True Joy

Posted by

The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
Easter Day
John 20:1-18
April 20, 2014

Click here to listen while you read…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, your cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory… We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.

Why not begin my sermon this morning with “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” We’re going to get there…

But first, we need to spend just a bit of time reflecting on how we got HERE.

The first prayers I shared with you are from the very end of the Good Friday service. That service is a crucial service, because, well, how can we celebrate the Resurrection without realizing the crucifixion? It’s impossible…

Because, you see, Easter Sunday is, in reality, the hardest sermon to write for the entire year. It’s the hardest because there is this enormous swell of exuberance to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection.

“Thank God!” we may say, “Lent is over. I can finally eat chocolate again!”

And, that’s true. But is the point really to gorge on Cadbury Cream Eggs because, being Easter, we “can?”

No. We the point is not to go back to doing what we always did before we gave up certain things for Lent because, well, that’s what you do during Lent, we give things up. And now that’s over.

The point is NOT to just get back to “normal.” The assumption—and I want to name this out loud—is that we are experiencing something in this Easter celebration, that we have been transformed.

We have crossed over into a new way of being, having experienced the death and burial and now resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is our reality…that is our truth.

And the point, if you were, of our spiritual journey is to embody this reality of new life. That’s the point of what we do, as a Church: we’re in the transformation business, if you will.

And, that of course is why Easter sermons are always so darn hard to write. Because we are surrounded by so many bright Easter eggs and bunnies and baskets and dresses and bowties that sometimes we struggle to get underneath all that.

I think of it this way: Easter dresses are sacraments of new life, because they are outward and visible signs (the colors, the freshness of them all) of our refreshed and resurrected life in Christ.

But, we struggle to go the deeper place. We see this struggle in our Gospel text from this morning. There are Peter and John running to the tomb after hearing from Mary Magdalene that Jesus is…..gone… And notice what happens. John gets to the tomb first, but what does he do? He won’t go in. He won’t go into the deep place. Instead, he simply looks in from the outside, and sees the externals: the wrappings lying there.

I don’t know about you, but I think that is a remarkable symbol of how we too often live the spiritual life: we seem satisfied with the externals. We have been invited into this new life in Christ, but we too often seem satisfied with just looking at the linen wrappings.

Does it overwhelm us? Is it too much for us that we are invited to share in this spiritual reality, in the deep truth of our faith: that through our baptisms we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? That we are invited to live life anew, to embody our faith with intention and sincerity? That the call of Christ upon our life will put us at odds with the powers of the world around us? That being a Christian isn’t supposed to be easy? That practicing our faith is going to demand that we move beyond and under the externals?

Like I said, this is why Easter sermons are so hard to write.

I think the point of Easter, the deep truth, is found not within the proclamation of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” but rather in the Anthem from Good Friday: “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”

That’s the essence of Easter. That’s the “good stuff” if you will: that, somehow, joy has come into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But, of course, this invites us to reflect on the true nature of Christian joy, doesn’t it? Easter joy reaches deep down within us. It is a joy that embraces the pain of life and transforms it through the promise and hope of Christ’s Presence in our lives. It is a reality that does not need to deny grief and loss, but rather enfolds it in an even greater truth: that God’s love permeates all. And, that God is trustworthy.

It is a reality that reminds us that death that does not have the last word, and that God’s love enlivens us and strengthens us to live and share love with others.

Easter joy, friends, is the good stuff underneath the thin veneer of “happiness” that so often distracts us.

Easter joy is the Divine Reality that moves us from the “It is finished” of Good Friday to the “It is beginning” of Christian life. It is the source of our ongoing spiritual journey, as we grow into the full stature of Christ.

When Barbara Taylor was here last weekend, I offered this prayer at the conclusion of her lectures. I think the images speak to this reality of a true Easter joy:

You, who promise to be with us–
or at least promise to be real and true–
Be among us…

You, who spoke and brought forth life out of the chaos that was–
and who breathes in the chaos that still is–
Be among us…

You, whose love crosses all boundaries we may impose
on what is “meet and right” for a deity to do…
Be among us…

We adore you, even as we wrestle with how
we can embody You in our own lives.

May we not cross our fingers when we invoke You.

Because we do wrestle.
We pray for Enlightenment when what we want
most of the time
honestly
is a comfortable “happiness”
shallow and saccharine as we know that can be.

Move us deeper. Pull us. Invite us.
Entice us.
Beyond the shallow crust of an arid faith
until we begin to see
that the darkness of Gethsemane and Golgotha
is the fecund soil
that gives rise to a lush, new life
that seeks to embrace the reality of You, God—
and our deepest self.

As if those were different.

You, in whom we live and move and have our being…
Beyond light and darkness—and enfolding them both—
in that space that, deliciously,
Is.

“Be not afraid,” you have told us.
Ok. We’ll try.

We trust you.

Now let us be on our way.

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