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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Long live God!

The processional cross - Easter Day - ASRB
Easter Day - March 31, 2013 
All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
(sung) Long live God! Long live God! Long live God! Long live God!

+In the name of God, who is Beloved, who is Love and who Loves us unconditionally.

This morning, this Easter Day, we find ourselves caught somewhere between our cultural celebration of Easter eggs and baby bunnies and precious little chicks and Easter candy and beautiful flowers – and the ancient texts of Isaiah, John’s Gospel and the report in the Book of Acts as the early church grapples with what to make of the Resurrection – and what we, thoroughly modern American people, are supposed to believe.

It’s not an easy place for the most devout, practicing Christian. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those of you who are among the fastest rising demographic in America - the “Spiritual but not Religious” or “the Nones”– to make any sense of it all.

I’ve read the statistics, and I’m willing to bet that there are more of you who would describe yourself as “The Nones” or – “Spiritual but not Religious” here this morning than there are traditional Episcopalians.   

I understand. You’re here out of a sense of duty or obligation – or because mom or dad or perhaps even your Nana and Pop-Pop gave you “the look” which told you that you had better just put on your dress or that suit and tie and get your sassy self to church, or no Easter chocolate for you!

It’s okay. I understand.  That’s why I’m talking directly to you this morning – the “Nones”. And, I want to talk to what I like to call the “Somes” because I know that some of you here today are faithful Christians who simply don’t understand the Resurrection. You want to but for the life of you, it just doesn’t make sense. You want to believe, but you doubt – and you secretly feel bad about that doubt.

Here’s a message in which I hope you will find some comfort and solace. If you’re looking for the celebration of the Resurrection to make sense, take heart! Let me assure you that it doesn’t. Make sense, that is. It just doesn’t. 

In fact, it’s downright absurd!

Informed as we are by scientific and technological advances, what is the modern, logical mind to make of the ancient vision of Isaiah of “a new heaven and a new earth” and the reports of those who were witnesses to the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried?

If we are to use the metric of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Peaceful Kingdom – where “the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox” – if that’s what Jesus was supposed to accomplish, then, by any standard – ancient or modern – Jesus seems an abysmal failure.  He seems to have suffered and died for nothing. I mean, what’s the point of the crucifixion, anyway?

In this morning’s lesson from ACTS, we hear Peter say, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

We long to realize the truth Peter speaks, but we only need listen to the debates about violence and gun control and Marriage Equality and Reproductive Justice and look at the nuclear threat of North Korea and the wall separating Israel from Palestine and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to know that we are no closer to achieving the dream of God in Christ than the early church was more than 2,000 years ago.

It seems a bit of a conundrum, then, to continue to celebrate the resurrection of God in Christ for which there is little, if any, historical evidence, much less scientific basis, and the effects of which simply failed to achieve its intended goal. 

As one person said to me, just this week, “Well, what do you expect if you believe that God allowed a hideously violent death of His Son? Do you really expect the Peaceful Kingdom to emerge from abandonment and betrayal and violence?”

Well, call me crazy, but yes. Yes, in fact, I do.

That’s because I believe in mystery. I believe in the mystery of the Trinity. I believe that there is a Sacred Unity to God in Three Persons – the One who Creates, the One who is Christ and the One who is Holy Spirit. I believe in this mystery because I believe that we are all connected, one to the other, and with all of the rest of creation.

The truth about being in relationship is that, in order for any relationship – friendship, marriage, community – to work, something inside each one of us needs to die in service to the other – or, another, greater good. 

Yes, the commercial jingle about hair products is right: You ARE worth it. But, it’s not all about “you.”  It’s not all about “me”. It’s about “us”. The “Sacred We”. Or, as Desmond Tutu’s Unbuntu theology teaches: “I am because you are.” This is true because of the sacred mystery of The Trinity.

God is ‘The Great I Am’ because Jesus is the Christ. And, the Holy Spirit who swirled over the chaos in the beginning and brought creation into being is ‘The Great I Am’ who also breathed life into the dead human body of Jesus and brought us the gift of new life.

The amazing mystery and truth of the Resurrection is that God allowed a part of Godself – which we call ‘the Son’ – to die so that we might more fully live into the gift of our creation. And, that gift is this: Free will.

It is autonomy with responsibility. We are free to make choices about how we live our lives in community. And, about the deaths we choose to die. And, good choices or bad choices, God loves us still. Unconditionally.  Or, as we hear St. Peter say in the Book of Acts, “all those who believe in God are forgiven.”

So, if you sacrificed your sense of fashion or decency or doubt to be here this morning, whether you know it or not, you are participating in the mystery and the miracle of the Resurrection. You have allowed something in you to die in service of someone you love.

Just imagine – try to imagine for one red hot New York minute – how great a love God has for us to allow a piece of Godself to suffer and die in service of people like you and me, those who had not yet been born at the time, but God knew were to come.

The Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, once wrote of an old African proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

I believe that the reason the story of the Resurrection continues to have such power is because it is the story of the hunted – not the hunters. It is the story of those who were hunted and still triumphed. It is the story of how sacrifice of the self in service of a greater good will always triumph over prejudice and oppression and violence.

