Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sermon for Easter Day 2008

The Mystery of Faith

It was a number of years ago
when we were visiting some of our friends in another city
and they were giving us a tour of their church.
(You know how priests are—we like to visit churches!)

Their grandson was also there that day—his name is Taylor.
He and his mom go to the same church as his grandparents.

Taylor grabs me by the hand and pulls me along saying,
“Jeanne, I want to show you my Sunday School room.”

Off we go down the hall and enter his Sunday School room.
This church uses the Godly Play curriculum for children,
which is, as many of you know, very hands-on and experiential.

“Do you want to see the very coolest thing in my whole room?” asks Taylor.
“Sure,” I reply.
(Who wouldn’t want to see the very coolest thing!)

So Taylor goes over to the shelf and very gently lifts off,
what at first glance I think
is one of those paper-mache mountains
like you use with model trains.

But as I look more closely,
as he sits the object on the table in front of us,
I see it is a cave, grey and bumpy.
And it has a separate big stone
that fits right in the door of the cave,
And you can move the stone, roll it away.

Taylor whispers,
this is the tomb where they put Jesus’ body.”
He stares at me in silence for a moment.

“And you know something else, Jeanne?”

“What, Taylor?”

“This is the most amazing thing!” And he flings the stone away from the door.
“Look inside, Jeanne.
What do you see?”
I lean over and peer inside and then reply, “Nothing.”

Taylor shrieks with joy and starts to laugh!
“That’s right! It’s empty. Jesus disappeared.
They put his body in the tomb and now he’s gone!”

Taylor lifts up the empty tomb and carefully carries it back to the shelf.
He turns and looks at me and speaks quite reassuringly,
“Don’t worry, Jeanne. He comes back.
Jesus comes back.”

Jesus comes back.

A little boy
with a paper-mache tomb
has captured the mystery of faith:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

That is the great and wonderful mystery of our Christian faith.
Today—Easter---we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

There are many days of the year
when we can have theological and philosophical debates—
We Episcopalians enjoy that immensely.
We like to ponder the questions:

Was it literal or metaphorical resurrection?
Did Jesus really die or did people just think he was dead?
Was it resurrection or was it resuscitation?
Did anyone actually see them
putting Jesus’ body in the tomb?

We are not afraid to ask questions, to wrestle with theology.
There are many days of the year we can have those discussions.

But today is not that day.

Today is our great feast day of Easter.
We are here today to celebrate.
To shout ALLELUIA!
And each of us is called to the feast.

This week I went to get my hair cut
and the young woman cutting my hair spent the entire time
telling me how much she loved God—
which I do not doubt or question at all--
and how much she hates the church.
Not THIS church, just THE church.

As a priest, I hear those stories a lot—
at the gas pump, in the line at the grocery store, in airports,
sitting at a baseball game.

I find it interesting
that we as human beings
can be so accepting of so many imperfect human institutions
but we somehow think church
has to be perfect or we can’t participate.

There is nothing perfect about church—except for one thing:
God’s perfect love for each one of us.
Whether we are in church
or out of church,
God’s love is always there.

Perhaps we should replace the sign out front
that says St. John’s Episcopal Church
and put up one that says “Church ‘R Us.”
Because that is the real truth.

Church is not a building.
Church is not an institution.
Church is the people of God.
The trying-as-hard-as-we-can holy imperfect people of God.

Church is the gathering together
to celebrate the mystery of faith,
to struggle with the questions together--
and to be amazed together--
to be part of a story that does not make rational sense
and yet strikes us to our core
that it is true.

Whether we come to Church or not,
whether our hearts are open or closed,
The truth of the matter is
that God knows each one of us by name.

The truth of the matter is
that God loves us more than we can ask or imagine.

Mary stands weeping outside the tomb.
She is overwhelmed with grief and fear,
until that moment she hears her name called---“Mary.”

The moment she hears her name called
she knows
that everything is going to be just fine.

She doesn’t know why or how
but she knows the peace
that passes all understanding.

Mary went to the tomb to find Jesus but she could not find him.
The truth is Jesus found her.
That is the truth that many of us here this morning have bumped into—
when we were least expecting it,
we heard our name called—
and things were never the same again for us.

Christ has died—
that was our journey through Holy Week that ended on Good Friday
when Jesus was crucified.

Christ is risen—
that is today, happy Easter!

Christ will come again—that is the rest of the story,
That is your story and my story and our story.
To be continued. Together.

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