A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, April 23, 2017
Is Easter over? Has it come and gone? We had Easter Sunday and, now, this is the Sunday after Easter. Do we say Easter is a one and done kind of thing? We bring out all the Easter lilies and then we put them away, although we still have some around here this morning. We pull out our brass instruments, we play the brass, we pack them up and then we put them away. And we say, “Okay that was Easter. What’s next?” How much of our lives is about living while thinking what’s next? What’s next? Let’s see, there’s Mother’s Day and then there’s Doug’s wedding and there’s Susie’s graduation and there’s Mom’s reunion. Well, you know, what’s next? We go from one thing to the next thinking about what’s coming next. Easter is over, what’s next? With modern technology everything is so instantaneous. We check our I-phones all the time and we wonder what’s next. We wait for the next ping or we check our facebook, check for the next post. Or maybe, some of us brace ourselves for the next tweet from the White House. What’s next?
Is Easter over? Or is it not? It all depends on how you see it. You could look at it as if—yah, we had Easter Sunday celebration and what we did was commemorate a man who rose from the grave a long time ago. We came and we commemorated and we remembered something that happened a long time ago. And we told the story and then we went home and we said, “What’s next?” Or we could look at Easter and say, ”What if it is NOT just about a man who rose from the grave a long time ago and we celebrate that once a year. What if it is really about the power of God and the love of God that continues to raise us from the tombs of our lives, even now, even today.” What if Easter is more like that than a memory of something that happened long ago.
And, so it was that the disciples were gathered in an upper room. It says that the doors were locked. Well, might it have been that they were afraid—afraid, that maybe what had happened to Jesus would happen to them. Maybe they would be killed. Maybe they would be hounded. So, they were gathered together in a room and the doors are locked. And then what happens? How did he get here? Suddenly, Jesus, the risen Christ, is among them. How did he get into our room? And he speaks to the disciples. He doesn’t bawl them out. He doesn’t scold them. He doesn’t share fear with them. What does he say to them? Jesus says to the disciples what Jesus said to the disciples a few days ago when they were gathered around the table and they had a Last Supper together. We can find it in the Gospel of John in the fourteenth chapter. What Jesus said to his friends, “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives, but as I give. Let not your hearts be troubled and neither let them be afraid.” And here he is again the risen Christ and he is saying what. He says, “Peace be with you. Peace be above you.” And then He breathes on them His breath. And that breath is the Spirit. Spirit and breath are the same word. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit—the spirit of kindness, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of love. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit. It is, you see, both an appearance of the risen Christ and the story of Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit all happening in the same time, on the same day, on that evening of the first day of the week. John’s version of the Pentecost story is different than the story we find in Luke’s Acts. It all happens at the same time.
“Peace be among you,” he says to the disciples. Is Easter over? For them as they gathered there in that room, they must have heard that and thought, “No, it is not over. The Spirit is now with us.” And so they ran and
told Thomas about what had happened. And Thomas wasn’t there, so he didn’t believe them. He had doubts about it. He had questions about it. He wasn’t sure. And then that next week Jesus came again and said, “Peace be among you.” Thomas was there and had doubt, but Jesus said, “Look at me and look at my hands! And look at my feet.” And Thomas, he believed. He said, “Oh, my Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.” Which is a wonderful story, my friends, because what it is saying is that it doesn’t matter where you are on your journey in life. It doesn’t matter if you are a believer or a doubter or you have questions. We’re all welcome. We’re all on the same plane. We’re all disciples. Like those first disciples that gathered in the upper room, we’re one of them. We’re not apart from them. We’re not second tier. We’re right there together, brothers and sisters. So we’ve been saying to one another ‘Peace be with you’ every Sunday as we did this morning for 2000 years. Brothers and sisters in Christ have been saying as Jesus said, “Peace be with you” when he gathered in the upper room that day so long ago. Is Easter over? It all depends on how you see it.
