When Resurrection Happens Best

You see resurrection happens best early in the morning on the first day of the week because it’s so unexpected and forgotten about.

John 20:1-18

On this most holy day where we mark the resurrection of our Lord, won’t you pray with me?

O Christ who rose victorious over the grave, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you and you alone are our strong rock and our redeemer. And may I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

When does resurrection happen best? I must confess to you this year that I let Easter sneak up on me. This isn’t because I don’t love Easter, I love singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and Lift High the Cross. But for some odd reason this year, it doesn’t feel like resurrection happens. Now don’t worry, your pastor isn’t turning into some atheist hell-bent on telling you that God doesn’t work in our lives or in the life of our world. I’ve just been so consumed with other things and other realities, that I forgot the resurrection. So today, permit me if you will, to work through this resurrection business with you.

I can remember growing up and being the cross bearer at my home church in Statesville. And one Easter, as I was carrying in the cross, proud of my place and status in the church as the cross bearer, I suddenly realized I was being upstaged. A man, who looked nothing like the demographics or socioeconomic status of the congregation had entered the church with his umbrella folded and under his arm. He walked past me and down to the altar and prostrated himself at the altar while the choir and congregation sang the hymn we opened with today.

I was furious, why in the world would someone upstage my big moment to carry in the cross? Why would someone take away the spotlight from me? But then I realized, he needed Easter and I did too, and I was missing the point of it all. I was so consumed with my reality that I forgot about the beauty of hearing the angel say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” I forgot the beauty of Mary hearing Jesus’ voice and realizing that life could be different for her and the rest of humankind because of this moment.

You see resurrection happens best early in the morning on the first day of the week because it’s so unexpected and forgotten about. We’re in a culture that has forgotten about early in the morning on the first day of the week because we are so consumed with other realities and presuppositions about how things should look and how we should all act.

Look at this way: I have close friends who bring me out of my own resurrection shell by dancing with me in Target even when I don’t want to, or taking me on a bachelor party before my wedding and wiggling me out of my shell there. My own fiancée Stephanie inspires me to come out of my resurrection shell by telling me that chronic illnesses like the one I have is only as powerful as we let it be. My parents pull me lovingly out of my resurrection shell by giving me a beautiful and wonderful childhood for me and my brother by sacrificing so much. The resurrection is a powerful force that works in our lives and brings to fruition all that we can possibly be. Because you see the resurrection happens both here and now and then and there. We have the potential to be resurrected today.

I think this reality speaks to Bethany United Church of Christ. Last week, we committed ourselves and our livelihoods to this church and its resurrection. Now we have to begin to roll the stone away. We have to say to one another that this place, this church, this building, these people are worth fighting for in the search and battle for resurrection. But here’s a secret: Christ has already won. There is no height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation both in the earth, above the earth, and under the earth, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus… Absolutely Nothing. There is no power or principality that can keep you from experiencing the resurrection.

I want to be careful here, because I was raised in the Methodist, Wesleyan tradition and we can be quite moralistic and pietistic, meaning that we are consumed with the goodness here and now. Let me be clear: the resurrection changes everything. The resurrection that we will celebrate in the creed and in the Eucharist is something that matters because we are finite. But in the finite realities that we face, when relationships fall apart, when we lose the job, when we have to retire because of disability, when the specter of death looms over us, Christ will be present because Christ is risen indeed. We who are Christian can proclaim the resurrection in Target by dancing, in chronic and terminal illnesses by fighting and proclaiming death does not have the same sting it once had, and in the very grips of death itself we can sing, because God will make things right again. God will raise us from our metaphorical deaths, and our physical deaths, because that’s when God does God’s best work.

If you need any proof, you should go over to the Bethany United Church of Christ Facebook page and see the pictures from the Easter egg hunt, we had at least 15 children there, ready to hunt for eggs and have a snack. We need to re-imagine and re-invigorate the way we do this thing called church, to where those 15 children don’t just show up when cupcakes are present, but when church is happening on a Sunday morning like this one.

You know growing up I always wanted to be pastor, and so I read every book I could on being a pastor and a few years back Eugene H. Peterson put out a book that said this, “I don’t want to end up a bureaucrat in the time-management business for God or a librarian cataloguing timeless truths. Salvation is kicking in the womb of Creation right now, any time now it could happen. Pay attention.”[1]  Friends, Bethany United Church of Christ has an announcement to make this Easter Sunday… We are pregnant. We are pregnant with anticipation for the resurrection of this church. We are begging God’s Spirit and God’s grace to be present in this space every time we gather for worship, fellowship, and administration. And though I will never experience pregnancy and a family of my own is so far off in the distance, I know that when you’re pregnant, you have to make ready that which needs to be made ready, you have to prepare for the beauty of childbirth and of all that it entails.

So today, how are you preparing to be born anew as this church? Are you inviting friends to worship? Are you coming to this place to join in membership and in fellowship with us? How are you making ready a highway for God in the desolate and dark places? How are you, after being met with the forces of death proclaiming that Christ is risen? We are people of the resurrection, we are a people and a community pregnant with potential to roll the stone away.

Wendell Berry is a prolific poet and prophet of the modern day. He has this poem that’s been on my heart lately and as any good preacher knows an Easter sermon is not complete without three points and a poem… So let me share parts of it with you. Close your eyes and let this be your Easter prayer:

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
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap.

Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.[2]

Won’t you continue in prayer with me now?
God who called to Mary by name. Call to us also in the darkness of our own souls. Offer us resurrection so that we too may practice it with hope, reliance, and a sense of dignity in the face of sorrow. This we ask in Christ our Lord’s name. Amen.

[1] Peterson, Eugene H. Pastor.

[2] Berry, Wendell. Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front (Edited by Rob Lee for context and time)

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