Daily Devotion from Deb 5/27/2020

Daily Devotion from Deb 5/27/2020

Daily Devotion for May 27, 2020 – Being Eastered

 

The devotion for today is a look back at one of Bill’s Easter sermons, this one from April 21, 2019.  On that day we gathered in the sanctuary in the usual way, we flowered the cross, we sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” and many joined the choir to for our traditional Easter sing of the Hallelujah Chorus.  We were “Eastered.”

But as we know Easter is more than the happy, joyful day – Easter is a way of life for those of us who follow Jesus.  And it demands we take in more of the gospel story than the happy ending – it means we must take in the full scope of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit – to get the full picture.

As Bill says in his sermon,

The Easter message is no saccharine message that will allow us to pretend suffering and evil don’t really exist or don’t matter.  The news we have been Eastered is NOT news that erases or overlooks the painful realities of this life.  Instead, it is a message that looks the harsh realities in the teeth.  

In other words, being Eastered by God means engagement with the hurts of the world.  It means becoming acutely aware of the pain of death that torments creation…and it means not permitting those pains to steal our voice.  We shout a word of resurrection directly into the teeth of death.  We declare God’s limitless ability to raise up life in the midst of every conceivable death.3  Why can we say this?  Because Christ who was dead is alive. 

This sermon takes on particular meaning for our family as we absorb the news of our sister-in-law’s death yesterday.  Our steps are leaden and our hearts are heavy.  There will be Easter gladness again, but our task now is to absorb the loss, help her family as best we can at a distance, and look with hope to the resurrections that will come in time from this sadness.

So we look again in awe at the story of fellow Christians who gave witness to Easter strength and joy in face of their loss.  What challenges us from this story?  What can we learn from this story?  Where did their strength to sing in the face of death come?  In what ways were they witnesses to the power of the resurrected life?  They were “Eastered in joy and strength” in a way many of us who watched couldn’t imagine.  But they gave us a glimpse of joy and hope and peace that was truly beautiful – they gave us a glimpse of God.   By God’s power they sang, and they “Eastered” us.

I hope you think of other times like this when you have witnessed strength and joy in the face of very difficult realities that gave you a window into the power of God’s resurrecting love.  Call those to mind, savor the gift, and draw strength from them, for we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Thanks be to God.

 

A prayer for the day:

Gracious Lord, may we be Easter people of strength and joy.  Not by our own power can we do this, but by your power that raised Jesus from the dead. By the power of your spirit raise us up to face the challenges and hardships of this life.  Give us hope in you and in your son, Jesus.  Give us a song to sing even in the midst of death.  Give us joy in all you have done for us, and will continue to do for us.  Give us hearts of gratitude for all the blessings of this life.  Give us the grace to be Easter people of joy and strength, so that we may bear witness to your glory and amazing love.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                       Being Eastered

John 20:1-18 & Acts 10:34-43

A sermon by William M. Klein

 

21 April 2019

 

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  (Acts 10:34-43 NRSV)

 

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.  (Jn. 20:1-18 NRSV)

 

1

Out of a deep sleep I was awakened by the sound of footsteps.  In the half-light it was clear enough there were people, lots of people, walking very close to my tiny tent.  Untying the door flap, my eyes fixed upon a steady stream of men, women, and children – walking as one in silence, holding burning torches above their heads.

Since I was on the island of Crete, I wasn’t concerned the Klan was up to some mischief.  It was the wee hours of Easter morning…and the procession was moving from house to house in the city of Heraklion bearing the light of their Easter joy.

In one of his prayers, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann asks God to “Easter us in joy and strength.”1  You will find no dictionary that renders Easter a verb – but I think Brueggemann has it right.  In raising Jesus from the grave, God Eastered us.    That early morning procession of Christians on the island of Crete was diligently and faithfully Eastering every home in the city.  What a lovely custom.

May God Easter you this and every day in joy and strength so you may rise up and gladly Easter every person you encounter along your procession of days. 2

But let us be clear.  The Easter message is no saccharine message that will allow us to pretend suffering and evil don’t really exist or don’t matter.  The news we have been Eastered with is NOT news that erases or overlooks the painful realities of this life.  Instead, it is a message that looks the harsh realities in the teeth.

Karl Rahner, the remarkable 20th century theologian, believed those people who ignore or avoid the darkness of Good Friday rarely even notice the light of Easter.2

In other words, being Eastered by God means engagement with the hurts of the world.  It means becoming acutely aware of the pain of death that torments creation…and it means not permitting those pains to steal our voice.  We shout a word of resurrection directly into the teeth of death.  We declare God’s limitless ability to raise up life in the midst of every conceivable death.3  Why can we say this?  Because Christ who was dead is alive.

3

For all who have ears to hear – Jesus’ resurrection declares that God’s intention is to “Easter us” in joy and strength.  Jesus’ life, message, death, and resurrection invite us to become Christ’s prophetic community, Christ’s incarnational community – those people who embody the gospel – those people whose highest priority is serving the least, the lost, the vulnerable, those with their back against a wall – those people who bravely speak a word of life to those in power who too often peddle some form of death.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, building upon what Peter told the crowd in our passage from Acts, thinks Christian believers should be a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus.  German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said the same thing in a negative way.  Nietzsche, observing the joyless, Easter-less Christians around him, said people should be able to look at us and know what it looks like to be redeemed.     We are to be the image of Christ for the people whom we encounter, giving them a glimpse of the character of the invisible God.4  In other words, people should be able to hear in the words we choose to speak, see in our faces, our attitude, and our behavior that for us Christ is alive.

4

Are we such people?  Are you such a person?  Would others look at you and know what it looks like to be Eastered?  Would an exposé of your life help others see something of the character of God?  Would people look at you and conclude you possess a certain quality they must know more about?  Would people conclude from your life that Christ is alive?

I happen to know there are plenty of people in this room who are Easter people.  I have seen with my own eyes and have heard of your great works.  So as not to embarrass any of you, though…let me tell you two related stories about some folks who, I believe, demonstrate they know the risen Lord.

The first of these stories happened sixteen years ago.  Many of you will remember that the Summer of 2003 our church joined a number of other churches in the community to build a Habitat for Humanity home.  It was a grand collaborative experience for everyone who became involved.

One of the partner churches was a predominately African-American church.  They participated in the Habitat project by putting on a gospel concert and contributing the free-will offering to the cause.  The concert was held here the afternoon of Worldwide Communion Sunday, October, 2003.

The gospel choir and guests began to arrive 45 minutes before the concert was to begin.  One of those guests arriving early was an elderly woman – Sister Carter, let’s call her.  Half an hour before the concert Sister Carter began to have serious health problems.  A rescue squad was called and many hands helped carry her to the ambulance.  Since both members of the rescue squad were needed to assist Sister Carter, a member of the choir was asked to drive the ambulance to the hospital.  Several other members of the choir went along…for it seemed a number of folks in the choir were related to Sister Carter.  Back inside the sanctuary, I spoke with the choir leader and suggested the concert be postponed.  She insisted the show go on…even though some of the choir had made its way to the hospital.  The rousing program began and we offered prayer for Sister Carter and her family.

Part way through the concert someone in the congregation received a phone call. Sister Carter had died.  This difficult news was absorbed by the congregation.  Prayer for her family was offered…and I suggested that, in light of her death, we should conclude the concert – but the choir again waved me away, insisting upon proceeding.

Before too long Sister Carter’s family members returned from the hospital and made their way to the choir where they took their places and joined in the singing… teary eyed and grieving…but you wouldn’t know it by their joyful voices.  During their final song, the choir members moved down from the platform into the congregation hugging and greeting everyone in the house.

The members of that choir embodied the Easter message that day in this place in a powerful and moving way.  It was clear for all to see that their joyful singing did not ignore the reality of their grief.  They sang that afternoon not because they felt like singing.  They sang because they had been Eastered by God.  They were filled with the power of resurrected life.  That day the members of that choir embodied the image of the risen Christ – giving us a glimpse of the character of the invisible God.

The second story is far shorter in the telling.  It comes to me from a friend.  He said that during a church retreat, folks were discussing why they had chosen to join the church.  Most of the answers were routine:  good programs, a friendly congregation, wonderful music, challenging preaching.  The routine answers ended when one woman spoke up.  She said, “I joined the church because of the look I saw on Mary Smith’s face when she followed her dear husband’s casket out of the sanctuary following his funeral.  Her face was radiant.  There was such a quiet confidence that I had to stick around to see how she could walk so resolutely in the face of death.”5

5

May our gracious God Easter us this and every day in joy and strength so we may rise up and gladly Easter those we encounter.

Christ is alive.  We have been Eastered.  Glory be to God.  Amen.

 

Lexington Presbyterian Church

120 South Main Street Lexington, Virginia  24450 www.lexpres.org

Endnotes:

                                                        

  • Brueggemann, Walter.   Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 166.
  • Rahner, Karl.   The Great Church Year.  NY: Crossroad Pub., 177.
  • Leggett, John P. 2004. From his unpublished work for a lectionary group based on the text for today, 2.  Citing Christine Smith, Risking the Terror: Resurrection in This Life, 73.
  • Sadler, Rodney S. Jr.   “Re-envisioning Christ: The image of the invisible God,” in As I See It Today.  Richmond: UTS & PSCE, 7.
  • Leggett, 6. The woman’s name has been changed for the purposes of this sermon.

 

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