It helps me to see that Easter is still with us when I think about the fact that love and life are really the same thing. That it is about the power and the love of God that continues to give us and bring us new life. Interesting is the very last line that Kathleen read this morning is the last line of the book of John because most scholars believe that the 21st chapter is an epilogue. And what does that last line say? It says “I wrote this book to you so that believing that Jesus is the son of God, you might have life in his name.” That is the whole point—for us to have life and be given life by the power and the love of God. That is what it is to live an Easter moment. Maybe, then, Easter is just beginning. It is not ending.
Thank God for novelists and writers and poets and musicians and artists that continue to remind us that Easter is still here, that it is not over yet. They are the ones who give us eyes to see. Friends, I have shared with you before that one of my favorite novels is the novel Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. The novel, as I have told you before, is a letter that a congregational pastor is writing to his young son.. He doesn’t have much longer to live. He is soon going to die, but he wants his son to have this letter so that someday he will grow up and remember his dad. So he writes this letter to his son. And the beauty of this letter and the way that she constructs this novel is so that she is able in the novel to help us see how this world is filled with joy and abundance of an Easter spirit. There is a scene where Reverend Ames is writing to his son and writes about water. He talks about water being a symbol of the purity of God and says water should be used primarily for blessing one another and only secondarily for growing things and washing things and things like that. So he writes about an experience he wants to share with his son. It’s about him walking along on Sunday morning and up ahead of him he sees a couple walking along. It is a beautiful spring day, perhaps like today just after a rain and the trees are filled with water and the sun is out and all is glistening. Here are Marilyn’s words through the Reverend John Ames:
There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them and they laughed. And they took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Pierre de Chardin writes: Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. How do we open our eyes? How do we let love awaken us to the reality of a risen Christ in our world today? I think the spirit continues to show up in ways that are full of surprises that we cannot even anticipate.
Now last week my wife and I were sitting out on the deck of our house. It was a beautiful evening. We were sitting there on the deck smelling the flowers and suddenly we heard “Hoo, Hoo.” And I said, “I think it is an owl.” And my wife said, “No, it’s just the Delta Chi’s!” You know we are not really in a wilderness area, but sometimes when you live next to eighty-five fraternity boys it does feel like a wilderness area. Anyhow, we sat and we heard that noise again! And there, right in our backyard on a huge cypress tree was a barred owl, huge owl. The sun was going down and he was just looking at us. And it felt to me like an omen, like a spirit was coming and visiting me like the spirit came to the disciples saying open your eyes and pay attention. Christ is risen.
Now to live this way—to live as if we are still in Easter, to live as if Easter is still with us and not say Easter is over—takes courage, friends. It takes guts to live with open hearts. Brenan Manning writes: The most radical demand of the Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present ripeness of Jesus Christ. To live in a way like this, to live open and receiving the gifts of God and the love of God and to believe that the power of God can raise us from death to new life takes guts. It takes courage. Why? Because none of this shields us from the suffering and the pain of this world. Not at all. Not at all.
William Sloane Coffin said “God gives us minimum protection, but maximum support.” But I believe we, in this community of faith, are called to a body, this radical Easter love of God in our lives. From time to time we forget it. We forget it and think Easter is over. We think it is done and we go on and do the next thing. Then, you know what, something happens that reminds us we have each other to remind us that Easter is still alive. Some who share about a moment when they experience forgiveness when they thought forgiveness was no longer possible. Others who have been so sick and then suddenly their lives come back to them and it comes to them as this amazing gift. Or people who have been in a deep state of grief and feel that life will never get any better. And then suddenly a moment comes and joy breaks into their lives again so unexpected and they realize Easter is here.
The ultimate testimony that we have a risen Christ is not trying to get our minds around how did Jesus suddenly show up in a closed room as some magic trick It is how we live the spirit of God that is breathed upon us and how we live the words “Peace be among you.” It is our work and our effort and the way we forgive one another and the way we do the work with justice in this world and the way we carry out God’s call that we ourselves embody the message—the radical message of the Easter Christ of what has been revealed to us and what is still to be revealed again. For my take, that barred owl that showed up on our property this week was a little reminder, was a little wake up call, the eyes of the owl staring at us were the eyes of that owl saying, “Do not despair, Christ is risen. Keep your eyes open.” Amen.