Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunday Sermon - April 5, 2015

The Resurrection of our Lord – Easter Day: April 5, 2015
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2; 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III STS

It was one of those nights that you wake up about 1:30 a.m.
and you want to go back to sleep immediately,
but you’ve been through this before,
and you know that you’re going to be up until at least 4:15.
You know what kind of nights I am talking about.
You get up and get some water to drink
and maybe you eat something.
You might turn on the television or surf the internet
to get away from the flood of thoughts that close in in the dark:
the adult equivalent of the childhood monster in the closet.
Regrets, fears, dreams, hopes, desires, wants, needs.
Things to do that you can’t do now because it’s the middle of the night.
Trying to figure a way through conflicts you cannot resolve.
Rehearsing conversations which one will never have,
in which one delivers a really crushing remark
that silences your tormentor;
or perhaps you rehearse hearing the remark that crushes and silences you.
Worrying about things you can’t do anything about –
the powers of the world, the thoughts and actions of others.
Alone with the voices until one finally falls asleep again,
only to be awakened by the alarm which comes far too early,
to face the dawn which breaks whether one has slept or not.

This has happened to me often,
but it happened one time early on a Good Friday morning,
That time as I half-woke from my sleep,
the thoughts and worries came to me,
but one stark and terrible thought came to me,
‘Jesus, even now, is being taken away to be tried and convicted,
and he will be scourged and beaten,
crucified and dead on a cross,
and be buried in the tomb.
And I will be alone.’

Now, these thoughts may have simply been a flight of fancy,
a fevered fantasy of a pastor with an overactive imagination
who had stripped one too many altars
and chanted one too many settings of the Passion story.
Perhaps, however, whenever we wake at night
and are confronted with the terrors of the world,
we are rehearsing this same agony of a world without God,
a world in which we are left to make whatever we can of our own existence.
And so our existence becomes a burden;
there is no present time in which to act.
The past is a place of missed opportunities and broken promises;
the future is impenetrable to us.
with the possibility of successes or failures.
Everything is up to us – and everything stays with us –
our successes and our failures, our health and our disease.
And there it is: 3:30 in the morning,
and we can only lie there in the darkness and wait for the morning to come.

This particular occasion it happened to me on Good Friday morning,
but it would have been far more liturgically appropriate
to wake up in the darkness on Holy Saturday morning,
or even before the dawn on Easter Sunday morning:
with Jesus already dead as can be dead,
entombed in the cave tomb of Joseph of Arimathea,
with the stone against the door.
Then I truly could have entered into the terrifying experience of the apostle Peter,
as he woke from a fevered sleep in the middle of the night:
‘God is dead, and I have killed him.’[1]
Well, perhaps not killed him, but at least denied him,
and who among us can say that this is not so of us?
In that moment there was no present time for Peter,
simply a past which he could not undo
and a future which was impenetrable to him.
Could he return to his former life of fishing on the Sea of Galilee,
as if nothing had ever happened and his walk with Jesus was all a dream?
Or would it be over much sooner than that,
as soon as those who had been seeking Jesus’ death
found out where his disciples were as well?
Nothing he could do about it now;
not in the fourth watch of the night, not at 3:30 a.m.
The only thing to do - lie there in the darkness and wait for the morning to come.

Easter Sunday makes no sense without Good Friday,
but it also makes no sense without Holy Saturday –
the time of silence, the time of God’s absence,
the time where the present is suspended,
the present shrinks to an indescribably narrow point
between the past that cannot be undone
and the future which is terribly uncertain.
‘God is dead, and he will stay dead, and we have killed him.’
or at least we have denied him,
and in our denial of him we have cast him out of our world.
It is only then can we understand and embrace the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection is not simply the assurance of life after death,
it is the faith that Jesus is life beyond death, life who conquers death.
It is the faith that despite the death which haunts us,
the sin that condemns us,
and the evil in the world that surrounds us;
Christ has taken on these powers and stands victorious.
God’s creatures may have cast God out of the world,
but in Christ God returns victorious to save these very creatures.

The angel says to the women,
‘Go and tell his disciples and Peter
that he is going ahead of you to Galilee;
there you will see him, just as he told you.’
Perhaps Peter’s name is mentioned especially
because Peter,
who of all the disciples, had not only fled from the arrest of Jesus
but had denied him publicly,
was most in need of the reassurance
that in the light of Sunday morning,
Jesus stood, victorious over Peter’s own denial,
to forgive and bless.
The past could not be undone
and the future was yet uncertain,
but in the light of Sunday morning,
there was a present for Peter,
in which he could follow Jesus again
and stand again in his Lord’s presence.
And because Jesus was raised from the dead,
each moment would always be a moment in Jesus’ presence,
so that the past was also a record of blessing
and an uncertain future would also be certain,

And this is the message to us as well,
in the midst of the wakeful silence,
in the night of our regrets, fears, dreams, hopes, desires, wants, needs
and our conflicts we can’t resolve,
when we are confronted with the past and the future,
Jesus is the present.
Wherever he is, there is Easter morning,
whether it is 2:30 a.m. in a dark room
or in the full light of day
with flowers and trumpets and songs of praise.
The past stands against us and the future stands before us,
but Jesus is present,
and he stands with us,
to forgive us, to protect us, to raise us from the dead,
and to call us forward to follow him
and live with him forever.
Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘God is dead, and he will stay dead, and we have killed him…’