was not joy or awe or celebration. It was alarm. And fear.

Truth be told, I think I would be alarmed too. Because none of this makes sense. Stones don’t roll away on their own. People don’t rise from the dead. And, and this is the big one, we don’t get the kind of second chances that they’d just been given.

Because that’s what Resurrection is all about. It’s about second chances. It’s about a new lease on life. It’s about the world meeting God’s love in the flesh and responding not with joy but with fear. And it’s about that love still having the last word anyway, and even then not to condemn us, but to love us even more.

It’s about the biggest, heaviest, most immobile stones in our lives being rolled aside like they are nothing. Because, compared to God’s love for us, they are.

Most Christians would say that the cross is the sign of our faith. But I’ve heard it said before that maybe there should be another one. And, maybe, it should be a stone.

Because in the end even the cross could not destroy God’s love. And it is that rolled away stone that tells us that truth.

And so, here we are, about 2,000 years later after that first Easter morning. And despite all that has happened since, despite every attempt of the world to roll that stone back and seal love into that tomb, it hasn’t happened yet. And even in the hardest of days, God’s love still somehow rises again.

That is amazing. And, truth be told, that is alarming. And here’s why: because it means there is hope. And hope is messy business.

It’s messy because here is what hope does: it makes you change your plans. Hope makes you go from someone who is walking to the tomb of their friend to perform one of the saddest final acts of love imaginable to someone who is running from the graveyard believing that maybe, just maybe, what that man in white said is true. Maybe Resurrection is real.

You go from accepting as inevitable the worst case scenario to believing in the possibility of new life.

And you go from the comfort of complacency, to the affliction of knowing there is something better waiting.

Resurrection is joyful.

Eventually.

But, truth be told, first it shakes you up and it changes everything. It is “alarming”. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I was curious about that word “alarming” this week, and so I went back to the original language, the Greek in which the New Testament was first written. And like so many things, that word doesn’t exactly translate well. Because the original word that was used when they first wrote this story down can mean “alarmed” but it can also mean something else: “amazed”.

I don’t think it’s an accident that you can confuse the two. Because when it comes to Resurrection, when it comes to the new life that is offered in Christ’s love, “alarmed” and “amazed” are two sides of the same coin. It is amazing, but the alarming part is that once you know Resurrection, nothing will ever be the same again.

Because the truth is this: at some point in our lives, we have all been in the tombs. We have given up hope, we have felt pain, we have lost what we loved. We have questioned how a world can allow so much suffering. And, perhaps, we’ve wondered where God is in all of it.

That’s human. And that’s what any good person would ask. But it’s not the end of the story. Because the end of the story, and the start of a whole new one, comes from the man who sits in that same tomb saying “he’s not here…he’s been raised.”

And so, you get to choose whether you will be too. You are a part of this Resurrection. You are called to something better with God. And it may at times be alarmingly difficult, but it will be amazing.

And soon, you will see the signs of Resurrection all around you, in the most surprising of places. You will see it at the bedside of the 82 year old man who on Palm Sunday seemed headed for the grave but who on Good Friday was sitting up in his hospital bed talking and laughing.

You will see it in the face of the addict who is able to put down what was killing her and to live life clean and sober.

You will meet it in the form of the high school youth at our lock-in on Friday, who talked to me about their commitment to standing up to bullying if they see it at their school.

You will hear it in the words of the one who once hated those who were different from them, but now sees the image of God reflected back in every person they meet.

Ice thawing on Easter morning on the Squamscott River.

Ice thawing on Easter morning on the Squamscott River.

And you will even see it in the thawing river and the melting snowbanks, because even God’s creation itself knows about Resurrection, and it cannot keep quiet.

This Resurrection stuff; it’s everywhere if you look for it. And it’s waiting for you to walk past the rolled away stones, come out into the world, and be a part of it too. Because we have all been invited to this Resurrection. All of us. The stones keeping us in our tombs have been rolled away, and a new day is waiting.

Alleluia Christ is risen…may we rise with him. And may we be amazed. Amen.

The First of the Resurrections: A sermon for Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

150400_10100264762650368_2031715009_nAlleluia, Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, and on Easter morning we are filled with reminders of resurrection and new life. There’s music, and flowers, an Easter egg hunt, and more. On Easter morning we are filled with joy, and filled with hope.

But it is such a contrast from what was happening here in this sanctuary just two nights ago. Good Friday is the most somber day of the church year. No music, no candles, no flowers. We told the story of Christ’s betrayal and death. And then we prayed and left in silence.

Good Friday is about the worst that the world can do. And on Friday we prayed for the pain of the world. We took turns lifting up and naming the things that make this world so hard: war, addiction, abuse, environmental concerns, bullying, oppression. We named them one by one, and then we sat in silence, and prayed for a better world.

