(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)
The Rev. Cn. Beth Tjoflat offered
this sermon at St. Mary’s
on Sunday, April 21, 2019.
Feast of the Resurrection
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
After our season of Lent,
those Easter alleluias are like a cool
glass of water on a hot day.
I want to share a story from this past Thursday –
Maundy Thursday – when we lived into
Jesus’ example of servanthood as
we gathered in the parking lot of
St. Philip’s Church to wash one another’s feet.
Some 200 people participated in this event.
I had the privilege of washing the feet of
a gentleman known to our community.
After we chatted a bit, he decided that
he would have his feet washed.
He took off his shoes and socks and placed
his feet in the bin of soft, warm water
as I took a seat across from him.
When I began moving water over his feet and
ankles, he became quiet and still.
I looked up to find him, wiping his eyes.
“Forgive me for being emotional,” he said.
“I was certainly not expecting this.
That you would do this for me…” he said,
as his voice trailed off.
I held my hands out in front of me, level.
“We are all the same, no one higher than the other.”
He nodded in agreement.
Even as we went on to chat about family,
about Easter traditions,
he periodically shook his head and
offered the same refrain: “I was not expecting this.”
“I’m going to tell my children about this,” he said,
as he rose to leave.
He went home, amazed at what had happened.
The prophet Isaiah promises a new
heaven and a new earth.
Where we build houses and live in them.
Where all people have what they need
to live healthy, abundant lives,
well into old age.
Don’t we love these reassuring promises?
But first, there is the matter of the tomb.
The women came to the tomb,
in the darkest part of the morning.
They simply wanted to prepare Jesus’ body
They were perplexed to find the stone
rolled away, the tomb empty except,
for discarded linens.
In another version of this Gospel,
they feared his body had been stolen.
Then two men in dazzling white appear:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, he has risen.”
These angels remind the women of Jesus’ words,
predicting not only his death but
also his resurrection.
Their words helped the women make sense
of their experience.
Then they went quickly to tell the disciples
what they had found.
But no one dared believe this “idle tale.”
It was Peter – the one who first called Jesus Messiah –
who got up and ran to the tomb.
He saw the discarded linen cloths.
There was no sign of Jesus.
Peter went home amazed.
Even with his great faith in the divinity of Jesus,
this was not what he expected.
Rarely does life unfold in a way
that we might anticipate.
We need help making sense of our experience.
What is happening to me? we often wonder.
Where is God in all of this?
We may find ourselves, looking around,
hoping for signs of the living Christ.
We may find ourselves saying:
“Well, this is certainly not what I expected.”
The followers of Jesus get that.
He was not at all what they expected.
For he is a God who is willing not only
to enter into our suffering,
but to suffer himself,
even to the point of death on a cross –
one of the most brutal, merciless forms of
execution this cruel world could dream up.
It is so easy to become cynical when we look at
what is happening in our world today.
It can seem as if we have but two choices:
Either accept that the world is going to hell
in a handbasket or wear our faith
like a protective shield that we can hide behind,
soothing ourselves as we ignore all
that is happening around us.
Neither of those approaches can truly
satisfy or sustain us.
Certainly neither is sufficient for our
brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka,
struggling to respond to horrific bombings,
targeting churches this Easter morning.
More than 200 people are dead.
More than 500 are injured.
Even in the midst of that horror,
rest assured that the light of Christ
will be revealed as that community –
and the world community – come together
to tend the injured and support
all those who mourn.
Earlier this month, three predominantly
black churches in Louisiana were
burned to the ground –
a vicious, ignorant crime of hate.
Harry Richard, the pastor of one of those churches,
strives to make sense of the violence in this way:
“I think that God is using these moments
to bring us closer together as a world,
to make us realize that we are all connected
in some form or another.”
Christ is alive and he is the light of all people.
He is at work in our social institutions,
even in our political institutions,
and throughout all of creation.
And he is at work in you and me,
in our lives, in our relationships,
in our families and our work.
If we are honest we have to admit that
at times we are afraid of the light.
Given a choice, we’d prefer that certain things
remain hidden or be forgotten.
We lament the divisions that have risen up
in our world, in our country,
even in our churches and families.
At the same time, we are quick to
vilify the other, to make wrong those
with whom we disagree.
It is easier than looking at our own pettiness,
our own darkness.
What if, instead of condemning the other,
we could acknowledge our common ground
in weakness and failed efforts?
The power of sharing common experience
is foundational to 12-step programs.
Alcoholics or addicts, whose disease often
will not allow them to receive help,
experience a break-through when they hear
a story similar to their own.
Uttering the words “Me too” can mark
the beginning of a transformed life.
There is hope in finding we are not alone
or unique in our difficulties.
Jesus is a savior in whom we can trust,
not in spite of his suffering but because of it.
He suffered for us to and through the point of death,
and yet death did not overcome him.
My friends, there is no escaping the light.
It may look like darkness and death are winning,
But rest assured that the light of Christ shines
most brightly in the darkness.
I am so inspired and humbled by the work
we are doing here in community.
Your faithfulness and hands-on engagement
allow me to see the risen Christ daily.
This new heaven and new earth are
being built, one day at a time, through our connection
with one another, and with all who set foot
on this holy ground.
Even in the midst of suffering – our own and that
which we are privileged to witness –
we can rest assured that He is risen and
He walks among us still.