A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor – Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
Second Sunday in Easter • April 3, 2016
For years I’ve been asking kids at Children’s Time, “Did anything special happen this week?” The responses never cease to amaze me—both the ones I get and the ones I don’t. Years ago, for example, one of the active families in our church spent three weeks touring the west. They visited the Grand Canyon and many national parks. It was the trip of a lifetime. On their return, I asked Katie, their six year old daughter, if she had seen anything special in the last week. Now Katie was a bit shy and seldom said much at Children’s Time; I thought for once she’d have lots to contribute. But she scrunched her nose for a moment and then said, “Not really.” Even from my perch on the chancel steps I could see her parents weren’t pleased but no amount of prompting could shake Katie: nothing had impressed her. Are you like Katie? I know I am at times, I confess it. Every day God gets up early and puts on an amazing creation. But I know there are days, sometimes whole weeks, when I just pass it by without a thought, like Katie.
What did you see this week?
What did you see this week? All of the scripture readings this week revolve around the act of seeing the power of God. They offer a series of snapshots of Easter visions. The first is the disciples gathered after the resurrection. The shocking memory preserved in the gospels is that the disciples didn’t believe the first reports of the empty tomb. They couldn’t imagine Jesus was up and moving still, that the ultimate bounds of human life had been broken. So here they are, meeting in a locked room, voices hushed, afraid the same thing will happen to them. There, in the midst of them, the risen Christ appears. Even then, they don’t believe; the story says he has to show them his hands and feet—they need to see his wounds. Some still don’t believe; they have to touch. This is how we go forward in church, a bit at a time: we don’t all get the vision at the same time, we don’t all see the same thing and sometimes when we do, we need convincing.
Snapshot: The disciples on trial
The second snapshot is from a few weeks later. Some of the disciples have started telling people what happened and preaching in Jesus’ name. The same council that arrested him arrests them and thinks to scare them. But how do you scare people who have seen a man back from the grave? Isn’t it interesting to see what the disciples say? They don’t quote a creed; they just report what they’ve seen:
The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, John 19:30ff
The Council has them flogged; but at the end, clearly it’s the Council that’s scared. The Council puts them out because one leader, Gamaliel, warns the council members they could end up opposing God, as indeed they have. The disciples don’t just offer Jesus: they offer a view of him located in the tradition of Torah, of scripture.
The third snapshot comes from the end of time. John has a vision of what the end of creation will look like and he describes it this way,
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. [Revelation 1:7f]
The clouds are just scenery, like the mountains in a John Wayne movie or Manhattan in one of Woody Allen’s. These people don’t drive, let alone fly, and the clouds are there to make the hearers imagine someone more powerful, higher, than anything they have ever seen. The one who was raised is raised so high that we see him in the clouds. And the power of his coming overwhelms even those who thought to oppose him.
What have you seen? These are all snapshots, reports of what someone has seen. Jesus up and around, Jesus getting his disciples , simple men, to stand up to the powers of their city, Jesus coming in clouds of power.
These are not ideas; none of the reporters offers a philosophy about Jesus. This is the family album and these are people showing the family pictures. When we look out at the world, when we look around, there is a great tendency to answer the question, “What do Christians think?” More and more, I am convinced Christian life has more to do with seeing than thinking—and then telling people what you saw.
Show Me Your Resurrection
We live in a culture that seems to have adopted Kurt Vonnegut’s phrase as its response to evil. “So it goes”. What else can we say? A Buddhist monk posed this question to Christians: “Show me your resurrection.” When I look for the power of irresistible, eternal life, when I search for Christ, I see people, people who touch his light and lift it. Written on the wall of a cellar in Cologne where Jews were hidden these words were written: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent.” If God is silent, maybe the silence is there so we can speak up, so we can tell what we’ve seen.
Chris is risen
Like a lot of churches, we put an Easter banner on the front this year. It just takes a few minutes to order these things but you do have to proof read them. That’s a lesson someone got powerfully wrong this year; John sent me a funny picture of a white Easter banner that said in big, bold, red letter CHRIS IS RISEN: not Christ, which was surely intended, but Chris. So I laughed about this, somewhat ruefully because over the years I’ve made many proofreading mistakes. And then I thought about it and this was my question: who’s Chris? Was I wrong, was I being short sighted? Did Chris rise just like the sign said? And what about us: surely Easter is meant to be more than a nice day with special music and pretty flowers; surely it is meant to remind us we are called to rise with Christ. What if we put your name where Chris is: Jim is risen, Eva is risen, Deb, Amy, Ken, and so on.
The disciples didn’t debate; they didn’t write a systematic theology. They told what they’d seen, they lived from the love of Christ and were raised by it to new lives, lives they told about and shared with such power that soon the little group of 11 or so was growing so fast it couldn’t be contained any more than the tomb could contain Jesus. Like Jesus, they shared their wounds; like Jesus, they shared their faith in the ultimate power of God whether seen or not at that moment. Like Jesus, they lived the resurrection.
Try it out: maybe the sign printer knew something important. Chris is risen: so are we. Show it, tell it, this week.