Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

Series: Living the Resurrection: Fruit of the Spirit: JOY

The women went to the tomb while it was still dark. That threatening time when Jesus performed his most notorious wonders. They’re in the dark, both literally and figuratively. We the listener might know what’s about to happen, but all they know is that they saw their friend and Lord horribly murdered. And they were simply going to take care of the body.

But you know the story. They found the tomb empty. Jesus stood alive in front of them.

Fear turned to joy. Grief softened to amazement. Terror melted into gladness. That’s what happened one Sunday morning.

They definitely did not see it coming. They had watched Jesus die. They put him in his grave. They said their good-byes and cried their tears, probably wondering if this guy had swindled them, conned them into thinking he was something he wasn’t.

But that morning, while it was still dark, they learned something new about God.

They learned that God can’t be contained. Not by a grave. Not by locked doors. There is nothing that can keep God from doing what God wants. There is no security system that can keep us safe from Christ’s invasions on our lives.

He came to his first disciples and he promises to keep coming back, intruding on us, pressing in upon us, opening the doors we thought were tightly locked. The locked doors of our hardened hearts. The locked doors of our grief. The locked doors of our anger and pain. The locked doors of our fear and doubt. Even the locked doors of our deaths.

Jesus keeps slithering into our lives despite our best efforts to lock him out. And he’ll keep coming back to us, breathing on us. Giving us life.

And this is what our faith is based on.Our faith is based on this Easter miracle. Our relationship to God - thank God - is not based on what we can feel or believe or think. Our faith is based on the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead, and has come to you, slipped through whatever locked door you were hiding behind, breathed his life-giving Spirit upon you, and raised you up toward God. (Willimon)

That’s what Easter is all about.

Today we’re beginning our worship series called Living the Resurrection: The Fruit of the Spirit, based on Galatians 5 that we heard earlier this morning. We’re taking the “fruit” out of order and starting today with “Joy,” which I think is appropriate for Easter Day.

I’m told that Mother Teresa had a rule for the women in her order, a rule which she wouldn’t budge from. The rule was: be joyful. Be joyful. (“C’mon! Be joyful! Dammit!”)

If a sister in her order wasn’t smiling, brimming with celestial joy then the sister would be benched until she could find the joy she was told to have.

I don’t want to take anything away from Mother Teresa’s ministry, but I don’t think joy works that way. How can joy be demanded of someone? How can you turn joy into a rule, something you MUST do? Isn’t that kind of missing the point?

I think Joy is something that comes to us. It flows spontaneously from being encountered by a circumstance, or something or someone so loving and so life-giving that we can’t help but respond with a welling of the heart.

And that’s what happened at the empty tomb early one Sunday morning. Something so strange and life-affirming happened – death was defeated. And all the women could do was run home and joyfully proclaim to their friends that they “have seen the Lord.”

St. John Chrysostom’s (aka “the Golden Mouth”) Easter sermon, which I’m going to read for you in a minute, is a great outpouring of joy for what God has done for us in Jesus. Chrysostom found words that I couldn’t, even when they were right in front of my face, snatching stories from the bible and kicking them into life.

Chrysostom is one of history’s great preachers. He, apparently, would preach for six hours and the congregation would freak out when he stopped. They flick their lighters, like at a Bruce Springsteen concert, demanding an encore. Then he’d get back behind the pulpit and go at it for another hour or so.

So, settle in and get comfortable, (ushers, lock the back doors) I’m going to read his Easter sermon.

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!
And any who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.
And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the attempt.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!

Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of Christ’s goodness!

Let no one grieve at her poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn because you have fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.

He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!


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