Why Easter Matters

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday B, April 5, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 25.6-9; Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; John 20.1-18.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the greatest and most joyous Christian celebration of all, Christmas included. But why? Why do we as Christians celebrate the fact that we are people of the cross and resurrection people? What does Easter have to do with all that is going on in our world and our personal lives? What does it have to do with us who live in the 21st century? It is these questions I want us to look at this morning.

In both our NT and epistle lessons, Peter and Paul proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to their respective audiences, who just happen to be Gentiles. Peter tells Cornelius and his household about Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen, ascended, and now reigning as Lord of all creation. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, was not quite as comprehensive, focusing instead on Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Christians, we need to be clear about what we mean by the Good News or gospel of Jesus Christ, in part because it will help us see why Easter matters. As we have seen before, news is not the same as advice. When we talk about news we talk about something that has happened and as a result our present and future are changed in significant ways. For example, when we receive the news that we are new parents, we celebrate and realize that our present and future are going to be different. When we receive the news that a loved one has died, we grieve and realize that our lives will never be the same. So news focuses on what is happening (or not happening). Its primary job is not to offer us advice or guidance (do this, don’t do that). It reports on important and life-changing events.

If we understand this definition of news, we are ready to better understand what Peter and Paul were announcing when they proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that we are saved by the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection while in our NT lesson, Peter does not explain immediately why Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and reign as Lord of all creation is Good News, only that it is. But we have other clues in the NT to help us.

Elsewhere, Paul tells us that on the cross, Jesus’ death brought about reconciliation between God and humans, that once we were estranged and hostile toward God because of our evil deeds. And as Scripture makes abundantly clear in both the OT and NT, our sin brought about God’s curse and our death (see, e.g., Genesis 3.1-19; Romans 6.20-23). But now because of Jesus’ death, we are reconciled to God and can enjoy peace with him instead of hostility because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh so that God would not have to condemn us, thanks be to God (Colossians 1.19-23; Romans 8.1-4)! The Good News in this should be immediately obvious to us. Once we were dead people walking, cut off from our very Life Source (God) and without hope for any kind of real future other than the years granted to us in our mortal life. But now because of God’s intervention on our behalf in and through Jesus’ death, a real and historical event (i.e., news), we are people who have real life and hope because we have been reconnected to our Life Source, all because of what Jesus did for us.

I can hear some of you now. That’s all well and good, Father Maney, but isn’t this a sermon more appropriate for Good Friday? This is Easter, dude. Get with the program. Get to the good part about the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunts and baskets and stuff. Wait. What? It is precisely because of the resurrection that we can say and believe about the cross what we have just said. Without God vindicating Jesus by raising him from the dead, the cross would still be a sign of failure and shame, and we would still be dead people walking. There’s no real news in that because nothing has really changed. Neither can we find much Good News in the resurrection without connecting it to the cross. Without the atoning and sacrificial death of our Lord, his resurrection would only have been good news for him. Sensational news perhaps, but certainly not Good News for us, because without the cross we are still dead in our sin. That is why we must always view Jesus’ death and resurrection together.

Jesus’ death and resurrection announce to us that we matter to God and that he intends to rescue us and restore us to be the fully human creatures he created us to be. And Jesus’ resurrection announces that God’s new world has broken in on his old and hurting world, and that God intends to redeem and heal all creation just as he has healed and redeemed us in and through the death of Jesus. God has freed and healed us so that we can once again take our rightful place as God’s wise stewards to rule with Christ over God’s new world, just as God intended in the beginning when he created the cosmos (cf. Genesis 1.1-2.4; 1 Corinthians 6.2-4).

And since there has been so much bad teaching (or no teaching at all) about the resurrection, let us be clear about what the NT writers are talking about when they are speak of resurrection. Resurrection does not mean there is life after death, although as Christians we believe that our souls will go and be with Jesus (cf. Luke 23.43) until he returns and we are equipped with new resurrection bodies patterned after his. Even though this is true, the fact remains that until we get those new bodies, we are still dead. For you see, God didn’t create us solely as spirits. He created us to be physical creatures who have a body, mind, soul, and spirit.

