+ In the last seven days, here at St. Stephen’s, we have had ten services. And tomorrow evening, we’ll have one more—the funeral Eucharist for Sarah Jacobson. We call that a liturgical gauntlet. And it’s very true. I’m sure, James, our organist, can agree wholeheartedly.
One person on Facebook this past week said, “...st. stephen's probably has a busier holy week schedule this year than the national cathedral in d.c. or st. john the divine in new york. just sayin'. “
I think we might have.
And one of the parishioners from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, who joined us for Holy Week services this year, said to Pastor Mark Strobel,
“So, is Fr. Jamie is seeking Episcopal sainthood with all these services they’re doing at St. Stephen’s?”
No…I am not seeking Episcopal sainthood. Though, that would be nice. (Though I wonder what I be the patron saint of, if I were)
The reason we do what we do—the reason we go through this during Holy Week—isn’t because we’re gluttons for punishment, or we want to show off, or we want to be liturgically fancy. We do this because that’s what we do as Christians and Episcopalians. We worship. We do this during Holy Week because in the services we do during Holy Week, we experience a true emotional roller coaster. We hit very deep emotional lows—with the betrayal and death of Jesus. And we hit the emotional highs.
This morning—Easter morning—we are at the GREATEST emotional high. This morning is why we are Christians. This is why we follow Jesus. Yes, I know that what we are celebrating today seems almost too incredible to be true. We are faced with something just as difficult to believe in sometimes as God is sometimes difficult to believe in. We are faced with a mystery that is just as difficult to wrap our minds around as the mystery of God.
I am, of course, speaking the Resurrection. I am speaking of that moment—that moment when everything changed—when Jesus, broken and battered and murdered, rose up from the tomb.
The Jesus who appears to us on this Easter morning is not a ghost. He is not a figment of our imagination. He is not an illusion. And this story isn’t a fairy tale.
Every so often, someone will come up to me and ask that age-old question: “Do you really believe in the Resurrection? Do really you believe that Jesus rose again from the grave?”
And my answer is always this: “Why not?”
Why couldn’t God do this? And if we look long and hard at what happened on that Easter morning, we realize that what happened there was more than some vague experience for some ancient people.
What happened on that morning changed everything. Everything since that point has been broken open for us. Our fear of death and dying is gone. Because now we know that what we once held to be a mystery, is no longer a mystery.
What happens to us when we die? We know now, because Someone—Someone we know and love—has been there already. Someone has gone there and by going there has defeated death. What seemed to be the end—the bleak and horrible end on that previous Friday afternoon—has been broken apart. And what we are faced with is life. Life that never ends.
Now, when people ask me if I believe in the Resurrection, I say that I do, but I usually leave it there. Anything beyond my belief that it happened—and that it will happen for us—is beyond me. I don’t understand it fully. I still find bits and pieces of it being revealed to me. I find on bad days or skeptical days that I’m, not certain I believe in it. And to be brutally honest, the idea of unending life doesn’t always appeal to me.
But what I have discovered is that, mostly, I find one deep, strong emotion coming forth in me when I ponder the Resurrection. And that emotion is: joy.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find joy. Joy comes to the women at the tomb when they realizes that it is Jesus, resurrected, standing before them. We can almost feel that joy emanating from them as they proclaim this to the others.
Joy is an emotion we seem to overlook. We think, maybe of joy as some kind of warm, fuzzy feeling. But joy is more than just feeling warm and fuzzy. Joy is a confident emotion. It is an emotion we can’t manufacture. We can’t make joy happen within us. Joy comes to us and comes upon us and bubbles up within us. Joy happens when everything comes together and we know that all is good.
This morning we are feeling joy over the Resurrection—over the fact that today we celebrate the destruction of everlasting death. We also celebrate today the joy of new life. And we are joyful over a life renewed in baptism.
Today little Oscar is going to be baptized. This morning he too will be washed in the waters of baptism. In his baptism, on this wonderful day, we get to see a glimpse of that glorious life that waits all of us.
Baptism is a way of saying “yes” to the glory that awaits us. Baptism is a way of saying “yes” to the Resurrection. Baptism is a way of saying “yes” and affirming this joy that we have within us on this morning.
Those of us who have already been baptized get to share in this joy too, when we renew our own baptismal vows and, maybe, for a moment, ponder and think about our own baptisms and all that it has been given us in our baptisms, whether we are fully aware of it or not. This is what Easter is all about. And I guess that’s maybe why Easter is, by far, my favorite feast day in the Church Year.
And if anyone asks me what I love most about being a Christians, I almost always answer: Easter! By Easter, I don’t mean bunnies and Easter eggs. I don’t mean that I particular care for any of those fluffy, bright things we celebrate on this day, though I do think it’s sweet. What I talk about when I talk about Easter is that fact that today is truly the embodiment of the joy we should all feel as Christians.
Today is a day of joy. Today, we are all filled with joy at the resurrection and our baptism into that resurrection. This is a joy that sustains us and lifts us up when we need lifting up. It is a joy that causes us to see what others cannot see. We don’t need to see God out there—floating around like one of us. God dwells with us. God dwells within us. And to see God, all we have to do is look around and see God in the faces of those around us.
God is here with us, this morning. God is dwelling with us. And, in this Easter light nothing seems like we thought it was.
Christ is not only what his followers thought he was, but much more. He wasn’t defeated. In fact, even despite his betrayal, his torture, his murder, he arose, the ultimate victor. He arose, and by his rising, he destroyed everything we feared the most. By rising, he destroyed death. By rising, he destroyed our fears of an uncertain future. By rising, he brought victory to all of our defeats and failures.
See, there is a reason for joy on this Easter morning. In fact, it is joy that dwells with us and among us as we gather here.
So, on this Easter morning, don’t let this joy we feel at this moment be a fleeting emotion. Rather, let it live in us and grow in us. Let it provoke us and motivate us. Let it flow forth from us. And when we live into this joy—when we let this joy fully consume us—every day with be Easter day to us. Every day will be a day of resurrection. Every day will be a day of renewed life.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.The Lord is risen indeed!