A sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015
Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
On this Easter Day, this Feast of Feasts, we join with Christians throughout the world to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We live with Jesus and we learn from Jesus and this last week we follow along and reflect on how he came to die. On Friday he died, as real a death as could be died. As devastating a loss as any of us could ever lose. Those women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome were devastated, and they mourned. As early as they could get out after the Sabbath, when you never went that far from your home, these women carried spices to care for the body, to mourn and attend to their lost Jesus.
Lots of us read and hear a lot, and we think the disciples should have known that Jesus was going to rise from the dead, that somehow, predictions were there in a way that made sense. But NOBODY expected the resurrection. Not of Jesus, not on that day. They were talking—“how are we going to get in there? that stone is too big…” Then they looked and the stone was already gone and there was this guy there… and it was all too much for them. But what did he say? That man dressed in white?
“He is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus said that to Peter and the others on the Mount of Olives right after the last supper, but nobody understood it. Why Galilee? That was quite a distance away, and it wasn’t an important place. But at the beginning of the Gospel, after his baptism and John the Baptizer was arrested, that’s where Jesus went to proclaim the Good news, to say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” With his resurrection, that begins again with his disciples.
All of Lent this year we have been preparing for our baptism. With each passing week, we follow with Jesus and learn more about what it is to be baptized into him. Yesterday, I read quickly through the entire Gospel of Mark. It is about the Son of God telling that Good News, healing the sick and casting out evil spirits. And from the beginning there was controversy, and it becomes more intense until the last week when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and the controversy reached its critical peak and he was arrested. So that is where Jesus is leading his disciples, back to Galilee, to preach the Good News again, to heal again and to continue to face controversy. The Resurrection of Christ does not mean that life is over, it means that life continues.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near, repent…” And the most common response is, “Repent? No, that seems a little harsh, these problems aren’t really mine, it is someone else’s responsibility to change.” But Jesus’ love is too real to accept that. Jesus’ love holds people accountable for who they really are. Our bishop summarized this well recently, when he said, “pastoral care happens when compassion and accountability are held in tension.” We know that as Jesus guides us in the way of truth, he helps us to face risk and overcome our fear.
A few weeks ago Chenize Tonge asked me about when we could baptize her baby, Jael O’Donaghue. I told her that the main time that the church baptizes anyone is on Easter Sunday. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection, when we go through Lent, we are preparing for baptism. Jael is a little baby. She has a beautiful smile, but she cannot yet talk. How then can we baptize this child into the death and resurrection of Jesus? It is because we are never simply individuals out on our own—our faith in God is supported and encouraged by one another. None of us has faith on our own, it is not an achievement. Faith is the gift of being upheld in the Spirit when we are not strong enough or smart enough or mature enough to follow God rightly. Our faith is built in the love and encouragement of God’s people, and each of us continues to grow each day in Wisdom through the encouragement of Christ’s body, his beloved community, the church. Thus if you are eighty years old, or twenty-five years old or four months old you continue to grow each day into the love and stature of Christ. There is nothing sentimental or unrealistic about this. We know that in the church we run into sinners every day, deeply in need of Christ’s redemption, people still being formed and perhaps even hurting others. The good news is those people are accepted and are a part of Christ’s body, otherwise we would have no one at all, least of all myself.
At every baptism we re-affirm our own baptismal covenant. We take it upon ourselves to make these promises with and for Jael. We renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces and evil powers in this world. That’s not just referring to some guy with horns and a tail. Spiritual forces are all those things that nobody takes responsibility for: fear and hatred, or unjust profit or privilege that are “just the way things are.” Things that lead to hurt and disrespect between people, yet those who benefit blame others, or “the system.” As Christians, we renounce those things; which means that we take responsibility for our part in them and we strive to reduce the levels of hatred, fear and disrespect in this world. We live together in grace that we cannot earn, but nonetheless we receive, in Him who breaks the power of fear, hatred and death. We live together in grace for the sake of one another, but especially for the young Christians who will be serving Christ late in the twenty-first century, and especially for Jael, who we baptize today.
Christ is free, he has broken the bonds of sin and death. And in that freedom he calls on us to be free to serve and to love all of his people.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen.