Renouncing the Powers of Death

A sermon for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, February 3, 2019

Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

This was the conclusion of Jesus’ first sermon in his home town. A few minutes later,

“They were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”

This kind of thing happens in churches. I’ve been a priest 37 years, so I know. Jesus told the people some things that were true, and they liked them and admired him; then he pointed out some things that they weren’t expecting and which weren’t so comfortable… Where’s that cliff?

Even people who have committed to following Jesus can become deaf to his words and turn against the Spirit of Life. It’s not because he’s difficult to understand. He’s not. It’s because death is seductive—it’s easier to hold onto what makes us comfortable and to hate anything that interrupts our comfort. … But somehow on that day, Jesus slipped back out through the crowd, avoided their anger and went on to preach the Good News in other places. The very inclination of church people to be seduced by death is the reason that it is so important to pass on the Gospel of Jesus to our children. If we just allow ourselves to be seduced by what is comfortable, we’re all seduced by death, but if we listen to Jesus, he will heal and change us, and he’ll keep us from throwing him and the other children off the cliff.

This morning we are baptizing Maximus Xavier Emmanuel. Baptism is not just a vending machine where you get the right credential, it is entering into life together. Together, we are converted into the Truth, by being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.

Let’s open up our prayer books to page 302 and the pages that follow. I want us all to go through this together, because this is serious business. We are all called, not only the godparents, but all Christians who take responsibility for being baptized into Christ—we are all called to support this child and his parents so that he can be brought up in the Christian faith and life. This means that we have to be the Church, and live our Christian life in our daily work and society, so that there will exist for Max and others who will be the Church of the 21st century, a Christian faith and life to grow up in. We are called to live in the Truth, and not give into the real forces of evil that exist in this world.

The rest of the baptismal service is about how we do that. We renounce the spiritual forces and evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  These aren’t demons like spooks in movies or on TV. Likening these evil powers to TV shows is one of the ways that we avoid living in the truth. Destructive spiritual powers exist in the real world and they are—what? They are the behavior of real human beings who are acting in their own self-interest and who, usually, are telling themselves they aren’t doing these things. That they’re not behaving with prejudice—even hatred—toward their neighbor because of the color of his skin, or where she went to school, or what country he was born in. These evil powers are greater than the individuals who think, do, or feel these things. The powers have a life of their own, they seduce individuals and create an environment where their evil seems normal or unavoidable. Other people are destroyed by that kind of behavior, and nobody takes responsibility for that kind of evil human creation. Christians are called on to renounce those things, to renounce hatred and racism, and prejudice; to renounce disrespecting others because of where they come from, or their education, or social status. Doing this is not simple, it’s not a matter of saying it one time and then forgetting it. Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness is a lifetime affair—we discover the workings of those powers in our environment and in ourselves over and over throughout our lives.

If we are truthful, we recognize that we do not have the power to defeat those powers, even in our personal lives, let alone in the society around us, where we see manifestations every day in the news. Fascism and terrorism feed on one another, and neither our anger nor our fear can do anything but help them grow. The power that can defeat the forces of hatred, death and destruction is the grace of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In him, God has the courage that we need to live honestly and with care for all God’s children.

If we continue on pages 304 and 305, this is the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, this is how we persevere in resisting evil, this is the Good News that we proclaim, this is how we seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human person. Christ went through everything that we go through, that any one of us goes through. He died. Real death. He was, from beginning to end, a human being from God’s perspective, entirely human, entirely the incarnation of the love of God. His heart was filled with the truth, and he could see the forces of death and destruction—and he loved all those people, yes those who were allied with the forces of death against him—yet he took not those powers of wickedness into his heart. The word courage is derived from the word for heart—in Jesus, God has the courage for all of us, to live and to reject those forces of evil all around us, and have life. To celebrate and rejoice in that gift of life.

Baptism is not just a ceremony or an occasion for a party. Baptism is our life together in Christ. Maximus Xavier Emmanuel enters eternal life today. We know, as well as he soon will, that that life is not always smooth and not always easy. There are forces of evil abroad and sometimes they get close to us, just as they entered into Jesus’ home congregation on that day when he came preaching good news to the poor, good news for everyone. Renouncing and continually resisting the seductions of evil takes a community, a community that supports one another in seeing God’s mercy. Max and other children need this community to renounce that evil with them and for them—and whenever any of our children, as it says on the bottom of page 304, “whenever they fall into sin” we will support them as they “repent and return to the Lord?”  Of course, that doesn’t just apply to little kids, or teenagers, or even young adults—whenever any of us gives into the seductions of selfishness, greed or spiritual sloth—we, as a community welcome back, we are ourselves welcomed back, as we return to the Lord.  Never mind that sometimes we’ve looked to throwing somebody off a cliff, Jesus laughs at us and welcomes us back too.

St. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, that had had some serious dissension and dark times, wrote the passage we heard this morning as the epistle. He’s talking about love—Christian love as it works when we live out our baptism.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. …we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. and now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.



Mitties DeChamplain

THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD for Mitties McDonald DeChamplain, priest, will be offered on Saturday, June 2, at 10:00 AM, in the church of St Mary the Virgin in NYC. The Right Reverend Andrew M. L. Dietsche, bishop of New York, will be the celebrant. The Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan, will be the preacher. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow the liturgy. Mother Mitties’ ashes will be interred at a later date at Saint Athanasius Episcopal Church at the Cathedral Center of Saint Paul, Los Angeles, California.

Because we will be at my daughter Lisa’s wedding this weekend, I will be unable to attend Mitties’ funeral. I was asked to write a piece for the service bulletin, which I share here before we get on the plane.


The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain was passionate about three things: her students, animals (especially her kitties), and the church. In the church, her most prominent role was preaching and teaching preaching. One of the things she emphasized to her students was having a high “Jesus Count” in your sermon. That’s basically a shorthand for the theological responsibility of the preacher. A sermon that has a high Jesus Count is focused on our Savior, not the preacher, and it’s concrete, rather than indulging in vague sentiment or doctrinal abstractions. Most important, it’s grounded in the human and humane, which came directly from Mitties’ appreciation of life and her desire to encourage each person to discover their own voice and speak in their own way.

Mitties loved cats, and she was always finding a way to love one or two more. I remember her crossing barriers into an off-limits area to rescue a kitten from a construction zone. Every year in observance of St. Francis Day, she would bless the animals at General Seminary, both those resident on the Close and any from the neighborhood that came. We still have a photograph on our refrigerator of Mitties in a red and gold cope cradling our white bulldog Thekla’s head to give her a blessing. For us, it epitomizes Mitties love of God’s creation.

Mostly Mitties loved her students – being with them gave her life and she dedicated everything to them. She nurtured them as future ministers of the Word and as friends. She counseled them and was consistently there for them. Mitties was very gentle, even retiring, but if the time came to stand up for her students she was fierce, whether with the administration or with the operators of jackhammers outside her preaching laboratory sessions. She travelled all over to support students at their ordinations; more than anyone I know. That love continues and it’s clear that those students return that love for Mitties, and also to their congregations.

A few weeks ago, we found out that Mitties was in the hospital again and that her condition was grave. A group of us gathered in her room in the ICU to be with her as life support was removed – colleagues and students and parishioners from St. Clement’s, St. Mary the Virgin, and Trinity Morrisania. We prayed and sang hymns and talked to her and to one another about our feelings for her. The next day, my wife Paula and I visited in the late afternoon. We prayed and read psalms. Paula started reading Facebook posts to Mitties, describing how her friends and family loved her, and showing her pictures that people had posted. We can’t know if she heard us, but her breathing became slower, gentler, and, eventually stopped.

Mitties died in the midst of the church that she loved so much and to which she had dedicated her life. “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; … May your rest be this day in peace and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”

–Drew Kadel

God will hold us all in his Love

A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life…

Thus begins the First Epistle of John, written to the church in the region of the world that is now Turkey at around the same time that our Gospels were written. “We declare what was from the beginning…” What beginning does that refer to? It might refer to the organization of that particular church—as in, “here’s what we agreed upon at the start…;” it might mean what it does in the Gospel of John, “the Word was with God in the beginning, and without the Word, there was not anything made that was made…;” or the beginning could refer to the beginning of our new life, the resurrection of Christ: “what was from the beginning, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands … the Word of Life.”

This sentence means all of these things. This week we have entered into Easter, the season of the resurrection of Christ. We can place that event at a moment in time—“we have seen with our eyes, we have looked at and touched with our hands…”—Jesus alive and with us; death defeated. But that resurrection, life conquering death, is implicit there at the beginning, before creation, the God that created the light is in his essence love, and that is the essence of life.

