April 16, 2017, Easter

Thank you for coming today. Thank you for your presence not only today, but also in our shared life through these years that I have been with you. On days like this, I am especially thankful for your presence and good will, the effort of many volunteers, congregational leaders, and staff as, for sixteen Easters, we have shared together the ministry of this congregation in the heart of the city. Thank you for coming today and for our life together.

I.

   The Lord is risen. It is Easter. Easter is the festival of new life, of renewal, of recovery after a cold winter, of resurrection of our spirits, of resuscitation of the hope in the human heart, of revival of our depleted strength, of regeneration after disintegration. Renewal, recovery, resurrection, resuscitation, revival, and regeneration: these are the themes of this day.

And each of us can recall a time when we have made that recovery, or turned that corner, picked ourselves up, resuscitated and revived our strength, and recharged and renewed our lives again: often in the face of difficult challenges and obstacles. Easter is about all of that renewal. And I hope in your life’s journey many times you experience this pattern of life through death, hope through despair.

And Easter is also the renewal of our earth, the growing warmth and light, the recovery from the winter’s cold, the recharging of the natural order as the northern hemisphere springs to life. It is springtime. The bunnies are active, the grass is growing, the browns are fading as the greens emerge, the warm rains water the earth, and soon the flowers of Pentecost will burst forth. This natural renewal regenerates our spirits and is an important part of this festival. And I hope in your life’s journey you have a full measure of nature’s spring time joys.

II.

     But as important as recovery is, and as important as springtime is, there is something else about this day: something actually rather ragged and awkward, unsettling, and disturbing. For there is something to this Easter thing that is wild, chaotic, beyond our reasonable explanations, homogenized experience, and easily understood natural metaphors. Easter is not only about butterflies. It is also about earthquakes. Easter recalls the breaking of the bonds of death, a shattering of the forms that limit life, the sudden not gradual movement of God, just beyond our capacity to understand, into a fear inspiring new vision beyond the horizons we usually use to figure out where and who we are.

Easter is not only about the recoveries we make as we get back to a normal life and the wonderful Wisconsin spring. It speaks of a risen Christ, battered and broken, now standing before us and challenging us to rise up from that death dealing prepackaged existence we construct for ourselves out of the anxieties that define everyday life. Easter may start with recovery programs that pull life together and springtime flowers, but it never ends there. It moves into an awesome vision of the risen Christ calling us to a way of life beyond what we now know. Easter is a living corpse challenging any smug solutions to what we consider to be the important challenges built around our current preoccupations. Easter is a living corpse, standing before us, whispering in a voice at first so hard to hear, but clearly saying: there is something more to this whole God thing.

For us American Christians, who are so skilled at making our faith into the handmaiden who serves the bride we have made of our own viewpoints and lifestyles, this side of Easter is ragged and awkward and disturbing. But in the New Testament, the first reaction to Easter is fear. There is something more to this whole God thing. Sure, enjoy the sun. Solve your problems. But there is something more to life than making it through.

III.

     We are most aware of this more when we, like Jesus and those first followers, are broken and battered; standing at the fresh graveside of someone we love. There the walls that confine our awareness are thinned by the sorrow that penetrates the usual layers of varnish we use to preserve our self understandings. When life’s boundaries are thinned by sorrow, the vision of the risen one seeps through to our souls. And we hear that whisper: there is something more. Of course we will suffer. Of course we will die. And then there is something more, something beyond our knowing or explaining or domesticating into convenient conceptions of heaven which are really only the extensions of our own desires. No, there is something more to this God thing.

Encountering this wild mystery, ragged and awkward, unsettling and disturbing, we are jolted into a new way to think and live. We are propelled by the strength of the quake into the delight of compassion, the excitement of promise, the wonder of hope, and the fullness of song. Enjoy the sun and solve your problems. But there is a disturbing more to Easter. In its whispering voice it shares its secret: that death and life are not two different things, but two different dimensions of a deeper thing we do not yet understand.

This deeper thing about life and death propels us into the current of a mighty stream, the great movement of all things in creation into their ultimate reunion with God. And we, with all our hopes and fears, are only a very small piece of that grand movement as life and death are revealed to be only different dimensions of the divine design of God. There is something more. And today, at this empty tomb, with the stones that keep things in their place all rolled back, we stand in the presence of the wild awe and mystery of the day. May God be with us as we encounter now this transforming Christ.

 

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