Year B, Easter 2015 April 5, 2015 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Alleluia! Christ in risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Happy Easter, everyone! Happy Easter. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a powerful week. It has been fabulous here. I was proud of myself because I finished my Easter Sermon on Tuesday, but after the Agape feast on Thursday, Diane Beuerman’s out of the park sermon in the midst of the best Good Friday service I’ve ever been to, our first (and NOT last) Holy Saturday retreat that Jennie put on for us… It has been such a moving week that I rewrote this sermon yesterday. The drama of this liturgical cycle is powerful medicine. Something outside of ourselves, the calendar, dictated by the movement of the earth and moon around the sun, it pulls us out of our regular lives and says, “No, pay attention to this! This is more important.”
It is. Today is Easter! O happy day! Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is risen from the grave. The forces of evil are put to flight. Hats and chocolate bunnies all around.
We humans need seasons and cycles of observance to keep us on track. For we are so forgetful. So what Easter reminds us, what the Pascal Mystery is about, the Resurrection, the very Risen Lord, what all of this is all about is Jesus Christ with us and within us. It is all about Jesus Christ behind us and before us, beside us and beneath us and above us. It is about Jesus Christ in quiet and in danger, comforting and restoring. It is all about Jesus Christ in us and in the hearts and minds and bodies of those we share this life with, known and unknown. That is what today is about.
It is confusing, though. I have been confounded time and time again by Easter. It is a hard story, no? The horror of the past few days. This beautiful, good, truly good man who healed and taught and loved; who tried to do what He knew was right to the end, and this happened. He came to the attention of the authorities who feared His goodness and mercy, who feared the loving heart of God that He preached as they thought it threatened everything that they had, that they had had built, that they thought their whole world was built upon. From their cushy jobs to their very conception of God, they took exception to everything Jesus said, so they hated Him and they conspired to destroy Him. To this end, they, the Temple authorities, shined upon Him the piercing light of the evil empire that they collaborated with and the empire broke His body, unto death they broke it.
What this story is about can get lost in all of the personal-salvation-from-sin talk that we hear. That is part of it, but more importantly, Easter is about is God giving the very best to the world. God gave the very best, to us! A son, an only begotten son, someone so special, so good, someone who was able to do exactly what He knew to be right, what was supposed to be done, exactly what He knew to be the will of God, and He did it regardless of the consequences. (And He was aware of the consequences). And that Son, the very, very best that God has to offer, that Son was placed in the path of the very, very worst that we as humanity have to offer. The Roman Empire. Violence. Fear and hatred. Greed and selfishness. Aversion, attachment and ignorance. The local 1% preying upon their own neighbors, siding with a conquering empire over and against their own people for what? Something as petty as personal gain. Everything the unwholesomeness of the Roman empire touched decayed into suffering and death. That is the work of empires everywhere because that is what they traffic in, death. Death of people, of difference, of cultures, spirits, ways of living and being in the world. Empires are the death of freedom itself and in this case, brought about the very death of God on Earth.
God could have smote them, I suppose. But God had tried that before, and it didn’t work. We are irascible. God saw that time and time again that the real problem wasn’t the invader, the outsider, the evil doer, we always have and always will have them. No, the real problem was within God’s chosen people, within Israel. God delivers, Israel strays. God liberates, Israel betrays, slipping immediately back into their old ways. Exile and return, Exile and return. That is the story of Israel, and in truth that is the human story, right? We get it right until we don’t anymore, till we slip back into our old ways and we repeat that cycle over and over and over again.
But God knows this. God knows that we can’t control the other, be it an imperial conquistador from far away or that so and so next door. However, we do have dominion over our own heart, our own mind, our own body, or we can learn it. So God didn’t smite them, the Chief Priests, the elders and scribes and their forces and supporters, God didn’t even strike Rome, no, God chose a different path, the way of Jesus Christ, the way we are to choose, that is, of course, the way of the cross.
In the face of the very worst, what did God offer? Did God hit back? No. What was offered was God’s very best. And the very best of humanity isn’t a warrior, isn’t someone “successful” by any conventional definition, the very best isn’t someone shrewd or victorious. The very best of humanity is someone who is humble in heart, who is kind , who is a good friend, who is forgiving, irresponsibly forgiving and generous, one who goes like a Lamb to the slaughter and does not make a noise. The very best of humanity, the pinnacle of our evolution is Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God.
And laying out your very best in the face of the very worst, it doesn’t mean that it is going to work out, that you are going to be OK, that you won’t suffer or even die. No, life is not a fairy tale, the Passion of Jesus Christ depicts in Technicolor exactly what happens when the very best meets the very worst… but therein lies the miracle of Jesus Christ.
You see, Jesus does all those things, the healing and the teaching, the loving of everyone He met, the kindness and humility and the resisting evil and empire and corruption and lies, all with divine peace in His heart… He was being and doing as much good as you could possibly be and do and…the worst thing that could possibly have happened, happened. The very worst scenario that could have been imagined played out, betrayal, torture, abandonment, even death on a cross, it all happened and… Resurrection. Resurrection happened. Easter morning happened. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In the face of the very worst of us, the very best of God, the very best that God gave to us triumphed, and to this day, to this very moment, this very Easter moment the best in us, in each of us, in you has the power to triumph over the very worst. Every time. The moral force of Jesus Christ’s resistance through non-resitance to evil was so monumental that it changed EVERYTHING. Jesus faced, opposed and died at the hands of the institutional evil that seems to infiltrate most man-made systems and in doing that, being the very best in the face of the very worst, we are saved. By the miracle of His self-sacrifice the road to salvation, the commonwealth of God was made real.
The worst of humanity is powerless, impotent, in the face of the best of God. That is the gospel lesson of Easter. And you, and you, and you and everyone one in this room and in this neighborhood and around the world has truck with the very best of God because you are made in the image of God. You are blessed by God with memory, reason and skill, with the power to feel and love and serve. To heal and comfort. To bless and touch. Your God given gift to cry is greater, is far more powerful, far closer to God than their power to conquer, to break, to kill. Jesus died on the cross and what happened? Resurrection. What can they do to us when we do the right thing, live as we know we are supposed to live, when we follow the will of God to the very and glorious end? Crucify us? Well, maybe. But that’s all they’ve got. We have God. The worst of humanity is nothing when confronted with the best of God. That is what we mean w hen we speak of living and dying in the hope of the resurrection.
Now, how what happened there and then comes to us here and now, well, that’s something we’ll be wondering about in the Sundays of Easter. Today, we have the Feast of the Resurrection. The very best of God, Jesus Christ, was risen today that we might live, and live abundantly. Alleluia! Christ in risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Happy Easter. AMEN