The reading from the Gospel today is the one that is read every year on the Sunday after Easter. Jesus suddenly appears in the locked room with the disciples, the room that was locked because of their fear. Jesus says “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Thus, no longer are they to be locked up in their fear—they are to live the life that Jesus lives, sent by the Father. Sent why, for what? “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

There is another sentence that follows, and it contains a serious mistranslation, so serious that it should be explained. One of my teachers, an extraordinary biblical scholar and teacher of spirituality named Sandra Schneiders, gave a detailed lecture on this when I was in seminary. This Greek word, krateo, means “grasp,” “hold on to.” In my big Greek dictionary there is a long entry about krateo and hundreds of examples of its use follow. At the very end of the entry for krateo appears a different definition, that is, “retain,” but it gives only a single example: “retain their sins,” and it’s from this verse that we read today.

So my teacher did further research, and this is the only use of that sense of the word krateo in all of Greek literature. She was pretty skeptical, devoted Catholic nun that she is. Somehow those in authority in the church thought that it was a good idea that if they could forgive sins, they should also be able to keep sins from being forgiven. After all, that gives a lot of power to us priests, and you know that’s what we need, a little more power. But the sentence that Jesus said actually makes sense without making up new meanings for words. Jesus said to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you hold fast to anyone, they are held fast (in the custody of God).”

Immediately following is the example of Thomas. Thomas was not there. And Thomas knew that his friends could be sentimental crackpots sometimes. He listens to their story, complete with showing Jesus’ hands and his side and he says, “Yeah. Right.” “I won’t believe until I see his hands and his side, and touch him.” I have always loved Thomas. None of this “go along to get along” for him. His belief had to be real, he wasn’t there to kid around about stuff that people fantasized or hallucinated about. And the disciples disagreed, and they held Thomas fast. In the love of God, Thomas was held with them, he remained with them in the room. And a whole week later Jesus appeared. “Put your finger here and see my hands.”

The resurrection is not about what the disciples thought and felt; it is not about what we think and feel. The resurrection is

(Photo by Frank H. Conlon)

Jesus coming to his people for the sake of his love of the world. It is his welcome and love. His presence here for us, and for all of his people. He stretches out his arms on the cross to embrace the entire world, and to hold them fast. He gives the Holy Spirit to his community to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and to hold his people tight in his love.  In January the people of Calvary met together and shared what is vitally important in our experience together here. The words that consistently came out from all the groups, from you, were “Welcome” and “Acceptance”—that this is a place where we have known that, that being accepted as we are and welcomed as part of the community is something that we have experienced. In other words, this is a community that holds one another fast, accepts and welcomes people, not because of affinity or agreement about things, but because that’s who we are—that’s who God is calling us to be.

The reading from the epistle today ends: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The whole world. God calls us to bring his forgiveness, his peace that drives out fear, to the entire world. Embrace all those who love you, and those who don’t. We start here, and then we are sent. In the openness of Christ, bring his love out into our world.

God will hold us all in his love.

I shall not die, but Live and Declare the Works of the Lord

A sermon for Easter Day, April 1, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

Today is the day of the Resurrection. We celebrate that God has raised Jesus, the Lord of Life, from the dead.  In Jesus’ resurrection, death has been defeated, and it is established that the real truth and essence of this world is life—life eternal and life present.

We live in a world where many focus on death. Some even believe that death is the real and final reality, while others use the threat or fear of death to gain power and use it over others. The Gospel is not happy talk or wishful thinking. Our observance of Holy Week, in preparation for this day of the Resurrection, bears witness to the reality and power of death and its servants—violence and fear. The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate assertion of the arrogance of death in this world, and of how people join themselves to it. As Christians we take death very seriously.

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.” The three women had prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body, because the circumstances of his death had made it impossible to do so before the Sabbath. They were doing what they could to honor him and cope with his devastating death. But the body is not there, but rather a young man, dressed in a white robe, an unusual form of dress, which elsewhere in the New Testament is how the martyrs and the newly baptized are dressed, and he says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The God of life has raised him from the dead, the powers of death have no hold of him. Have courage, you will see him and he will lead you into life.

St. Paul said it to the church in Rome in the epistle we read today: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus always lived in the fullness of life, never fearing the forces of death. We are often fearful. Even at the end of the Gospel of Mark, the women fled in terror and spoke to no one, because they were afraid. But our loving and indulgent God, looks at them with mercy—No. Don’t be afraid, go where Jesus calls you, to Galilee, perhaps, and live life with him, don’t be enslaved by the forces of death.

