Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Slowly Dawning Easter - Easter 2 - March 30

This sermon owes (a lot) to PeaceBang. And my lectionary group.

John 20:19-31 (Doubting Thomas) & I Peter 1:3-9 & Psalm 16
Slowly Dawning Easter

Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. (2x)
What’s the next line?
The weeks after Easter we grapple with what resurrection means for our lives in the aftermath of that great event. Easter is easy – a big whoop-la with the surprise ending that isn’t an ending at all – and then we look at each other and wonder – what next?
In this peculiar moment, when the victory cry of God - He is not here. He is risen! – is still ringing in our ears, the Bible directs our attention to a set of passages that seem to recognize our difficulties in dealing with the aftermath of Easter.
The Psalm declares – “God has set us on the path of life.” The path? Why doesn’t he just whisk us to the destination? But no, he set us on the path, orients us in the right direction, and then we to figure out whether or not to walk.
Peter writes to the early church: “by His great mercy, God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” “even if now, for a little while, you have had to suffer various trials”. The new life is not without suffering, the victory is not yet complete, the salvation of our souls, though won, is not fully realized.
In John - - - the disciples experience the risen Christ, and a week passes, when they do What? One thing they don’t manage to do is to convince one of their own comrades – Thomas, the Twin – that what they have seen is true. A week later they are still gathering in the same house, shutting the doors and trying to figure out their next move.
Rather than being discouraging, these texts offer encouragement to those of us gathered on “Low Sunday” because they take seriously our experience of resurrection: sometimes Easter dawns slowly, and resurrection takes some time. We live in hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ Jesus. But in the here and now, resurrection is always accompanied by ambiguity and takes some time to work itself out.
One does not have to look far to find examples of how the difficulty of resurrection plays out: For instance, I heard a doctor on WILL radio this week. He tells about this man who suffers a heart attack and a near death experience, and who comes back more than a little regretfully. He was gone, and now he’s back. And instead of peace and joy and light, he’s got to deal with a new diet, and cardiac rehab three times a week, and a regimen of medications that have to be remembered morning, noon and night. And it’s several weeks before he looks up and sees his grand daughter’s face, and manages to be glad he is alive to see her growing and to be a part of her life.
When we experience resurrection, it is at the places in our lives where a death has happened. And even resurrection doesn’t completely close the wound. Like for this couple from the church I grew up in in Kansas. Louise and Jim were part of a whole group of very active adults. I suspect that the genesis of this group was the Presbyterian Mariners – a young couples group that flourished in the 50s and early 60s, but I’m not sure of that. They were adults while I was a child of the church. And while I was away in college, Louise’s husband got very sick and died. The group rallied around Louise and grew even closer. Then, while I was in seminary, I think, another woman in the group was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Louise knew what needed to be done and she, along with others, did it. She cared for her friend and supported the friend’s husband when she died. And then, quite to the surprise of Louise and Jim, they found that they were falling in love. And the grief of their losses was messily mingled with the slowly dawning Easter of their new love. The wound was still there, even though something in them was resurrected, too.
It’s the same when we suffer other, lesser losses and even less spectacular resurrections: getting fired and finding some new work. Did you read about Marta Carrerra, the news reader from Channel 3 who got fired along with her news anchor husband Jerry Slabe? They were so mad! Do you remember the bitterness? And now they live in Chicago, and Marta is a lawyer, and chief counsel for some big company, travels to Latin America, gets to use her Spanish. That’s got to be better than reading the news in Champaign, Il. It wouldn’t have happened without what she still feels was an unjust firing. And it didn’t happen over night. Easter dawned slowly in that life, too.
Just as it does for someone getting sober after years of crippling addiction.
Getting back on track after a false friend’s betrayal.
Getting free of an abusive relationship.
Getting over an emotionally difficult childhood.
It would be nice if we just woke up one morning and said, “Oh. I’m glad that painful experience is over.” But that doesn’t happen. Easter dawns slowly. Transformation takes time.
The great story of Jesus’ death and resurrection after three days in the tomb is the basis for our faith, and the foundation of a Christian’s attitude toward the future – and attitude that the Bible names “A living hope”.
Say it again: The promise of Easter is that the sin and pain and wounds of the past do not have the power to defeat the love and mercy of God.
One more time: Because of God’s great love, the future opens up for us in ways we didn’t ever imagine.
And yet it takes us a while to rub our eyes and adjust to the light before we are able to move, with joy, into the future.
So that’s how we live as Easter people – rubbing our eyes, trying to take in the truth that lies just beyond our ability to see. Remember the whole point of the Thomas story is what Jesus said, not about Thomas, but about believers like us:
Blessed are those who do not see, and yet come to believe.
Jesus said that for our benefit and encouragement, that you don’t have to see BEFORE you believe.
God means good for us, that, in the words of the Psalmist, God is always before us, making a way where the path is obscure. Easter people hope and expect that God is beside us, keeping us company as we walk along the way, even where we don’t yet see it for ourselves.
In the aftermath of Easter, the scriptures remind us we have “a living hope,” so that “even though you don’t see Jesus, you believe in him, and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy at the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
In the aftermath of Easter, I beg/encourage/invite/charge you to LOOK for signs of Easter in your life,
for resurrection places,
for unexpected renewal,
for swells of hope.
NOTICE where the fullness of joy, (indescribable and glorious joy!) touches your wounded heart.
When your heart is glad,
when your soul rejoices,
when your body dwells secure,
exclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and My God!
Christ is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed.”

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