A Sermon for Easter Day

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day
First Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Second Lesson: Colossians 3:1-4
Gospel: John 20:1-18

+ Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

18010446_624775534397249_5296151517490218031_nAlleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I don’t think that we can ever have too many “alleluias” on Easter morning. After all, we’ve come a long way through our forty-day journey through the season of Lent. We’ve traveled with Christ and his disciples to Jerusalem and witnessed betrayal and suffering as the crowd of people who initially welcomed him into the city with such excitement and enthusiasm quickly turned on Jesus, demanding for him to be put to death on a Roman cross.

So yes, it is time for us to once again announce to the world, with as much energy as we possibly can, the proclamation of our Lord’s resurrection, his glorious victory over sin and death. “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Now what? If you’re here this morning to celebrate the joy of Easter, welcome, but chances are that you’re already pretty familiar with the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Chances are that you’ve grown up with it and heard it for most of your life. Jesus died, and three days later, he rose from the grave. It’s a beautiful story – one of glory and triumph and hope. But, unless we do the work of contemplating its significance for our lives, that’s all that it will ever be – a beautiful story that we tell ourselves once a year. There has to be more to it than that.

In my last semester of seminary, as I was looking for my first call as a priest, I had the opportunity to meet with several rectors and bishops who were in the process of filling vacancies in their parishes and dioceses. Most of our visits were very pleasant. Notice that I said, “most of our visits.” There was one, in particular, that was not so pleasant. It was with a bishop from a diocese that will go unnamed. My visit with this particular bishop started out pleasant enough. I told him about me and my family. I shared with him my experience of seminary and all of the wonderful ways that I was being formed to go out into the world to serve as a parish priest. I shared with him my aspirations and how I felt God was calling me to serve in my ministry. “How wonderful,” he must have thought. “Another seminarian who thinks that he’s going to go out and save the world.” Then, the conversation took a dramatic turn, and he started asking me some difficult questions. He wanted me to role play with him and respond to him as if he were a non-Christian or someone who was unaffiliated with the church. “Role play?” I thought. “Who is this guy?” “Why in the world is he asking me to role play in the middle of an interview?” It made me very uncomfortable, but I did as he asked and answered his questions to the best of my ability. There was one question, though, that caused me to stumble – a question that you wouldn’t think would be so difficult to answer, especially for someone who was in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. The bishop, playing the role of a non-Christian, asked me, “Why do I need the church when I can be a part of some other organization that does good work?” “Why is it important to follow Jesus?”

At that moment, I would imagine that I gave him a “deer in the headlights” kind of look. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how he was expecting me to respond. So, I just started spouting out words that I thought might sound good together – you know, fancy words that they teach us to use in seminary. I was so panicked that I don’t even remember what I said, and truth be told, he probably doesn’t either. I’m sure that he wasn’t very impressed by me or my fancy, seminary-educated response.

I was upset as I left the interview because I thought it was unfair for him to ask me to respond in the way that he did. I mean, who asks someone to role play in the middle of an interview, especially a bishop of the church? In case you don’t know, bishops can be very intimidating!

In the days to follow, I began to reflect on the time that I spent with the bishop, and although I still didn’t agree with his method, I eventually came to appreciate what it is that I think he was trying to accomplish. Although his method for interviewing made me uncomfortable, it also caused me to seriously think about what it is that we do when we gather together as the Body of Christ and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Why do we do what we do, and what difference does it really make that we worship a God who was crucified and risen from the dead?

The bishop’s question is one that I continue to come back to, even today. When I am going through a particularly rough time in my life, it’s a question that I come back to. “Why is all of this important?” When I am questioning my call as a priest, it’s one that I come back to. “Why is all of this important?” At times when I mourn over the state of our nation and our world, it’s a question that I come back to. “Why is all of this important?” So, please know that if you find yourself asking these types of questions, you aren’t alone. Even priests struggle with these kinds of questions.

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t come up with the perfect answer, but what I have come up with I think is a good place to start. Why is all of this important? Because we believe that, in the end, love wins.

As followers of the one who was crucified and risen, we believe that there is nothing in this world – no powers or principalities, no earthly thing that can separate us from the love of God – a love that is unending and unrelenting, a love that goes to the darkest depths to reach those who are lost, a love that calls us not only to put our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but one that also calls us to live our lives as resurrected people. Recalling and celebrating the miraculous event of Jesus’ resurrection is right and wonderful, but if we don’t recall and celebrate the fact that his resurrection continues within us, we limit our understanding of how truly miraculous it is.

We are Easter people, and that is why all of this is important – because responding to God’s call to follow Christ is one that will transform us and one that will transform the world. By virtue of our baptism in Christ, we have shared in his death and resurrection, and that my friends, is why we celebrate this glorious day.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

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