Sermon by Jered Weber-Johnson - Apr 01, 2018

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I have been warned this morning by our Saint John’s staff that I am to avoid any bad April Fools related jokes in the sermon. I was told that the choir might break out into spontaneous hymns if they caught even a whiff of something bordering on shenanigans, that someone might shout from the back, “Flag on the play!” Besides, with snow on the ground on April 1st, Easter morning, it feels like nature is pulling her own April Fools joke, and let’s be honest, it isn’t all that funny!

What’s more, despite the pastels and flowers and the plans for brunches later today, the joyful music and the shouts of Alleluia, it is difficult to avoid the truth that we get to here, to Easter morning, by way of Good Friday. We cannot come to today so easily ignoring the gravity of the Crucifixion and the events of the week that brought us to this day. And, while it may well have been said by others first, the oft quoted Anne Lamott writes, “We are Easter people, living in a Good Friday world.”

It is such a Good Friday world that brings Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome to the tomb on a cruel morning of grief. They come to anoint the body of a dearly beloved friend and teacher, and they are wondering to each other how they will roll back the stone to enter the grave. They arrive to find that the stone is already removed, and with alarm they enter to find the the body of Jesus gone, and a man robed in white sitting there, and he announces that Jesus has been raised. He bids them not to be afraid and exhorts them to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has gone on ahead, that he will be found in Galilee. And, Mark reports, they fled in terror and amazement and they told no one, for, they were afraid.

Like so much of Mark, this is a story of failure and fear, and an inability to see. Time and again, Mark’s gospel tells us that those closest to Jesus, the ones who had miracles performed right in front of their eyes, the ones who heard every sermon, and listened to every word of wisdom coming from Jesus’ lips, it was even, and sometimes especially, these who were incapable of grasping the reality of Jesus – who he was and what he meant for the world – or understanding how God’s power was at work in him bringing life and light to all he encountered. So the very first witnesses to the resurrection see the empty tomb, hear the proclamation that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and are given the charge to share this good news, and, they utterly fail. In the earliest manuscripts of the gospel of Mark, this is where the story ends, as though the scribe died himself in the transcription, pen trailing off the page, this awkward ending, fear, flight, and silence.

But, we would be unfair to judge the women too harshly. After all, who among us, confronted with resurrection, would do otherwise? In a world so defined by death, it is hard to imagine anything else. That God might upend the power of death, might challenge the powers of this world, governed as they are by greed and indifference, that God might ask us to live according to the possibilities of life and invite us to confront the same powers of death in our own lives – such a challenge to the status quo might have us fleeing in terror and amazement too. It takes a monumental shift of perspective to see around the corner, to look past the grave and see resurrection. It takes a miracle of imagination to see past the inevitability of death toward the possibility of life.

My son and I have been reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy together, the first time for him, and I don’t know how many times for me. And, I was moved again in the story as Frodo and his faithful companion Sam reach the final leg of their terrible journey. They have traveled long and wearying miles, and they have arrived in the land of the enemy, a place defined by death. Samwise, the earnest gardener turned squire, after taking his rest one grey morning looks out on the final miles to the end of their quest, and realizes that they only have enough food and water, enough provision to make it to the Mountain of Fire, the place where they will, if strength and fate allows, destroy the ring of power. But, as he looks, he realizes that once this heroic deed is accomplished, there will no return. As he looks, the heroic Sam, ever hopeful, submits to the unyielding reality of death. He cannot see the gathering of friends who have come to the gates of that terrible land to draw away the watchful eye of the enemy from his and Frodo’s quest. He cannot imagine the arrival of the Eagles to rescue them from the fires of Mount Doom. He cannot see around the corner past death to the possibility of life.

Nor can we.

This week I had the privilege of hearing several wonderful sermons at the liturgies of Holy Week. In one of them, the Reverend Doctor Neil Elliott reminded us that the trouble of Holy Week is not whether we can muster the imagination to find ourselves there at the foot of the cross where Jesus was crucified. The question, he asked, is not ‘were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ Rather, ‘are you here’? Neil reminded us, reminded me, that crucifixion, the body of Christ is wounded and pierced each and every day in myriad acts of injustice that happen in our world every day. From the Pulse nightclub to Parkland, from Tamir Rice and Philando Castile, from Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, to the hungry in our neighborhoods and the homeless in our cities. From the terminal diagnosis, the unrelenting depression, the denial of a visa or a green card, crucifixion is happening all around us. We live still in a Good Friday world.

So it was that I found myself standing last Saturday on the top of Wabasha Street watching as thousands upon thousands of youth marched for their lives in protest against a culture of death, a culture that honors the right to own tools of death more than it values the sanctity of children’s lives. I watched and I cheered them on with a knot of dozens from here and others from across the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, and we waved Palm Branches. It was after all the eve of Palm Sunday, a day when the church remembers Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a day that put Jesus on a collision course with Empire and death – a procession straight into the heart of power – an act of protest and resistance against the same. When young Emma Gonzalez addressed the marchers in Washington, she captured just what it means to live in a world enthralled by a culture of death. Of the horrific events that thrust her and her classmates onto a national stage, she said “No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this [could] reach or where this could go. For those who still can’t comprehend because they refuse to, I’ll tell you where it went. Right into the ground – six feet deep.” For a culture that is held in the thrall of death and those who profit from it, the story always ends at the grave.

But, as we say in the Burial Rite, a liturgy defined by the hope of resurrection, even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. So it is, that if the work of faith is to not just remember the crucifixion, but recognize it in the world around us, so our work is to remember the resurrection, and to watch for it too in the world around us. As wave upon wave of teens and children crested that hill on Saturday, marching for their lives, I wept as I cheered. I knew in that moment that I was witnessing resurrection. Emma Gonzalez and her peers, and youth across the country had the imagination to see beyond crucifixion to the possibility of something better, to a world not held in the thrall of death – a world that claimed new life and hope. And, resurrection is there in every act of resistance. It is there with every woman who has the courage to say “me too”. It is there with every kid in Chicago’s south side, in Ferguson, in Saint Paul who had the audacity to declare that their life matters. It is there when we show our wounds to one another and when we tell our vulnerable stories, and listen deeply. My friends this morning we declare that Jesus has been raised, the tomb is empty, and we are called to have an imagination that can see past the grave to the possibility of life – that Jesus has gone on ahead and will meet us out in a world so in need of acts of resistance, and justice, and love. Let us be Easter people living in a Good Friday world!

Alleluia, the Lord is risen!

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!