And today we come back. We come back because we believe that Good Friday doesn’t have the last word. We come back because as much as we live in a broken world, we believe that something better is possible. We come back because we want to see resurrection for ourselves.

On the first Easter morning nearly 2000 years ago, Mary went back. She went back to the tomb where she and a handful of others had laid Jesus two nights before. She went back because she was looking for something, what she may not have even been sure of.

Mary was expecting to see that tomb sealed up. She was expecting to see the grave. She was expecting to find memories, but not much hope.

But when she gets there, the stone is gone. Jesus isn’t in the tomb. And her first reaction is not, “Christ is risen”. It’s to find the gardner and say “what did you do with him?” Mary thought that what was bad had somehow gotten worse.

But then, something happens. She looks at that gardner again. He speaks to her. And her eyes are opened, and she knows it’s him.

What Mary saw that day was more than unexpected. It was improbable.  It was resurrection.

Now, you and I, we may not have literally stood outside an empty tomb. We may not have seen Jesus literally rise from the grave. But that doesn’t mean that we are not also witnesses to the resurrection.

When Jesus rose again, it was more than a man being raised from the dead. It was the triumph of love over the worst that the world could do. It was proof that in the end love wins. It was the first resurrection of many, and, even more spectacular, you and I have seen some of them.

You see, resurrection comes in many forms. And if we dare, like Mary, to go to the hardest and most broken places in our lives, we will see it too.

A year and a half ago, Hurricane Irene swept through our Valley. A few days ago I was looking at pictures of the destruction. And then yesterday I drove over those same roads and went into some of those same buildings. A community has rebuilt itself. That is resurrection.

A man I know had been bullied repeatedly as a high school student years before. He had endured slurs and name-calling day in and out until the point he thought he just couldn’t take it anymore. And yet, he found a way to keep going. And now he works to reach out to kids like him who are going through the same things, and to give them hope. That is resurrection.

A woman I know found herself slipping deeper and deeper into addiction. The more she tried to stop drinking, the more she wanted to drink. She though she was hopeless. But one day she walked into a room full of people who had all faced the same thing, and she sat and listened to their stories, and she told them hers. And for several years now, she has been sober. That is resurrection.

Chances are, you know a few stories about resurrection too. Ether you’ve lived them, or you’ve seen them. And if you have, you can’t help but be transformed by them.

When Mary saw that Jesus lived once more, she couldn’t keep it to herself. Scripture tells us she had to go and tell everyone. She was the first one to see it, and the first one to proclaim it.

I don’t think we are all that different. When we see a story of new life, when we see a story of love triumphing over hate or ignorance or fear or violence, we can’t help but tell it. We share it with each other. It goes viral in our conversations, over telephone lines, and on our Facebook lines. When we see a story that inspires us, it becomes a resurrection story, and we can’t keep quiet.

And that’s what being a Christian is about. It’s about believing in a resurrection so incredible that you can’t keep quiet. You have to show the world what you have seen.

Now, I don’t mean by that that you need to be beating everyone over the head with a Bible, or shouting from a street corner. Really, if you want to be a good witness to the resurrection, you probably don’t even need to do a whole lot of talking. In order to show the world what you have seen, you have to do something much harder. You have to live it.

There’s a quite attributed to St. Francis. He probably didn’t say these words, but he said something pretty close, and in the same spirit: Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.

He was right. It’s not enough to just tell the world what you know. You have to actually live your life in a way that shows that you believe it. You can’t claim to believe in the triumph of God’s love over a Good Friday world and then live as though the deck is stacked, and as though you can’t do anything to change it. You can’t say you believe in the triumph of love on Sunday morning, but then live like you don’t the rest of the week.

Instead, you can choose this. You can choose to preach the Easter story, not just today, but everyday. You can choose to cultivate hope, to encourage transformation, to stand alongside the oppressed, to work for justice, to side with the powerless, and to bind up the brokenhearted. You can choose to give the best of yourself to the God whose love was to great to be contained by the tomb, and not to a culture that tells you the tomb is the final word.

Between this Easter, and next Easter, you can be a witness to the Resurrection, and you can witness more resurrections than you could ever believe. Because if you look at the world with Resurrection eyes, you’ll find that resurrection is everywhere. Maybe even in yourself.

We are a world in need of new life. We are a world in need of love. We are a world in need of resurrection. And who better to help than the people who believe in the one who was Resurrected?

That’s our job as Christians. Deep in our hearts, we know that. We know that, or else we wouldn’t be here today.

There is a world waiting for the stones to be rolled away. And it’s time to go out and meet Christ in it. In our hearts. In our homes. In our communities. And in our world. New life is coming. And it starts with him.

Alleluia, Christ is risen…