Sunday, April 17, 2022
Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day, Year C

Prayer of the Day
God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 65:17-25 New heavens and a new earth
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43 God raised Jesus on the third day
Luke 24:1-12 The women proclaim the resurrection

Sermon

Title:  Shouts of Joy, Seeds of Hope…for NOW

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

We may be shouting alleluia this morning, but those followers of Jesus sure were not finding a voice or faith or hope that morning in Jerusalem so long ago.  But really, who can blame them. We have just marked the three great days of Maundy Thursday – the night of the last supper and of Jesus’ arrest, Good Friday – the day of condemnation and crucifixion, and Holy Saturday – the day of darkness and loss; we pass through those days with their rich traditions and profound rituals knowing that we will be sitting in here this morning, smelling the fragrant lilies, listening to great music, singing beloved hymns, and shouting:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

But that was not the mood of the room in which those first disciples were hiding.  Hiding in deep fear that the same painful and gruesome death suffered by Jesus might happen to them any time now.  Hiding in hopelessness because the one they had pinned their dreams on was dead. Hiding in humiliation for having left everything to follow one who now appeared to have been an imposter, a fraud, a joke.  Hiding in anger for having trusted in God that somehow their lives were going to get better.  Can we even imagine the depth of what they were feeling?  The grave they had dug for themselves must have been deep, the walls they were building went up fast and were very thick.  For the news that the women brought was not even able to spark the slightest bit of hope in them.  Not even curiosity (except for Peter). We heard that it all seemed like an idle tale and they did not believe.  There is no idealized scene here of women running in and shouting…

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

No response like that from the grieving and hiding ones.  In spite of the fact that these folks had heard Jesus preach, seen Jesus heal, even witnessed him raising the dead to life.  They had heard Jesus predict that his death was going to happen and that there would be a resurrection; even these close friends and followers heard the women’s news as if it was an idle tale and they did not believe.  What does that say about us 2,000 years later? Those of us who are having doubts are in good company.  Those of us who are hearing this ancient story as if it was an idle tale are not alone.  Those of us who are looking out over this un-resurrected world of warring and tyranny, with its raging seas of corruption, and its heartless systems of oppression, its fragile bodies beset with illness and pain – seeing the depth of brokenness, despair, and ineffectiveness.  Where is the new earth?  Where is the kingdom of peace that Jesus was bringing?  How can we in our own despair, muster anything in us so as to be able to say and believe:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Isaiah is bearing witness to a resurrection of sorts in that first reading that we heard.  The nation of Judah had been defeated (Israel is long gone), Jerusalem is in ruins, the temple – the dwelling place of God on earth – has been leveled. Anybody who is anybody has been taken into exile. And there is Isaiah, talking about rebuilding, about recovery, about a new day where babies are not killed in their infancy, folks are living long lives, houses are built, vineyards are planted, where the peace is so deep that wolves are eating with the lambs rather than eating the lambs, same with the lions and the cows.  (Having never gotten over that garden thing with the apple, the serpents are stilling eating dust.)  But think about it, the people must have been laughing at poor Isaiah for bringing such a word of life into a landscape so filled with death.  He was getting bigger laughs and more eye rolling than a contemporary politician who promises to solve all our problems and not raise taxes.  Maybe the same reactions of reasonable people today upon hearing someone shouting:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

One of Jesus’ favorite things to talk about was seeds. And I think it was in anticipation of this greatest of miracles that was to come. Among other symbols found in nature – the butterfly, the egg – the seed is a wonderful model of the resurrection.  That tiny grain goes into the ground and for some reason it begins to transform.  Not just come to life but transform into something far beyond what it was before.  The fruit or the flower that comes to life cannot be seen in that seed when we hold it in our hand before planting, but seeming almost miraculous, it grows and blooms and blossoms and ripens.

The Empty Pot is a wonderful folk tale that tells the story of a Chinese emperor, a lover of flowers himself, who is growing old. He distributes seeds to all the children of the empire and challenges them to plant and tend the seeds. The one who grows the most beautiful flower will be named the next emperor.  A young boy named Ping receives a seed, and his talent for growing things has him confident that he could win this.  But days go by and nothing grows in Ping’s pot of dirt.  He tries all kinds of things.  But nothing.  Embarrassed by his failure, he humbly takes his empty pot to the emperor.  He is further embarrassed by all the wonderful flowers that he sees growing in the planters of the other children. The emperor sees Ping and calls him forward.  Expecting the worst, Ping is surprised when he is congratulated by the emperor and declared the heir to the throne.  The emperor explains that all the seeds that were distributed had been cooked.  Ping was the only one who was honest and did not exchange the seed he had been given.

No, in this parable, the emperor does not represent God.  We are not given lifeless seeds.  But we are those children, who, when we don’t see anything growing, when we do not see the resurrection we expect from what the world gives us; we, feeling desperate, plant our own seeds.  We look for the living among the dead of our own making.  Like Ping, when we admit that our pot is empty, that our own efforts are not bringing the transformation of the seed dying and growing into new life that we want or expect; then we are telling the truth and there is opportunity for God’s seeds of life, new life, true life to grow and bloom in us. And in the name of our Creator who creates and re-creates, by what is growing through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can shout

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

After the music had been chosen for today, I noticed a common first word in three of the songs we are singing.  NOW!  We are certainly NOW people.  Even more so than those first disciples who were left asking “what now?” on that first Easter morning.  With phones that keep us connected 24/7, it’s call me now, text me now, email me now.  With fulfillment centers and coffee shops on every corner, we want it now, we need it now, we must have it now.  (Whatever “it” is in the moment.)  With controls in hand for countless streaming services we can watch it in the now of our choosing. 

While it is true that waiting on God is a common experience through history, God is a now God.  Rather than waiting until the end of time for God to extend mercy and forgiveness for the sake of our salvation; in Jesus Christ, God gives us a vision NOW of the kingdom that will come in all its fullness and peace.  In baptism, God claims us NOW as children, inviting us to live now into this new life with the mercy and grace that will bring us into the next life, eternal life.  At the table, God feeds us NOW with a foretaste of the feast that is to come. In the presence of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, the hope of God is ours NOW, not for wishing things better, but the hope that is our anchor for the storms NOW, for the rough seas NOW, for the trials and tribulations we are experiencing NOW.

And so for NOW, in our doubts and our despair, in our waiting for seeds to grow, in our impatience with a broken world, in our failure to see God’s presence, in our inability to get that anchor of hope to catch that rock who is Jesus, for NOW, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let us shout

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

And trust that it is enough.  For now.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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