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Alleluia Christ is Risen: A Sermon for Easter
April 24, 2011, 9:57 am
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Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

We return once again that joyful refrain: Alleluia, into our worship! Our Lenten journey was marked by that refrain’s absence. In it’s place, we adopted new refrains- “Return to the Lord” and “Holy God… have mercy on us.” Now we once again adopt our joyful refrain- Alleluia! And we declare the reason for our joy- Christ is Risen!

Our Gospel reading from Matthew picks up the story where we left it last Sunday. We heard of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when crowds welcomed him in with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” We listened in to Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, when he predicted his death was soon to come, and that even these faithful followers would turn away. He lifted bread and wine, declaring it to be his body and blood, given for the forgiveness of the world. We followed Jesus to the Garden, where his closest disciples slept as he struggled in prayer to accept the path towards his death. Then the darkness began to close in, as Judas led the authorities to arrest Jesus. Jesus was tried by the priests and governor, and all the people shouted for his crucifixion. Finally, he was nailed to the cross and died. His friends and disciples laid him in a nearby tomb and the religious authorities set a guard so that no one would steal away his body and claim that he was resurrected as he had predicted.

This morning, we find the guard still at the sealed tomb, and two of Jesus’ female disciples coming to anoint his body in a final goodbye. Then the earth physically shakes under their feet as their expectations regarding Jesus’ death are shattered. An angel declares the good news and the women peer into the tomb to confirm it: Jesus is not there, he has been raised. On their way to tell the other disciples, Jesus himself greets them! They are able to touch him, and confirm that he truly has been raised from death.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed Alleluia!

Where does this Easter morning find you? We knew that the tomb would be empty. We journeyed through Holy Week, experiencing each day, but always knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice was a triumph that would be affirmed on Easter morning. Even so, each Easter morning finds us in a new place- the joys and griefs of the past year, the past week, have changed us, so that our hearing of this good news falls on fresh ears.

So, this morning, are you feeling reading to exchange your refrains and welcome the risen Christ? For some of us, it’s been too long a Lenten season. It’s been a year in which we’ve witnessed the tragic deaths of young people in our community. The year’s brought it’s share of sickness, death, worry, and war. Even the natural weather seems to be determined to keep us in an austere landscape. We are in desperate need of declaring the power of God to give life in the face of death! It’s time for some sunshine and some hope! It’s time for that alleluia again!

But, for others of us, this movement into Easter is all too expected and ordinary. We no longer feel the earth-shattering power of the proclamation. Easter comes every year, with the expectation to attend church, to host family, and to fill an Easter basket. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is distant, if not dubious. It doesn’t seem to have any relevance to real life.

Our hearts and minds, our lives have been variously prepared to hear the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.

I find each different gospel’s way of telling the resurrection story helpful. If you were able to come to worship throughout Holy Week, you heard the story of the passion and last supper from both Matthew and John. Each gospel has its own way of telling the story of the resurrection. The differences give us room to find resonance with our experience this Sunday.

In Matthew’s, the two Marys are met by an angel whose declaration leaves them in both fear and joy, and then they are able to meet Jesus himself and worship him before telling the news to the other disciples.

In Mark’s, three women come to the tomb, find it empty, are told to tell the other disciples, but don’t, because they are afraid.

In John’s, Mary sees the empty tomb and tells two disciples about this strange occurrence. They race to the tomb, where they find it empty and believe Jesus’ word that he would be raised. But Mary remains in grief and uncertainty. Jesus comes to her, unrecognized at first, but is able to change her grief into certain joy.

In Luke, women come to the tomb and are met by angels who ask, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They tell the apostles how Jesus’ word has come true, but the men will not believe them, all except for Peter, whose glimmer of hope leads him to search the tomb for himself, and leave for home, pondering what its emptiness might mean.

Each of these tellings of the same event allow us to be honest with who we are and how we experience the news of the resurrection today.

Death and sin, broken relationships with God and each other, are real in each of our lives, but the depth to which they are affecting us today is different. Some of us are ready to turn our grief into the joy of the promise of resurrection. Some of us are just maybe open to the first fingers of dawn. Some of us have lived our lives feeling the sunshine of life and joy all the time. For all of us, Jesus’ death and resurrection breaks the power of death and sin. Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead, to never die again. Jesus has taken away our sin and our brokenness and makes it possible for us to live in loving relationships with God and each other.

Jesus’ death was the result of his faithfulness to his mission of declaring the kingdom of God. He showed God’s love and welcome for those whom the world tends to ignore and reject. He called people into a new way of relating to God and each other that challenged the way things were. Jesus served and died for the very people who abandoned and rejected him, to show God’s love and forgivness. God raises Jesus from the dead in an affirmation of Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission. All that Jesus did was according to God’s mission in the world.

In raising Jesus, God embraces and experiences all that Jesus did. Even Jesus’ entering the experience of suffering, death, and the absence of God is made known to God as Jesus ascends to the Father. God’s mission in Jesus was to be reunited with a humanity that had become distant from its creator. Jesus bridges that gap to join even the most distant, those trapped in suffering, sin, and death. Now no one can ever be separated from God.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are for us. Jesus is raised from the dead as a sign of the promise extended to each of us through Jesus. The promise we receive is that of raised life forever. Not even death will separate us from God.

Resurrection and forgiveness have already been won for us. These gifts are already yours. Jesus’ faithfulness on the cross was a one-time event, as was his resurrection to life. But this event affects all the generations. You have entered Jesus’ faithfulness through your baptism, and your life is already a resurrected life. The day you die will not be your ending, but Jesus will continue to hold you in the promise of resurrection.

We experience the joy of Jesus’ gift of life and forgiveness for us as we celebrate communion. Today, Carter, Connor, Josie, and Betsy, are welcomed to the Lord’s Table for their first communion. As we smell and taste these gifts of bread and wine, we also remember that they are the body and blood of Jesus, broken and poured out for us. Jesus’ sacrifice gives us life. We take in this promise through our senses.

Rejoice in the promises of God- they have been fulfilled today! As Jesus promised, after three days he was raised from the dead. So shall Jesus’ promises to us be fulfilled. Jesus gives you life, forgiveness, and a hope after death!

Alleluia Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!



Victorious God of deliverance & life: An Easter Vigil reflection
April 23, 2011, 2:02 pm
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Genesis 1:1—2:4a  Creation

Genesis 7:1–5, 11–18; 8:6–18; 9:8–13  Flood

Exodus 14:10–31; 15:20–21  Deliverance at the Red Sea

Isaiah 55:1–11  Salvation freely offered to all

Jonah 1:1—2:1  The deliverance of Jonah

Daniel 3:1–29  Deliverance from the fiery furnace

 

NEW TESTAMENT READING  Romans 6:3-11

GOSPEL  John 20:1-18

This is the night! This is the night! Tonight, in symbol and story, we declare God’s power and victory for us! We gathered in darkness, remembering the darkness into which Jesus entered. Jesus suffered abandonment and death, and was buried and swallowed up into hell. In the midst of this darkness came new light. This new light spread and grew in strength as we heard the witnesses of the ages declare God’s work throughout history, and finally in the most decisive victory in the risen Jesus. Tonight’s readings from the Old Testament witness to a God who is victorious in providing deliverance and life even in the most dire circumstances. In Genesis, God creates all that is out of nothing. When creation goes astray, God begins again from a portion of what was first created. In Exodus, God leads the people out of slavery in Egypt, fighting for the freed slaves so that they are victorious over the well-trained and equipped army of the Pharoah. In Jonah, God saves the prophet from death in the sea and recalls Jonah to his work, providing the people of Nineveh an opportunity for repentance. In Isaiah, God declares the gift of life that is offered to all people, without price. In Daniel, God protects the faithful Jews from the deadly heat of the fiery furnace. Our God is a worker of deliverance and salvation! Tonight, we hear the great story of God’s work to bring life and salvation to all of creation. This history finds its center and clearest revelation in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Jesus, who was betrayed, arrested, humiliated, killed, and buried, is raised from death into life. God gives life even to those who have already died! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! We are wrapped up into this great story through our baptism. In baptism, you are claimed as one of God’s chosen people, one of those for whom God works miracles of deliverance and salvation. In baptism, you are united with Jesus in that great moment of transition from death into life. Your story becomes that of the generations before, who have experienced the power of God to bring life in the face of death. In fire and candles, water and word, bread and wine, we declare the great history of salvation. God continues to work today among us. God is the victorious granter of life and salvation for the whole world. Sign, story, and sacrament are here for you, so that you might know and experience the salvation God is giving to you.



Upside-down Victory of the Cross: A Good Friday Sermon
April 22, 2011, 3:45 pm
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John 18:1-19:42

Tonight we gather at the cross, remembering Jesus’ death there, for us. In all that we’ve witnessed, both last night and tonight, we see Jesus experiencing the fulness of betrayal, abandonment, humiliation, suffering and death. His most trusted friends left him, one even led those who wished to harm him right to him! Jesus was at the mercy of the religious authorities and oppressive empire’s armies. Jesus keenly felt God’s absence. And finally, every bit of life was taken from him. There, on the cross, he died.

The Gospel of John has its own slant, placing much of the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish people and religious authorities. But it is the sin of all humanity that causes Jesus’ suffering and death. There is something fundamentally broken about the way all people relate to God and each other that leads them to focus on self-interest and to reject God.

The rejection of God and God’s work in the world continues today.

Jesus’ death on the cross is a result of humanity’s unwillingness to accept the new and incoming kingdom of God which Jesus’ ministry brought. We do not want the poor to be blessed and the rich to go away empty. We do not want to leave all our possessions and family to follow Jesus. We do not want to share our tables and homes with the sinners and outcasts. But Jesus kept pushing for this new and difficult kingdom.

Jesus disrupted the peace of the way things were, the way things are supposed to be. He shook people up and caused turmoil. He challenged people’s comfortable lives and the barriers they had created between people to keep them feeling safe and in control of their surroundings. This proved to be too much, and humanity tried to silence him on the cross and in the tomb.

Even in the attempt to silence Jesus, Jesus’ message was proclaimed. The cross itself is a sign of the reversals in the kingdom of God. Although meant as an instrument to humiliate and put fear into criminals and insurrectionists, in Jesus’ death, it becomes a place of glory.

Jesus shows us God as he suffers on the cross. There we see most clearly God’s love for us. Even as Jesus experiences the worst that humanity has to offer, Jesus does not escape or abandon us. Jesus does not recant his declaration of the incoming kingdom. On the cross, Jesus shows us that God’s love for us wins out over self-preservation. The cross becomes a place where God’s promised new kingdom is declared rather than silenced.

It is to the victory of God and to our own victory that Jesus Christ is faithful even onto death on the cross.

There, Jesus enters the worst of human experience. Thus he claims it as under his reign. He redeems suffering by his own experience of it. Jesus enters Hell itself, the very absence of God, so that no longer would any hell be outside the bounds of God’s space. All is known and embraced by God through Jesus.

There is no hell you can enter where God will abandon you. We know all too well that the experience of hell is real right now for many people. We see its results in despair, addiction, violence, and suicide. Jesus entered the darkness of hell before you. Jesus is there, in your darkness, in the darkness experienced by those you love, to walk with you and bring you again to a place of light and hope.

At the cross, in entering this place of shame and ridicule, Jesus makes known God’s love for all people, especially those who experience shame and ridicule, poverty and oppression, violence and death. This is the reversal of the kingdom of God. Those the world does not honor or love, God loves all the more.

At the cross, God in Jesus fully enters the consequence of sin and redeems it, so that death and sin would not be our final ending.

Tonight, as we participate in the solemn reproaches, we hear all God has done for us, and remember that despite all that, we still sin, and reject God rather than embrace God’s kingdom. We still make the selfish choices that force Jesus to the cross. If God were to respond to us as we deserve, we would be cast away, punished, and rejected for our sin. We prepare a cross for our savior. And our savior willingly accepts this cross. Instead of using it as proof of our sin, Jesus uses it to prove his faithfulness, and grants us the rewards of his own faithfulness. You are given forgiveness and life because Jesus was faithful for you.

In Jesus’ faithfulness in accepting his path to the cross, Jesus wins in his struggle to proclaim the reign of God’s kingdom. Jesus is victorious in expanding the reign of God to  the darkest places of hell. Jesus takes sin and death into his own experience, and thereby is able to redeem them. In Jesus’ own sorrow and death, Jesus wins for us joy and life.



The Table is Set: Maundy Thursday Sermon
April 21, 2011, 2:34 pm
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Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31-35

The Holy Gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Christ.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in Godself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon

Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.

On this first of our three holiest days, we gather around the table. It is Jesus’ table. We find him playing the host, the servant, and the meal itself. We gather around the table, and here Jesus forgives us, feeds us, and forms us into his own body, given for the sake of the world.

On this night, we witness the depth of Jesus’ love and servanthood.  The Gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ servanthood. In John’s version of the Last Supper, the focus is on what occurs outside of the meal, unlike the other versions of the Last Supper with the familiar focus on the bread and wine, given for the disciples. Here in John, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, kneels at the feet of the disciples, and washes them as only a servant would.

This is utterly shocking! Jesus has been the disciples’ respected teacher, the one they have confessed as the promised savior from God. He deserves to be revered, not allowed to take the lowest position, beneath them. Their feet are caked with the dust from the day’s travel, calloused, ugly. Feet see the worst of the day’s hard work; they carry evidence of all the places people have been. All this Jesus sees, touches, and cleanses, as he kneels down to perform the task of the lowliest household servant.

The depth of Jesus’ love and his willingness to take the servant’s position out of that love is shocking- and it’s for us.  We kneel at the communion rail twice tonight, and there Jesus serves us. First we hear Jesus’ forgiveness, spoken to each one of us. Jesus sees, touches, and cleanses the grime that clings on to us. This whole season of Lent, we have prayed for God to have mercy upon us. But it’s not because of your prayers that you receive this forgiveness, it’s because of Jesus’ love for each of you. Jesus wants you to know that you are forgiven. Jesus knows your sin, the ways you are broken, the ways you hurt others. Chances are, the people sitting next to you tonight know some of your sin, too. You might not think you deserve forgiveness or love, and maybe your neighbor would agree with you! But that’s where the surprise of Jesus’ love is so good for us. It doesn’t matter if you deserve it, Jesus gives his forgiveness, his life, for you.

Jesus knelt at the feet of Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray him onto death. Jesus served the betrayer. Jesus intimately enacted his love for the one he knew would so completely sin against him. If Jesus’ love allows him to do that, surely there is room enough in his love for you.

When we kneel at the communion rail for a second time tonight, Jesus serves us with his very lifeblood. The Apostle Paul gives us the words of Jesus at the instituting of communion, in his letter to the Corinthians. Here, at Jesus’ table, bread becomes more than bread, wine more than wine, as we receive Jesus’ body and blood, Jesus’ presence, and Jesus’ gift of life and forgiveness.

Jesus gives us his self and his life so that we can follow his path. We are called to live out Jesus’ love and servanthood. Jesus feeds us so that we become what we eat- his body and blood, life given for the world. We are called into the same faithfulness Jesus shows for us.

Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission, his love and servitude, is measured by his death. His faithfulness leads him on a path that includes abandonment and betrayal. Tonight we remember this abandonment and betrayal toward the close of our worship. Perhaps the whole Passion narrative is still fresh in your minds from Sunday. Remember how Matthew told of Jesus’ struggle in the Garden: Jesus prays to God, knowing his time of trial was close at hand. As Jesus struggles in prayer, his closest disciples sleep instead of keeping watch with him. Although they are physically there, they have already abandoned him, in his hour of need. The scene ends in even deeper betrayal as Judas comes, leading a band of soldiers and priests, identifies Jesus with the greeting of a close friend, and thereby hands him over to arrest and death.

We, after having been served twice by Jesus, will remember this time of abandonment as we sing Jesus’ plea, “Stay with Me” and hear the psalmist’s lament, Jesus’ lament, as all turn away from him. Those who have been loved, served, and taught by Jesus end up deserting him. His Roman captors taunted and beat him into humiliation. The beauty of our sacred space will be stripped away, and we will be left in darkness. Despair and darkness, abandonment and betrayal, suffering and humiliation, were real for Jesus on that night.

Jesus’ experience of abandonment and betrayal is for us. Since Jesus willingly entered this darkness, we will never enter darkness alone. Despair may come to us, but Jesus, in his love, will come to us as well. As people fed and forgiven by Jesus, we are formed into Jesus’ bodily presence for the sake of the world. As Jesus comes to those experiencing abandonment and betrayal, we are also called to come with love, forgiveness, and comfort to those in the midst of darkness.

On this first of the three holy days, we gather around Jesus’ table. Jesus gifts us with promises and proves his faithfulness to us even as he experiences betrayal and abandonment from those to whom he has been faithful. Tomorrow we continue to witness Jesus’ faithfulness as we gather around the cross, and Saturday and Sunday Jesus’ faithfulness is affirmed as we gather in new light and new hope.

Hymn of the Day LBW 122 Love Consecrates the Humblest Act

Gathered as the people Jesus welcomes and serves at the table, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

Jesus, you serve and provide for your church. Form your church into your body, ready and willing to faithfully serve those in need and to stand in solidarity with those who live in poverty and despair.

Jesus, you suffered the effects of an oppressive empire and the human reliance on violence. Send peace to nations where there is violence and turmoil. Grant refugees a safe haven and a new home.

Jesus, all things were stripped away from you. Send comfort to those whose possessions and loved ones have been stripped away because of fires, tornados, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

Jesus, you experienced the frailty of the human body. Send healing to those whose bodies, minds, or spirits are suffering. Especially we pray for those on our prayer list-  and for those who grieve.

Jesus, because of your faithfulness to us, we receive the promise of eternal life with you. Unite us with all the saints, and, at the end, welcome us to your table for an unending banquet.

Into your hands, loving God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.