Surprise!

A Sermon for Easter; Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

Last Sunday a fire broke out at St. John’s the Divine, in the undercroft forcing 100 people to evacuate. There was little damage, but St. John’s had to quickly find and set up a place to hold their 11 am observance of Palm Sunday, which they did (Ferré-Sadurní). Last Monday fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral. There was great damage, but not as much as could have been. Not long before the Fire Department had rehearsed a plan to remove the Cathedrals treasures and relics in case of fire. It worked. Later Monday a fire broke out in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, in a guard’s room near the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room. The firefighters contained the blaze before it could spread (Solly). We now know all these fires were accidental. At the time, the news of the fires was a surprise that made me wonder “What up?”; and I still wonder.

Jaylesya walks every day from her home in a Trailer Park to work at Bojangles. No matter the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine, she walks 6 miles work, spends her 8-hour shift on her feet, and then walks 6 miles home. One day she notices a Sheriff’s Deputy car is following her. She is worried she has done something wrong. The deputy pulls up beside her and asks her to stop. She is afraid to stop but more afraid to keep walking, so she stops. The deputy asks her a few questions and asks if he can give her a ride to work, warily, but gratefully she accepts. From time to time the deputy would stop and give her ride. One day he pulls up alongside and asks her to stop. She does, curious, but no longer concerned. He walks to the back of his car, opens the trunk, and takes out a bicycle, a Schwinn Fairhaven women’s cruiser, donated by a local Wal-Mart. A surprise that began with worrisome caution, ends with joyful thanks (Wilson Times Staff).

On April 6, Mark Edington was consecrated as Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. I expect the congregation was surprised by the title of the sermon, which begins “Go Away ….” The preacher, Andrew McGowan, is a long-time friend of Bp. Edington, so there is more to this than it first sounds. McGowan shares from frank information, that is not exactly new: a 2016 survey reveals that 39.6% of the French claimed no religion, and is at the forefront of western secularism, probably a trend-setter, not an outlier (McGowan). He goes on to say

Christendom is over in some places, and on its deathbed in others … [and that] elements of Christian faith [appearing as] part and parcel of the life of the West – is over. But the Jesus Movement is not over, the Way of Love is not over – the Church is far from done.

A bit later he notes that Jesus has a way of saying, “go,” or even “go away.” It is not a dismissal, so much as marching orders, for disciples to “go away” and make disciples of all nations. McGowen began his closing

so Mark, welcome, and “go away.” Go away, not because we are pessimistic but because we are hopeful, not because we think God has abandoned us, but because we know God will lead us.

This morning Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and other women, who had come with Jesus from Galilee, leave to go do their duty to properly bury their friend, their hope, their future. The last two days have been horrific. Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten; subject to a sham of two trials; one a Jewish religious trial, the other a Roman judicial trial; both are replete, full, of fake news, and fake testimonies, so many Pilate doesn’t believe them; nonetheless Jesus was crucified; wrapped in linen cloth and put in a tomb. Then there is the long Saturday as the shadow of death covers a Passover celebration. Their morning begins with expectations of deep sorrow, and hopelessness.

Then they are surprised. The stone in front of the tomb has been rolled away. What can this mean? They go inside, and Jesus’ body is gone, ~ nothing good can come from this. Suddenly two men are with them, they remind the women of what Jesus had taught them, and they do remember ~ everything!

They all go away to share with the disciples what they have experienced. All but one shrug it off as idle chatter. But Peter, in an act of renewed commitment, runs to the tomb to see for himself. He is surprised, all there is in the tomb is the linen burial shroud. Then he returns home amazed by, wondering about, what has happened.

Surprise is the theme of the day. It has come to me that Gospel surprises come in many forms and ways, but generally, fall into a few broad categories. There is the surprise we experience when we realize that Jesus’ wounded hands have grasped ours and is pulling [us] away from whatever coffins [we] are in, from whatever deaths [we] know and fight and fear (STW).

There is the surprise of go away which requires our attention to be fixed on Jesus; If we look for life and direction and meaning anywhere but at the risen Lord—then our hearts will be divided, and our energy will be scattered, and our rising will be slow (STW).

There is the surprise of receiving a simple gift, that transforms your life, something as simple as a bicycle that revolutionizes your daily journey to work.

There is the surprise that leaves us pondering what it means, like a string of seemingly unrelated fires.

There is the surprise when pondering all this we realize we are free;

  • free to simply be free,
  • free focus on Jesus,
  • free to go,
  • free to give away a simple gift,
  • free to be a gift,
  • free to live on a new earth under a new heaven (Isa 65:17),
  • free to ponder the fullness of life alive in Christ (1 Corin. 15:22)

all with glorious the chant proclaiming

Alleluia Christ is risen

          [the congregation joins]

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

for all the world to hear.

Amen


References

Ferré-Sadurní, Luis. “Fire in Basement Crypt at St. John the Divine Forces Palm Sunday Worshipers Outside.” The New York Times (2019). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/14/nyregion/st-john-the-divine-fire.html.

Liggett, James. Outstretched Arms, Easter Day. 21 4 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

McGowan, Andrew. “GO AWAY: APOSTOLIC MINISTRY, INCLUSION, AND THE FUTURE OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH.” 6 4 2019. http://abmcg.blogspot.com. <http://abmcg.blogspot.com/2019/04/go-away-apostolic-ministry-inclusion.html&gt;.

Solly, Meilan. “A Small Fire Broke Out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque as Flames Ravaged Notre-Dame.” 17 4 2019. SMITHSONIAN.COM. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/small-fire-broke-out-jerusalems-al-aqsa-mosque-flames-ravaged-notre-dame-180971983/&gt;.

Wilson Times Staff. “Deputy donates bike to woman who walked 12 miles to and from.” 28 8 2018. wilsontimes.com. 17 4 2019. <wilsontimes.com/stories/deputy-donates-bike-to-woman-who-walked-12-miles-to-and-from-work-pqq14,139562>.

 

 

 

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