Sunday, April 24, 2011
+ Last night a few of us from St. Stephen’s were up late. We were at the Cathedral last night for the long but very meaningful Easter Vigil service that began at 9:00 pm. It’s a beautiful service. It starts out in the dark, with us gathered around the courtyard. A bonfire is lit in that dark. From that bonfire, the Bishop lights the paschal candle which is processed, much the same way ours was processed in this morning, into the dark church. Then all the lights come up—or rather gradually came up—and then, finally there was loud and glorious and victorious noise and bells for the Gloria.
But… for all the Vigil’s beauty, there is nothing for me like this—Easter Sunday morning, here at St. Stephen’s. There is nothing like gathering together here on this glorious morning, in all of this Easter glory.
I also preached last night at the Easter Vigil service. And in my sermon, I shared how, during this past week of Holy Week I have been very diligent in my spiritual discipline of reading a spiritually productive book. I actually read two books. One was Nora Gallagher’s wonderful book on the Eucharist, The Sacred Meal.
The other book I read was Love Wins by Rob Bell. , Rob Bell is one of those so-called Emergent Church writers that I have been reading compulsively over the last couple of years. This book of his, which was just published, has already created a big controversy in the wider Christian community.
In fact, Pastor Chad Holz, a United Methodist Pastor, was fired last month from his church in Henderson, North Carolina simply because he posted a comment on Facebook supporting Bell’s somewhat amazingly effective views in which he questions popular Christian belief about eternal hell and damnation.
Of course, it’s not a surprise to any of you here that I’ve been preaching for years what Bell has written about. The book is not controversial to me at all, nor do I think it would be for most of us here. We Episcopalians just don’t have these kind of issues.
And I can tell you that for me, here at St. Stephen’s, this is definitely not an issue. The last thing in the world you would get rid of me for at St. Stephen’s is preaching that everyone’s invited to Jesus’ party. That’s about all I ever preach about, after all. Everyone—no matter who we are or what we are—is invited by Jesus, without judgment, without reproach. And I truly believe, with all my heart, that we will all be together in that one place.
In fact, as I shared last night at the Cathedral, I think I probably WOULD get ousted from here and petitions made to the Bishop if I preached about people not being allowed in. And if I do start doing that, please do form a committee to fire me. But only IF I start doing that!
One of the insights Bell makes in this latest book is one that I think really speaks to us this morning, celebrating this wonderful and incredible service in which we too are being reminded of how truly great and unlimited that love of God for us is. Bell shares this insight:
“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die,” Bell writes. “it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.”
I love that.
Resurrection is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into. And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die. We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW. Jesus calls us to live into that joy and that beautiful life NOW. The alleluias we sing this morning are not for some beautiful moment after we have breathed our last. Those alleluias are for now, as well as for later. Those alleluias, those joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines now—in this moment.
We are alive in Christ now. We have already died with Christ when we were baptized. And in those waters, we were raised with him, just as he is raised today and always. Easter and our whole lives as Christians is all about this fact. Our lives should be joyful because of this fact—this reality—that Jesus died and is risen and by doing so has destroyed our deaths. This is what it means to be a Christian.
Easter is about this radical new life. It is about living in another dimension that, to our rational minds, makes no sense. Even, sometimes, with us, it doesn’t make sense. It almost seems too good to be true. And that’s all right to have that kind of doubt.
It doesn’t make sense that we celebrating an event that seems so wonderful that it couldn’t possibly be true. It doesn’t make sense that this event that seems so super-human can bring such joy in our lives.
Today we are commemorating the fact that Jesus, who was tortured, was murdered, was buried in a tomb and is now…alive. Fully and completely alive. Alive in a real body. Alive in a body that only a day before was lying, broken and dead, in a tomb.
And…as if that wasn’t enough, we are also celebrating the fact that we truly believe we too are experiencing this too. Experiencing this—in the present tense. Yes, we too will one day die. But, THAT doesn’t matter. What matters is that that death is already defeated. We are already living, by our very lives, by our baptisms and our faith in Jesus, into the eternal, unending, glorious life that Jesus lives in this moment. Our bodies MAY be broken. Our bodies WILL die. But we will live because Jesus lives.
What we are celebrating this morning is reality. What we are celebrating this morning is that this resurrected life which we are witnessing in Jesus is really the only reality. And death is really only an illusion. We aren’t deceiving ourselves. We’re not a naïve people who think everything is just peachy keen and wonderful.
We know what darkness is. We know what death is. We know what suffering and pain are. For those of us who have losses in our lives, we know the depths of pain and despair we can all go to in our lives.
There were moments in this last year when I though I would never be able to rise up out of the dark, sometimes seemingly overwhelming waters of my father’s sudden death in September. Despite the fact that I had full faith in his on-going life in the hope of the Resurrection we are celebrating this morning, there were moments when I felt as far away from this Easter joy as one can get. The joy and Light of this morning seemed, at times, vague and distant to me. And I was not certain at times if I would ever be able to experience the joy and Light as I had in the past.
I can say in all honesty that this Easter has taken on a deeper meaning than I could possibly ever hope for it take on this year. With the death of my father, I have never been more aware of how thin that veil is between the other world and this world is as I have this morning. I have never been more aware of how this glorious Light of Christ truly can cut through the darkness of despair and sadness and renew us and fill us once again with joy.
It is this Light of Christ, that has come to us, this glorious morning, much as the Sun breaks into the darkness. What Easter reminds us, again and again, is that darkness is not eternal. It will not ultimately win out. Light will always win. This Light will always succeed. This Light will be eternal.
I am honest when I say that part of me wishes I could always live in this Easter Light. I wish I could always feel this joy that I feel this morning. But the fact is, this Light will lose its luster faster than I even want to admit. This joy will fade too.
But I do believe that whatever heaven is—and none of us knows for certain what it will be like—I have no doubt that it is very similar this the joy we feel this morning. I believe with all that is in me that it is very much like the experience of this Light that we are celebrating this morning—an unending Easter. And if that is what Heaven is, then it is a joy that will not die, and it is a Light that will not fade and grow dim.
And if that’s all I know of heaven, then that is enough for me.
The fact is, Easter doesn’t end when the sun sets today Easter is what we carry within us as Christians ALL the time. Easter is living out the Resurrection by our very presence. We are, each of us, carrying within us the Light of Christ we celebrate this morning and always. All the time. It is here, in our very souls, in our very bodies, in our very selves.
With that Light burning within us, being reflected in what we do and say, in the love we show to God and to each other, what more can we say on this glorious, glorious morning? What more can we say when God’s glorious, all-loving, resurrected realty breaks through to us in glorious light and transforms us;
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!