Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Sermons: "In the Breaking of the Bread" and "I Believe in Resurrection"

Easter Sunrise Service: In the Breaking of the Bread

Matthew 28:1-10
John 21:1-14

We have gathered very early this morning in this beautiful space to celebrate the resurrection. We have come to meet the risen Christ. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in memorial observances. I want to meet my Lord on this seashore (or the bank of this bay). I don’t want to experience an earthquake or find angels here, or be confused about an empty tomb and have to go tell people something they aren’t going to believe anyway. But I do want to hear Jesus call my name. 

I like the second story, the one where Jesus cooks fish and reminds the disciples of several miracles they have shared with him. If we’d read a little father, we would have heard a conversation about what the disciples could expect next, about an uncertain future in which Jesus would be with his disciples only through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s our reality. We experience the presence of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit—and in the breaking of the bread, and in the love we have for one another, and sometimes in our prayer or in our dreams, and in remembering the miracles we have experienced . . . and we meet Jesus when we least expect it—when we are going about our daily work and he catches our attention. We can’t count on these chance encounters, but we can count on meeting the risen Christ when we gather together and break bread. 

Surprisingly, when I have met the risen Christ in community at the table, when I have been fed by love and forgiveness, when I have seen Christ in your eyes, when I know that I belong and am accepted just as I am, then I can go tell people something they might not believe anyway: that mistakes, and failures, and brokenness, and even death are not the end of the story. No matter how we mess up our lives, God is faithful and loves us—to and beyond the end. No matter what, God loves you. And the good news, no, the great news is that God offers us new life every day. How can we not tell people such great news? How can we keep from singing our thanks and praise?

Easter Service: I Believe in Resurrection

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18

On that first Easter Sunday, a woman named Mary got up very early in the morning, if she slept at all, packed up spices and cloths, and made her way in the dark to the garden tomb where her teacher and friend had been laid two days before—on the day we now call Good Friday. Only two days. Easter dawned in the midst of the sleeplessness and disorientation of mourning. Is it any wonder that Mary and the other disciples seemed so dazed and confused? No wonder they did not comprehend what they saw and heard. Nothing seems real in the middle of such grief. Deep in grief we hope that we will awake from the dreadful nightmare, but we also know with certainty that nothing will ever be the same. Easter dawns in the midst of grief and loss. The memorial service in most Christian churches is called a service of death and resurrection. In our deepest time of grief, the church speaks a word of hope. We proclaim the resurrection. We are reminded that our souls are born to be eternal and that our dying precedes our rising to eternal life.

God has revealed the pattern of death and resurrection in our earthly life—a pattern evident in the natural order—in the cycles of days and months and years, in the season of planting and harvest. Easter dawns in the midst of grief if we dare to hope in the God of eternal life.

That first Easter came at the end of a mob frenzied trial, brutal violence and an execution. This year we are painfully aware that all is not well in our world, and yet because of the resurrection, we dare to hope. We live in a violent world, addicted to violence on school grounds, in work places, in public squares, on battlefields and even in our entertainment. On Good Friday we fixed our gaze on the horror of our human penchant for killing those who offend us—and heard Jesus offer forgiveness, commanding those who would follow him to forgive and love even in the face of betrayal. We heard Jesus tell Peter to put his sword away and Jesus reached out to heal a soldier who has come to arrest him. Even in the nightmare of Good Friday, Jesus dared to hope in the God of life and love and he was not disappointed. God wills life, even when we will death. Our darkness is no match for God’s light. Easter dawns in the midst of violence if we dare to hope in the way of peace.
When my oldest son was little, he would hold a birthday gift or Christmas present in his hands and say with delight, “I hope what it is.” Real hope is not necessary when everything is going right. When we are healthy and all of life is good, we don’t need hope. Hope is what keeps us going when everything falls apart, when the news is not good, when our hearts are breaking, when we cannot imagine a future. The apostle Paul wrote:

In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:24-27)

Hope counts on God seeing through our darkness, breathing when we cannot breathe, and loving us—sometimes loving us in spite of what we have done. Hope counts on God’s goodness when human goodness fails, when our resources are not enough, when everything crumbles around us. In the most horrific or chaotic times, hope counts on God’s future for our souls, our families, our communities, and our world.

Hope trusts that God will bless our efforts to live a life that is surrendered to God’ s compassion and love for those who are the most vulnerable, and God’s requirement for just treatment of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. Hope gives us the courage to follow Jesus and to commit those whom we love most to his care.

We need to know that God’s love conquers even death so that we can have hope for resurrection in every part of our lives—not just a beginning again of the same old thing, but the transformation of resurrection. We need the sins in our past to die so that we can begin again, and this time, do things differently. We need our addictions to die so that we can live a new life free of the fears we try to drown by self-medicating. We even need our successes to pass away so that we can keep our eyes on the present moment. We need resurrection to redeem the many images of God we have created over the centuries by projecting our own pathologies onto the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. We need the resurrection to give us hope that we can redeem old structures and create new ways for people to live in peace and share the abundance of creation.

On that first Good Friday, one future died. Easter dawned with the promise of a new future—one that depended on an assurance that death cannot trump God’s love, and a growing awareness that the future of the Kingdom of God rested in the hands of a few disciples empowered by the risen Christ. The same is true today. The future of the Kingdom of God rests in our hands—in spite of our grief, in spite of our fear, in spite of our failures, in spite of our feeling that we are not worthy or prepared for such a task. I believe in resurrection and a new future because I have experience new life and I expect it in the future. The future of the Kingdom of God rests in our hands—yours and mine. Because you see, the God of all creation dares to hope in us. 

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