“The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It takes courage to live life rather than being seduced and intimidated by the forces of death. It is seductive to think that we can protect ourselves or our families by being armed, or behind gates, or to somehow compile enough wealth so that we don’t have to deal with other people—especially THOSE other people. The forces of death use fear to push people apart, increase anger and anxiety. The forces of death tell us never to be vulnerable or to trust…people follow that counsel, and life is impoverished, and our country is torn apart.  The hope of abundant life for everyone in our world is traded in for impoverished pursuit of plentiful wealth for me and mine—bought by servitude to those who seek and hold power who represent the powers of death.

It may be that some will dismiss this—“How could we change? We can’t afford to do anything but go along and get along. We have to keep ourselves safe.” Jesus could not afford anything and did not keep himself safe, yet he is the one who is alive. I have lived a while in the grown-up world, and I have seen plenty of fear, and plenty of people accommodating to power, and seeking to ingratiate themselves to the powerful.  I’ve seen institutions collapse through pursuing the fantasy that the rich and powerful will save them rather than having the courage to pursue their life-giving mission.

The Resurrection is confusing and hard to understand. It has always been so: the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances tell us that the people who saw Jesus often didn’t recognize him, or were fearful or confused. So it is not a problem of being “modern” that makes the resurrection a challenge, it is a problem of fear and being confused by the power of death around us. If we are fearful, we are in good company, but we are called to leave aside the noise of the powers of death and turn to reality, the reality of life in God.

The resurrection of Christ is the only hard-headed, real-world reality that there is. For the truth underlying our universe, if there is any truth or meaning worth having—the truth is that life is what endures, life is what has meaning. The God who raised Jesus, did so in the midst of tough economic, social, and political circumstances.  Jesus did not ignore those circumstances, but confronted them, well aware of what would happen. He was the only one on any side who was realistic about that. He chose to affirm life, and death did what it could, it did what it does—death ended Jesus’ earthly life—yet God raised Jesus from the dead. That is far more realistic than self-pity or fearfulness. Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, where he preached the Kingdom of God, healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out demons and the forces of death. The Christians proclaimed that. Paul, whose writings are the earliest of the New Testament said it thus:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never, die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Christ is risen, the God of Life has raised him and blessed us as he has from the beginning. Our praises join with the praises of Israel; let us conclude in prayer in the words of our psalm of Israel:

The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous.

The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!

The right hand of the Lord is exalted!

The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

I give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the Lord has acted;

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

The breaking of the bread

A sermon for the third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

I wrote this sermon three years ago, for a church in Westchester County, New York.

And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

This is a gently amusing story. We have all been told at the outset that it’s Jesus himself who has fallen in step with these two disciples. They are the only ones that don’t know what is going on. He says, “What are you talking about?” And they stop.

Cleopas says to him “Are you the ONLY ONE who doesn’t know the things that has happened?” If this were a play, I would expect Jesus to take a quick look at the audience, maybe even wink, before turning to Cleopas, “What things? Tell me how you would describe it.” So Cleopas and his companion tell Jesus the story that we have all gone through in the last month, in order that he can understand why they are so depressed, confused, and discouraged. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” So Cleopas is telling Jesus that he’s clearly not the one that is to redeem Israel.

Like many of us, Cleopas knows what he knows, and the things that he expected and wanted didn’t go the way that he wanted and hoped for them to go, so he knows it’s all for naught. So Jesus starts walking with them again—and talking—this one who is to redeem Israel, why is it that he should not suffer? What is the real life of Moses and the prophets, if not filled with both suffering and the Glory of God?

Cleopas and his companion are very real, very understandable—and a lot like most of us. And like most of us, they found it easiest to focus on their own expectations, what they thought should happen, how the good things that they like should continue always in a straight line, always getting better. It’s easy to focus on ourselves, our own problems, and our own solutions. Another way of saying that is that it’s easy to not listen to the Gospel. God has something new and different for us, and we find it in this real world, often not in the ways that we predict, and almost always not by looking for what we ourselves want.

I always wanted to get a doctorate and be a famous professor. At the time I went through seminary, it was fashionable for bishops to require that anyone who was going to be ordained, be first interested in full-time parish ministry, not in primarily an academic calling. So I told him that’s what I wanted to do. I finished seminary and found positions in parishes in the Midwest—with the expectation that I would return to graduate school and become a professor with valuable parish ministry experience informing my scholarship and teaching. The thing is, nothing came out as I expected. I won’t go into the details and personal drama, but the timelines that I had sketched out didn’t work out, the prospects for funding and careers for graduate students in the humanities were quickly drying up, and I realized that the jobs that I envisioned were only going to the superstars and the extremely fortunate, not to those who were just good enough. There weren’t huge scholarships coming my way, or high-powered recruiting.

With three small children, I had to give up that scenario that I had created in my mind. As that was happening, I had the opportunity to watch the work of academic reference librarians and I realized that the work that they did was far closer to my own strengths and the things that I enjoyed than the dissertation writing and classroom teaching of professors. At the time, that meant giving up many things in the story I was telling myself, especially the status that I projected for myself. It also meant giving up employment by the church—it was almost 20 years before I joined the faculty of the General Theological Seminary as the Director of the Library and I never earned that doctorate. There was difficulty in giving up that story I wanted for myself, but I have never regretted it—the enjoyment of doing those things that I was meant to do far outweighs the pursuit of fame and honor.

Of course, after I wrote this sermon, more things happened. My colleagues and I left the institution where I was librarian and I found that I was called to preach the Gospel and minister in parishes from a new perspective, one that is fulfilling to me in ways I had never expected. While I regret the pain that some have suffered, I have no regrets about any of the turnings of my life.

My story isn’t that unusual; almost everyone has their own version of it—either career related or something personal—we have all experienced grappling with disappointments and setbacks and eventually giving up on something we thought was all-important, only to discover something even more meaningful.

God has something new for us, and I certainly never predicted that it would be my being a librarian. These guys out on the road, they thought they knew how Israel was to be delivered, and this Jesus guy seemed like he might have the stuff to be the right kind of leader. Maybe, finally, there would be one person who would wield power justly—but Jesus didn’t wield power at all.

It was not an instantaneous thing for the followers of Jesus to realize that his crucifixion was the source of their hope, not their utter defeat. You can see the church struggling to come to terms with this, not just in this story, but in the whole of the New Testament. Giving up this story about ourselves and how great and powerful we are, and accepting this even more exciting story about how God brings life to the humble, and defeats death with love.

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…

Let us share bread, and perhaps our eyes, too, will be opened.

May grace and peace be yours in abundance

A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This is the second Sunday of Easter, and every year the Gospel lesson is the story of Thomas, the Apostle. I love Thomas, and I love to preach about how he is a model of faith for us. But the Good News also comes from our lesson from the First Letter of Peter, and that’s what I’ll talk about today.

The resurrection of Christ defines who we are—it is not just another miraculous event or fun story. Christianity is inconceivable without the life that Jesus lived, and his life is not real or believable apart from his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. It is a great and incomprehensible mystery that God, the creator of all life and of everything that is, lives among us as one of us. But there would be nothing real about his human life if he skipped over the things that all human beings go through: ultimately death, of course; but also the human interactions of love and indifference, of fear and faithfulness, of insincerity, cowardice, betrayal.

It is only in the context of that real, authentic life that God does a new thing: not magic, or coming up with a happy ending at the end of a sad play or movie. The resurrection is founded in the reality of the world. Jesus’ life incorporates all of the human struggle and experience—the good, the evil, the joy, the very human screw-ups that might come from good intentions of overwhelmed people or bad intentions that are covered up by insincerity and self-delusion. When all of that culminates in the crucifixion, and death seems to be the final reality, God does something new. The resurrection denies none of that. The resurrection is in real life. The resurrection is new and abundant life, spilling out all over—it is the life we see in Jesus all along, his courage, his love, his joy, his compassion. It is God’s love incorporated in every corner of this world.

And so in our reading from the first Epistle of Peter it says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We are born into a living hope. A living hope is not a dead hope or wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is something like, “If I just win the jackpot on the Powerball, then my problems will be solved.” That kind of wish is not hope; it’s just a desire to escape present reality. Every once in a while, most of us wish that way, but a dollar and a dream is not hope, and probably winning the lottery wouldn’t actually solve the problems that we think it will. A dead hope, you might call nostalgia, looks for restoration of something from the past, maybe a time remembered as hopeful. But hope is not the restoration of some feelings or circumstances that are gone—looking to the past for hope, that’s what I would call dead hope as compared to living hope.

Living hope is the life of Christ going forward. Our present and our future reality are in the living, resurrected Christ. And hope is of the real world—this passage continues: “In this you rejoice, even if now you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” There has never been a time when Christians have not participated in the difficulties of the real world. And at all those same times we rejoice because we are incorporated in that real life of Christ—the resurrection that incorporates all reality.

At St. James, we live in that real hope, founded in the compassion we learn from Christ: older people doing ministry; younger and special needs people receiving encouragement and being treated with dignity. The hope is neither that things will stay the same or that something will happen to make things easy, but that the compassion of Christ will continue and grow in this people and this place.

Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni”

A sermon for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

Supposing him to be the gardener she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

On Easter Sunday, we proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that death is defeated; even the humiliation and agony of his execution on a cross is overcome—Life has overcome Death.  That’s why we’re here—because life has overcome death.  Of an Easter Sunday morning, many come hoping for solid simple assurance. We all like to imagine a day when we think life was simpler, everybody believed in the Bible, and it was no challenge to believe in the Resurrection.  Others stay away, because all of that seems too simple, too glib, and the complex problems of life aren’t just fixed with easy answers, at least not now, not in this modern world where it’s more difficult to believe anything.

I believe the Bible.  So let’s pay close attention to the Gospel lesson for today.  Outside that tomb in a garden near Calvary, it might well have been a beautiful spring morning—it was certainly in the spring.  But it did not start out with hope and Easter eggs and getting all dressed up for a joyful feast.

Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ disciple and friend, was going out, after the Sabbath had ended, perhaps to mourn, perhaps to finish tending to the body of her friend. A wealthy disciple had Jesus’ body placed in a tomb which was sealed shut with a large stone.  Mary saw something disturbing—the stone had been removed from the opening—she ran to get the guys, they look in—the body is gone but the wrappings from the body have been left behind—Peter and the other man leave, one happy and the other confused—and Mary remains behind crying.  There’s someone else in the tomb—two of them [the word “angel” means messenger in Greek, and our standard image of the angels with wings didn’t really emerge until the Middle Ages, or even the Renaissance]—and what do they say? They say, “Woman, why are you crying?”

Really, this is just too much.

Life could not be more chaotic, if you had to change the baby three times, break up two fights between the kids and poke the teenager yet again to get him out the door on Sunday morning.

And then there’s another man standing there, probably the gardener who takes care of this place—he says it too, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“If you have taken him away, tell me where you put him!” This is not the only time in the stories about Jesus’ resurrection that a disciple looks right at Jesus and does not recognize him. In the Gospel of Luke, on the road to Emmaus, two of his disciples walked with him for miles before they recognized him when he broke the bread. And in the Gospel of John, in Jesus’ final appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus talks with the disciples for quite a while and gives them fishing advice before Peter recognizes him and puts on his clothes and jumps into the water. Recognizing Jesus was not so simple, and plain and self-evident, even for Jesus’ closest friends two thousand years ago.

And Jesus spoke her name: “Mariam.”  “Rabbouni” she said to her teacher.  He was no longer dead, but alive, and sending her to share this life, this Gospel with the others.

Now, note—recognizing Jesus did not make everything simple or smooth.  Not everyone took Mary’s word for it, or respected her, yet with that one word—“Mariam”—everything changed.  Jesus is alive, and death no longer has power over him or over Mary—he called her by name.

Christ rose from the dead.  The final reality and meaning is not death, destruction and dissolution, but life.  And the meaning of that life, that final reality, is the love that is the life of God, the creator who has entered into his creation, who intimately knows our real life, even to the point of dying with us and for us.  Even if it feels like despair—as Mary of Magdala appears early in this lesson to be despairing—that despair has no reality, for Jesus is as near to us as he was to her.  He is our hope, no matter how we feel or what we might think. He is our hope because he lives.  He is OUR hope because he has called us by name.

We have travelled through the season of Lent—that season is the time when from very early on, the church prepared new candidates for baptism.  This year, we walk the way with those candidates, called Catechumens, through the lessons. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness; Nicodemus, coming by night and learning that he must be born from above—that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn it, but that it might be saved through him; the Samaritan woman at the well, who received living water; the man born blind who received his sight; the two sisters who had lost their brother, Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead.  In each of these lessons we learn more about dying to self and being raised to life in Christ in baptism. In baptism, Christians receive their name.

Jesus calls us each by name. Sometimes we don’t hear, sometimes we don’t recognize it. But Christ is here, for us and with us and in us.  The ultimate meaning of this world, despite what any might do, is life that dwells in God’s love. Fear and hate, as real and compelling as they might seem at times, have no permanent power. Even for Mary Magdalen, the death of Jesus felt like the triumph of violence, but in the end God stands it on its head: it is Jesus, not the manager of that garden who speaks to her.  It is the love of God in Christ that triumphs.

In our service at Easter, we invite you all, at the time we usually say the Nicene Creed, to join with all of us in reaffirming your baptismal vows.  We travel with Jesus, we die with him, and he calls us each by name.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia.