The Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord, Praise God in God’s sanctuary, praise God in God’s mighty heavens. Praise God for God’s acts of power, praise God for God’s surpassing greatness. Praise God with the sounding of the trumpet, praise God with the harp and the lyre, praise God with the timbrel and dancing, praise God with the strings and pipe, praise God with the clash of cymbals, praise God with the resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”
Pray with me church: “God forgive us our hesitancy and our fear, our almost believing, our almost daring to go all the way with you. And so, we pray for your Spirit this morning to come reside in us. Spirit of the living God fall a fresh on us, melt us, mold us, fill us, then use us. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us. This is our prayer in the name of Jesus, who suffered and died for us. In the name of Jesus who was resurrected so that we might have life and that life more abundantly, we say Amen.”
We have come through the journey of Lent with Jesus and with each other. We were there with Jesus during the temptations. We were there when The Creator forgave and continued to love all humankind. When we messed up, came home, and asked for forgiveness, we were given another chance. We walked with Jesus down from the Mount of Olive where the crowds cheered him and waved palms in his honor. We have sat at the table with Jesus and the 11, where we broke bread together and listened to Jesus as he taught us. We have stood in mute silence at the trial of Jesus. We stood in shocked silence as the crowd shouted crucify him, crucify him. We quietly walked to the side and behind him when he had to carry that old rugged cross. Not one of us could be found to help him when he stumbled and fell. So, the Roman soldiers grabbed Simon, the African, to help carry the cross. And when he was stretched high and wide, nailed to the cross, and positioned with two criminals, when the soldiers gambled for his clothes, mocked him we were quietly mourning our loss. It was around three o’clock in the afternoon when his head dropped, and he died.
The women were there, no one really notices the women, while not invisible, the women were ignored as such. And by the time he was taken down from the cross, they could not prepare him for burial because it was already the Sabbath. He was placed in the tomb Joseph made available and a large and heavy stone was placed in front of the tomb. The women continued to wait for a time when they could say their final farewell. Because the authorities believed that some of his disciples would come and steal his body to claim a resurrection, they had placed guards at the tomb to prevent a theft from occurring.
It was still dark when the women rose. The streets were finally quiet. There had been much violence, lots of noise with angry shouts. And so, early that morning, on the first day of the week, a few women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and a others, slipped away to care for Jesus, taking the spices they had prepared, and to grieve. To grieve the one, that had taught them, the one who had cared for and about them, the one who respected them. As they approached the tomb, I am sure, that they were hoping one of the gardeners would be there to help move the stone, so they could enter.
Upon arriving the women were amazed! The stone had been rolled away and when they entered the body was not there! The scriptures say they were perplexed. And then, suddenly, there were two men standing beside them and the men began to speak to them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead,” the women were asked. They were beyond terrified and bowed their heads. The men continued, “He is not here, but has risen.” The men continued; don’t you remember all that he told you? Remember he said, they he would be tried, crucified, and that he would rise again on the 3rd day. That one should die and be raised again was beyond the women’s comprehension. Their minds were stretched beyond their limit, but by the gift of faith they believed. Joyfully they went and told the 11 and all the others. It was hard to believe. Surely there was another explanation. All the others just simply refused to believe the women well except Peter. Peter had to go and see for himself that the tomb was empty, and then he too was amazed. Scripture does not say that Peter believed rather he was amazed. Like Peter let us be amazed until our faith is such that we can believe.
