Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Feast of the Resurrection

This day is the Sunday of Sundays, the first of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, ending at Pentecost, the Fiftieth Day. On this day Christians celebrate the basic truth of our faith: Christ is Risen! We make the audacious claim that the man named Jesus of Nazareth was executed as a common criminal and then rose again from being dead three days later. We say that, in the Resurrection, not even death could separate Jesus, and us, from the love of God. From this simple statement comes all of our faith and worship and practice. And so this is the most solemn day of the year for us. All other days, and all other Sundays, take their model from this day. And so we rejoice as much as we can. Our Lenten Fast is ended, and the Great Pashcal Feast begins!

In honor of our Risen Savior, here's what I offered today at my parish:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

The Day of Resurrection 2008 (BCP)

Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118: 14-17, 22-24; Col 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of Him Who Overcame Death and the Grave, Amen!

As some of you know, I moved into the very nice home that is part of the St. Thomas’s complex a week ago yesterday. I’m very fortunate because my commute to work is pretty easy. I know many of you have very long drives to work and so, believe me, I’m very grateful to not have very far to go at all. For the most part, the move went very well and I’m grateful for all the help that members of the parish offered both in Bayonne New Jersey, where I moved from, and on this end here in Vernon. The unloading of the truck was much easier than the loading, I noticed, and that was actually a good thing, since we were all pretty tired.

One of the things that was wasn’t so nice was that it took more than a week to arrange for internet service. Now, many of you know that my first line or work before ordained ministry was in information technology. I worked for a leading-edge technology research firm, and so we had excellent email and phone and broadband internet service. And those of us of a certain age pretty much take for granted that we will have it when we want it or need it. Now, admittedly, there are those like my brother, who have basically never not had the internet in their lives. I can still remember quite clearly that I didn’t get my first email account until after college. Now kids are getting them in sixth grade or even earlier, not to mention getting cell phones and all the rest of what goes along with the Internet age.

In a way, not having internet access during Holy Week was a blessing. It was good not to be distracted, and to be able to keep my heart and soul on what was important this past week. At the same time, it’s amazing how much I missed it. I really wanted to be able to read the newspaper online, and to get my funnies via email like I usually do, and to be able to do all the other things I’m used to doing when I have a good internet connection. I missed all that! And I wanted it back. Just like any effective fast, where one gives something up to help one’s spiritual life, this particular one definitely helped open my eyes to what I think might be important in my life and what actually is important. And I didn’t even do it deliberately – it was all because Service Electric doesn’t operate as quickly as I thought they should have! And to think that all that stuff I wanted so, is all just bits and bytes – not even real, just little ones and zeros in a bunch of computers somewhere, who knows where. It’s all virtual. You can’t touch it or feel it. And yet it has taken such a place of importance in my life!

I’m struck by the difference in what we encounter as Christians, and what the Internet offers. We’ve just moved through Holy Week. During this time we experienced in real life much of what we commemorate. Last Sunday we took real palms and entered Jerusalem with Jesus. On Thursday we used real water and washed each others’ feet in the very act of love that Jesus specifically asked us to do. On Friday many of us revered the cross of nails and wood, physically standing in front of us. We knelt in front of it and touched it. It was real and we could feel it. We even honor the Gospel with a real book and we bring it right in to the middle of the people when we read it. And today we will eat real bread and drink real wine. We will eat the real meal that Jesus asked to eat in his memory, just as we do on every Sunday.

We Christians are in to stuff – real stuff, that we can feel and touch and taste and see. . It’s not things that are out there or that only appear to be real – it’s right here among us. We’re into symbolism, sure. You can’t experience Holy Week without realizing that much of what we do is symbolic. But we use real stuff to do so. We don’t just talk about it or think about it. We do it. We use real things to announce the reality of what we know and trust. And the reason we are so into atoms and molecules and stuff, rather than merely bits and bytes and words, is that Jesus himself was real. He was real blood and bone and hair and teeth and all the rest. He really existed, with cells and DNA, and he took up space and experienced time. The fact that God himself became human had the effect of blessing, sanctifying, if you will, the entire created order. Because Jesus was human, we humans are holy too. But not only that. We glory in the fact that Jesus was really on earth, and that makes the entire earth and all of creation holy too. We Christians are so into matter, the stuff of creation, the real things that make up life, because Jesus was really present, was really human, really died and was really raised from the dead.

Just one example may help. Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” It sounds like Mary may have perhaps grabbed hold of Jesus. She was physically touching him. It wasn’t some virtual thing. It was real. He was real, as real as she was. He talked to her. And apparently she had a good grip on him, too, enough that he had to tell her to let go. Our whole emphasis on reality stems from the truth that Jesus was a human being. Jesus, the Son of God in a way we can probably never completely understand, became human and suffered and died and was raised so that we might become divine and be with God.

All our focus on stuff, on the created order, is well and good. Jesus for a time occupied space and time right along with the rest of us. He wasn’t’ merely virtual. He didn’t just exist as some kind of avatar like in Facebook or Myspace. He really lived. And He really died too, because he was human. But he was not simply human, but more than human. When he died, death could not keep him. God raised him, to prove to Mary at the tomb and to us today, that Jesus, both human and divine, could not be bound by the laws of nature that bind us. And because death could not keep him from God, death cannot keep us from God either. There’s no reason to be ashamed of our humanness, because Jesus was human too. Not only that, we know, we trust, that just as Jesus was no longer separated from God, neither are we. The physicality of Jesus is our physicality too, and so we share in not only his death but also his rising again.

In the midst of all the problems that come from being real flesh and blood, of being atoms and molecules and all the stuff that makes us up, we can be certain that God loves us. God created us, after all, in God’s own image. Not only that, God sent Jesus to take on humanity as well. If God were ashamed of us or of our raw flesh-and-bone natures, do you think he would become one of us, right down to the DNA, in Jesus? But he did! And that’s the Good News of the Resurrection. In the Resurrection, God says, “Yes, Jesus is human and so he died. But Jesus is also my son and so he lives. And you are my children too and so you live as well!”

Our physical lives aren’t always easy. It’s hard being a human being, a creature of cells, organs, skin and flesh. And life for many of us hasn’t gotten much easier. Gas is really expensive. The economy is really weak. Jobs are difficult. We have problems with our loved ones. We get sick. We die. But we can be sure that in all our physicalness, Jesus is there too. God is right with us, in the good times and the bad. It may seem that God is not around, but never forget the that truth of the Resurrection is that Jesus was just like you and just like me – eyes and skin and hair and muscles and teeth and hands and feet and blood and everything. And Jesus is right here now, too. Not in a virtual way, like your friends who are only a click or a text message away over the Internet. Right here with us. Right now.

That’s why we gather in real time, not in the virtual world, but in reality. We come together because Christ came to us first. Our physical lives are made holy by his physical death and physical rising again. There’s nothing virtual about it. The internet is about virtual life – it doesn’t really exist. It’s hardly important. Jesus in the resurrection assures us that real life is really important – the good parts, as well as the not-so-good parts. It’s far more important than any virtual reality we may see on the internet. It’s not just our souls that God is interested in. It’s all of us. On this Day of Resurrection, remember that your real life is loved by God. Not as you could be. Not as you might be on the Internet. Not even as others see you. Those are all avatars, mere simulations. They’re all virtual. Reality is what counts. Reality is what Jesus came to redeem. Reality – you and me, with our ups and downs, with our joys and our sorrows , the messiness of life itself – that’s what Jesus redeems too. That’s you, and that’s me. As we get on with our real lives, we can know and trust that Jesus is right here with us, in our real lives. He is real, and his reality makes us real too. And that’s infinitely better than anything you can dream up on the Internet!


In honor of this day, a selection from the Messiah, one of my most favorite pieces of music:

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



Grandmère Mimi said...

RFSJ, here I am from the virtual world to say this is a very good virtual sermon for Easter day. Am I real or not? ;o)

Lovely virtual music, too.

RFSJ said...

Ironic that I posted a sermon dissing the Internet on the Internet, huh ? :-)

Easter Blessings,