Sunday, April 08, 2007
TRIUMPH OVER DESPAIR
Easter sermons try to capture the power of Biblical account
Sunday, April 08, 2007
BY JEFF DIAMANT
For Christians, the Biblical tale of Jesus' resurrection -- central to today's Easter celebrations around the world -- carries joyous emotional power not just from the religious import of the resurrection, but for its contrast to the despair of the crucifixion.
Many clergy, in sermons accompanying Easter liturgies before packed churches today, will speak vividly of both life and death, of light and darkness. Here are excerpts from three sermons that will be heard in New Jersey today:
From Archbishop John J. Myers of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark:
"Easter celebrates a fact but forces us to go beyond normal human ways of thinking and acting.
"After His passion and death, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Everyone knows that people don't come back from the dead. St. Paul himself was laughed out of a temple by priests for claiming something so preposterous.
"Even the notion of Resurrection itself is difficult to grasp. It is not like Lazarus coming back alive. Nor is it like any of the famous monster movies. It is not even like science fiction. Those things are restoration to a life that we already know. It is easy to imagine that. It is comfortable because we are in control. There is mystery on how it comes about but not in what it is.
"Yet, Jesus was transformed. He entered a new order of existence. The post-Resurrection events recorded in Holy Scripture disclose this. It is unlike anything we know, yet related to all that went before. It is important for us to keep this in mind.
"Just as the limits of our understanding are stretched by the true notion of Resurrection, so the life we live now, life in the Risen Lord, carries us beyond our normal limits just as Jesus' life did Him. Our life in Christ leads us beyond the limits of our own control; beyond the limits of our ability to accept or deal with events; beyond the limits of our ability to endure; beyond the limits of our ability to give even when we feel we cannot give any more.
"Jesus went through rejection, betrayal, death, and endured the incomprehension of His disciples. But through His fidelity to the Will of God, He was victorious.
"How often do we experience such situations? We experience insecurity, failure, both of ourselves and our loved ones, loneliness, pain, and sickness, or deep hurt. Do we see them as Jesus did -- as potential paths to a deeper life, to new life, to renewed life? Our world tends to seek 'self-fulfillment' at all costs. People race after the fleeting, after the ephemeral. They clutch for baubles.
"Jesus calls us and leads us through the normal limits when we do not understand, when we cannot go further, when we cannot give any more, when we want only some bit of attention for ourselves."
From the Rev. John W. Bechtel, Calvary Assembly of God, in Union.
"When several of the women, who were devoted followers of Jesus, showed up early Sunday morning at the tomb of Jesus, what were they searching for? What did they really expect to find?
"The truth is: They were expecting a dead Jesus! We know this because they brought the spices necessary to prepare His body for final burial. The women were expecting a dead Jesus. But, much to their surprise, they found the exact opposite. They were encountered by two angels, who said: 'Why do you look for the living, among the dead? He (Jesus) is not here, He is risen.' (Luke 24:5,6)
"When you come to church, what do you expect to find? When you open your Bible, what do you expect to find? When you kneel down to pray, what do you expect to find? People from every stratum in society spend their fortunes and energy searching in the craziest places for answers to life. Why? It's because they think that Jesus is just some long dead person of a time long ago.
"The first thing a person needs to do is stop expecting a dead, defeated Jesus and start looking for the living Savior Jesus. Don't stop at Good Friday! Don't leave Jesus hanging on the cross! You must move on to Easter to the Risen and Living Savior. Only then can you discover the full and true meaning to who Jesus is."
From the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, the Episcopal Church of St. Paul, in Chatham
"On Good Friday, 3-year-old Olivia Mollo came bursting into the Parish Hall where we were preparing to begin to walk the Stations of the Cross, pulled on my coat and asked urgently, "Reverend Elizabeth ... but ... why did Jesus die?"
"It was a question asked with all the seriousness of a heart attack. Her parents looked quizzically at her, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders in complete bewilderment as they looked to me for some assistance.
"Olivia's question ... has to do with 'the because of things.'
"Author E.M. Forster makes a distinction between story vs. plot. A story, says Forster, is a narrative of events arranged chronologically as in 'The king died, and then the queen died,' whereas a plot, although a narrative of events, concentrates more on the 'because of things,' as in 'the king died and then the queen died of grief.'
"Scripture is filled with story and plot, but theology is brim full of the 'because of things.' ... Because of the 'because of things' of your life, you may understand God in a certain way that is different from, say, my understanding of who God is ...
"My experience teaches me that you are here in church this morning because of the 'because of things' of your life. Some of you are here, perhaps for the first time since last year this time, because it is expected of you or, perhaps, because it is required of you.
"Others of you are here because you have heard the story of the life and death and resurrection of this man named Jesus of Nazareth, and you are curious about the 'because of things.' You, like little Olivia, want to know why it is that Jesus died. Why would God allow such a cruel fate to befall one's 'only begotten son'? What kind of God is this that we worship? And, if God is this cruel, why worship such a God at all? You are ready to move beyond the story, into the plot, and begin to formulate your own theology of the history of salvation.
"Still others of you have worked out for yourself the 'because of things' of the story of Jesus, and proclaim him as your Christ, your Divine Liberator who has helped set out for you a pathway which leads you to your Salvation. However, you ... want to know about perspective. Perhaps you have been driving along the road of your life and things have been moving much too quickly ...
"What I heard myself say to Olivia in response to her question was this: 'Jesus died because good people got confused and terrified. And, when people get confused and terrified, they can do bad things, things they never thought in a million years they could ever do. But, they do them anyway. That's exactly what happened to people in the time of Jesus. They got confused and terrified and because of that, Jesus died.'
"Confusion and terror are the enemies of intelligent thought and reason. They always have been. They always will be. Confusion and terror are also the assassins of the God-given gifts of possibility and creativity and imagination."