[Sermon preached on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 [Year B] at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles – Minneapolis, Minnesota].
[You can listen to this sermon by tuning into the latest episode of the Word Made FRESH Podcast].
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Tell that to Mother Nature because, apparently, she did not get the memo.
Although the ground outside is covered in a fresh layer of snow and ice, Christian faith says that life, unconquerable life, is still stirring beneath the ground, waiting to flood creation with warmth and energy and a different, less cold, type of beauty.
That’s the way the world was created – a beautiful act of love. At least as far as the book of “Genesis” is concerned, our Creator created the world in and for harmony, abundance, and peace. We were created in the womb of love for the sake of love alone.
But love, by its very nature, cannot be coercive. You cannot make someone love you. It cannot be demanded. It must be a choice. Therefore, from the very beginning, although we were created in and for harmony, abundance, and peace, disharmony, scarcity, and violence were always possibilities lurking in the background. The tendency to be drawn away from love and towards selfishness is what the Bible calls “sin.” Sin is not a list of things we do wrong. It is a network of brokenness that constantly seduces us away from our true home in love. To call ourselves “sinners” isn’t a statement about our individual morality. It’s a cry for help. It is an act of resistance against a system that silences us and traps us, against a system that is destroying us, against a system that denies our ability to journey home.
Aretha Franklin, the one and only Queen of Soul, sings of this home when she sings,
I have heard of a land on the fay away strand,
‘Tis a beautiful home of the soul
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
‘Tis a land where we never grow old.
The Christian journey is about finding our way back to that “home of the soul” by following the One who pioneered the way even through the gates of death – Jesus Christ. It is ultimately about recovering our true identities as incredibly beloved, passionately creative, deeply compassionate co-partners in God’s continual work of creation. Each of us was created to sing in harmony with everyone and everything, but we have been seduced into disharmony and, for the sake of our own wellbeing and that of Creation itself, we must find our way back home. Because until then, we are exiles, wanderers, sojourners, and pilgrims in search of provision and grace to sustain our journey as we continue our mysterious search for freedom.
Perhaps that’s why our faith speaks so much of bread and wine, water and fire. They aren’t meaningless symbols in a meaningless ritual. They mainstays of our wanderings. These are episodes of grace, food for the journey, and divine protection. In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God lights our way home and provides food and water for us along the way. These simple elements are what my dear friend the Rev. Broderick Greer calls reminders “that God’s liberating power isn’t just something that happens in stories told long ago. No. God liberates, breaks chains, and sets folk free even today. Right now, in this moment.” Dear friends, despite what it might look like around us, God is still recreating this world. Things that were dead are being raised to new life. What was once cast down is being lifted. What was old is being made new. And all of this by the power of God who created us in love and for love and will go to the ends of Creation and back to bring us back to love.
When the two Marys and Sister Salome visit the tomb of our Lord that first Easter morning, they were going fully expecting that Jesus was still dead. They were bearing spices to anoint Jesus’ body as was the Jewish burial custom. They had fully resigned themselves to his death, and with good reason. After all, they were there when they crucified the Lord of Life. They witnessed the sheer brutality of it all. They saw the violence. They experienced the trauma. Maybe it was grief, or common sense, or doubt or a mixture of all three, but for them, the story was over. Jesus was dead and, despite having been immersed in the stories of God’s salvation, they couldn’t see any other possibility on the horizon.
That is, until the tomb they expected to see closed and filled with death is found opened and overflowing with life. Rather than receiving a message that confirmed their expectations, they encounter a man, an angel apparently, who tells them that God has just blown their minds. In that brief encounter with the angel, the Marys and Sister Salome are reminded that you can count on God for a lot, but you for sure can’t count God out.
Beloved siblings in Christ, like the two Marys and Sister Salome, it is easy to take one look at the world around us and see death, and for very good reason. Our planet seems to be teetering on the abyss of climate disaster largely because of our exploitation and misuse of the abundant riches of creation. International relations seem poised for nuclear war as leaders gamble our common future with 240 characters or less on social media. Relationships within and between diverse communities in this country seem fraught with division, distrust, and hatred. Our own lives are filled with endless examples of tragic news like death, job loss, and devastating diagnoses. Death and violence stalk us all around.
But through bread and wine, water and fire, God is reminding us over and over again that the Creation, this blessed Creation, is still unfolding. In bread we are reminded of a God who will nourish and sustain our souls with grace in the midst of a world experiencing a famine of compassion. In wine, we are reminded of a God who will lean into the worst of humanity in order to reveal the very best of the Divine Nature. In water, we are reminded of a God who invites us to be family, a community, connected not by uniformity, but by diversity and difference. In fire we are reminded of a God who will protect us even as God lights our way home. Bread and wine, water and fire are signs of encouragement, foretastes of glory divine, and strength from above to do what seems impossible.
I think Paul MacCartney had it right when, in 1968, he sang,
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
God is not dead, but alive. God’s word is not death, but life. God’s gospel is not a negation of life, but an invitation to wade more deeply into who we really are – a people with a faint memory of a homeland, “the beautiful home of the soul.” In a culture that seems to thrive on death, we need regular reminders to celebrate life, life that flows like an unstoppable river. We need bread and wine, fire and water. We need to be reminded that we are, or we can be, a people who are fed and filled, baptized and redeemed. We need to be reminded that what we see around us is giving way to our true home.
We need to be reminded that, even in the dead of night, we can take these broken wings and learn to fly to that home by beating our wings for peace, beating them for joy, beating them for love.