Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Easter Sunday Sermon, April 5, 2015: Surprised by Joy

My Parish in my hometown when I was a child used to gather up all the children before the service and they would stand outside the church door and they would shout, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!  About a dozen times before the service began.

I discovered as I visited Easter Services at Eastern Orothodox Churches that this is a custom of theirs.  They leave the church and march around the neighborhood singing, then stop at the door and shout many times, “Christos Anesti, Alethos Anesti” which is Greek, and “Christos voskres! Voistinu voskres”, Old Church Slovanic, which both mean of course, “ Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen indeed!

Today’s Celebration is characterized by unbridled Joy! 

Joy is delight!
Joy is wonder!
Joy is pregnant with possibility.

We don’t want to confuse joy with Pollyannaish optimism. I got a cup from McDonalds which had a line marked half full, half empty.  This is not joy.  That is making the best of a situation.  Joy is complete and full.

And Joy is also Not ignorance of hardship.  Easter Joy is only possible with the full knowledge of human suffering, fear and despair.  The path to Easter comes through the Cross.  One must pass through the dark and sinister valley of the shadow of death to arrive at Easter.  As Winston Churchill said, “When you find yourself going through, hell, keep going.”  Jesus embraces the least honorable aspects of humanity taking his faith and trust in God, taking his love, his compassion and his mercy there, and in so doing he conquers death.  He asks us not to avoid this suffering but to join him there so that we too can pass through with hiim.  And passing through we shout:.

Christ is Risen.  The Lord is Risen indeed.

I searched the attic of my mind for stories that celebrate this Easter truth and my mind returned again and again to that Easter Favorite, “The Grinch who stole Christmas”

You all know the story.  The Grinch could not abide joy.  He hated joy.  And he lived next to the town that was perhaps the most joyful in the universe, he lived next to Whoville, full of Whos.  He especially hated Christmas when they had all these rituals of unbridled joy.  So he decided he would sabotage it.  You know the story, he dresses up as Santa Claus, goes to town, on a sled, pulled by his miniscule little dog named Max, and he steals all the accoutrements of Christmas.  But what does he discover?  He discovers that the joy the Whos in Whoville had was not an external joy, that needed props.  The Whos in Whoville had discovered in their hearts joy and love.  And then the Grinch also realized that, his heart also longed for that joy!  His heart grew so large that the heart-o-meter broke trying to measure it.

Today our hearts grow large.  Today the joy of Mary Magdalene infects us.  Today the surprise and wonder of the beloved disciple and Peter penetrate our psyches.  Today the faith of two thousand years that goes forward in trust no matter how dark the sky, or bitter the winter, or deathly the plague becomes, that faith that the Divine’s power of love and compassion is exceedingly greater.  Death cannot overwhelm the sheer beauty and delight of Love.  Love prevails.

Many wonder, what was Christ’s rising from the dead like?  Did it really happen?  Could we call it a historic truth, or is it just a spiritual truth.  I am a pretty modern person, I’m good at science, and I value it, but I believe I am a bit of an outlier these days, in that I for one truly believe that Christ rose from the dead.  The stories are so full of excitement, and they are too messy in my mind to be pious fictions.  I believe they really encountered again the Jesus they knew and it changed them.

But also there is a ring of truth for me in the Easter Story.  Christ’s rising from the dead, love conquering death, forgiveness trumping judgment, these things resonate with a song very deep in my being, and I trust.  But even though I believe in the resurrection as history, that is NOT the most important thing about the Resurrection. 

I know too many people who say they believe in the resurrection but who do not live as though they did, and I know too many people who say they do not believe in the resurrection, and yet live as though they believe.  This causes me to believe that  getting it right about the resurrection is not the most important thing.  Being right is sometimes pretty much worthless.

The Resurrection asks us to embrace the more!  The resurrection asks us to explore beyond time and space.  It yells at us that the possibility for grace and goodness exceeds all our imagination.  Easter resurrection begs us to live life in the freedom to love!  It even asks us to love with abandon!  To live joyfully.

A Buddhist Monk I love very much, Thich Naht Hahn, who I quote very often here, exemplifies I think this freedom.  I love the prayer or mantra he suggests we pray in the morning.  He recommends we welcome the day saying, “Hello Morning.  Hello a brand new 24 hours to experience peace and joy.”  I find this outlook to contain an insight to the resurrection life.

C.S. Lewis wrote a biography of his conversion to theism and then to Christianity, entitled “Surprised by Joy”.  He wrote it before he ever met his wife, whose name was Joy.  In it he examines the moments in his life when something greater broke through, and he came to realize the best thing to call those moments is joy.  It created cracks in his understanding that allowed light to shine in.  There is in joy a quality which allows one to transcend the ordinary and experience the more. 

A key in his journey was he realized that his century had made an idol of the modern so much so that people had failed to realize the relevance of the past.  We deny ourselves treasures from our spiritual ancestry because we have come to believe we can progress ever forward to a better world.  Well I personally think that idea is pretty much shot now.  When I encounter the writings of the ancient world I often find incredible wisdom and insight that resonates with that song within me.  I think this is what C. S. Lewis meant.

Joy is something we celebrate as a people.  Jesus did not seek his own salvation, rather he sought the salvation of all.  He asks us to be a community supporting and enjoying one another.

Today we bring Gabriel to this community, to the experience of an ancient faith.  He will be baptized in water, that mysterious element in which we cannot live, and without which we cannot live.  He will pass from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to Joy, from a world bound by time and space to a world of love pointing ever towards more!

Baptism, Holy Communion, and indeed all the traditions of this day, including our new bells, remind us of the important differences between life focused on time and space and life focused on the the More of life.  Humanity has discovered ancient time tested ways to express the inexpressible.  We use symbols.  We use Light!  We use Water!  We use handshake.  We use bread and wine.  We talk about crossing thresholds, slavery to freedom, darkness to light, death to life.  We sing things rather than say them. We change our posture so that our bodies align with our souls.

But one of the most important ways we move into the the more of our lives is Joy.  Let go.  Celebrate.  Do not worry about worthiness!  God makes us worthy!  Do not worry if you have never done this before.  There was a time when you had never had chocolate, or kissed some new love, or cried at a story, or looked into a baby’s eyes. 

Do not feel it is irresponsible or that you might be mistaken.  We cannot live if we take no risks.

Let us Surrender to Love!  Let us Surrender to Forgiveness!  Let us Surrender to Compassion!  Above all, this day, Let us be surprised all over again, and surrender, like the Grinch did, to Sheer Joy.

Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! 

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