Easter Sunday 2019
I would like to begin today by sharing Joy’s story. Joy was a typical high school junior. She worries about things like cheerleading, grades, what other girls posted on social media, and, of course, about prom. Joy had a new boyfriend, Tommy, they had gone out a couple of times, he seemed nice, and he had asked her to the prom.
But suddenly, everything changed. During a routine physical the doctor found something she didn’t like. After a cat-scan and a biopsy, Joy was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery replaced cheerleading and chemotherapy eclipsed any thoughts about the prom. That is, until the morning of prom rolled around, and Joy awoke to discover that she had lost all her hair. She we inconsolable. There was no time to have a decent wig made, and she dismissed any talk of buying a costume wig, or wearing a scarf, or a hat. Instead Joy insisted she was going stay home. She called Tommy to share her decision, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I’ll be there at 5,” he insisted, “be ready to go.”
Well, Joy reluctantly put on her prom dress and waited for 5pm to roll around. And, right on time, the door bell rang. It was her date, dressed in a black tux with corsage in hand, and to Joy’s shock and amazement, her date, standing there in her doorway, had not one stand of hair on his head. You see, he had shaved his head so Joy would not feel out-of-place. But that’s not the end of the story. He then invited her to step out into the yard, where the entire cheerleading squad, along with their dates, were waiting for her. And like Tommy, they too had all shaved their heads. It was in that moment, for the first time since her diagnoses, that Joy didn’t feel alone.
As we consider Joy’s story this morning, I can’t help but this of Mary Magdalene as stood before the empty tomb. Like Joy, I think she must have felt alone, isolated, hopeless. Grief does that. Grief isolates us, it causes us to turn in on ourselves and build walls to keep others out.
But I can also imagine the look on Mary’s face in that moment of epiphany; that moment when Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” One word, and she knew. One word, and Mary know the power of resurrection. And it was through one act of extravagant kindness, that Joy came to know the power of resurrection as well.
You see, for us here in the 21st century, the resurrection narrative doesn’t end with an empty tomb; isn’t finally about angels, or gardeners, or even about physical resuscitation. Resurrection is about the presence of God within, around, and through all of life. Resurrection is about taking those places in our lives, those dark and painful, isolating places, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit.
After Mary left the tomb and went back to the disciples and shared what she had witnessed, they too became convinced that Jesus was a living and present God. The Apostle Paul thought so as well. In Paul’s writings the Living Christ and the Holy Spirit are never separated; for Paul the two are the same. So, when he says, “Not I, but Christ who dwells within me,” he is talking about the same Spirit that you and I can experience in our lives.
And, my friends, this is way I believe passionately in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because in my own life I have experienced Christ not as some distant event in the past or dusty old doctrine, but as a very real presence. William Slone Coffin expresses this same theological understanding in his book Credo. He says that “…today, on Easter, we gather not, as it were, to close the show with the tune “Thanks for the Memories” but rather to reopen the show with the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”[I]
So, here’s the pressing question surrounding all this: How do we know that resurrection is something we experience? How can I tell that the Living Christ, the very Spirit of God is present in the world today?
Well, the presence of God, what we pastor types like to call the revelation of God, comes to us in many ways. We can experience God in nature, for example. Who here hasn’t felt the veil between God and humanity become a little thinner on a beautiful fall day in the woods? We can also experience God through relationship, through the other people we encounter as we walk this earth. God can also be revealed through art, through music, through communal worship or personal prayer, or whenever we take a moment to quiet our minds and open our being to listen for the still-small voice. My friends, God is Still-Speaking in the world today, our task is to listen and then respond.
I’m going to conclude my remarks today by focusing on our response. Specifically, our response to the resurrected presence of God as a faith community. Community is the key word here. Like the girl from our opening illustration, Joy’s disease isolated her from her primary community. And we all know that there are many, many people in our midst who feel isolated, alone, outside the love of God. It’s true. For any number of reasons, many people they feel they are not worthy of God’s love, and therefore by extension, not worth of the Church’s embrace. That why our calling as a faith community is to reach-out with an extravagant welcome to all people. No one, people, no one is outside the Grace of God, period. And it’s our task, our calling as a people of faith to share that message.
How? Well, when we become an Open and Affirming congregation, (Well, when we grew into a congregation that opens its arms to embrace everyone,) we said to LGBTQ people, you’re not alone. When we support the food pantry, we’re saying to those who are hungry, those whose bills have out-distanced their pay-check, those who have had to choose between medication and food, you’re not alone. When we give to our United Church of Christ special offerings, I’m thinking especially about OGHS, we’re saying to those here in our nation and around the globe who have been displaced by natural disaster or war or famine; you’re not alone. And when we invite someone who’s on the outside-looking-in, for whatever reason, we, like the bald-headed-cheerleaders who embraced Joy, are saying; you’re not alone. And there are so many more examples I can’t even list them all. But the essence of what I’m saying here is that when we open our arms and hearts to a wide diversity of people, we’re saying to anyone who will listen, “even when you’re by yourself, you’re not alone.”
My friends, as we continue to live-into our resurrection calling, may we do so with the Grace of God, the Compassion of the Christ, and in the Presence of the Spirit. My prayer for each one of you here today, is that if you feel isolated from your community, for whatever reason, if you feel like you’re the one whose on the outside-looking-in, that you will indeed experience the presence of the Divine, feel the nearness of the Spirit, and that you will hear the cry of this congregation, saying to you, “you’re not alone.”
My friends, it is with great enthusiasm, and passion, and with a hopeful spirit that I wish all of you, a very meaningful and joyful Easter. Amen, and the people of God said, “Amen”
[i] William Slone Coffin Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) pg. 28