Sunday, April 04, 2010

An Easter Sermon

Sometime during the night before that first Easter Sunday, something happened that transformed the world. We refer to this event as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This morning we have heard the biblical account of this transformational event. And if you listen carefully to the words of our liturgy, you were also hear our theological understanding of this miraculous event. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death, our ancient enemy has been cast down and trampled underfoot. We are assured that we too shall be raised up, and will be with God for all of eternity.

The biblical and theological understandings of what happened on this night are important. They give us a firm foundation on which to talk about the important implications of this transformational event.

However, sometimes I wonder how deeply our understanding of the resurrection actually impacts our day to day lives. So, tonight that’s what I want to talk about; how the resurrection can transform our daily lives.

To do that, rather than depend on scripture and theology, which as I mentioned you will fully receive within this liturgy, I want to zero in on our personal experiences of resurrection; the ways we die, and then are raised up as new beings in our daily lives.

In order to experience the resurrection as more than just some future event, in order to raised up into a new life in the here and now, there is first one difficult step that we have to be willing to take; we have to be willing to change.

William Auden wrote;

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And see our illusions die.
Change can be difficult, and even frightening. It seems safer to just continue to respond to life; choosing this over that without a thought as to what drives our choices; what memories and images are stamped on our souls. But then, in the wee hours of the morning, we awaken to the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right. We feel that longing for the illusive "something more." It’s as if we want to go home, but we have forgotten the way.

But then, once in awhile, we catch sight of that elusive “something more.” Off in the distant, we glimpse the home we thought we lost. It is in these moments that we can be transformed, if we are willing to be changed. If we allow our illusions to die, something new may be raised up in their place.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about, by offering you a story from my own life.

A few years after we were married, my wife wanted to go to a church-sponsored weekend that was popular at the time. In order to go, I had to agree to attend a similar weekend for men. A weekend with a bunch of men who drove Volvos and talked exclusively of football and irrigation systems? I knew that this was a vision of hell that even Dante had been spared. Besides, I didn't have time for such foolishness. I was working full time on the loading dock, and taking classes at the University full time at night. And now I was supposed to drop everything to sit around and sing "Kum Baya" with a bunch of yuppies?

At the same time, this interest in the spiritual life on the part of my wife was a new and positive development. I went to the weekend, etching the marks of clawing fingernails the length of our driveway. Of course, I went for my wife. I knew I had no need for such drivel.

The event was actually worse than I expected. A series of long, boring talks interspersed with guitar music, clapping, laughter, and the periodic embrace of some weeping guy declaring, "I love ya, man!"

Two nights later, a meditation was offered in the darkened church. The only light was a small spot shining on the altar cross. At its conclusion, the men wandered out into the hall, where ice cream was being served. I could hear the laughter and the back slapping. I decided that the only way I was going to avoid these happy huggers was to just stay in the church.

Soon, I was alone. I knew they would let me stay there for as long as I wanted, if it appeared I was having some kind of "spiritual experience." So, I got on my knees, gazed on the cross, and assumed an "attitude of prayer." After a few minutes, I decided that it would be a shame to waste this opportunity, so I might as well go ahead and actually pray. I started out with praise and adoration, as I had been taught to do during my Pentecostal days, telling God how wonderful he was, and how much I loved him.

Then suddenly I stopped. What was I saying? Why should I declare my love for God? God could care less if I lived or died. The ugliness of my life was evidence of that. It was time to be honest. I now knew something about love, through being a husband and a father. That experience made it clear to me that I did not love God, and saw no indication that God loved me.

I got off my knees and sat in the pew. I still had to stay in the church, of course. I could hear a sing-along starting up in the next room. So, I just sat there, letting my mind wander, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of the place. Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I saw a neighbor who had lived next door to us when I was quite young. I saw her holding me as I cried. There was a vague memory of falling off my tricycle, or something similar. I had not thought of this woman for 25 years. Yet, here she was, in a vivid memory, floating across the screen before my mind's eye. What a strange thing.

The image shifted. I now saw my grandparents. Then a teacher from grade school who used to talk to me after class. Various aunts and uncles paraded by. Then the man who took me in and fed me when I was homeless. Next, a counselor from reform school. A professor from the University. Finally, I saw my wife, my daughters, and my newborn son.

I was on my knees again, although I didn't remember moving. What were all these images about? I wasn't sure. They all drew from me a similar feeling, however. The feeling of being loved; of being loved unconditionally.

It felt as if I were being held and slowly rocked, as a voice whispered, "Shh, it's okay now. I've always been here, and I've always loved you. I know you've been hurt. And I tried to show you that I cried with you, that I so deeply loved you. I tried to show you through all those you are remembering tonight."

I dared to believe this was real. This was a moment of transformation. I was loved. Even more importantly, I was worthy to be loved. That was over thirty years ago, yet rarely does a day pass when I don't remember that night; the night I stopped fighting to survive, and began to live.

You see, that night in that darkened church was a resurrection moment for me. My old way of viewing the world as a dark place full of disappointment and pain, was replaced by a new reality; the awareness that I was what I had always been intended to be, the beloved of God.

That resurrection moment changed everything. As I said, I dared to believe it was true. And that belief was based on more than simple wishful thinking. In that moment of glimpsing the depth of God’s love, I had discovered that elusive “something more” I had been seeking. I had found the way home.

In his book A Passion for Pilgrimage, Alan Jones explains it this way:

The memory that holy Week seeks to revive is one that lies deep within everyone. It is the memory of our beginnings. It is the memory that enables us to remember the painful things of our past without despair. The Great Memory is simply this; God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home! Our first memory is God's love for us, and it is this memory that has been buried and repressed. Your first memory (if only you could get back to it) is that of being God's joy and delight. Why is it difficult to remember the joy of our beginnings in the heart of God? I wonder if it has something to do with our unwillingness to face the fact of our limited future? Memory and hope are intimately related. Perhaps we cannot recall the love that brought us into being in the first place, because we cannot imagine a love strong enough to pull us through the gates of death. I refuse to remember, because I dare not hope. I refuse to remember and I dare not hope, because I am frightened and angry because I will have to change.
Resurrection calls us to remember the love that brought us into being in the first place. Resurrection requires us to remember who we are, the beloved of God.

Since that night 30 years ago, I have had many resurrection moments. But, I would be misleading you if I did not admit that I’ve also had many moments, sometimes even days and weeks, when I’ve lost sight of God’s love.

What has allowed me to persevere in my Christian walk during those times when God’s love seemed so distant? My faith, derived from those previous experiences of resurrection.

St. Paul reminds us that all things work for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to God’s purpose. All things work for good.

That means that even though I might experience life as a series of good times and bad times, as a progression of moments in which God seems close, and them seems so far away, I must constantly remind myself that God is moving with me through it all. And the movement of God is always from glory, to glory, redeeming all things for good. My response is to try to move with God, even if that means moving from faith to faith, trusting in God’s redemptive love.

God is moving among us right now. God is offering us the gift of a new life, the gift of resurrection. If we are willing to change, if we are willing to be transformed into a new creation, if we are willing to finally come home, say yes to God’s gift of grace, God’s unmerited favor, God’s redemptive love.

If we are willing to accept this gift, then we can move with God together. And together we can help those beyond these walls to find their way home.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!


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