Resurrection therefore means coming all the way through death and out the other side, just as Jesus did. It means God raised and reanimated Jesus’ body, a body that was no longer susceptible to death or illness or infirmity, a body that is physical and can be touched and seen and heard as Matthew, Luke, and John attest. This is because creation matters to God. That’s why he created it (and us) in the first place. And even though God’s good creation has become corrupted by human sin and evil, it has always been God’s intention to heal and restore his good creation and its human creatures gone bad. This is the essential overarching story of the Bible and in Jesus’ resurrection we see God’s rescue of his good world and image-bearing creatures reach its climax. To be sure, God’s rescue of us and his world has not yet been consummated. That is painfully obvious to one and all. But our rescue and healing have nevertheless been accomplished, if not yet fully implemented.

This is why Jesus’ death and resurrection is the turning point in history and why it is Good News. Before Christ, we were lost in our sins and God’s good world was thoroughly corrupted and without hope. But after Good Friday and Easter, everything changed, not only for us as God’s image-bearing creatures, but for all of creation. Now we are resurrection people who have a future and a hope. And because we have a future and a hope, so too does all creation because when we get fixed, so does all of creation (cf. Romans 8.18-25). As we have seen, this is why we are saved and this is what Jesus was talking about when he proclaimed the rule or kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.

We see this theme of new creation presented powerfully in our gospel lesson, at least for those of us who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts and minds to believe. Think about it. John tells us it was the first day of the week when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. She didn’t come expecting to find a risen Jesus. She came to mourn and finish anointing his dead body. So why would John bother to tell us it was the first day of the week? Think about how his gospel opens. In the beginning… What other story opens with these words? The creation narratives in Genesis 1.1-2.4! On the first day God began his creative work. And what happened on the sixth day? God created humans, the pinnacle of his creative activity, to run his good world. But then humans sinned and we were banned from paradise, losing our intended place in God’s created order. What happened on the sixth day (Friday) in John’s gospel? Jesus died with the words, “It is finished!”. But what was finished? The reconciliation of God and his human creatures and the restoration of our full humanity, thus equipping those of us who follow Jesus to be rulers with him in God’s new world. And then what did God do on the seventh day? God rested from his work, just as in the tomb Jesus rested from his work on Holy Saturday, the seventh day.

Now it is the first day of the week, and John wants us to see it is the beginning of God’s new world because Jesus has been raised from the dead. God’s salvation of his broken and hurting world and its peoples had been accomplished and this is what Jesus tells Mary to go proclaim to his disciples. This is the resurrection faith that enabled the early church to grow like wildfire, even in the face of fierce resistance and persecution, because the first followers of Jesus were convinced that they were being called to live, not in the last days, but in the first days of God’s new world, and they were to proclaim it to others. More about that in a moment.

This is the Big Picture of Easter and this is why Easter matters. But let’s get a little closer to home. Why does Easter matter for us on a personal level? What difference can our Easter faith make for us as we live out our lives in a world that seems to be increasingly mad? To help answer these questions, come with me to Jesus’ tomb with Mary. Bring someone or something you know with you, someone who is hurting or afraid or broken—it might be yourself—or something that is causing you great pain. Let us stand next to Mary as she weeps and asks where they have taken her Lord. Now say with her, “They have taken away…” and fill in the blank (taken away my health, my hope, my dignity, my job, my loved one). Pause for a moment and let the tears come because tears are an appropriate and necessary part of grief, even for Christians. Then stoop down and look inside the tomb. Where did those angels come from? They weren’t there before. Could it be that we can only see angels through our tears and sorrow and fear? Maybe. Maybe not. But remember that in Scripture, whenever angels encounter fearful and hurting people, they tell them not to be afraid and ask why they are crying. Why is that? Do they know something we do not know or see something we do not see before we encounter the risen Christ?

