Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Easter Sermon

Easter Sunday
April 12, 2020
St. James’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. John F. McCard

Women why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?

When it comes to dealing with the vagaries of human life, I tell church members the real reason I became a priest was to help me with my control issues.

And I must confess that after 30 years of ministry, it hasn’t helped much.

I always have this nagging feeling that the universe would run a heck of a lot better if only God would take my advice.

But experience has taught me through the years, God usually does a much better job of running things.

And I probably learned this lesson in my first parish in Ohio.

One of my assignments was helping organize the annual Easter Sunday Egg hunt.

I have to admit that the volunteers and I did a great job.

We even went to the trouble of organizing three different areas for the egg hunting outside.
The first area was what I called assisted hunting. Parents were allowed to help small children.

The second area was for those who could hunt for themselves but didn’t have the speed or dexterity of older kids.

The third and final area, I simply called “survival of the fittest”.

Now I wouldn’t say my self-worth got tied up in having a successful egg hunt.

But my friends, I may have forgotten that Easter is about something a bit more important than where to hide the eggs.

You might even say, like Mary in the gospel, I forgot who I should be looking for…

Well to make a long story short, Easter arrived in late March of that year in Ohio.

As our Easter service progressed I noticed this white stuff appeared to be falling from the sky.

Yes, you guessed it before long, a full blown spring snow storm was evident even as the rector kept talking about the signs of spring being all around us.

Fortunately, a few quick thinking volunteers retrieved all the outside eggs and took them to the church’s basement for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

And when the Hunt was all over, in about fifteen seconds, I had to begrudgingly admit the kids all had a great time.

Even though, the hunt didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.

Of course, if I took a poll, most of you would agree that we learn a lot more from our disappointments, than when things go exactly as we planned.

Now an egg hunt and a pandemic don’t at first glance appear to have a lot in common.

But if we’re honest, this is not the Easter Sunday we all had in mind.

Nor would I suspect this is the spring we were looking forward to celebrating with sporting events, musical productions, weddings, and graduations on our calendars.

This has been and will always remembered as a season of grief and disappointment.

However, it should be comforting that according to John’s gospel, the very first Easter morning did not go as planned and was chock full of disappointed people: Peter, James, John and of course Mary.

In fact, Jesus’ disciples went to his tomb in great fear to bury not only Jesus’ body but their hopes and dreams as well.

They discovered, however, that God had other plans and their hopes were reborn when they found that empty tomb.

And today, as we wrestle with our own feelings of disappointment, we find ourselves asking similar questions, is there still an empty tomb for our lives and is there hope for tomorrow.

These feelings recently led me to revisit one of my favorite passages from the book,

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor.

For those who don’t know the story, Bonhoeffer was part of the conspiracy that tried to assassinate Hitler in the waning days of World War II.

When the bomb plot failed, he was arrested, and eventually executed.

This particular letter came at a time when Bonhoeffer had discovered that he would not be furloughed for a Christmas visit with his family.

His wise words about this other great Christian festival are just as applicable to us as we gather to celebrate Easter.

For a Christian, there is nothing peculiarly difficult about Christmas in a prison cell.

I daresay it will have more meaning and will be observed with greater sincerity here in this prison than in places where all that survives of the feast is its name.

That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt look very different to the eyes of God from what they do to man,

that God should come down to the very place which men usually abhor, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn—

These are things which a prisoner can understand better than anyone else.

For the prisoner, the Christmas story is glad tidings in a very real sense.

And that faith gives the prisoner a part of the communion of the saints, a fellowship transcending the bounds of time, and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.

Bonhoeffer’s reflections in his time of suffering have been on my mind a lot these past few days leading up to Holy Week and Easter.

And I have come to believe that he is right.

This year, we have the opportunity to observe Easter Sunday with more meaning and greater sincerity than in our past.

Bonhoeffer helps remind us that on this day, God did not let the death of Jesus’ on a cross be the final word for humanity’s fate.

Instead a loving God took a dreaded symbol,

A symbol that was feared and abhorred throughout the Roman Empire, and turned that cross into one of hope and new beginnings for all our broken lives.

The story of Jesus is a story that resonates within our own souls because it is placed squarely in the middle of our suffering and our disappointment with what human life has given us.

And Easter’s answer to all our questions is simple: Christ’s bodily resurrection is an event in history which seeks to heal the pain and disappointment of our human lives.

The Easter story challenges our fears and our loneliness.

The Easter story reminds us that our lives can change just as it did for those early disciples.

Remember they went to a tomb to bury their dreams, but our God brought their dreams back to life.

Jesus’ resurrection, the Easter event, is not just a story for yesterday but one that says to each one of us, do not let our fear or anxiety be the final say for our lives at this time in human history.

A true Easter Faith embraces our human life in all its messiness, brokenness, and desperation.

And in a powerful life changing way, at Easter, our Risen Lord says to all of us again, be not afraid.

The Easter story reminds us that God is able to take the world’s most hopeless situation and somehow in ways we may not yet understand, bring our dreams back to life.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a long time clergy friend in Colorado.

On the one hand, you may have thought, that we spent our conversation talking about all the various things we had had to give up or were no longer allowed to do under the current COVID-19 restrictions.

However, our conversation was not about trying to bolster each other’s spirits.

Instead, we both agreed that the Christian church had an unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel message with those in our parishes and outside the walls of this church in new and exciting ways.

At first glance you may think that sharing the Easter story in these times of pandemic is about as difficult as having an Easter Egg Hunt in the snow.

However, that would assume that Christian faith only works when things are supposed to go as planned.

Easter faith is not about a religion that only works when comfortable people have time to attend a comfortable church.

We are the one faith tradition that speaks best to the suffering world when the chips are down, and the savior is dead on a cross.

When the way is difficult, when the struggle to maintain our community is daunting, and when we feel that all our plans are useless.

This is precisely the time that we are all ready to hear the good news that Jesus’ resurrection brings to God’s people

For you see, it is not about our control of events, it’s not about the plans we have made.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is about God’ actions overthrowing our plans and our expectations about what the future is supposed to be like tomorrow.

Easter is about God saying yes to life, yes to human meaning, and yes to the possibilities that we have as a church community in the days and weeks ahead to share the good news that the tomb is empty and Christ has risen. And your life and my life will never be the same again.

We are all Doers of God’s Word and there is no force upon this earth that can stop us from Doing, from loving, and bringing this weary world hope for tomorrow.

There has never been a better time for Easter,

There has never been a better time for St. James’s.

There has never been a better time for us to tell the world about our Savior, Jesus Christ and a God of un-surpassing love, second chances, and new beginnings.

Alleluia Christ is Risen.

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