I am talking to you this morning because I believe you – “The Nones”, the “Somes” and the “Spiritual but not Religious” – are God’s best hope for attaining The Peaceable Kingdom.

I believe that while the institutional church, more often than not, tangles itself up in the powers and principalities of the world, those who concern themselves with bringing beauty and justice and compassion and peace into the world – whether or not they are members of the institutional church – will have the greatest impact on ushering the Dream of God into the world. 

You keep us honest. You confront the institution with our own arrogance and pride in thinking we’ve got it all figured out.

So, if you don’t understand the Resurrection, perhaps you’ll understand something about the Easter Egg and why it is such a powerful cultural icon of the Resurrection.

I was recently told by a chicken farmer I care for as a Hospice Chaplain that, when a chick is about to hatch, if you try to help it by cracking the egg, it will not live long. It may hatch, but it will, in fact, die. 

There’s something about the struggle to have life that makes us strong.  There’s something about embracing the struggle to live that gives us the strength to live life more fully. The Easter Egg is about that struggle, that potential for new life that is within us all. And, because of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, we know that God is with us in the struggle.

And, Easter Bunnies? Well, they are a cultural icon of the abundance of life that God offers us all.  Bunnies are the gift that keeps on giving.

And, Easter flowers? Well, you only have to watch a daffodil push its head up against the hard, cold earth to understand the power of new life.

And, Easter chocolates? Ah, that is the sweetness of God’s unconditional love.

And, Easter bonnets? Well, they are a cultural icon of the beauty of that new life we are promised in the Resurrection.  That’s why I wore mine this morning.

My Holy Week meditation includes listening to the cultural interpretations of the life of Jesus in the musicals ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Godspell.’ 

There’s a song in Godspell that I especially love because it is a modern way of understanding the ancient power of Resurrection. The church often misses communicating that because, I think, we make it too complicated.

That’s why I think we – the church – need “the Nones” and the “Somes” and the “Spiritual but not Religious.” To remind us of the essence of the message of the story.

After Jesus has died, the women – like Mary Magdalene in this morning’s Gospel – begin to sing, “Long live God! Long live God! Long live God! Long live God!”  And then the men – like Peter and Andrew and John – begin to sing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”

It’s the message of the Resurrection. The lion of truth has triumphed over the hunters. They can kill the messenger but they can’t kill the message – the dream – of peace and justice and hope and self-sacrificing love. 

That message of the hunted lions is why The Episcopal Church has taken sometimes unpopular, counter-cultural stands on the rights of workers to a living wage – not just a minimum wage – and Immigration Reform, and Marriage Equality, and Reproductive Justice and Gun Control.

When we are at our best as a church – as Christians who proclaim to be the Body of Christ – we are the hunted lions of God’s truth who are going to write history by creating a new heaven and a new earth. 

We will turn the empty tombs into wombs of creativity and imagination and possibility and hope for those who have lost all hope of liberation.

Long live God! Prepare ye the way of the Lord! It’s happening again and will happen again, as sure as Spring will – finally! – arrive, bringing with it new life.

If you can’t remember anything about the details of the Resurrection, I hope you remember the essence of the message of the Resurrection this Easter Day.

Just to prove to you how crazy I really am, and how I believe in mystery and miracles, I’m going to ask you to sing it with me. Yes, sing.  And clap your hands. Yes, in church. If you know nothing else about the Resurrection, you’ll know this song and it’s message.

And, tomorrow, when you’re back to work or school, and someone asks if you went to church on Easter Day, and you say yes and they roll their eyes like you are an idiot, you’ll smile and sing:

Long live God! Long live God! Long live God! Long live God
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!



JCF said...

Oh man, you can't quote the ending of "Godspell" w/o actually linking to it!

I'm most familiar w/ the---can it REALLY be 40 years old???---movie version. Though I couldn't find the film ending on YouTube, here's the audio to it: [Geez, I miss 1973 arrangements---they just don't play rock&roll *organ* like that anymore, huh?]

And here's a decent stage version of the ending (though not w/ the Day-by-Day part):

One thing that made the movie so awesome, was that "NYC all to ourselves" quality. Then w/ the ending, they turned the corner...and BOOM! 1973 NYC back to life (and we're left to imagine how that Early Church we just saw, has somehow become a PART of Our Busy Life Now. Well, 1973 "now"!)

Some of the stage versions I looked at on YT, did what I consider to be cheating: an empty cross, instead of a corpse of their Superfriend to carry away. That's no comment on "the bodily resurrection"---I keep an open mind on that---just that the play loses the dramatic impact of that finale, w/o the disciples pitching in to carry him, celebrating "Long Live God/Prepare Ye/Day-by-Day" EVEN AS he's (apparently very) dead. The juxtaposition.

[Thanks, Lizbeth, for this PERFECT reminder, to end my Easter Day with---Alleluia, He is Risen!!! :-D]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are welcome, JCF. And, I was right - most of the people at the 11 AM were people I had never seen before. BUT, even the regulars appreciated the reminders.

It's all good.

it's margaret said...

Happy Easter Elizabeth!