The Path to Resurrection: Easter, 2022

         The part of the sermon writing experience that is the hardest for me, and it has always been this way, is the introduction. Because for my preaching style, the introduction is the thread that weaves through the entire sermon; it sets the tone for everything. Once I have an introduction, writing the rest of the sermon usually flows pretty easily.

But, sadly for me, there is no writing the rest of the sermon until I have the introduction in mind. And trying to write an entire message without an introduction usually produces a meandering journey through my thoughts, rather than a thought provoking intentional look at a theme.

Some weeks, grabbing an introduction feels like catching rain drops in my hands: harder than it sounds, and gone just as quickly as it arrived.

Sometimes, I have one of those weeks during Holy Week. And let me assure you, that’s so fun!

The problem this week wasn’t so much the lack of a strong introduction, which, as you can tell, I still lack. The problem was that one line of text just kept leaping off the page at me, over and over and over.

This line was so prominent to me that I haven’t been able to see past it.

All I could see was this one line, and then, like a tree diagram, I could see all of these different paths and potential things to talk about, because it is a great sentence. It’s just that none of those things are an introduction.

This week, the line “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” has been on repeat in my head.

A more literal translation from the Greek is “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

I translate it into modern language as, why are you seeking what is among what was?

It’s a good line. Very to the point. With just a hint of snark from the angels when they suggested it’s silly to seek Jesus among the dead, while he’s alive and headed to Galilee. It was such a good line that it was all I could see.

Every year during Holy Week clergy gather together to renew our ordination vows. This year when we gathered at the Cathedral on Tuesday, I realized that I haven’t been to church in like 3 years.

If there are any Christmas and Easter folks here who maybe feel badly about only going to church twice a year, please hear this: the priest hasn’t been to church as a parishioner in 3 years. So, you’re good.

And sure, I go to church most weeks, but I’m up here, working, doing things. It’s work. I like my work, but this is my job. I hadn’t been to church, to sit, listen, sing, pray, to just be, since 2019.

And I have to tell you all, I forgot how to church.

We were joined by a Lutheran Bishop and he co-presided over communion. Apparently, the Lutherans have a slightly different practice with the breaking of the bread, and he broke it early in the Eucharistic prayer. And I gasped, loudly, people turned around to look at me.

I had to take a bio-break in the middle of service because I can no longer sit still for 90 minutes.

I had no idea what to do during the passing of the peace. I was so confused.

I somehow ended up in the wrong line, and at one point on the opposite side of the church from where I started, during communion.

I sat next to a priest friend, Isaac, and he very kindly helped me play off the very loud gasp, and look around with me when we very correctly remembered the places to stand up and sit down, but were the only ones.

There are parts of how to sit in church that over the last 3 years have just sort of died within me. Those parts, I think, that died, those are the parts that maybe didn’t mean as much to me. Those parts mean a lot to a lot of people, but I guess the decorum and expected behaviors, I lost those in the long break.

What survived this time are the parts that are deeply meaningful to me. Communal prayer, community, communion itself, and a deeply interesting and thought provoking sermon.

Bishop Gates preached a lovely sermon on the tendency in church to “put things back where we found them” and how we should maybe reconsider this, as we return to life post-pandemic.

I think his idea of considering what needs to come back, and what doesn’t, I think the Bishop’s question is a very important one to ponder, and it tied in directly to what was already on my mind. This line, said by the angels, why do you seek the living among the dead?

Said another way, how are we embracing the world as it is today, rather than as it was 2 years ago?

The world has changed since 2020. A lot. Early on in the pandemic we all remembered the childhood lesson of the importance of washing our hands, and now. After a few weeks of social distancing, many of us remembered the importance of being able to hug the people we love. And, I think we all learned the valuable lesson of why we shouldn’t wait until the last roll to restock on toilet paper.

We also learned that zoom, while it isn’t the same as being together, it’s not so bad, and allows us to feel connected while being physically apart. For me personally, the idea of church meetings that happen after 5 pm in the church, died, and has been happily replaced by zoom meetings instead.

For a great many of us with white skin, we witnessed, perhaps for the first time, the violence continually being perpetrated against our siblings of color, with the death of George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey, and Breonna Taylor in the summer of 2020. Our naivety at how the world works, and that just because the world works for us one way, doesn’t mean it works that way for everyone, that naivety died in front of a store in Minneapolis, or on the side of a street in suburban Georgia.

Throughout Lent we’ve been on an intentional journey, considering the various different paths that we are on, collectively and as a community. Today, we find ourselves on the path to resurrection.

And the path to resurrection begins when something dies. It’s often very startling, to find ourselves on the path to resurrection, trying to bring forth something new and beautiful or meaningful from our grief and despair.

