Stephen D. Muncie
Sermon: Easter Day (B)
1 April 2018
Christ Church Gardiner
In the name of the Risen Lord, welcome to Christ Church for our 246th celebration of Easter, the feast of feasts. I wish you could see what I see as I stand here looking out at all of you dazzling in your stunning Easter hats and your cheery smiles, all of you brimming with joy after our long winter captivity, all of you here together in this beautiful church this morning.
I would like our visitors and guests to know how honored we are to have you here today. Whatever your religious beliefs, or no belief at all, you are always welcome in this house of prayer which is a spiritual home for all who enter these doors.
Some of you may find yourselves squirming a bit in your pew because you are really not quite sure why you are here at all. This may be your first time in church in a long time. Maybe you were strong armed by a parent. Or you’re giving in to your spouse’s persistent plea. Or you have been bribed by the promise of Easter brunch – or of finding some chocolate at our Easter Egg Hunt after church. You very well may have some negative thoughts and feelings about religion – after all, religious people can be among the most ungodly people on the planet. Truth be told, religion has spread way too much judgment and violence through the centuries. But any true religion, at its best, is a relationship of love not a repository for hate.
I confess to you, there have been times in my own life when my skeptical nature kept me far away from church, especially in those times when, full of pride, I thought I had all the answers or, even worse, in those times when I thought that life’s hard questions really didn’t matter all that much. But I have come to see that our lives unfold as an answer to vital questions: Why am I here? How shall I live? What are my deepest values? Who do I long to become?
These are important questions, questions to be lived into…
Even though I had my doubts about church, I was still fascinated by Jesus and his teaching, by the way he touched the untouchable and loved the loveless, how he ate with all the wrong people, angered the religious establishment, provoked the Roman occupation army, and, frankly, said the wildest things.
“The first shall be last and the last first” (which really doesn’t describe this world of first class preference and privilege);
“Sell all you have and give it to the poor,” (words the church has been trying to explain away ever since)
“Love one another” (which is all fine and good until there’s someone you really don’t feel like loving)
“Forgive them for they know not what they do” (which, when you think about it, is a lot more compassion than his torturers deserved)
The words of Jesus, and the example of his life, kept haunting me. Now and then I would find myself lingering at a church door, questioning if I should go in, wondering if I would be welcome, and hoping I might come to know Jesus better there. But I always stood at that threshold with more doubt than faith. It took me years to figure out that Christian faith is not submission to superstition, or refusal of reason, or devotion to dogma, but its opposite. Faith doesn’t mean “don’t doubt”; faith means “trust in mysteries you don’t yet fully understand.” Faith means that we come to know the God who is Love through the actual messiness of our lives not in the tidiness of a religious tract someone left on our windshield in a parking lot. Faith welcomes all of life’s questions. Faith doesn’t slam the door on doubt. The opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude.
Life requires a lot of faith. Think about it, you meet someone – it could be a new friendship or a new romance – it goes well, you spend more and more time with them, your lives become intertwined. A relationship is a daily leap of faith into an unknown future; it is trusting in what love has yet to reveal to you, trusting in what your own future might yet be, trusting in hope and possibility.
Even though most people believe religion is a system of rules and regulations, healthy religion is actually relationship, a relationship that trusts in what God’s love has yet to reveal to you.
Jesus had a remarkable relationship with his followers. He chose reviled tax collectors and marginalized women to follow him. He loved the poor and outcast. He dared to touch untouchable lepers and make them whole. He chose to live non-violently in this violent world.
Whatever else you may think about Jesus, his relationships with the outcast and those considered sinners got the attention of the religious and political authorities. You may be inclined to ignore him but the Roman authorities in Jerusalem didn’t. You may have your doubts about Jesus but they had little doubt that he was a threat to their religious certitudes and their political power.
And you know what happened to him. The powers that be had no doubt about who was really in charge in the world – it was Caesar in Rome not this wandering rabbi from Galilee. And a world that puts its faith in power never doubts who is in charge. Their world – just like our own world today – didn’t think twice before using its great power to secure its cruel reign.
But the world of power, the world that put Jesus to death, did not forsee that the power of God would restore him to Life.
The poor, powerless, grieving women who came to the tomb on that first Easter morning were there because they loved Jesus. Their relationship with him had been shattered when he was crucified and they have come to anoint his body. But when they arrive the heavy stone has been rolled away and a young man tells them Jesus has been raised. He then tells them what they are to do: “Go tell Peter and his disciples that he is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him….”
But then this Gospel lesson ends abruptly, not with the women joyfully singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” as they make their way to the other disciples and then on to Galilee. No, in spare, honest words we are told, “They fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
This is the way this Easter story ends. In confusion, not confidence. In terror, not triumph. In doubt, not faith. These women are so much like us in the most painful moments of our lives – confused, terrified, full of doubt…
But the Risen Christ is not through with these women, or with the other disciples, or with us. Even now he is inviting us, like the women at the tomb, to follow him into Galilee, to the places where we will meet him; he is inviting us to be in relationship with him in the world today.
The God of Life who raised Jesus wants us to proclaim new life in this world of death, to work for hope among those caught in the grips of despair, to be an Easter people in a Good Friday world.
If you want to follow this living Christ then join his Easter people in putting an end to whatever is crucifying anyone in this world today.
The Risen Christ is still going on ahead of us into every Galilee. He is going ahead of us into the war-ravaged cities of Syria and the grief-stricken homes of Parkland, Florida; he is going ahead of us into the poorest villages in Haiti and the poorest homes in the Kennebec Valley; he is going ahead of us into the racially-divided cities of our country and the food pantries and community suppers of Gardiner; he is going ahead of us into nursing homes, and rehab centers, and hospice rooms; he is going ahead of us into every place where new life needs to be proclaimed in the face of death; every place where God’s love is waiting to be brought to life through us.
When we say that we are an Easter people, we mean that we choose to follow the Risen Christ into every Galilee, we will follow his way of peace in a world that keeps on crucifying the innocent, we will follow his path of love in a world addicted to hate, we will follow his words in a world that keeps on questioning him. We will joyfully follow him through doubt to faith, from despair to hope, and from death to life.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.