Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day in Our Neighborhood

Sheepscott Community Church EASTER SUNDAY April 4, 2010

Acts 10: 34-43

Luke 24: 1-12

It’s a Beautiful Day in Our Neighborhood

The last line of this morning’s gospel is about Peter, who had run to the tomb upon hearing the women’s reports that the body of Jesus was gone and that two men with garments shining like lightning had asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. While the larger group of disciples had thought the women’s reports nonsense, Peter went out to see if it might not possibly be true. The very fact that Peter was there says a lot for him. Everyone knew about his three-time denial of Jesus; news travels fast in a small, tightly knit community, such as the disciples and followers of Jesus were. And yet he had the moral courage to face those who knew his shame. He really is an inspiration to the rest of us human beings who know well our shall-we-say deficits.

So, here is Peter at the tomb. As the the scripture relates, “Bending over he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” I expect we would have scratched our heads in the same way. What happened to the body? Where is Jesus? Soon enough Peter would know, and the other disciples as well, when Jesus appeared in their midst in the Upper Room a week after the events described in the gospel. Soon enough he would know when the disciples shared a meal of cooked fish with Jesus on the Galilee seashore. Soon enough he would know when he heard about the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, to whom Jesus revealed himself over supper in the breaking of the bread before he suddenly disappeared.

But what about us? We don’t see Jesus himself as the disciples did on a number of occasions after the resurrection. How on God’s green earth are we to believe such a fantastic story? Is it simply the metaphor for new life focused on the vernal equinox with its return of the sound of birds, crocuses in bloom, irises, tulips, daffodils, lilies, hyacinths, chives, all pushing up from their roots in life? The birth of lambs, trees budding, grass greening––all hope-filled signs of life returning to the frost-filled ground that settles back into itself under the warmth of the sun. Lovely. But is that all there is? as the song from the ‘80s asks.

No, it isn’t, and as Paul famously wrote in First Corinthians, “But if it has been preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless and so is your faith. ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

These are still open questions: What does it mean to be raised from the dead? And was Christ truly raised? What happened to the body? Isn’t it just as likely that his followers or even the Roman guards, all working in their self-interest, disposed of the body before that third day?

The gospels of the next few weeks talk about the appearances of Jesus, so, as I pointed out, belief that Jesus had been raised was not a problem for those disciples of the post-resurrection period, with doubting Thomas as the paradigm of skepticism who will not believe until he places his finger in the wounds and his hand in the riven side.

But again, what about us these two millennia hence? How can we believe such a marvelous assertion as resurrection? I have one suggestion to offer this morning, and you might guess at it by the title of the message: “It’s a Beautiful Day in Our Neighborhood.” Is there anyone here who does not recognize the theme from Fred Rogers’ children’s show that aired on PBS for so many years and was key in the formation of many of our children––and to their benefit, I might add? I’ll tip my hand up front here and tell you that I think Mr. Rogers is the closest thing to a saint I have seen in this life.

In preparation for this sermon, I watched again on Utube the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Rogers at the Oscars in 1997. Tim Robbins, the presenter, introduced Mr. Rogers and the award with these words: “For giving generations of children confidence in themselves, for being their friend, for telling them again and again and again that they are special and have worth.”

Then Fred Rogers unselfconsciously addressed the glittery crowd of Hollywood Oscar hopefuls and their supporters with these words: “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what is best for you in life.” And then Mr. Rogers said he would keep the time, and at the end of ten seconds, he said, “Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

The connection between this event and the resurrection of Christ? We don’t have to continue to wonder as Peter did as he walked away from the tomb on that morning of mornings what had happened. And although we cannot see the raised Christ as the image we have seen rendered artfully since our days in elementary school, we can know the resurrected Christ in each other and all others, in how we care for and help others become who they are, and in Mr. Rogers’ words, by wanting and acting for the best for them, and thus by loving them more fully into being. That is the living Christ, the Body of Christ in the world impelled only by the motive of loving another selflessly for their own sake.

Happily we are sharing communion this morning, as Easter falls this year on the first Sunday of the month, the day of our communion. With his uncommon wisdom, Jesus knew the long-term importance of an ordinary way for his disciples and those who came later to remember him. He instituted the sacrament of communion at the Last Supper when he said to share the meal of bread and wine in remembrance of him––”Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus was not big into showy manifestations of his power. He moved in the company of those we might consider the lesser ones among us––sinners of all stripes––because they were the ones who recognized that they needed help.

He spoke in homely parables about bread, lost coins, a runaway child, the lilies of the field. He knew the lives of the ordinary people––he was one himself––and lived that life, bringing the greatest gift of unconditional love to those ordinary people.

He moved among the lesser lights of the Galilean community and shared life with them, eating bread and drinking wine. And at their last meal together, asking them henceforth when they did this simple eating a meal together, to do it in remembrance of him. Don’t forget me. We this morning will eat and drink in remembrance of him, and the resurrected Christ will consequently be among us because we are remembering him.

As I read earlier from First Corinthians, Paul focuses on the risen Christ and the importance of belief in that because that is how he met him on the road to Damascus, never having met him in the living flesh on this side of the veil. But the disciples would remember Jesus not because he was raised up, but because they knew him as the healer, the teacher, the helper, the friend, the best friend any one of them––including Judas––ever had. They would have known him, as Mr. Rogers described, as “the special one who has loved us into being; who helped us to become who we are; who cared about us and wanted what is best for us in life.” That would have been the Jesus they knew and loved.

Now before we have our communion together, I want to take a page from Mr. Rogers’ book and ask you to remember who it was who loved you into being, the one or two or three people who helped you to understand your self-worth in God’s eyes by acknowledging it in their eyes, which, for all intents and purposes, are God’s eyes on this earth. I ask you to think about those people in recognition of what and who the resurrected Christ is, how he lives by his Spirit among us in how we treat each other, how we raise each other up. He continues as the healer, the teacher, the helper, the friend, living in and through us as we allow. We have been given this sacrament to remind us that he is with us as we remember him, and we do re-member him when we eat this bread and drink this cup. Fred Rogers only took ten seconds. I am going to keep time for thirty seconds. At the end of that time, I will say the pastoral prayer and will include a blessing for these people we have thought about. ––30 seconds––

It hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing that first Easter, that resurrection day because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence, and so has it been ever since. And so is it here today, in you, among you, within you, with us. Know this: Jesus lives. He is at large in the world as the very power of life itself, i.e., Love. Let us love others into being, as we ourselves have been loved into being. That is an act of both thanksgiving and praise. Amen.

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