When the unnamed women arrived at the tomb in the early morning hours of what would soon be known as Easter Sunday, they discovered an empty tomb where Christ’s body was supposed to be. The confronted with two angels the women very quickly realized they were squarely on the path to resurrection.

They expected to encounter death and sadness, because the path they had been on for years with Jesus had ended with his gruesome murder. The path they had been on took them through many different places, to see many different people. Most of whom cheered, and some of whom chased them out of town.

The path they had walked following Christ had turned sharply when it arrived in Jerusalem. Where there was betrayal by a friend. Violence. Grief. Hopelessness. And then surprise. Confusion. Terror. There was remembering, elation, then rejection by their closest colleagues.

Soon there would be reunion, joy, celebration, redemption.

It is from the pit of their grief, the most raw and heartbroken, disillusioned and confused that most of the disciples would ever be. It is from that place of utter uncertainty, that Christ is reborn, and they see with their own eyes who he really is. That all of the outward parts didn’t matter. What matters is the message and the love of God for creation that God would take on a human body, live a life, die a violent death, for us.

As a society, we are in a similar place to the disciples as we emerge a bit from out pandemic induced isolation. And I find myself curious about what life will look like next year. What will die, what will grow in its place, what will go back to where it was before?

Church, as a whole, not just our little green church, church is facing a similar question right now. Who are we, and who will we be going forward?

After sitting empty and mostly unused for a long time, life is slowly returning to our sanctuaries. Coffee hours are slowly resuming. Communion is being offered again. We’re even having an egg hunt today!

As I was considering the line, why do you seek the living among the dead, and holding that next to my own experience of forgetting how to just “be” in church, I found myself considering a very difficult question. And it’s a question that I would like all of us to ponder; not right this very second, because I’m talking and I like being the center of attention. But later, please, everyone, consider: why do we come to church?

Why are we at church, right now?

I don’t mean this to be a negative question, truly. Because, all of us are here. So I know there’s a reason and I bet it’s a good one.

But why are we here?

I would like everyone to consider this, whether you are here every week, or once a year.

I’ve heard from a few people that they come to St. Paul’s because of the community. And we do community very well around here. This is a church of people who just flat out cares for each other. And it is a beautiful thing.

But community, even loving community, that can happen anywhere. Why here? Why part of a faith community?

I imagine there are seekers and those who question. Some who appreciate the tradition; some of us who want to learn or to be challenged. For many generations people went to church because of a sense of obligation to something ineffable or to something as concrete as family. Church also offers an opportunity to connect with members of other generations; I imagine there are even some folks who go to church because they want to make sure they get in to heaven.

I pondered this question for myself as well. Why did I decide as a young adult that it was important for me go to church?

I think, for me, the answer was that I was seeking. I was seeking a connection to God and to myself. I was seeking to figure out how to follow God. I did not expect following God to lead me to the priesthood. Quite honestly, if I had known, I might not have done it. This can be a tough gig.

I was seeking God. Seeking wholeness, health, peace, justice, hope, mercy, liberation, forgiveness, redemption, myself.

         I think I’m still seeking most of those things. And, those are the things that were shared with me from within the St. Paul’s community about what we’re all journeying to as well.

         These are the things that I believe are what really matters at the heart of life and of church. The things that give our lives meaning, and give our faith grounding and purpose.

         These are the things that will survive the parts of the church that are dying. These are the things that will survive in a post pandemic world that looks similar and different to the world before.

         These are the things, love, hope, mercy, justice, peace, belonging, wholeness, liberation, forgiveness, redemption, these are the things that Christ taught us. Those are the words that echoed through the disciples as they found the tomb empty, and as they tried to decide what to do next.

         Friends, today is Easter. Whether you believe in a bodily resurrection or not, today marks the anniversary of something amazing happening. Something that forever changed the lives of a few individuals, and those few individuals would go on to change the world.

         Those few individuals spreading a message of a man who offered them belonging and purpose are why all of us are here today.

         We are at an inflection point in our society, in the world, and in the church. These issues are bigger than ourselves, but also, we have to start thinking about who we are as a community, and who we want to be going forward.

         I think, honestly, that starts with each of us considering why we go to church. And then, why do we go to this church?

         There are more things for us to consider, but that’s enough for today, I think.

         The really bad part about not having a solid introduction is that I don’t have something to circle back to so you all can be impressed at how well I tied everything neatly back together.

         But maybe that’s the point right now. We’re figuring it out. We’re all seeking the living among the dead, or the dead among the living, or we aren’t sure what’s dead and what’s alive.

         So maybe it’s time we all take a deep breath, and just be grateful that we get to be here today, together, for whatever reason.

         Let us seek what gives us life; what helps us live. Let’s seek what gives us purpose and belonging. Let’s seek to love, as Christ taught us.


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