Year A, Easter
April 20, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Halleluiah! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed. Halleluiah!
Happy Easter everyone! Happy Easter! Welcome to the time of the Risen Lord. To those who have walked the hard road of the past few days with intention, either here or in your own homes and hearts, welcome back into the light. It has been, as always, a trying, rewarding, but trying few days. For those who didn’t get to it this year, whose life just got in the way, who hopped from Palm/Passion Sunday to here, welcome! The great thing about religious community is that not everyone has to do the heavy lifting; fear not, there is graciousness in religious observance and practice. The prayer wheel was thoroughly turned for you this week.
Now for those of you for whom this is your annual-ish occasion where you actually make your mother happy by going to church, welcome! I must say, it is a difficult day to drop in on, theologically speaking. The story we are living into today, the resurrection of Jesus, the story that Jesus Christ is Risen, is just about the most important story that we have as Christians, and it is also just about the hardest to believe. And by believe I don’t mean believe like “did this actually, factually happen, an empty grave, appearances of an angel, the appearance of a resurrected Jesus and in this way?” but believe in terms of “What does this mean?” What does this story mean for me on this Oregon spring morning, 2000 years and on the other side of the world from where this happened? And why has it meant so much for so many for so long? Easter is a, if not the central story of Christianity, but it sure doesn’t seem a good place for beginners… it is not elementary but is rather post-doc level religion. It is funny that churches across the world are the most full today on the day when the message is the hardest to believe.
Karl Barth was one of the greatest systematic theologians to ever have put pen to paper. He was pretty clear that what brings people to church, not just on Easter, but every Sunday, is a question that clings to the heart of every human being: Is it true? Is the story we have been given, be it from the Church. From the Bible, from a science text book, from what our parent’s taught us about right and wrong, about what happens when we die, about the world before we existed, is it true? Is it true that God exists? Is it true that God created the heavens and the earth? Is it true that God set the laws of nature in motion? Is it true that in this one case, in this odd case 2000 years ago in a backwater province of the Roman Empire that what is true always and everywhere, that dead is dead, that somehow the routine of natural law was broken and that something astounding happened and it is only upon that foundation that our lives can really be built? That is a lot to take in. That is a lot to swallow. That is a lot to believe. So, is it true?
In a word, “yes,” it is true. So Happy Easter! Amen! Where’s the ham?
No. If only it were only that easy; if the truth were just servable as an Easter ham… but it is not, and what is true or not true is not for me or anyone else to say or decide. The answer to the question, “Is it true?” is between you and that which is, the true nature of things, the ground of being, your utmost concern, the serendipitous creativity that is and animates the creation, or in Christian shorthand, it is between you and God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, and we here, in the church, we are companions, necessary companions I should think, but simply companions on that journey: we are not driving the bus.
So why start here, with the Resurrection, amongst the hardest to believe and hardest to understand parts of our story? Why not the incarnation? Everyone can make some holy meaning out of a birth. Or His teaching? Who can argue with the foundational and Holy truth of the beatitudes, or the parables, or the summation of the Law and the Prophets and the Great Commandment to Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself? Even the composite of the miracles, the healings and feedings, those are much more inviting starting places to the Way of Christ than the Way of the Cross, of His death, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of God, right?
Actually, no. The very first sermon given in the church was this one right here, from the mouth of Mary Magdalene, in conventional wisdom a very unconventional first preacher, and her sermon? “I have seen the Lord.”
Every sermon in the earliest church, as recorded by St. Luke in his Acts of the Apostles is about the resurrection, not about the life of Jesus. St. Paul wrote very little about the wisdom and teaching of Jesus Christ, but wrote a lot about the crucifixion, about the resurrection, about the implications of following such a revelation of God, of becoming part of the Body of Christ itself. “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” That is what Paul wrote to the folks in Colossae in 62ish. Teaching like that is the foundation of the church, those were the first teachings; and in Greek!
Since that peculiar morning so long ago as Peter and the disciple Jesus loved ran to the empty tomb, believers and prospective believers have run to that tomb. And those of us who like to understand what is going on, what the words we are saying mean, where the ideas we are exposed to come from, what the Creeds have to do with anything, we have a lot to learn from this history. For if there is anything that is completely knowable about God in Christ it is that faith is non-existent, it is a fallacy without the possibility of doubt. As a great preacher observed, “There is something in (this) story that reached the deepest regions of our hearts and minds, where both doubt and faith are found. That is, in the resurrection, God gave us such a miracle of love and forgiveness that it is worthy of faith, and thus open to doubt.” Remember the words of Anne Lamont, the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.
What this means is that the starting place for a life a faith is not a place of certainty; certainty is too small a category to contain the eternal and actual reality of God. The place to begin a journey into the heart of faith is in faith itself, and true faith, faith worthy of your time and mine, faith strong enough to weather 2000 years, to weather the monotony of most of our lives, to weather the tragedy and losses we all experience, to weather withering assaults on the least of these, to weather the constant affronts to justice, mercy and humility, faith strong enough to face the eternal and actual state of the world is absolutely strong enough to engage doubt. Perhaps true faith even holds doubt as a necessity. As that preacher says, “what we proclaim at Easter is too mighty to be encompassed by certainty, too wonderful to be found (even) within the borders of our imagination.”
So for those who are here at Resurrection all of the time, or some of the time, for those of you that are here just this time, I offer you an Easter gift. It is a serious gift, not for the faint of heart, and you don’t need a password, and in honesty it is really a re-gifting, but, believe it or not, it is a re-gifting of the greatest gift ever offered. It is simply this: “Halleluiah! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Halleluiah!” Happy Easter. AMEN.