Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sermon; April 20, 2014

Rev. George N. Miller
John 20:1-18
“Sharing the Resurrection”
April 20, 2014

6 years ago the country was in survival mode. The recession was really kicking in and it was especially felt throughout the state of Michigan.

I was living in Grand Rapids at the time and it was heartbreaking. The economy was at its worst; unemployment was at its highest and Michigan’s main source of revenue was outsourced oversees.

This was not just a tope; a minor speed bump. It was a major traffic accident that left many lives, many dreams destroyed on the roadside.

Plants shut down, churches closed their doors, and once thriving department stores were left empty, their buildings like deserted, bloated dead bodies.

It was easy to lose focus. Easy to lose hope. Easy to give in to tears and fears and to feel absolutely deserted by God...

...and yet in the midst of what seemed like certain death there were flickers of hope.

For example, in Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit, I experienced a shared moment of community that left a positive mark on my life; an opportunity to witness musical history being made.

Trivial history; the kind you find in the Guinness Book of World Records: a 50 hour marathon performance of the song “Danny Boy”.

Scheduled to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, this music fest featured over 1,000 singers, groups, musicians and spoken word artists.

It took place at AJS Café in which their slogan is “Where family and friends come together.”

And boy were there family and friends.

There were bald black men in green ties, young white guys with guitars, old ladies with feathered boas, women holding infants, men in kilts playing the bagpipes, people of all types sporting long dreads, and a man in a green dress complete with wig and high heels.

People sung to piano, people sung to recorded tracks, people sung off key, people sung a capella and as a crowd.

There were people who sung with confidence, people who sung with uncertainty, those who had talent, those with no talent whatsoever. There were instrumentalists, vocalists, choirs.

And not once during my time there did it get tired. Not once was I bored. In fact, I found myself amazed, astounded and moved to tears.

This was an event that was bigger than me, bigger than the people at the table next to me or those who were on the stage.

The event was bigger than us. It was an event that created community.

It was also my first time hearing “Danny Boy” and when I looked at the lyrics I was astounded to find out what the song was about: death.

And love.

The change of seasons.

The promise that through it all the love we share with one another prevails over all other things.

No wonder why we were gathered; no wonder why the song was so moving- it spoke to where we, as residents of Michigan, of the United States, of the world, were as a people during those difficult days of the recession.

I looked around, listening and realizing that what had brought us together was a song about death that ends with the lyrics “And when you end and tell me you love me I’ll sleep in peace again until you come to me.”

Those moments that we shared at AJS Café were not about a failing economy, or the shutting of businesses or outsourced jobs.

It was a celebration of love and the power it has over all of life’s circumstances.

And it was there, at AJS Café, over cups of coffee and a crowd of folk, that I came to understand that we all share the same thing: life, death and the promise of resurrection...

Friends, visitors and family, we have gathered here as a community of Christ to celebrate Easter.

We have come here to stand witness to and testify that in the end of all things God is in control.

We have come to share the good news that not only is Christ resurrected, but that we share in that resurrection as well.

We have come here to shout “Hallelujah!” knowing that new life and new hope exists in our hearts.

Today’s scripture is one of the most poignantly written pieces of literature you’ll ever find.

It is a reading that moves us from weeping to joy, from fear to jubilation, from loss to new beginnings as we are right there in the garden with Mary Magdalene as she realizes that through it all, the love of Christ is still with her.

The gospel writer tells us that Jesus was crucified. Mary was there when he said “It is done.” The writer has told us of how Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus and laid it in the tomb.

Sunday morning, somewhere between 3 and 6 a.m., Mary makes her way to where her preacher, her teacher, has been buried. But the stone has been rolled away and his body is missing.

She runs to tell the disciples. They check it out themselves. They leave Mary, filled with grief, standing by herself.

Bad enough she lost Jesus to death, but apparently she has now also lost him to grave robbers.

Weeping, she meets a man she confuses with the gardener. Until… he calls out her name: “Mary.”

And she realizes, she knows, she discovers that Jesus is right there beside her. He has not left. He has victoriously been...transformed.

Her grief turns to joy and her emptiness turns into radical embrace.

And here we encounter the breathtaking, mighty mystery of the Resurrection and of our faith:

that through God, death does not have the final word, but becomes a transition into something new, something greater than ever before or ever even imagined.

It’s amazing when you think about this story and about Christianity. In the beginning we were just a small group of men, women and some children who followed a man whose teaching could be simply summed up as:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.”

He certainly wasn’t the first person to teach this. He certainly wasn’t the first preacher to come into town and begin a new movement. And he certainly wouldn’t be the last.

But an interesting thing happened. Usually when a leader of a group dies or leaves, the group dismantles. No matter what their best intentions are, they stop gathering; they stop believing. The group dies right with its leader.

But not this group. Not this time. Not in this circumstance. Here they were, a rag tag community of sinners, widows, fishermen, and tax collectors.

And something happened; something inexplicable.

Jesus is slaughtered by the powers that be. But he is not silenced.

His teachings continue to inspire. His love continues to transform. He is present in everything they do, everywhere they go and everyone they meet.

God has won: Jesus has been resurrected.

The authorities could not stop God; the crowds could not stop God. The cross could not stop God.

Jesus, the Son of the Most High, was so filled with graceful love and glorious light that the love and light lived on.

In the garden.

On the road to Emmaus.

In the upper room where they huddled in fear.

On the shore by a campfire.

In large gatherings of people.

…When the bread was lifted up and broken and the cup was poured…

Christ lived on.

The people discover that it was not just the good news that Christ has been resurrected but that they themselves have also experienced transformation.

Mary Magdalene is moved from tears to joy. The disciples are moved from fear to courage; Thomas from doubt to assurance. Years later Paul moves from persecutor to evangelizer.

They discover that they have now entered into a new relationship with Christ in which they’re no longer just disciples, but children of the living God, brothers and sisters of God’s eternal household.

They and we become beneficiaries of the Resurrection because we are liberated and we are set loose from whatever may hold us back.

And because of this, we sing because we are happy; we sing because we are free.

Family and friends, we gather today to celebrate the resurrection of Christ because we discover that in the long run it is not just about politics or economics, it’s not just education or the environment.

And it’s not just about ourselves.

It’s about being part of something that is bigger than it all: the stars, the trees, the sky, the people, the color purple, and red and green and white.

The entire cosmos.

It’s about God and how there is nothing God can’t do. Nothing that can stop God.

Not a long, drawn out winter filled with snow; not a summer season filled with non-stop rain. Not wars that rage on or governments that can’t play nice and get their acts together.

Not a world whose history is filled with discrimination, domination and destruction.

And most certainly, not a cross and three measly nails.

The promise of the resurrection is not that we won’t ever be scared, or lonely, or cry or be upset again.

The promise is that we don’t have to allow these events to have final say or to rule over our lives.


Because in the big scheme of things they are simply topes; because as residents of the Kingdom of God we are recipients of the resurrection good news.

This means we are empowered to move from surviving to thriving; from the fear of having too little to the assurance of having enough.

We know that in the end, in the ultimate end of all things, there is God, and God is in control and in God we have the victory.

Christ is resurrected, and we, as his children, are resurrected as well.

No thing, no person and no principality can ever take that away from us…

…Six years ago surrounded by economic death and difficulties a group of people gathered in a small Detroit suburb to sing.

Infants and elderly, black and white, male and female, single, married, divorced and widowed, they sung about love, they sung about death, they sung about the changing of seasons.

And they sung about the promise of return that only love can bring.

Not only has Christ been resurrected, but we have as well.

Now that the journey to the cross is over and the resurrection has occurred, may we go out into this thriving world singing lyrics of life; may we be reflections of the Good News.

Let us sing praises to God the highest; let us sing praises to the Holy Spirit that fills us with song.

Let us sing “Hallelujah!” to the Son, Jesus Christ who proved that death will not be the final note.


No comments: