Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A vision of promise . . .

     I must have hit a nerve last week.  It has been a while since that many people reached out to me about a sermon.  I always get a few, but there were a lot of pent up questions about Revelation.  I know I did not use the same sermon illustrations in the message last week.  As I have shared with those who wanted to talk more about what they heard I preached, there is a sense of community around sermons that cannot be replicated in writing.  I can teach the same teachings, I can name the same hurts and pains, but the intimacy is not the same.  So, when I set down to put to paper what I preached, different words sometimes come out, even if the overall message is the same.  This may well be another example of that difference between what I speak and what I write.  Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.  Of the three Gospel readings that we use during the lectionary cycle for Easter IV, John’s account is my least favorite assigned reading.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with the reading.  If there is anything wrong, it is likely my preference for other readings for this day.  There is in the passage the verb “shelter,” which out to bring to mind the idea of tabernacling--as in, God pitching His tent among us.  Fortunately for me, though, you all made it clear that I have needed to spend more time in Revelations, so that is where we will look again today.
     Let me say initially that our passage for this week really is cut off from its surrounding text.  When I was in seminary, I had a cruel professor of Greek--technically, Ann was not cruel, she was just very good at making us learn Greek.  She was an expert in those passages in the New Testament which seminarians do not know.  Part of her difficulty in evaluating our abilities was figuring out whether we already knew the passage.  If, for example, she gave you a test on the beginning of the Gospel of John, several of you would get partial credit, even though none of you know much Greek.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Our passage today is so out of context, she discovered, that know one has it memorized.  To translate it, one has to know the vocabulary and the conjugations of verbs and the declensions of nouns.  But even if one studies Revelations in a class, the lack of context does not allow for accidentally translating the passage correct.
     What is out of place, you might be wondering?  In the book, we have just finished watching the opening of the sixth seal through John’s eyes.  Even those of you who do not read the Bible probably know there are seven seals in the Book of Revelations.  We have progressed from the first seal to the sixth seal in order.  One would rightly expect the vision to move on to the seventh seal.  But there is a bit of an interlude.  Just as the reader is likely to expect the final, utter destruction of this world, the angels are commanded to stand at the corners of the earth and hold back the destructive winds.  Why?  So that God’s people can be sealed and saved.
     Last week, I mentioned how prophesy is difficult to read for those of us living in this age.  Simply put, there does not seem to be a lot of prophesy being written, so it can be a challenge for us to read and to interpret.  I pointed out last week our fascination with figuring out the mind of God.  Even though Jesus tells us plainly in the Gospels that He does not know the date of His return (It is known by the Father), lots and lots of Christians spend lots of energy trying to figure out the “when” of texts like Revelations or Daniel.  I also mentioned how prophesy can have several senses of fulfillment.  Said differently, the same prophesy can come true on multiple occasions.  That is certainly true of this week’s readings.
     The one granted the vision, John, would certainly agree with us.  John has, unfortunately, just experienced the Roman-Jewish War.  The Roman-Jewish War was no more brutal than any other war that Rome fought.  We might like to think that Rome was particularly vicious when it fought the Jews.  The truth is, though, Rome always fought to win.  Rome was not big on bluffing, and Rome did not tolerate those who did not make their payments of tribute or taxes.  They were experts soldiers, both in physical and psychological terms.  And, boy, did they ever put down the Jewish revolt.  They were thorough enough to raze the Temple entirely; and the people were scattered across the Mediterranean and throughout Asia Minor.  Imagine growing up in such a time.  Your place of worship has been destroyed--an act which signifies to you living in the ANE that your God has been conquered by the Roman gods in the celestial spheres above.  In reality, another exile was imposed on the Jews.
     John was called to minister to people in that situation.  Imagine the difficulty.  The messiah has come!  Jesus has been raised from the dead!  Victory, certainly, is at hand.  That all seems reasonable, does it not?  And how many people thought that Jesus’ return was imminent?  Some of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples thought He would return before long.  Wouldn’t this have been the perfect time?  Just when it looks like God has been defeated, Jesus returns leading an army of angels to rout the invading legion.  That’s the stuff of legends!  Instead, God allows the Church to be spread, with their Jewish cousins, to lands far and wide.
     In addition to the military style conquering, and the additional state decreed persecutions, there is the difficulty of assimilation.  Most Christians refused to pinch incense at the altar of Caesar.  Though it seems a simply act in our ears, pinching the incense at the altar was to recognize Caesar as a god.  Like the Jews, Christians could not do that act without violating the first and greatest commandment.  Failure to pinch the incense at the altar was tantamount to declaring that one was a traitor in the eyes of those in power.  In most communities, those who refused to recognize Caesar as a god could not get a job, would have a hard time finding a place to live, would not be allowed to take advantage of various social services, and the like.  They would become outcasts by choice.  Put in modern terms, think of how you feel about immigrants who would not pledge allegiance to the flag nor want to learn English.  Now pretend we thought our ruler was a god. . . that would be a similar social stigma.
     It is in that mess that John is given the vision we read about today.  Just as we expect a bad ending to occur, John’s people had to wonder what was next.  They had been thrown out of the homeland, they had been forbidden to worship, they were not allowed to worship according to their conscience, they had to wonder what was next.  In the midst of the destruction of the world, God pauses the action to seal His people.  John tells us that a multitude that no one could count from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages are gathered around the throne of God.  And look at the imagery.  Their robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb (Isaiah 1:16-18).  They wave palm branches and cry out in a loud voice that salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb.  And, as the elder explains to John, God Himself will shelter, feed, comfort, lead, and protect them.  In the midst of the destruction, God pauses to pull His people out and to tend them like a shepherd, before finishing that which He has purposed.
     We can imagine the comfort of such a vision to the early Church.  Armies have swept in, diseases and plagues were a common experience, storms ad earthquakes plagued the world, and death was a constant companion.  Like us, they were no doubt convinced that they lived at the end times.  John, called he Beloved, though this vision was able to remind those given into his care that the Lord will gather His people from the great tribulation of the world.  Who is able to stand?  God’s people, by His grace and His strength.  Even if our suffering leads to that great tribulation, death, still we know by the testimony of the Empty Tomb that even death cannot keep us from our Lord.  He will, one day, overcome our own death.  It is an amazing comfort to know that, as He is executing His judgment of destruction, God is also attentive to the needs of those judged as His people of the Lamb!
     And just as this has been fulfilled in one sense in history, our existence is proof that some survived these tribulations, and it will be fulfilled in eschatological terms (end of this world and the beginning of the recreation), still it is fulfilled in other senses.  You and I live in a world that, in many respects, has changed very little.  Those who believe in Hegel’s and Schleiermacher’s upward spiral of progress for human existence are often left speechless during weeks like this.  If things are getting so much better, what drives a couple boys to blow the limbs off of thirty people either running or watching others run a marathon?  Why can’t we predict earthquakes or floods better and save lives?  Why are leaders in North Korea driven to try and develop a nuclear weapon when their people are starving?  Why can’t there be peace in the Middle East?  Why do so many people feel the need to own guns to protect themselves?  Why can we not agree on how to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill or criminals?  Why does slavery still exist?     Why are not law enforcement officials in this and other towns across the country and around the world seeking to end slavery in their midst.  The “big picture” list could go on and on.
     And locally, the picture is just as depressing.  A couple of our parishioners have experienced the ultimate benefit of employee loyalty in the last few weeks in their terminations.  Neither were fired for performance issues, yet now they face questions of provision and marginalization.  Health issues ravage us.  And, like the world out there, we are subject to the competence of those whom we call doctor.  A glaring example would be the prospect that one of our own now faces the loss of a foot!  Due to, from my perspective, gross failure on the part of doctors and others in our healthcare system, one of our elderly women faces the likely prospect of amputation.  Doctors and others will blame the superbug, MRSA, but had they taken her complaints seriously some six or eight weeks earlier, would the outcome, perhaps, have been different?  Some of you, I know from our discussions or discussions you have had with members of our Vestry, worry about the continued existence of a worshipping community at this physical location.  The worry is that are getting older.  Soon, there will be nobody to pick up the responsibilities being laid down by others.  If that happens, what then?  At least we all have perfect relationships with all our loved ones, right?  
     You can probably think of even more personal examples, examples which sometimes give you pause as to whether God can truly redeem you.  That’s ok.  It is normal.  Jesus never condemned Thomas for his doubts, and He gave us the accounts of witnesses to remind us that He is a God who does not fail to keep every promise.  Our passage in Revelation looks, in part, to the Judgement Day of the Lord.  At some point in the future, His patience will have run out; He will choose to finish the recreation initiated that first Easter Sunday.  Certainly, for those alive it will be terrifying.  Earthquakes, famines, plagues, and the like will torment those on the earth.  Yet in the midst of that destruction, God will, Himself, gather His people to Him, and shepherd them for all eternity.  That same promise extends to those tribulations that you and I experience in our daily lives and work.  As most of us now know, adoption into God’s family is not a panacea as preached by prosperity gospellers and hucksters.  If anything, I would say those vicissitudes increase as His Enemy seeks to lead us astray while our roots are shallow--but that is another sermon.  But just as God loves you and has enough power to see to your salvation on that Day of Judgement when He recreates the world, so, too, does He have the power and love to see you through your daily, weekly, and monthly crosses.
     In the days ahead, as the pressures and worries of life increase and you find yourself worrying when it will end, remember this passage.  In the midst of whatever you are suffering, it is the Lord who will see you safely through and gathered to Him one day.  That is a promise you can count on and a vision in which you can share.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Joining our voices with angels and archangels . . .

     I was called out a couple weeks ago by one of you.  One lady came up during the week and asked me why I don’t spend a lot of time preaching and doing Bible Studies on the Book of Revelation.  She had been talking with some friends who attend other churches, and it dawned on her that I had never really talked about that particular book.  So, she had some questions for me.  As she began to question me, I was reminded of why I don’t spend a lot of time dragging the congregation through that particular book.  I don’t know what it is about human beings, but it seems like the moment we get into that book, we start looking for the signs.  Everyone seems to think that he or she will become the one that rightly interprets the book and figure out the precise moment of our Lord’s return.  I shared with her that while in seminary, a couple Anglican luminaries had shared with those of us eating with them that we should, as pastors, never, ever lead a Bible study on the Book of Revelations.  The men, renowned in our denomination circle for their ability to lead churches and disciple individuals, sort of hammered that into those of us there listening.  When we asked why.  They replied that the fights over interpretation had led to four church splits between them.  My thought had been “if they can’t keep their churches together doing a Bible study on that book, there is no way in you know where that I am going to lead one on that book.”  I told her that her questions had only confirmed for me I had made a wise choice.
     The reason I don’t preach on the book, though, is entirely different.  I am a firm believer that all Scripture is worthy of study and intended for our benefit.  For those of you knew to this journey or this church, we follow a lectionary.  By that I mean that we follow an assigned set of readings for every Sunday.  A full rotation of the lectionary takes a church three years.  And, the book of Revelation only comes up a few Sundays over that 156 Sundays and other assigned Holy Days.  Simply put, there are not that many days upon which I can preach on it.  And, if there is another reading about which I feel the Lord is calling me to speak into your lives . . . then we miss that opportunity for another three years.  Fortunately for that parishioner, Revelations seemed perfect for where we are in light of our recent discernment and Vestry retreat.
     Why is that?  Think of the things in your life which cause you to question whether God really wins in the end.  I won’t ask anyone to raise their hands, but . . . Does anyone have a serious health battle they are facing?  Anyone here in unceasing pain?  Anyone here facing questions of provision?  Anyone here worried about the loss of a job?  Any of you in the middle of some seriously strained relationships?  That’s just internal stuff.  Let’s look outside a bit.  Anyone here feel like taxes and fees are really cutting into your ability to provide some essentials for yourself?  Anyone here feel like the government works for the rich, provides for the destitute, but cares very little for those who work had, live responsibly, and try to make ends meet?  Anyone here mocked at work for your faith?  Anyone here feel lie our government bends over backwards for people of other faiths but allows Christians to be mocked with impunity?  Let’s look wider still.  Anyone feel like jobs would be great if they paid for more than the gasoline it took to get to work in the first place?  Anyone worried that North Korea, or some other group, can sneak a nuclear device into the country?  Anyone worried about a soldier in the family fighting in the Middle East?  Anyone worried about another drought this year?  Anyone worried about global warming?  And, oh by the way, anyone worried about the morality of the world?  We live in a time when those who lie or cheat are well-compensated, when video-recorded stupidity can get one all kinds of acclaim and fortune.  Bad manners and evil seem to have no consequences.  Now that I have listed a few reasons for people to have doubt, has anyone’s doubt increased?  Then this passage, indeed this book, is for you!
     Part of the difficulty we have when reading Revelation and Daniel and other such books is that we are not usual readers of apocalyptic literature.  Put in a simpler way, I asked our parishioner if, 2000 years from now, she was certain that archaeologists would be able to understand the difference between a “news article” and a “editorial” from our local QC Times.  We have that problem with apocalyptic literature.  We do not read it much, so it is a challenge for us to read and, more importantly, to understand.  This is not so much a criticism as an acknowledgement of reality.  On Good Friday, we read about the curtain surrounding the Holy of Holies being rent from top to bottom.  Apocalypse is a word which is similar to that image.  Literally it is an apo “from” kalyptos “covering.”  Things covered or hidden are being brought to light.
     Another part of our difficult is the identification of those hidden things being brought to light.  We as Christians often fight about the book because we are certain we know the meaning of the imagery.  But, the more we study such literature, the more we are reminded of what we do not know.  I’ll give you an example.  Was the book written to tell us about the end times?  Or was it written to encourage early Christians during a Roman Persecution?  Or was it both?  And was it written for other times?  Does your answer change if I inform you that one of the great Persecutions occurred under Domitian, who ruled from AD 81- 96, the very time that John penned this book?  What if it was an “all the above?”  Would that change your desire to figure out how much time you had until His return?  The truth is that the book was written, in part, to encourage those of the faith who were suffering and doubting.  Like Thomas last week, the seeming rampage of evil can cause us to question our faith.  Yet the Book of Revelation gives us an important glimpse of the future, a glimpse which reminds you and me that this, all that the world fights for, is not the prize for which we and other saints struggle.  Our prize is eternal.  Our focus is eternal, even though we are called to live and to work and to serve in the here and now.
     Take a look at the reading.  Who is being honored by the angels and all the living creatures?  The Lamb.  Have you ever wondered about this passage?  I mean, seriously, who chooses a lamb as something worthy of inspiration?  I know there are lots of sports teams that choose the name “lamb” to inspire their fans and strike fear in their enemies, right?  I mean, there are tons of Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, and then lambs, right?  So it seems only natural that angels and all living things would praise such a fierce creature, right?  And, if you were a Roman, you can imagine the terror that such an animal would inspire in your citizens and armies, right?  By your chuckling I can tell that most of you have figured out that there are not many lamb sports teams.  So why does John use that language?
     First, it is a vision.  John is reporting what he sees.  He sees the Lamb being honored by all of heaven.  The second reason, of course, is that we are called to think of Jesus this time of year as the Lamb that was sacrificed for us.  The Lord’s wrath for our sins were visited upon Him even as the Lord passes over our sins.  For a people fresh out of Holy Week, this should raise all kinds of Passover imagery.
     Why is it important?  The passage reminds us, wherever we are in life, that God wins in the end.  What happens in this passage?  All of God’s people and creatures are worshipping and celebrating His victory.  To those living under Roman persecutions, such a victory may have seemed a long way off.  But was it any longer off than what it must have seemed to His disciples when He was hung on a cross, dead, and buried?  Why do you think they locked the door of that upper room?  Doubt was winning!  To them, it seemed that evil had won; just as to us, we sometimes wonder whether God can overcome a particular evil in our life.  But this passage reminds us of the import of the Cross and Resurrection and God’s power to keep all His promises to us.  Better still, it reminds us why we gather around this table each time that we do.  For those few moments when we gather each week to fortify ourselves against the onslaught of the world what do we do?  We participate in this celebration, admittedly not in the fullest or complete sense, each time we gather.  We join our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to do what?  To celebrate His victory and our redemption!  And just like the bread and the wine that we share as a “pledge” of His promise, so to is the joining of our voices now just a hint of the choir into which we have all be brought.  As Paul says, now we see and sing and taste dimly.  One day, though, we will see clearly, sing beautifully, and taste fully.  And, as this passage reminds us, if our Lord can redeem the death of His Son and call Him home to be honored, He can certainly redeem each one of us and call us home to be a part of that celebration!  Reminded of His power and promise, we are uniquely equipped to go forth into the world, ministering to those whom He places in our path, accounting to them of the joy and hope that is within us!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Our Great AMEN!

One of those questions which plague faithful Christians and their pastors are the questions that circle around the “what am I doing wrong when telling the Gospel?” variety.  I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I would imagine a fair number present this morning are here only because someone in your life nagged you to come.  Maybe it was a grandmother or mother.  Perhaps it was a dad.  Heck, maybe you had the misfortune of running into me this week and promising that you were, indeed, going to be here on Easter morning.  If you are an infrequent or new to St. Alban’s, welcome.  One thing I would ask you is not to think of the one who kept asking and asking you to come to church less as a nagger and more like one of those who really believes that the news we celebrate today, He is risen, is the best new ever!  The person who invited you, perhaps repeatedly, simply wants you to share in the same joy and hope.  I do, however, owe you a bit of an apology.  Most of us who have the honor of preaching often begin stressing about this sermon somewhere around the beginning of Lent.  It is ok, we start stressing for Christmas almost as soon as Advent begins.  No doubt, if you are an infrequent attender, you are used to sermons being directed at you.  We sometimes get a little zealous trying to preach the one sermon that will get you to start coming to church faithfully.  Today, you can all relax.  I will not be doing that.  Today, I am going to be speaking to everyone pretty much in the same way.  If you find yourself drawn in, hopefully it is because you recognize God acting on your heart.  We would absolutely love it if you chose to join us more frequently, but I am really not in the mood to beat you up to do so this morning.

Like most of my fellow clergy, I found myself doing a bit more preparation for today than normal.  Some of you may be shocked to learn that I do preparation normally, so the idea that I did some may be a miracle in your eyes second only to the Resurrection of our Lord.  It was during the reading and the prayers over them, however, that I ended up focusing on our worship, our work.  We at St. Alban’s are a liturgical church.  Liturgy is the Greek word for work.  We should be, we are called to be, a worshipping community of Christians.  I say should and called to be because all of this, the white linens, the Pascal Candle, the Scripture readings, the Resurrection itself are not creations of the Church.  Nobody was sitting around almost 2000 years ago with this great marketing idea.  I know what.  Let’s pretend our Rabbi was raised from the dead.  You know, the whole world will buy into that story and we’ll be rich!  Yes, there have been and are probably tons of charlatans at work in the Church.  But there are far easier ways to make way more money or gain fame than in the Church.  I know that our bishop’s pay seems generous by working standards around here; but trust me, if he was not called to work in the Church, he could translate some of those skills into far more lucrative employment.  And I know the same is true for me.  I used to be paid closer to what I thought I was worth before I accepted His call.

Look in your readings at Luke’s account of the Resurrection.  We see a struggle.  The beginning of the reading tells us that the women have come to the tomb with the spices that they had prepared.  You can imagine the internal struggle these women have faced.  The man they thought was messiah has been put to death.  And He wasn’t just killed; He was crucified.  That means He is accursed by God.  But, you know, he did some amazing things in their midst.  Like us, they probably had their favorite miracles.  Plus, unlike us, they experienced a bit of a culture war firsthand.  You see, this group, which we are told by Luke includes Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, were treated as disciples by Jesus.  Culturally, He should have shunned them.  But He allowed them to travel with Him and call Him “Rabbi.”  Then, when He is quickly put to death by the machinations of the Jewish elite and the Romans, they are placed in a terrible moral quandary.  If we bury Him properly, we will be unclean and unable to celebrate the Passover.  Can you imagine how that gnawed at them the day before.  Everyone else is remembering the saving work of the Lord, and they are wrestling with consciences over whether to bury Him properly.  At some point in these deliberations, they decide to bury Him properly tomorrow.  So, at early dawn of the next day, they head out to make things right with respect to Jesus’ burial, taking the prepared spices.

Arriving at the tomb, they find the stone rolled away.  Do they immediately think “hmm.  Jesus said He would rise from the dead.  I guess He was telling the truth.”?  No.  They are perplexed.  it takes the angels’ reminder to get them to begin to understand what has happened.  So they head back to the men.  How do the men respond to the women’s tale?  Do they embrace the idea that Jesus is alive?  No.  These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  You can imagine the words.  Poor Mary, she is overcome with grief.  Poor Joanna, she really believed He was going to free us from tyranny.  I guess this is why only men are allowed to testify before the courts--women are just too emotional, too flighty.  You ladies gathered here in modern America have never experienced any kind of sexism, right?  No one has ever mocked you for being a woman because we are so advanced here in America, right?

And let’s not forget Peter.  A lot of attention has been paid to the newest to sit in the seat of Peter the past couple weeks.  Is Peter that paragon of faith and understanding?  No.  But something has begun to change in him.  Remember Maundy Thursday?  Who denies our Lord three times before the cock crows?  Peter.  Did he understand what he was doing?  Absolutely, he was very grieved by what he had done.  But was he unprepared for his actions?  No, Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed.  And that prophesy, combined with all the miracles he had witnessed, had begun its work in Peter’s heart.  He alone goes to the tomb.  He looks in and sees the linen cloths and the empty tomb.  He does not know what to think.  He leaves for home, we are told, amazed at what had happened.  Peter does not yet comprehend what has occurred or its significance.  There is no rubbing together of the hands and plotting.  There is only confusion and doubt.  And these are the men and women who went about the world with Jesus.  These are the men and women who now, more often than not have “Saint” before their name.

The truth is that Resurrection is hard to comprehend.  Placed together with the Cross of Good Friday, the events we celebrate and memorialize this week are simply unfathomable.  The Cross and Resurrection are important, brothers and sisters, because it is the focal point of salvation history.  When God created the heavens and the earth, the events of Friday and today were already in place.  God was not surprised at Adam and Eve’s sin.  Our Lord was not shocked that humanity could not right itself after the flood, even though only the family of Noah, a righteous man, survived.  Our message, when we think about it, sounds crazy.  God chose to be Incarnate.  The Incarnation loved us so much that He was willing to become sin and die for us.  And for His faithfulness, the Father raised the Son.  He has become the first member of the re-creation.  Is it any surprise so many doubt and wonder?  Should we be at all surprised when people blow off our testimony?  Who makes up such nonsense?

Of course, if you are one of those who scoff or disbelieve, does that story sound like a great marketing scam?  If you were going to rip off people, is this a good way to do it?  Or does the story sound too far “out there” to ever work?  And, if you were propagandizing these events, why would your leaders ever be portrayed as doubter?  If you were going to package this narrative together, say like Ben Affleck in Argo, would you show your leaders as disbelieving, as confused?  Or would you rather cast them in a better light, showing them as men and women who were bright and altogether worth following?  No, brothers and sisters, the actions of the Apostles and disciples reminds us of a simple truth.  The Church did not create the Resurrection as a marketing ploy.  No, indeed, the Church was created by the Resurrection as a response to an event presumed impossible.  Because He was raised from the dead, His Apostles and disciples were transformed!  Jesus had been cursed.  Clearly.  Unarguably.  Yet, as we will read this Eastertide, He will appear to thousands.  Not as a ghost, but as a new creation!  The wounds will still be there to satisfy Thomas.  He will eat and drink to demonstrate He is not a ghost.  He is the firstborn of the new creation.  He is exalted because He walked the path set before Him by His Father and worked to redeem you and to redeem me and to redeem all who would claim Him as Lord.

And because of His teaching, we know that this was THE EVENT in history!  Together, Good Friday and Easter Sunday serve as the bookend of our salvation.  I wish I could remember which commenter wrote this, but one pointed out that “He raised Him from the dead” was the Father’s AMEN to the Son’s “It is accomplished,” spoken just before He breathed His last and gave up His spirit.  What we celebrate this week was not something that God had to overcome.  Pilate and Judas and the priests did not catch God napping.  Before He came into the world, He knew this was the path He had to walk for every single one of us gathered here together today.  And, in loving service, He walked that path faithfully for our sakes and, when near His near, He pronounced His work accomplished.  There was no “oops.”  There was no “let me figure out a solution to this one.”  This was the plan.  We know this because God raised Him from the dead.  Across the vastness of the universe, across the seemingly infinite courses of time, and even across the impenetrable obstacle you and I call death, God spoke that great AMEN and raised Christ from the dead!  He is that Son in whom He is well pleased.  He is that Anointed One whom God will honor.  We know this because He lives!

So what?  Whether one is a believer or somewhat skeptical or, like the Apostles and disciples, simply amazed, still one is left with the question of “what now?”  For the faithful, those convinced of the truth of the Resurrection, the Empty Tomb becomes the reminder that God can redeem all things.  We do the world a disservice when we claim that “everything will be great” if people will only become Christians.  Like the rest of the world we still suffer from unemployment, from diseases, from relationship hurts, from different kinds of pains, and even from death.  The Empty Tomb reminds us, however, that God will redeem all things, even us and our situations.  He may not work in the time frame we would like; He may not do things the way we would do them; but, because He has yoked us to Him and His Son, we know that He will redeem and vindicate each one of us who calls Him Lord.  We can share the stories of the amazing works He has done in our lives and throughout history certain that, in the end, we will be vindicated for being faithful ambassadors.  We can even commit sins which we should know better than to commit, and yet come again to the Cross in repentance certain that He has paid the penalty even for that sin.  Still, He will redeem us.  He has promised.  And He has the power to accomplish all that He has promised, even if death tries to grab us.

Were that all, this would be an incredible story of good news.  But our God is an abundant giver of all things, including responsibilities.  Those of us who claim Jesus as Lord have been granted honors and power and responsibilities which none of us could fathom and, if we were in charge, none of us would give to ourselves.  Worshipping the saving work of God is just one example of that responsibility and gift.  Turn in your Order of Worship to page 17 or in your BCP to page 362-3 or 368-9.  Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, to give thanks to God for what He has done for us, what are we doing?  We remind ourselves of His goodness and love and we recall the events of Holy Week.  We remind ourselves of His words of Institution during the Maundy Thursday service where He tells us in advance that His Body will be broken for us and that His Blood will be poured out for us.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will bless our work, the liturgy, and that we will one day enter the inheritance that He has promised through our participation in this Eucharistic Feast.  And, then, what do we do?  

Ever notice that AMEN in all capital letters before?  You ever think it was a misprint?  After all, other Amen’s have only the “A” capitalized.  Why, do you think this one has all caps?  It is known in the Church as the “Great Amen.”  Amen simply means something like “let it be so.”  So this Great AMEN means something along the lines of the great “let it be so!”  This meal that we will celebrate in a moment will recall to us the actions of this week.  Every times we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are called in mind and heart to the events of Holy Week.  Every time.  Better still, we will remind ourselves that all of us who call Him Lord and share in this meal  will share in His Resurrection.  That is His pledge to us.  And, with our Father who raised Him from the dead, you and I will pronounce the Great AMEN!  You and I will pronounce the AMEN that rings across time and space and even across death itself.  And in so doing, you and I are privileged beyond measure or dream, to join our heavenly Father in the glorification of His Son, His Son who came to save us, even when we disbelieved, even when we were confused and amazed, even when we fought against Him.  Brothers and sisters, such is our “heavy lifting.”  Such is our magnificent contribution to salvation history.  We are called to honor and serve the Christ who freed us from sin and death simply by acknowledging His faithful obedience.

Brothers and sisters, no body is as effective at wounding its own self as the Church.  Perhaps, sitting here, you can recall times when authority figures such as myself guilted you into giving, guilted you into attending, placed burdens on you which were not yours to bear.  I am truly sorry if that has been your experience.  The reason it is Gospel is that there is no heavy burden on us.  Our Lord has born the Cross and won for us the crown of victory.  But, and this can be very uncomfortable, just as He has born your sins against Him on that cross, so has He born the sins of others against you, and yours against those others.  Now He calls you to celebrate His victory and to wait expectantly for His promises to be fulfilled.

What if you stand here this day confused?  Amazed?  Wondering?  That’s ok, too.  In fact, as I pointed out, when we doubt and are amazed, we stand in distinguished company.  The Apostles and disciples were also confused and amazed.  I would encourage you to ponder the evidence.  Consider the responses of these men and women.  None of them enjoyed the trappings of privilege.  Each one of them suffered terribly for their faith.  And yet, despite the best efforts of Rome, and the accompanying of no real reward, these men and women simply testified to what they had seen and what they had heard.  They did not create the Resurrection; the Resurrection re-created them.  Those who heard and watched them realized something was different, something had changed.  And, one by one, the Church began to grow.  I invite you to continue to watch and listen with us.  We are at St. Alban’s by no means worthy of our inheritance through our own efforts.  But we are a redeemed people, a people who rejoice in the life our Lord has given us and who find themselves awed by the fact that our Lord has called us to celebrate His death, Resurrection, and Ascension whenever we meet, a people who echo, however faintly, that Great Amen of our Father, who blessed and raised His Son our Lord from the dead on that first Easter Morning when the women found the tomb rolled away!