Alleluia! The unexpected happens.

ShaySunrise

(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

 

 

 

 

 

The Rev. Cn. Beth Tjoflat offered
this sermon at St. Mary’s
Episcopal Church
(Jacksonville, FL)
on Sunday, April 21, 2019.

 

 

Feast of the Resurrection
Isaiah 65:17-25
Acts 10:34-43
Luke 24:1-12
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

with spices.

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.

Amen.

 

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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