Now turn around and see that strange figure standing by you and listen as Jesus calls your name or the name of the one you have brought with you. Listen to his voice and hear in it greeting, consolation, invitation, and a gentle rebuke (Really? Don’t you know me?) all rolled into one. Then let Jesus’ healing love wash over you and penetrate you in the power of the Spirit, and take it from there in faith. Realize that our Lord is available to you each and every day of your life through prayer, Scripture, the eucharist, worship, fellowship, and even the mundane circumstances of life. This, I think, is what Jesus was trying to tell Mary when he told her not to hold onto him, that he was going to be available to her from now on in a different way than she was accustomed, but that he was going to be available to her nevertheless.

Take it from there with real hope because Jesus is your present hope and future reality. For you see, resurrection is not a concept. It’s a person and Jesus is available to you and yours right now to bring healing, hope, redemption, and new life in the power of the Spirit. Don’t misunderstand. The resurrection doesn’t take away magically the pain or loss or sorrow we all experience. Real hurt still hurts. What the resurrection promises us is this: In Jesus, and as his people united to him by faith and in the power of the Spirit, God has promised to heal and redeem our loss and hurt, and for all eternity. This is why Easter matters to us personally.

And this is our call as Easter people. Because we know that in Jesus’ resurrection, God’s new world has broken in on the old and damaged creation to heal and redeem it, we know that we too must follow our Lord’s example to help bring about the kingdom on earth as in heaven. We are called to be reconcilers and peacemakers and healers in the manner of our Lord. Part of the Good News is that the risen and ascended Jesus is now Lord of all creation and we are called to embody his healing love to everybody, especially our enemies. In other words we are called to be signs of new creation for a hurting and broken world that desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and be changed by it. Some will scoff at this and call into question Jesus’ Lordship under God the Father. If Jesus is Lord, they sneer, he’s doing a lousy job. Where’s the new creation? Look at all the evil that still exists in the world. Kids die of horrible diseases, injustice is rampant, wars never seem to cease. I bet those Kenyans don’t think Jesus is Lord or that God’s new creation has begun to break in on God’s world. If Jesus is Lord and God, why doesn’t he just flex his muscles and fix his world?

But if we think it through for a minute, this is not how God has chosen to work. As we have seen, the cross is a vivid example of how God works to defeat evil and bring about healing and reconciliation. As Paul would tell the Corinthians, the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing because they cannot come to believe that God can and does work this way. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. We believe this because we have experienced God’s rescue and believe in a God who calls into existence things that do not exist and gives life to the dead (Romans 4.17) starting first with Jesus of Nazareth, our resurrection and life. In other words, we believe in a God who can easily do the impossible. We know therefore that our work in the Lord, our work to embody God’s love and be signs of God’s new creation, is not in vain. Evil, sin, and death have been defeated and the power of God has burst into his world in a new and surprising way in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is how we live out our Easter faith and this is what gives our life real meaning and purpose.

And if you doubt that Jesus is Lord or that new creation has broken in on God’s hurting world, I invite you to look no further than our little church. What a remarkable group of faithful Christians! Consider our various ministries and how they embody God’s love for his world and its people. See how we love one another and show it in tangible ways. Ask the Collins’ or Dowlings if you don’t believe me. See our wonderful fellowship at work in our various gatherings, especially when we gather to worship. Notice the indefatigable spirit we have about our mission and purpose, even when our work sometimes seems to make no difference at all. Look at the wonderful folks God has called together. None of this is by accident because God is intricately involved in the most minute details of our lives, both individually and collectively. Now by some standards of measurement, our size and scope of reach might suggest our work really isn’t of any consequence. But don’t try telling that to Jesus or Paul or any one of us for that matter. We are content to let God be God and to do the work he calls us to do so that we can be living signs of his new creation who bring God’s healing love to bear on the world. This is what it means to have an Easter faith and this is why Easter matters, not only to us but to all of God’s creation.

