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Easter Sunday A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

That first Easter, the women went before dawn prompted by grief, and returned from the tomb quickly, propelled by fear and great joy with good news for the disciples. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen, indeed.)

Let all things living rejoice. In our gospel all things living includes everything that there is. The line between animate and inanimate is broken. Stars swoon at Jesus’ birth, rocks split at his crucifixion, and earthquakes and angels announce Jesus’ resurrection. Matthew signals Christ’s death and resurrection makes a difference to the natural world, to history, and the whole cosmos.

The earth is alive and proclaims God’s glory. While we have been closed in Springtime is going full tilt. The dead and frozen earth is giving way to new life. Lovely yellow Daffodils now decorate the lawn in front of church. (You’ll have to take my word on that. We posted pictures on Facebook.) Trees and shrubs have started to bud. Am I imagining it—or is the sky noticeably brighter and bluer? Staying at home is giving the air a chance to breathe. It’s one small hopeful sign of a future without internal combustion engines.

Our ancestors have proclaimed the cross and resurrection are the pivot point upon which all history turns, the fulcrum by which God leverages our destiny, the epiphany in which God’s loving character is revealed, and the light which illumines our path into the fullness of life. But resurrection doesn’t come easily for most of us. Our death is transformed in Christ, not avoided. The way of Christ is death and resurrection, loss and renewal. If we are being honest, this comes as a disappointment to most of us, because we want one without the other, transformation without cost or surrender, blue skies without economic sacrifice. We shout hosanna on Palm Sunday and alleluia at Easter while each day, the planet dies a little more by our hands. Violence tears gaping holes in the fabric of our community. Brazenly unrepentant human greed still wants more despite having taken the profits of the last 40 years for itself. Easter dawn breaks again this year in a Good Friday world with its message of hope.

Into your hands, your body, your spirit Christ sows good seed meant for the salvation of the whole world. Let the natural world teach you about the power of death and resurrection and about kind of life we are given in baptism. “Very truly,” Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

The early twentieth century Catholic artist and writer Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) wrote that as “Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life…the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls.” It was the death of death.
“The core of the mystery is transformation. Not a magical replacement of the old with something new, but an innovating change from deep within, of that which is rising toward fulfillment and completion. Suffering and death is somehow integral to the process.” This Holy Week—in song, word, ancient rites, and prayer—we have entered into the mystery that lays at the heart of the universe. The new rises through the old. Our sins, our mistakes, our frail bodies, our histories, events, relationships, tragedies, senses, memories, intellects, and imaginations are brought to fulfillment when they are buried in grace. (Suzanne Guthrie, At the Edge of the Enclosure)

As the angel said to the two Mary’s at the tomb, “Do not be afraid.” Have you ever noticed how often Good News in the bible is preceded by the little sentence: “Don’t be afraid?” “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.” “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” “Don’t be afraid, shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.” “Don’t be afraid, Joseph, to take Mary as your wife. Her baby is from the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus; he’s going to save all people from their sins.” “Don’t be afraid,” the angels say before they deliver the good news, you are a child of God.
Resurrection pointed the first Christians to a new vision of nature and its possibilities. Death and resurrection lead us to embrace a larger vision of God’s work in the world. Resurrection is not a violation of the cause and effect laws of nature, but a revelation of the deeper realities of life. (Bruce Epperly)
Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.) So, what now are we to do about it? The poet Mary Oliver instructs us on living life this way: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it. The poet Wendell Berry famously advised, “So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
[humankind] has not encountered he has not destroyed.” (Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front)

We are called to practice resurrection. Practice resurrection so all things living—all thing—rejoice. Practice resurrection with new ears and eyes. Practice resurrection and give thanks to God. For today we are called to be resurrection partners, to roll away the stone, and to open new pathways for the thriving of all creation. We are called to be God’s celebratory companions—to rejoice in birth and rebirth and say “yes” to life in all its mystery and beauty. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.)

Palm Sunday A-20
Immanuel, Chicago

I’ve had this old cross more than twenty years now. It has cracks, saw marks, dents, and worm holes. It is so time-worn and irregular it appears it was fashioned by nature rather than by human hands. Every angle tells a story.

It’s just two pieces of wood—three if you count the base—notched together and nailed into place. It is surprisingly sturdy, heavy, and solid. This old cross speaks to me of former lives lived—of poverty, of hardship—of lives made strong by faith and made beautiful by grace.

As I child I saw the cross in my church as a reminder only of Jesus’ suffering and my guilt. The cross of Christ said, look what you did to me! Look at the pain you inflicted, the violence you harbor in your heart, the energy and ingenuity you invest in hating your enemies and in rejecting the love of God.

The cross speaks all these truths of course. Yet it became the central Christian logo and sign of the good news because it also stands for more than judgment for sin. The cross is the tree of life with leaves meant for the healing of the nations. The cross is a door. Knock and it will be opened to you. It is the gate of the good shepherd that swings wide to lead out into green pasture. It is the gate of the sheepfold that closes to give shelter from thieves and bandits. The cross is a trail marker on the way. It is a compass that points to truth and the life.

The cross was what people remembered. The cross is the root from which all four gospels sprang. The end is the beginning. Everything told about Jesus before the passion grew from the scandal, mystery, and glory of the cross.

Perhaps this pandemic brings us a little closer to uncovering its mystery and meaning. These strange chaotic, overwhelming, lonely, and difficult days might open our fisted minds to the gospel. Afterall, the cross reveals that pain and suffering are among life’s most profound teachers. Powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom. This life is not about you, but you are about life.

St. Paul quotes an early Christian hymn and creedal statement in his letter to the church in Philippi. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus emptied himself in riding into Jerusalem on a humble colt as people shouted hosanna! He is going to die. Joyous happy people surround him including his disciples who do not yet understand what he’s doing. I confess I have lived through many an Easter this way. I take solace knowing that Jesus went to the cross for them anyway. He goes there for me. Jesus went to the cross for all those happy, clueless, soon to be fair-weather-friends. He did it for those who betrayed him. He did it for those who despised and hated him. He did it for the whole God-hating world. He did it to show us all the way to eternal life that leads through death.
This Thursday is the feast day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed in a Nazi prison camp just days before it was liberated by Allied forces. Bonhoeffer reflects on the meaning of the cross this way. “Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman… To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world… It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, and that is what makes a human and a Christian. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison)

Walking the way of the cross will make us more human. Wouldn’t that be a great result of this paschal season? This holy week, I encourage you to take out your cross. Do you have one on the wall, standing on a shelf somewhere, or hanging around your neck? Perhaps there is an image of the cross that speaks to you from the internet? I’m particularly drawn to those photos of the cross taken by Ansel Adams, or paintings of the cross by Georgia O’keefe. As we Stay-at-Home to save lives remember God is with you and we are joined together in spirit. We are gathered to Christ at the cross. No matter the burden, no matter the hardship we, like this old rugged cross, are made strong again by faith, and made beautiful by grace. Let the people shout Hosanna! Our help is near. Amen.