April 8, 2012, Easter Day

Easter Day, April 8, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!) Happy Easter, everyone! Well, we’ve made it. It has been a really amazing Holy Week here. I know I have gone places I have not gone before. On behalf of the whole community, thank you for all of the efforts that so many put into this week. We made it together, together through another descent into the dark night of Holy Week. Last night we rekindled our Eternal flame and we continue the party this morning in our memory and remembering of the life and death and rising again of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I do not usually preach children’s sermons. First, they are a lot harder to write than big people sermons; a good parable is exponentially harder to write than an exegesis of a parable. Second, it reminds me that any sermon worth giving should boil down to a page if not a sentence, and it makes me self conscious about all the fun I have with my words each week. Like today, my two minutes with the kids summed up my Easter message: Jesus lives. That’s it. So let’s go have some ham… Jesus lives. That is the message today. Jesus is alive in a very special way. By the grace of God and by the intention of our hearts and minds and bodies, Jesus lives in us. He lives in us individually, personally, like a great love or a true friend. He also lives in us collectively as the heart of this and every Church; He is the Good Shepard, our leader and guide, protector of the faithful. He also lives in the world. His eternal life is manifest in our right intentions, right actions and right efforts, our right relationships, our concern and love for others, particularly the least of these. Jesus lives. There are no qualifications to that statement. He lives.

Jesus lives in us in a very special way. That special life, that form of life that He has in us does one thing: it makes real eternal life. “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, keep you in eternal life.” Those are the words we say every week, they are not to be taken lightly; they are not to be taken figuratively. Jesus lives, and in that life reveals to us eternal life, the eternal life that God promises all of us. This eternal life was revealed in Jesus. It was pioneered by Jesus in His triumph over death, in particular the triumph of life over a shameful, violent, unjust death at the hands of men under the influence of greed and hatred and fear and scarcity. These things mean death, they are the way of death. The way of Christ is the way of life. Eternal life, even. And in Christ, we are witnesses to the fact that life always triumphs. In the long run at least, life always triumphs. We are kept in eternal life. We are part of it. We have it.

Obviously I am not saying that we will live forever. No matter how hard you believe or what, we will not live forever, no one does, not in this form, certainly. And I am not talking life in some post-mortem paradise, either. We ought not be concerned with that, with afterlife or whatever speculative theology we can conjure up. We need to be concerned with the life we have here. Even Jesus didn’t live forever, not in the form He walked around in. Eternal life does not mean immortality.

Eternal life is what we find on that mountain the Prophet Isaiah describes. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wines… And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth for the Lord has spoken… This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” The eternal life we are promised in Christ Jesus is death being conquered, being swallowed up, not the actuality of death, death is just part of the process, what is swallowed up is the fear of death, the shame of death, the fear and shame of our own mortality and the destructive habits this fear engenders. These are the tears being wiped away, this is the disgrace God will take away. In that is eternal life.

What if we lived fearlessly, I mean truly fearlessly? What if we really were not fearful of death? Not that we look forward to it, but what if we really didn’t worry about our inevitable decline and death? What if we were fearless of what others thought of us. What would life look like if we were fearless of the consequences of living out our beliefs, living out our dreams? What if we had no fear of the consequences of doing what is right? What if we were not scared of pushing our ways into the halls of power and telling the scared little men who control things to knock it off? They want our tax dollars to pay for wars and Guantanamo and Total Information Awareness v. 2.0 and not schools or protecting rivers or supporting cities and towns in becoming stable sustainable communities, you know, real national security initiatives … if we all said no, if we withheld our taxes until they did it different, there is nothing they could do about it. If we said could turn the lights out until everyone has healthcare, or the prisons are emptied, or the climate is actually dealt with, if we did that, we stopped cooperating, we’d have action tomorrow. And there is nothing that they could do about it. If we were fearless, we could shut down all the predatory banks by just not paying them anymore. If we all stopped paying on our mortgages or credit cards the banks would become extremely cooperative, wouldn’t they? That is what Gandhi did in India. He was a fearless man, so fearless that a great nation rose in fearlessness with him and peacefully threw-off the English imperialists by not cooperating any more. (Well the Indians were peaceful, the British were God-awfully violent). They stopped buying English cloth and they made their own salt. Fearlessly, they crushed the empire with non-compliance. And did you know, Gandhi had one picture hanging in his house, the picture of another fearless man, Jesus Christ. Eternal life is life lived without fear of the consequences of living.
Eternal life means living life to it fullest potential. Living it to the end, embracing the full range of being that life encompasses. A full life has pain and pleasure, happiness and sadness, loss and reward, life and death. Living an eternal life means that we live with our hearts open to the world, knowing that such openness invites both wondrous joy and bone crushing sorrow. Eternal life is lived out in loving someone, in having a child. Every relationship we can imagine will end in death, there is no getting around that, but living in eternal life we still risk to love. What choice do we have? There is so much to love. Jesus shows us the way to this life lived fully conscious of the consequences. His crucifixion and resurrection, his condemnation and his vindication. He lived His earthly life eternally. Now, He simply lives.

Eternal life is life lived tapped into the very true fact of limitless love, the very true fact that you can never be too kind or too forgiving, or too happy, or too generous. You probably cannot have too much fun. Maybe you can have too much chocolate, but that is just a maybe. Eternal life is life lived in this very moment, the only place God can meet us. Jesus long ago went up against the powers of death, the empire and its stoodges, and definitively, definitively He showed us that life always triumphs, in the end, life always triumphs. His eternal generosity, His fearlessness in the face of corruption and violence, His kindness and his forgiveness, the endless hope he had for His friends, the sadness He bore for others; these things lasted fifteen hundred years longer than Rome, two thousand years longer than the Temple, and they continue to live. Jesus Christ and the eternal life that he carries for us continues to live in our hearts and minds, it continues in the keeping of His feasts and fasts and the life of His church. The eternal life of Jesus Christ which we remember today is a promise of eternal life freely offered to all. Jesus lives.

This gift we have been given, Christ’s life within our life, it extracts a high price. An eternally high price actually. To accept the life of Jesus within us and the eternal life He promises, the price is that we may no longer live for just ourselves, just for our little worlds, for our own little concerns. The eternal life Jesus Christ offers is useless to us if we hold onto it for ourselves. It cannot exist in a single heart. What we must do is to tenderly hold that life; we must cherish it, adore it, to value it more than anything else we can imagine, and then we must radically and recklessly give it away to anyone and everyone who will have it. The eternal life of Christ within us is an unquenchable flame of love, it is an endless stream of truth, it an unfathomably deep wellspring of generosity. It cannot run out. It does not always lead to tranquility and pleasure, look, it led Jesus to the Cross, but it will absolutely lead us to where we are supposed to go, it will make us the person, the community, the world that God intends us to be. Jesus lives that we may share in His eternal life.

I want to thank you all for having Windy, the girls and me here with you this season, this morning. There is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place. May this be the first of many, many Easters together. Jesus lives! AMEN