This is why we must celebrate and party like it is the eschaton during these next 50 days of Easter and this is my challenge to you this morning. What are ways we can celebrate God’s victory over evil, sin, and death and announce to the world that God’s new creation has been launched? How can we be signs of God’s new creation with an unmistakable and infectious joy? Most of us do Lent pretty well and that is to be commended. But this is Eastertide, the 50 days where we celebrate the beginning of God’s new world and our part in it, both now and in the future! How can we let other people in on the Good News so that they might stop and ask us why we do what we do and why we are so doggone happy in doing it. Whatever that looks like—and we need to have an ongoing conversation about this—let us do it with joy, hope, faith, and power, the power of people who have been healed and redeemed and called to be with Jesus in this world and the new world to come. During this Eastertide, therefore, let us live and work and speak as people who know unmistakably that we have Good News, not only for our sake but also for the sake of the world, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

An Ancient Account on How Those Who Were Baptized at Easter Were Instructed

The season of Lent has always been a time when the Church prepared new converts to become full members by instructing them in matters of the faith and preparing them for baptism. Here is a description from how this was done in the 4th century in Jerusalem.

I must also describe how those who are baptized at Easter are instructed. Those who give their names do so the day before Lent, and the priest notes down all their names; and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here. When the priest has noted down everyone’s name, then on the following day, the first day of Lent, on which the eight weeks begin, a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church, the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward, in such a Way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers.

Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring; “Does this person lead a good life? Obey parents? Is this person a drunkard or a liar?” And the bishop seeks out in the candidate other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters concerning which the bishop has questioned the witnesses who are present, the bishop notes down the candidate’s name. If, however, the candidate is accused of anything, the bishop orders the person to go out and says: “Let such a one amend their life, and when this is done, then approach the baptismal font.” He makes the same inquiry of both men and women.  If, however, some are strangers, such people cannot easily receive baptism, unless they have witnesses who know them.

Ladies, my sisters, I must describe this, lest you think that it is done without explanation. It is the custom here, throughout the forty days on which there is fasting, for those who are preparing for baptism to be exorcised by the clergy early in the morning, as soon as the dismissal from the morning service has been given at the Anastasis. Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Martyrium. All those who are to be baptized, both men and women, sit closely around the bishop, while the godmothers and godfathers stand there; and indeed all of the people who wish to listen may enter and sit down, provided they are of the faithful. A catechumen, however, may not enter at the time when the bishop is teaching them the law. The bishop does so in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning.  In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of faith. This is called catechetics.

When five weeks or instruction have been completed, they then receive the Creed The bishop explains the meaning of each of the phrases of the Creed in the same way as Holy Scripture was explained, expounding first the literal and then the spiritual sense. ln this fashion the Creed is taught.

And thus it is that in these places all the faithful are able to follow the Scriptures when they are read in the churches, because all are taught through these forty days, that is, from the first to the third hours, for during the three hours instruction is given. God knows, ladies, my sisters,  that the voices of the faithful who have come to catechetics to hear instruction on those things being said or explained by the bishop are louder than when the bishop sits down in church to preach about each of those matters which are explained in this fashion. The dismissal from catechetics is given at the third hour, and immediately, singing hymns, they lead the bishop to the Anastasis [the cross], and the office of the third hour takes place. And thus they are taught for three hours a day for seven weeks. During the eighth week, the one which is called the Great Week, there remains no more time for them to be taught, because what has been mentioned above must be carried out.

Now when seven weeks have gone by and there remains only Holy Week, which is here called the Great Week, then the bishop comes in the morning to the major church, the Martyrium. To the rear, at the apse behind the altar, a throne is placed for the bishop, and one by one they come forth, the men with their godfathers, the women with their godmothers. And each one recites the Creed back to the bishop. After the Creed has been recited back to the bishop, the bishop delivers a homily to them all, and says: “During these seven weeks you have been instructed in the whole law of the Scriptures, and you have heard about the faith. You have also heard of the resurrection of the flesh. But as for the whole explanation of the Creed, you have heard only that which you are able to know while you are still catechumens. Because you are still catechumens, you are not able to the those things which belong to a higher mystery, that of baptism. But that you may not think that anything would be done without explanation, once you have been baptized in the name of God, you will hear of them during the eight days of Easter in the Anastasis following the dismissal from church. Because you are still catechumens, the most secret of the divine mysteries cannot be told to you.”

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 45-46

St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

An Easter Prayer

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Holy Saturday

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the LORD brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

–Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)

LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

–Psalm 88 (NIV)

It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally executed. The women had seen his bloodied and pierced body taken down from the cross and buried. The man his disciples had hoped was Israel’s Messiah was dead and every good Jew knows that God’s Messiah doesn’t get crucified like a criminal–or so they thought.

Surely today’s texts would have reflected the utter devastation and hopelessness Jesus’ followers must have felt on that first Saturday. Like the psalmist above, surely they were asking the “why questions”–Why did this happen to Jesus? Why did God allow this to happen? Where was God in all of it? Why had he apparently abandoned not only Jesus but them as well? For you see, Jesus’ followers did not have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight we have. They were definitely not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead because there was nothing in their Scripture that would have prepared them for what God did in Jesus that first Easter Sunday. And we fail to take Jesus’ death seriously if we gloss over all this and simply want to skip ahead to tomorrow.

But that is not how life works, is it? We typically don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight as we live out our days and here is where we can learn some things about faith and hope as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. Each one of us has our own hurts and sorrows and brokenness. Perhaps it stems from a job we did not get or that we lost. Perhaps a loved one got sick and died despite our prayers for healing. Perhaps we have had our families torn apart by divorce or addiction. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too have had our expectations violated, and typically more than once. We’ve had our hopes and dreams shattered to one degree or another, and like Jesus’ first disciples, we look around and ask why. We wonder where God is in it all and why he has apparently abandoned us.

And this is precisely why Holy Saturday can be helpful to us because if we really believe in a sovereign God, Holy Saturday is a time when we must wait on him and see how he is going to act in our lives. We must put aside our limited expectations and wait and see what God is going to do in and through us. Like the psalmist in his utter desolation above, we too must cling to our hope in God and his mercy, in God and his sovereign power, and in doing so we will discover that we gain some much needed and desired patience. It is a patience tempered with humility as we wait on our Sovereign God to see what he will do to bring new life out of our own desolation, fears, and violated expectations.

We wait on this Holy Saturday even though it is not entirely possible to block out the wondrous truth that happened that first Easter. Unlike Jesus’ first disciples, we do know how the story turns out. While we didn’t expect a crucified Messiah, we have seen his dead body taken down from the cross and we have seen the empty tomb and heard the stunned and joyous testimony of the first eyewitnesses. And like his first disciples, this has violated our expectations. But we realize that God’s power and plans for us are so much better than our own. As we wait for Easter morning on this Holy Saturday, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life. Remember that if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, he can surely do mind-blowing things for you and in and through you (or as a cabbie once said to Bishop Tom Wright, “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?”), no matter who you are or what you are dealing with. As you do wait on God–and this will not happen overnight–you will also discover you are gaining the prerequisite humility and patience that you need to open yourself up fully to the Presence and Power of God’s Holy Spirit living in you. And when that happens you will have the assurance that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Fr. Ron Feister: Truth? What is Truth?

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 3, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22.1-31; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is at about the half-way point in the reading of the Passion that we encounter a dialog between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate begins by asking Jesus if he is a King. Jesus responds “you say that I am a King . For this I as born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belong to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate then makes the statement, perhaps even asking, What is the Truth? No response from Jesus is recorded. Pilate immediately goes out and tries to convince the people that Jesus should be set free. We can only wonder what caused such a reaction on Pilate’s part.

Almost all of you know that I make my living as an attorney. Despite that bad public image often portrayed, it is a profession, that deeply values getting down to the truth. We seek it in our clients, we expect it from our fellow attorneys, it is the standard that the Court system upholds as an ideal. Failure to be truthful is often subject to various and sometimes very severe penalties. None-the-less it does not take very long for the newly admitted lawyer, to realize that the truth is often very difficult to find, very difficult to determine and very difficult at times to share. Our clients tell us their stories, they tell us their version of the truth, and while some willingly lie, this is the rarity, rather most share their version of the truth drawn from their individual perspective. As lawyers, we must initially at least, except these versions of the facts as the truth; however, as time passes we hear the other sides version of the truth, it is not unusual for very different picture to develop.

As I read the Passion narrative, I am struck by the fact that we have a number of actors who all believe that they are the ones who possess the truth. First of these in my mind, would be Peter. He knew that he would always be the courageous one who would stand by his Lord and never deny Him. He knew that he was willing to die for Jesus if needed and in fact, when the time of Jesus’ arrest came, it was probably Peter at some considerable risk who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Yet it is the same Peter, who would find out the truth of how weak his faith was, when he denies even knowing the Lord three times before the Cock crows.

It is hard to figure out what Judas believed to be the truth. There are many stories of his dishonesty or lack of honest faith, but these are stories that are more legend than biblical accounts. It is probably honest to say the Judas, like most of the Jewish community of that time, knew in their hearts that the truth was that the Messiah would come and be a military hero and free the people from foreign domination. His truth did not match well with the Jesus who patterned himself after the suffering servant of Isaiah. Judas’ truth made it easy for him to betray the Lord for to Judas, Jesus had betrayed his truth of who the Messiah was to be.

The High Priests had their truth. It was that Jesus was a phony. Jesus would by his claims cause the Roman authorities to bring destruction and death to the Jewish people. It was justifiable that one man would die for the nation. No doubt some of this truth was very self-serving allowing the religious elect to exercise their special and privileged role, but at least for some, these truths were no doubt genuinely believed.

Pilate also had his truth. He believed himself to be a powerful king with power over life and death. Yet in the end, he could not even face down the shouts of an angry mob to preserve the life of one whom he knew was innocent.

There were the disciples who had believed in Jesus and expected that in some manner he would bring about a great restoration – perhaps political, but definitely religious. Following our Lord’s crucifixion they were devastated and in despair. For these faithful ones, the truth was that the center of their lives had been taken away and there hope destroyed. Their truth was that they felt alone, scared and bewildered.

What then is truth for us? Do we like Peter believe in our hearts that should it be necessary that we are willing to die for our Lord. Fortunately we live in the Untied States in a place and time where while our values may be challenged at every hand still our lives are not at risk and yet in many places of the world, there are those who are called to give their lives for Jesus. Let us hope and pray that we may never have to see how real that truth is for us. Yet even in our daily living, the Lord asks us to die to ourselves in many smaller ways that we may be more like him. Do we embrace that truth? Is our truth more like that of Judas?

Do we crave for a mighty God, perhaps even a warrior God, who will come with his armies and straighten up this crooked and falling world. Yet the Lord does not come in such a manner, but rather comes in quiet ways, through his people, who are willing to come as suffering servants who are willing to experience suffering and criticism to lessen the burdens of all God’s people not just those with whom we agree but those who condemn us as well. If God does not seem to be acting powerfully in our world or in our lives, are we like Judas, when the times comes willing to betray our Lord by accepting the values of this world.

Tonight we join with the disciples at the foot of the Cross. We see in a symbolic way the terrible death upon that tree. As the evening goes on and we wait through the day on Holy Saturday in somber remembrance, we wait with quiet and reflection, but here we differ from the first disciples, for we also wait with expectation and hope, for we are waiting for a celebration – thee celebration for Christians – the annual remembrance of Christ being raised from the tomb and forever breaking death’s hold over us. Because of the Cross, we need not fear the future, we known that Jesus has only been taken away from us for awhile, that in our coming celebration of the Resurrection, we are assured that he is with us still today and that his gift of the Holy Spirit can and will sustain us during even our darkest hours. This then becomes part of who we are; it becomes at least part of our truth.

Jesus through his life and teachings revealed may truths: that God can be best understood as Father. That we must see our neighbor as the one who is in need. That giving is not measured by the amount but by the intention and sacrifice of the heart. That love of God and love of neighbor are the two great commandments. That God does not so much ask for external sacrifices, but desires mostly broken and open hearts willing to be healed and filled. That we prodigal children will always be welcomed home in the Father’s love. That we must receive God’s gift of faith in the way of little children.

That God can be worshipped anywhere and anytime. That leaders are call to be servants. That with enough faith we can move mountains. That water can be turned to wine, but more importantly that sinners can and are being turned into saints.

Why is it that Jesus is able to reveal these truths and many more? It is because that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is only through Jesus and his great sacrifice that we can find our way to the Father. It is only through Jesus, the true suffering servant of Isaiah, that though being despised by men, that we can see the way the Father has compassion for all of his creation. It is through the way Jesus lived his life that we can see what our lives should be like. Jesus is the Light as he reflects the glory of God Almighty. Jesus is the light as he brings hope into a hopeless world. Jesus is the Light as he reveals the Father’s plan for our lives.

Jesus does not just teach truths. Jesus does not just speak truthfully. Rather Jesus is the Truth for he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, of all that is and will be. Jesus is the very Word of the Father spoken in human form. No greater Truth can be spoken.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good Friday: Notable and Quotable (2)

There is a Tree, “mystical and eternal” which rises above the hills of time. Where its shadow falls, there God’s claim rests upon us and something is exacted of us. Those who have entered even a little way into the silence of the threefold hour [of Jesus’ crucifixion] are bound to say, “This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.”

–The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 52

Good Friday: Notable and Quotable (1)

Sometimes just as we have come to accept “the withering away of the Cross,” a silence falls…darkness,…and it strikes us how mortal we are and that before three decades have passed, or four, our very names will be unremembered and all we strive for as if it had never been.

Yes, and it is here [at the foot of the cross] where at last we find the courage to address [Jesus] with the same desperate familiarity with which a man just beyond his reach [the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus]–yet not beyond his reach–dares to plead, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” Remember me! For if you do not remember me, I shall go down to the dust bereft and unremembered of all.

–The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 50

Carlo Carretto Stands at the Foot of the Cross

As for me, I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced for myself the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.

But Jesus is not only the Image of the Father, the Revealer of the dark knowledge of God. That would be of little avail to me in my weakness and my sinfulness: he is also my Saviour.

On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both heaven and earth.

What sin was there that I had not committed? Or what sin had I as yet not committed simply because the opportunity had not come my way?

Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse, the the good Samaritan on the way to Jericho; he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins, blood that would certainly have flowed away, had he not intervened.

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

When, through my tears, I began to tell him something of the years during which I betrayed him, he lovingly placed his hand over my mouth in order to silence me. His one concern was that I should muster courage enough to pick myself up again, to try and carry on walking in spite of my weakness, and to believe in his love in spite of my fears. But there was one thing he did, the value of which cannot be measured, something truly unbelievable, something only God could do.

While I continued to have doubts about my own salvation, to tell him that my sins could not be forgiven, and that justice, too, had its rights, he appeared on the Cross before me one Friday towards midday.

I was at its foot, and found myself bathed with the blood which flowed from the gaping holes made in his flesh by the nails. He remained there for three hours until he expired.

I realized that he had died in order that I might stop turning to him with questions about justice, and believe instead, deep within myself, that the scales had come down overflowing on the side of love, and that even though all, through unbelief or madness, had offended him, he had conquered for ever, and drawn all things everlastingly to himself.

Then later, so that I should never forget that Friday and abandon the Cross, as one forgets a postcard on the table or a picture in the wornout book that had been feeding one’s devotion, he led me on to discover that in order to be with me continually, not simply as an affectionate remembrance but as a living presence, he had devised the Eucharist.

What a discovery that was!

Under the sacramental sign of bread, Jesus was there each morning to renew the sacrifice of the Cross and make of it the living sacrifice of his bride, the Church, a pure offering of the Divine Majesty.

And still that was not all.

He led me on to understand that the sign of bread testified to his hidden presence, not only during the Great Sacrifice, but at all times, since the Eucharist was not an isolated moment in my day, but a line which stretched over twenty-four hours: he is God-with-us, the realization of what had been foretold by the cloud that went before the people of God during their journey through the desert, and the darkness which filled the tabernacle in the temple at Jerusalem.

I must emphasize that this vital realization that the sign of bread concealed and pointed out for me the uninterrupted presence of Jesus beside me was a unique grace in my life. From that moment he led me along the path to intimacy, and friendship, with himself.

I understood that he longed to be present like this beside each one of us.

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

A home without bread is not a home, but a home without friendship is nothing.

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond