Monday, March 28, 2016
Good morning to you all. And welcome once more to St. John's and especially to Tom Ferguson your new rector, to Shannon his wife, and to Malcolm their son. Please know of our prayers for you as you settle in to your new home, school, community and life here at St John's. You are among friends here. I pray that the bonds of faith and affection will build among you as you extend your arms of welcome on this glad Easter Day.
Now then, on to what I call the "Easter Surprise!" My mother and step father, God rest their souls and may peace be upon them, never understood why I wanted to be a parish priest. She, Pauline was her name, was a fiery, feisty, and ferocious spirit, who was capable of making life a bit testy from time to time. He, Homer Kershner, "HK", we called him, was a no nonsense engineer of German stock and temperament and often rather flat footedly told me; "There may be a God but as to eternal life, when you're dead you're dead". I was fond of saying to him; "HK, For living with my mother, you're going to heaven whether you want to or not!".
I believe we are all in for quite a surprise! That's what Easter day is all about: the Surprise of God! Even for those of us who believe. After all, when the women came to the tomb they found it empty. Imagine! Grave robbers they supposed! In the "nothing is holy" department, can anything beat that? "We don't know where they have laid him", they said. So off they ran in a panic to report the indignity to the disciples who then came running back in return.
Mary asked the one she supposed to be the gardener. "Where have you laid him?" She did not recognize him at first. But when he said her name, there came the recognition that changed everything forever and for everyone. "Rabbouni!", she cried, which means teacher. She ran off and told the others "I have seen Jesus!"
We are all in for quite a surprise. We are all children of a modern skepticism borne of a secular credo whose faith is built around a denial of so much of what we take as sacred. So much so, that sometimes, we find ourselves skeptical of the most foundational of beliefs in our own credo.
When we face the suffering and death of our loved ones, for instance, we sometimes fail to point one another to heaven. We sometimes fail to comfort one another with psalms, stories of scripture, hymns of praise. Sometimes we are so riveted in the suffering and in the death of a loved one that we may fail to point to the beyond and the within of heaven. At the very least we know we love one another. So then, remember the love. That's the key to heaven both here and now as well as beyond the grave.
This is the essential surprise of Easter. This is the incarnate love of God as lived out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Love of God was born to us in a Manger and all of heaven and Earth sang. He lived and taught among us. He healed our sicknesses in body, mind and spirit. His love reached out to the poor and the outcast, even to the lepers, the prostitutes and the tax collectors. It was a quite a band of loved ones who followed him. Peter realized that God shows no partiality in his words to us in today's first lesson. We know that right here at St John's, don't we? Eventually the rest of the Anglican Communion will figure that out too! The flesh and blood Love of God came to the Temple and found it defiled by an exclusive crowd of money changers and he overturned their tables and the confrontation between God's Love and the religious authorities of the day was such that he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death upon a cross.
In this Holy Week, we have walked the way of the Cross with this Holy One who is the Wondrous Love of God made flesh and blood. And on this day we mark the Amazing Grace and Surprise of his Victory over Sin and Death.
It is easy to loose sight of the central Proclamation of the Easter Message. The skepticism of our modern age questions the fact of eternal life which you and I have discovered in the here and now of our Baptismal Covenant. Some think that the last words in life are death, destruction and despair.
As the Easter People we know that the Resurrection of Jesus breaks in upon us with the eternal life that forgiveness and resurrection promises. We come to the Empty Tomb of our lives again and again. We may think it is very much the end of it all, but when we peer inside, when we have the courage to run off in panic and tell our fiends about the hopelessness of it all, when we shed our tears and pour out our hearts in despair, someone like a common gardener will appear and speak our name. Then we recognize Jesus. We see him for who he is not just in himself but in the faces and lives of everyone around us.
Jesus is not a philosophy or even a theology. Jesus is a person. He is an event. And He is risen! He is the central event of our faith. For as long as there is life there is hope. And even when there is no life there still is hope, for as today's Epistle puts it; "The last enemy to be destroyed is death".
Oh yes, you are all in for quite a surprise. Those who go about life as if there is no God and those who in the Name of God commit one kind of violence or another against God's people, those whose greed or self centeredness forget the poor, those who think they can destroy the beauty and the majesty of God's creation; boy, are they and we in for a surprise.
For the trumpet shall sound, thank you brass section, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. Wake up! Not so sure even now? Don't think so? You'll see. How do you think I know such a thing? It is because I know the Love of God made flesh and blood in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. And so do you!
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
And now finally Cindy and I must say our last "Goodbye". As you welcome Fr Tom, Shannon and Malcolm at the back of the church, Cindy and I will pack up the car and be on our way over the Sagamore Bridge hopefully for the last time for a while. We said our "goodbyes" last week. Say your hellos today and greet your new rector and his family.
Please know that the word "goodbye" derives its meaning from an older expression in English which means "God be with you". For the sake of brevity that turn of phrase over time became shortened. The first known use of the shortened form "Goodbye" dates from 1580. The word is a prayer, you see. It is and will always be our prayer that God be with you. Likewise we ask your prayers for us as we journey on.
Ah yes, you are in for many surprises and so are we. As we journey on through life, we don't know what's on the next page, thanks be to God. But we do know this, God is always there in the dying and in the resurrection of it all. And so as the Good Book says "May God watch over your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for ever more." ~Psalm 121:8
In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided and everlasting Trinity.