Sermon for Year C, Easter Sunday
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 31, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
How many Easter Sunday sermons have you heard in your life?
I’m going to guess:
An average of about, mmm, one a year for every year you attended services, right?
Let me tell you something you’ve probably already figured out.
Each one of those Easter Sunday sermons was a way of trying to get the folks
Who wouldn’t normally come on a Sunday
To become more regular members of the congregation. No secret there.
It was an ad, in other words. A hook.
A hook about Jesus, yes, but a hook.
Doesn’t matter where you were. You were getting sold on something.
It’s nothing like “Mad Men”
Where folks sit around and try to concoct the perfect way
To get you to buy! buy! buy! our product;
Nothing so overt, so malicious, not in my experience –
But Easter Sunday has always seemed to have this subtle message
(The “B” side of the record)
That you should be convinced that the church you’ve selected to come to
Is somehow better than all the other churches you might have chosen today.
Even though it’s perfectly obvious they all have their pluses and minuses.
When you fly, what do they say?
“We know that when it comes to air travel, you have a choice of carriers
(Except at Sioux Gateway Airport);
Thank you for flying with XYZ today.”
Consumerism, right? Customer loyalty! Build the brand!
In the sermon, the preacher is bright and articulate (!); the flowers smell fabulous;
The building is lovely; the choir is perfectly pitched;
In the music, you feel okay about yourself ’cause as it turns out you can carry a tune;
In your suit and tie or in your new dress – well, it feels nice, doesn’t it,
And feeling nice is, ah, well, it’s nice, isn’t it?
And you know that spring is in sight
And that there’s chocolate back on the counter at home.
C'mon: Easter Sunday rocks!
It seems scandalously lazy on our part,
But this is the church’s whole advertising ploy!
So, the thinking is pretty simple:
You see or hear something you like, you come back again.
Mister or Miss Repeat Customer, right?
Which makes sense enough. But. But.
Well, … I guess I’ve kind of come to think that this is, um, sort of dumb.
I mean, dumb on the part of the church. A real failing.
Yes, Father Torey is saying on Easter Sunday morning at St. Thomas
That the church has failed me! That the church has been dumb!
And why? Why would he say that? I’m gonna talk to him about that.
No, I mean failed outright. As in the fact
That you have come for something real and transcendent and enriching
And maybe even just a little bit of a challenge;
And we have instead handed you a list of reasons to Join Our Club.
Here’s our literature.
Like this is Sam’s, and the samples have been set out.
I mean that kind of disservice.
And. Well. Talk about the cart in front of the horse.
See, instead of engaging in converting potential customers into loyal customers,
And instead of carping about customer retention
The other 364 days and 51 Sundays out of the year,
Let’s just talk about what really brings us here, okay?
The real stuff.
Because each one of us has a bottomless, gnawing hunger and longing
That comes from way down inside
To have our spirits challenged and fed at the most basic level of our being.
I’d like to call it something like this:
It is, to me, the desire to transcend the humdrum everyday ordinary beat of my life.
To achieve some kind of … escape velocity
From the endless grind of living in a fearful world where resources seem scarce
And people are naturally suspicious of each other, cynical with one another,
And willing to talk each other down when they’re not in the room.
I have, and I suspect you might too, have this hunger to get away from a world
Built on fakery and sleight of hand, and cleverness and irony, and false promises.
… I have a deep longing
To not be so tired or frazzled or pulled in so many directions at once,
And I wonder if you might, too.
I have a desire, instead, for stopping, and for truth and the telling of truth as we see it:
Not a truth that dismisses or excludes other sources of truth automatically,
But instead, it’s just a hunger to see the world in a bigger way than I did yesterday.
It’s a hunger to be, well, sort of reckless and poetic
And to burn every falsehood to the ground.
I mean, at least, that’s what I’d call it.
A longing to rise above the usual and the ordinary.
Even though I know good and well
That everything we do and sing and act out in this space
Is very much about the details of my ordinary everyday humdrum life.
