Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Message; Psalm 118; April 5, 2015

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 118:13-29
Easter Sunday; April 5, 2015

What we just heard is a song of victory, a psalm of praise for what God has done. The people have cried out “Hosanna!- Lord save us” and God has done just that.

The Lord has proven to the people and to their leader that God is indeed able to create, to save and to bless.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” the psalmist sings, “For God’s constant love goes on forever.”

If that is not an Easter message, I don’t know what is. But let’s be honest. This has not been the best of weeks.

Just as Psalm 118 addresses issues of dark places, distress, and the buzzing of bees, so must we.

There has been sadness for the last few days.

In Indonesia thousands of fishermen were discovered, found in brutal conditions, as slaves inside cages, with teeth kicked out.

In Kenya, 147 people were gunned down by militants who purposely attacked Christians during a time of prayer.

Indiana experienced the after affects of a religious freedom law that set the stage for discrimination reminiscent of the 50’s & 60’s.

On the 47th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s death, two prison guards in Florida with ties to the KKK were caught conspiring to kill a black ex-inmate.

Here, at Emmanuel UCC we are left wheeling from the news of John Wright’s unexpected death.

Some of these events feel like a tope (speed bump), other feel like the sting of buzzing bees, others are certainly dark and unholy.

Today is supposed to be a time of joy, celebration and Good News. A time of pretty outfits, fancy hats, hard boiled eggs dipped in pastel colors and baskets of candy.

But the fact that we are instead dealing with buzzing bees and topes seems about right, because the truth is this- in every account of the resurrection, there is always an element of darkness and uncertainty.

In Mark’s account of the Resurrection, the women flee from the empty tomb in terror, amazed and very much afraid.

In Matthew the guards at the tomb shake with fear and fall like dead men.

In Luke, a couple walk in solitude, their eyes blinded to the truth. The disciples experience the risen Christ and are startled, terrified and filled with doubt.

In John, Mary weeps in the garden and Thomas discovers that though Jesus has been raised, he still bears the marks of the nails and wounds from the spear.

None of the Resurrection stories are void of sadness and dread, of doubt and fear.

Just as we cannot ignore the events of this week, we cannot forget that the events of Good Friday took place, and we cannot escape the shadow of the cross…

…Last Sunday we had a special guest join us and talk about that day in which Jesus rode into town and the people greeted him with palm branches and songs of Hosanna.

One thing he forgot to share with us is how the people viewed Jesus.

During the 1-3 years of his ministry, as Jesus challenged the political and religious hypocrites of his day, as he ate with outcasts and offered healing to all, people began to formulate who they thought Jesus was.

Some said he was the embodiment of God’s wisdom; others said Jesus was a reflection of God’s love.

Some said he was the Messiah, a leader who had come to free the people from the choke hold of Rome and to deliver them from all the debts and the evils of their day.

All these things made Jesus very, very dangerous.

So dangerous that the religious leaders were threatened by him. So dangerous the Roman kingdom was scared of him. So dangerous that the people became disappointed in him.

Threatened, scared and disappointed, they felt the only response was to kill Jesus. To take him, his message, and all he stood for, and to cast him away.

But exile would not silence what they feared. Arrest wouldn’t stop what he had begun. They felt the only way to stop his presence in the world was to kill Jesus.

Not just kill him, but to use Rome’s ultimate symbol of shame and scorn- the cross, their weapon of mass destruction.

What better way to silence the wisdom of God, to extinguish the light of God’s love, to humiliate the people’s Leader.

So they placed Jesus upon a cross for him to die, so all can see just where his teachings, healings, and outspoken radicalness had led him.

After Jesus said “Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” after he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” his dead body was wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb.

That should have been it. That Friday should have been the end of the story.

Jesus had been surrounded, the bees not only buzzed, but they stung him bad, and into darkness Jesus was placed.

It should have meant that God’s wisdom was no more; should have meant no one was left to reflect the love of God; no more Messiah to lead the people into a better, brighter future…

…but here is what we learn today- Jesus and all that he represented could not stay defeated.

Because, as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Sunday expecting to experience Jesus as dead- he was not there.

Instead something took place that was so majestic, so mysterious, so earth moving that Mary is told “Jesus is not here.”

We call it the Resurrection.

An event in which the God who creates, saves, and blesses stepped into human history and raised Jesus above and far beyond the grips of darkness.

Today we do not simply celebrate that Jesus rose from the oblivion of nothingness, but that it was God who raised him.

Today is the day we celebrate that even with buzzing bees, blazing fires and distress, God has the ability to exalt and to give victory.

Today we say that just like Mary, we go to the tomb to experience Jesus, and discover that he is not there.

Instead, he is in the garden, among the living plants where he speaks gently and tenderly, calling each of us by our name.

We don’t experience Jesus at the tomb but at the table in which everyone is invited to gather and eat, in which there is food for all.

We experience Jesus where people gather to work together, side by side, for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

We experience Jesus in places where we are scared and are in need of reassurance.

We experience Jesus when we are on a journey, trying to make sense of it all.

We even experience Jesus when we are full of doubt in need of blessed assurance.

Jesus is there and a multitude of other places.

The dark forces of the world tried their best, the buzzing bees gave it their most venomous sting, but Jesus is not confined to the dark stank of nothingness; Jesus exists in the living moments of life.

What does this mean?

It doesn’t mean we ignore the evil acts in Indonesia or Indiana, it does not mean we ignore the screams of Christians in Kenya or the sadness over recent church events.

What it does mean is that we allow the news of the Resurrection to give us hope.

It means that songs like Psalm 118 and stories of the empty tomb give us something to hold onto; they point us towards the promise of change and the belief that no matter what, things can get better.

The pull of Psalm 118 and the power of the Resurrection is the realization that in Jesus Christ the betrayal of Thursday does not have the final say.

The crucifixion of Friday does not have the final say. The assumed silence of Saturday does not have the final say. The tomb we come to on Sunday does not have the final say.

Because Jesus is not there, which means betrayal, persecution and confusion do not have ultimate power.

Because of this we can celebrate. Because of this we can praise God with glad songs of victory and psalms of happiness.

Because of this we are reminded that world leaders and corrupt politicians will all eventually die, crooked cops and corrupt business folk will die too, unjust lawyers and treacherous traitors the same.

They all will die, and become no more.

But God- God never dies. God can never be defeated or silenced or snuffed out.

Our God who creates, who saves, who blesses is steadfast and evermore, no matter what the current situation may be like, no matter what others may say.

Jesus Christ, is amongst the living and our God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Amen and amen.