March 31, 2013
St. James’s Episcopal Church
The Other Side of the Cross
There was once a man who believed he was the reincarnation of John the Baptist. He proclaimed this at the top of his lungs as he travelled through one neighborhood after another. Everyday he wore the same thing; a robe made out of potato sacks and tied together with twine. Everywhere he went he screamed at people about how evil they were and how they needed to turn from their wicked ways. Most people in town were pretty scared of him and after several weeks of frightening the public he was picked up by the police and committed to a psychiatric facility for observation. In the hospital he was placed in the room of another man who was quite troubled. Immediately this potato-sack-wearing prophet began preaching and shouting, “I am John the Baptist, repent you sinner, the Lord Jesus Christ sent me!” With a shocked expression on his face, his new roommate looked at him and said, “I did not.”
Back in the day, there were many people who thought Jesus was crazy. The religious leaders even accused him of being possessed by a demon. His ideas were too extreme, too dangerous. When he was arrested and put to death they were relieved. They thought his crucifixion had exposed Jesus as a charlatan. His crazy idea that the “last will be first, and the first last” in the moral and monetary order of the world had been exposed as ludicrous. His social vision of God’s equality, a world in which the sun shone and the rain fell on the just as well as the unjust, was refuted as nonsense. Sure, Jesus had been popular for a while, but the cross put an end to all of that. That’s what the cross was for, that’s what crucifixion was for – to put a stop to all those who thought they were some kind of a savior – to get rid of those who thought they knew better then Caesar, better than Rome.
But you and I are here this morning to proclaim that the cross is not final. There is another side to the cross – the resurrection side. That is where we have come today to stand – on the resurrection side of the cross. They say that in a forest fire, there is always one place where the fire cannot reach. It is the place where the fire has already burned itself out.” On the cross evil did it’s worst and burned itself out. Therefore on the resurrection side of the cross we are safe. We are safe with the risen Christ.
Martin Luther King used to tell the story of Sister Pollard, a seventy-year-old African American woman who lived in Montgomery, Alabama during the now famous bus boycott. Everyday during the boycott she walked long distances from her home to her place of work. One day Sister Pollard was asked if she wanted a ride. When she answered, “No,” the person asked, “But aren’t you tired of walking all the time?” To which Sister Pollard answered, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”
Living on the resurrection side of the cross means resting our souls in the promise that the Kingdom of God is here, the promise that God is redeeming the world, fashioning a way out of no way. Sure, we will continue to face all kinds of challenges and struggles along the way; “our feets will be tired,” but our spirits will be strengthened by the presence of the risen Christ. This is the good news of Easter morning. When we live on the resurrection side of the cross our illnesses don’t seem nearly so final; our fears fade a little and lose some of their grip; our grief over those who have died is diminished. On the resurrection side of the cross we proclaim that evil has done its worst but the tomb is empty – Christ is risen. On the resurrection side of the cross, when all is said and done – love wins.
At the celebration of his eightieth birthday, the great Jewish mystic and scholar, Martin Buber, denied being a prophet or a philosopher or a theologian. He said simply, “I am only someone who has seen something and who goes to the window and points.” I like that. On this Easter morning, it’s our joy to point to the empty tomb and proclaim – He is Risen – and because Christ lives everything is different. As a result, we are to be people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others. We are called to forgive, to welcome the stranger, to do something that is life giving, something that fights death and needless suffering. Because every time we bring hope into a situation, every time we bring joy that counters despair, every time we forgive others, every time we listen to others and affirm them, every time we speak the truth in public, every time we confront injustice – we point to the empty tomb and say – He is Risen.
You may have heard about the letter Newsweek published several years ago from the Greenville County, South Carolina, department of Social Services. In wonderful bureaucratic fashion, it was a letter to a dead person. It read – “Your food stamps will be stopped effective immediately, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. Should your situation change, you may reapply at anytime.”
Today God declares that our situation has changed. Christ has changed it. On the resurrection side of the cross our hope-less world has become hope-filled. We are no longer bound by the grave; we are no longer slaves to the power of death. Life has conquered death; we have been freed from the grave. The tomb is empty and our situation has changed because the Lord is risen. Alleluia, alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed. Amen.