And don’t confuse the fact that I am here the other Sundays of the year
Or that I wear a white collar and a black shirt
Or that I stand in this pulpit with the church’s authority behind me
As my way of absolving myself from that hunger I’m talking about. I’m hungry, too.
We all are;
To be a human being is to hunger and to long for something more
Than what we already have, or who we already are.
To be human is to get so hungry that finally we break out and go on a quest for answers.
I don’t mean easy answers; there are no easy answers in this life; no good ones.
If there were, we wouldn’t need Easter
Because life wouldn’t be about walking a hard road.
It would be about eating candy, and we can do that any time.
We wouldn’t require the idea of resurrection in our lives
And we sure wouldn’t need to fuss around about the resurrection of Jesus.
Dare I say it? If life was all easy answers, would we really even need God?
Would we really be hungry for anything at all outside ourselves?
So you don’t need a commercial for St. Thomas today. I get that.
Just this, then: to be marinated for a while in the fact of resurrection.
Just to soak in the idea
That the basic pattern of all of life, as far as I’ve come to see, is this:
Life/death/resurrection … life/death/resurrection.
The bits of green we see popping off on our lawns this morning
Are only the most literal version of this truth.
Living and dying and rising, and living and dying and rising:
Once you’ve ingested that basic pattern and it hits your blood,
You start to see it everywhere; you can’t unsee it.
It seems almost ridiculous in a way to even point it out,
But the fact is, because it’s everywhere, we’ve become so accustomed
That we’re almost immune to seeing it, or learning from it anymore.
So we need to marinate in it. We need to talk about it. We need to see it.
It’s the basic philosophy of all training in the armed forces
That a person can’t be a useful soldier
Until he or she has been broken down, taken apart, and put back together.
Old identities, old ideas, have to die off in order for that process to work.
Recovery and support communities like AA see it all the time:
People coming in almost totally damaged by life, slave to a disease,
And walking these impossibly long and heroic and quiet and often disappointing paths
Of death and resurrection just to be able to keep living their lives.
We start each day with some energy and hope
And by the time we reach the night, we have to recharge,
So we go down to our beds.
We must, if we want to be able to rise and live again the next day.
Even at our own deaths, at the end of our frail physical existence,
Something holy and indescribable occurs.
I have attended at enough bedsides
To have seen it and felt it for myself a number of times.
The death of another human being
Feels to me much more like a passing-on than a ceasing-to-be.
Life/death/resurrection beyond our sight.
Living and dying and rising. It’s everywhere. THE pattern.
And it makes me say that I believe in God.
I believe in God, in part, because to me the alternative just seems too selfish.
I believe in Jesus.
I believe in Jesus, in part, because I’m kind of a numbskull about these things
And I need evidence that I am loved and that I need to give love,
But I also need a way to take that massive concept beyond all knowing
That we call God
And to have it placed in a frame that will enable me to understand, if I can, at all.
I need a way to physically, tangibly translate the fact
That all things proceed from the love of God
And give of themselves.
They give and give and give, like Jesus, til at the last they give the last of what they have.
And their end is their beginning.
“We shall not cease from exploration,” TS Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning
So I stand before you today as a fellow traveler, as one amazed and shocked
That the thing that amazes and shocks me each year at this time
Still has the power to amaze and shock me.
That God’s holy grace and power have been extended to us
In the bounding-forth from the tomb of the Son of God, Son of Man.
I stand before you as someone just in awe of the fact
That the pattern has repeated itself yet again.
In his life, Jesus the Christ teaches us to listen to one another, walk with one another,
Feed and heal and care for one another, and to pray with and for each other.
In his death, he teaches us to acknowledge him for who he is:
Surely this man is the Son of God.
And in his resurrection, he teaches us that nothing in heaven or earth and no force in hell
Can separate us from the love of God.
It’s foolish, I know, for me to ask you to take this pattern into yourself,
Because it already lives there.
The love of God is steadfast and everywhere,
And God’s holy Word lives and dies and rises
Always and everywhere.
So it was. So it is. So it shall be.