Monday, May 12, 2014

"Alleluia" is our song - a sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, 2014

We are an Easter people and “Alleluia” is our song.
The reality of Jesus’ declaration was cemented in my heart on an unseasonably cold January day in Melbourne some twenty-five years ago. I remember the morning, a bit of frost covered the ground in the early hours. It remained cold throughout the funeral but my dad, my brother, my grandfather, and I, along with aunts and uncles, cousins and friends – we stood watch at my mother’s grave awaiting the final words. The comfort expressed by Jesus to Martha rang out as, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Easter people are those who live in the resurrection story every day. They are those people who know that death does not have the final victory.
You know, despite Jesus invitation and despite Thomas protestations, Thomas never does place his hands in his Lord's wounds. No. Though most likely filled with fear and anger and shame that comes from knowing that he not only doubted but also deserted his friend, when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord, when he is greeted by the forgiveness and grace embodied in the words "Peace be with you," he instantly believes and makes the great confession of John's gospel: "My Lord and my God!"
In a heartbeat Thomas knows that he is in the presence of God, has been saved and redeemed by that God, and that he will never be the same again. This story, then, is not about Thomas' doubt at all; rather, it is about an encounter with the grace of God which has come down from heaven and been embodied in Jesus Christ. Thomas was Easter people and “Alleluia” became his song.
For many years, I kept a note card on my refrigerator that proclaimed the message: "We are an Easter people." I received the note from a parishioner, a mother of 13, grandmother of many more, who was living with an advanced stage breast cancer at the time the card was written. In the week after Easter, Bernadette and some of her grandchildren had scripted this pink magic-marker message on a variety of note cards. They sent one to me.
I remember opening the Easter greeting and reading it several times. No, "Happy Easter." No, "Rejoice, the Lord is risen." It said, simply, "We are an Easter people." The message bore a profound faith. As her death approached, Bernadette wanted everyone to know that the power of faith transforms even death. Bernadette was Easter people and “Alleluia” was her song.
Easter people are those who live in the resurrection story every day. Through their lives they are an example of the unconditional love of Jesus. They are unselfish in their willingness to serve their fellow man.
From the record of those early days, a modus operandi begins to emerge for the church. Within the early community, "there was no needy person among them" (Acts 4:34). Those who had more property and wealth liquidated their assets and gave the money to the apostles to distribute to those in need. This may be startling information to 21st-century capitalism; but, it is nonetheless true. They were an Easter people and “Alleluia” was their song.
We are an Easter people. We are a people transformed by the resurrection. We are a people healed and made whole. We are people given to in our need. So how do make “Alleluia” our song. Here are five simple ways to come out Easter People.
Cling to the people who love you. When times get tough, we Americans have the tendency to go try to go it alone. We think that our history of rugged individualism must extend to times when we really need someone to lean on. But this will be our undoing. It's only after we've come through the darkness that we realize that others were there, urging us on, reminding us to mind our step.
This Easter season, find joy in those who traveled through your Lent (literal and figurative) with you.
Remember who you are. Remember that you are already redeemed. Remember that you are part of the Body of Christ. Remember that you are Christ’s own forever. Remember that you are precious and beautiful and unique because you are created in the image of God and that is the source of joy and redemption for anyone walking a difficult road.
Don't wait for the other shoe to drop.  One of the thing about counting on hardship is that you'll never be wrong. So don’t count on it. Do wait for something to go wrong. Just don’t. But more, when things go right, when they have improved, when days are good, when the stone has been rolled back from the tomb, celebrate. When things are good, celebrate them. When life is blissfully boring, celebrate it. That way, when trouble finds you again, at least you're not treating it as though it never left.
Bring joy to the world. Convert your happiness into joy for others. Easter People share their hope. And they share it outwardly, lifting up those around them. Break free of the obsessive preoccupation with "me." Even after Jesus' anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke's Gospel shows him practicing compassion and a desire to protect those he loves from harm. Even on his road to the cross, Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem. Even with his dying breath, Jesus makes space for his mother and the disciple whom he loved.
Breathe in the Holy Spirit. After Jesus' resurrection, he returns to his disciples, and their mission (and ours) takes on the new dimension of sharing the good news. In John's Gospel, Jesus greets the disciples by saying, "Peace be with you." He repeats himself and then breathes on them, bestowing on them the Holy Spirit and sending them out to carry on his work.
Many Episcopalians hear the word "evangelism" and shrink. It's gotten a bad rap. But the simple fact is that Easter People can learn a lot from that short passage. Jesus' tidings of peace are a call for us to bring about peace in our world. His victory over death is the embodiment of our faith and the reason we are called to spread his word. He grants us the power - perhaps even the obligation - to forgive. A bit later, he commands his disciples to tend, shepherd and take care of his sheep. That's evangelizing. That's being an Easter People. Living in the example of Jesus, everyday for everyone.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. There is nothing more that need be sung – ALLELUIA, sing praise to God. We are an Easter people and “Alleluia” is our song.

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