During Lent one of the predominantly white congregations in the United Church of Christ decided to walk by faith leaning upon one another and other congregations and people of other faiths for support. Those who could see beyond just the words that were said to the meaning of those words, became ardent supporters. During Lent this congregation was determined to emerge as a resurrected people, they were determined to become an Easter people. They decided to have their faith stretched beyond where they were currently and so they decided to fast. Through prayer and discernment, they decided what that fast would be. Again, through prayer and discernment they agreed they would stand as one unified body during this fast. They decided to fast against whiteness. What did this mean, they were a white congregation? Some outsiders took this to mean they no longer wanted to be white people. Others said they were posturing and wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Some said this was ungodly and not Christian because God would not want them to do something so abhorrent. Some said they should be wiped off the face of the earth if they were so ashamed of their whiteness. Lots of loud angry voices both white and black attacking their faith, attacking them for being ashamed of who they are. I will admit I was curious. Before I determined what they meant I listened to what they were saying. Some never got beyond, fasting from whiteness to hear them say they wanted to listen and lift up other voices and other perspectives. So, during Lent they would not hear just from the white perspective. They listened to music and read poetry and heard sermons from Black folk, Indigenous folk, and other people of color to have their minds stretched beyond their limits, and by the gift of faith know that God is greater than and can not be limited to one ethnicity. At a news conference on Wednesday, I heard the anguish and pain in the Pastors voice as he spoke of the anger and hate spewed against him and the congregation. I heard the awe and joy in his voice as he spoke of the commitment and love his congregation was showing even to those who were being unlovable and the love being shown to them. My belief I shared is that he was doing a hard ministry, a ministry on the edge. Not a soft ministry, not a ministry from the center where everyone can be happy, and nothing changes. But a ministry that empowered them to do the hard work of looking beyond ethnicity and seeing the intellect and character of people different from them. Not trying to ignore the ethnicity but seeing the person as a whole person including ethnicity. While continuing to love classical music and hymns the congregation really heard and listened to understand Gospel, Folk, and Jazz. While listening to others and going beyond the shallowness of light conversation to sharing in the walk that those conversations opened up, they were amazed and raised to new life. They now know, really know beyond a shadow of doubt and they believe the amazing truth that Christ is indeed risen and among us to help and heal, to challenge and correct, to give counsel and comfort. The gifts that were given and received was because of the resurrection. They have become and are now an Easter people.
Today, this day for all of us is a high day of celebration, a day of return to the joy of victory, a day of commemoration of the revelation of God’s loving power. We gather this day bringing to this Easter festival our full spectrum of human response, from belief to disbelief, from acceptance to the refusal to agree. We ask for a conversation and share in that conversation so that we may learn eternal truths. We begin by asking questions. How can we summon the desire and willingness to be moved by the Spirit beyond the parameters of an earthly reality into an understanding of the truer reality of the spiritual? What is it about our life practices that keep us tied to ideas that block our openness to all of God’s loving truth? How can we move beyond our intellectual and emotional satisfaction that is rooted in our particular experiences to having our minds and spirits stretched so that we stand in utter amazement at the wonder of God and the things God has done?
After being a witness to the particulars of that long ago morning experience, we should be jostled from our complacency and our dearly held beliefs of reality has been shaken. We now know that the resurrection of Jesus has broken through the boundaries of human conceiving for all time. You have shown us God, that nothing is impossible to you and nothing in life or in death can separate us from your love.
To be an Easter people, church, we accept that we are meant to live in the world with a vision of God’s promise, judging injustices with hard truth, taking hope where hope is sure, and trusting in the power of God that raised up Jesus. God is doing a new thing. God is making all things new, even us. As an Easter people we do not succumb to the despair and darkness of this present age, but we bring the hope and light of the resurrected Christ into every situation in which we find ourselves. As an Easter people we will be the ones to overcome evil with goodness. As an Easter people we will hold fast to the gift of faith that allows us to go into the world with the resurrection news upon our lips. As an Easter people we believe that in the resurrection, Jesus has gone on before us, through death and suffering, toward eternal life. We now have the promise that we also shall move through death to life everlasting and be brought home by God. Thanks be to God; we too are being resurrected! We are an Easter people!
Offertory prayer: “Receive our gifts, O God, and use them for your renewing purpose. We offer them with the prayer that those in the darkness of hunger, homelessness, or hopelessness be raised to the light of a new day. May the Christ of cross and empty tomb bring to all who need the resurrection, and that which is your will for them in this life.