How Do You Become Easter?
last Easter in this Christian millennium. How does one find words that
match the power of this faith event? Jesus of Nazareth, a Mediterranean
Jewish peasant who is a teacher and a preacher and a prophet, one whose
very life and magnetic love embodies the kingdom of God, is brutally violated
and murdered and executed on a cross. He is very dead and very buried.
Then, several days later, he is alive again, reaffirming and reassuring
his beloved companions in a graveyard garden that he is risen. Christ
is risen! Christ is risen! How does one find words to match the power
of this faith event?
Dr. William Willimon is the chaplain at Duke University. He is a renowned
preacher -- in my opinion probably the finest preaching voice in Methodism.
They have magnificent Easter celebrations at Duke University Chapel, as
we do here -- as will happen in great and small Christian churches all
over the globe today. Well, Will Willimon decided that he would like some
evaluation; and so several years ago in the week following Easter Day,
using a sampling, so I have heard, of some seventy-five to eighty-five
people, he conducted a kind-of Easter Gallup poll by asking Easter worshippers
the question, What was it that left the greatest impression on you
in the Easter celebration that you experienced in Duke Chapel? For
those of us in Calvary, now think about that question. What if someone
were to ask you Wednesday or Thursday of this week, "What left the
greatest single impression of Easter in Calvary Church on your life?"
What might be your answer?
results were rather staggering for a preacher. Not surprising, but staggering.
The overwhelming number of people were most impressed with the glory of
the Easter music. Choir and musicians, take a bow. The runner-up in this
Easter Gallup poll was the glory of the majestic decorations on Easter.
Flower Guild, take a bow. Next, a good many said it was the tremendous
Spirit in that Easter congregation. Others said it was the sacred power
of their Easter communion. At the bottom of the list, only four people
said it was the Easter sermon. That is very intimidating for an Easter
preacher, stated Will Willimon. And, says this Easter preacher, I would
certainly agree. To Easter preachers this may not be surprising, but it
is still intimidating.
I'm not so
intimidated that I'm ready to leave here quite yet. In fact, I do not
want to leave here until I have asked us to wrestle with an important
question. The question is -- How do you get to Easter? Another way to
ask that question is -- How does one live an authentic Easter life? Or
still another way to ponder the question personally is -- How do I become
told that if we placed tuning forks up here in the chancel, and if one
of you came forward to strike one of the tuning forks, that all of the
rest of the tuning forks would seek, through sympathetic vibrations, to
match that very note of that single tuning fork which had been struck.
I find that fascinating.
I leave this pulpit, I want to ask you a question. How do you, how do
I begin to match the note of Easter which has been struck by God in the
risen Christ? How do you get to authentic Easter? How do you live Easter?
How do you become Easter? I don't mean just on Easter morning; I'm talking
less about Easter morning than I am next Tuesday afternoon. I'm talking
about deep in next summer. How do you, how do I live the Easter note of
that sacred tuning fork, the risen Jesus Christ, in our own life? How
do you get to Easter and keep it, so that it makes a lasting difference
in the world?
I want to
reflect with you on two things that leap out of today's Scripture, and
give us a guide for a way to get to Easter and live it. The first is,
you have to die. Yes, I am speaking of the physicality of death. But,
I'm speaking even deeper than that. Im speaking of the spirituality
of death. How do we die to ourselves in order to live to the risen Christ?
I'll speak for this Easter preacher. How do I cross Doug's too-large ego
out in order that Christ has a face through my face, so that Christ has
a heart through my heart, so that the risen Christ has a life today through
my life? How about you? How do you willingly, sacrificially let some things
die in you, in order that Christ will live through your body, your soul.
We have to die before we're ever going to get to Easter, before we will
become Easter, don't we?
I was so
conscious of this in the baptisms of yesterday, Easter Eve. We had magnificent
baptisms. Our church was just vibrant with many children and families
and extended families. In the baptism liturgy we prayed over the water,
and said these words: "We thank you, God, for the gift of water
for the water of baptism.
In it we are buried with Christ by his
death. By it we share in Jesus' resurrection."
a tremendous symbol for us. That is why, on this Easter morning, the water
is still in the font from last night's baptism. This water is a symbol
of our dying and our rising up. It is a symbol of going down under, of
our lives being buried with Christ in the tomb. And, this water is a symbol
of coming back up again, new and alive in Christ. But first we have to
go down; we have to die. We have to let go. I suggest to you as you make
your way to your Easter Eucharist today that you simply reach your hand
into this water of baptism and be reminded that the only way we're really
going to live is if we are willing to die
to cross ourselves out
and live with Christ.
the story of Helen Keller. She had tremendous handicaps. She was completely
blind and deaf. Because she had the double handicap of being deaf and
blind, she could not speak. She did not know how to fashion words because
she could not hear them. Helen tells a story about water that is tremendous.
Let me read it out of her autobiography. She is walking with Ann Sullivan,
her companion and her teacher, and she remembers: "We walk down a
path to the well house. We were attracted to the fragrance of the honeysuckle,
which was blooming in the spring. Someone was drawing water, and under
that spout my teacher placed my hand. The cool stream gushed over one
hand. In the other hand Ann Sullivan spelled out the letters w-a-t-e-r.
Water. That is what that is, and she kept spelling, W-a-t-e-r."
on to write: "I stood still and my whole attention was fixed upon
the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt the amazing consciousness
of something that I had forgotten or never known. I had the thrill of
returning thought. Somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.
I knew that what I was feeling in my one hand -- water -- was being spelled
out for me in the other hand. That awakened my soul. In that moment, all
of my anger left me. All of my dread left me. All of my fear and all of
my darkness left me. I had a lot [still] to do, but with that moment,
I began to be set free. She is talking about spiritual baptism and
water and the power of it. So, we go under the water, God spelling across
our soul: w-a-t-e-r
and we come out of the water like Helen Keller,
with awakened souls. Alive, in Christ.
letter for today reads: "Our life is hid with God in Christ."
In Christ I die and in Christ I live. How do you get to Easter? I don't
want you to leave this morning until you have wrestled with that question.
I've been wrestling with it for weeks as I've been pondering and preparing
this Easter homily. Nobody is going to remember the homily, but I want
you to remember the question, "How do you get to Easter?" More
importantly, how do you live Easter? How do you become Easter?
in Scripture that gets us to Easter, and there are many, is that you have
to hear a Voice call your personal name. You have to somehow hear a sacred
Voice, as did Mary of Magdala in the graveyard. The risen Christ, who
Mary had mistaken for a gardener, looks at her and calls her name: "Mary."
As if to say to her: "Mary, I'm alive; and I want to relive my life
in you." That is when we can say as Mary says, "I've seen and
I know the Lord."
I want to
tell you a story about a man who heard his name called. I met Walter several
years ago. Walter is not his real name, but that is beside the point.
He was a businessman in this city who had never had anything to do with
the church. He was a quality guy, but he had a terrible addiction problem.
He was addicted to alcohol and drugs. I came to know him only after he
had begun recovery in our Nooners [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings. Walter
began to find a new lease on his life. Through the conversations we had,
I began to sense that something was happening in him. He was beginning
to hear a Voice calling his name. You see, nobody seems to understand
better what it means to die to an old way of life and to live to a new
way of life than does a person in addiction recovery. Such persons, like
Walter, know the deep and powerful meaning of new hope, new possibility,
hanging around Calvary Church, sitting in the pews where you are, regularly
receiving the Body of Christ. He began coming to some of the adult education
courses here. He became a participant in several Journey courses. Then
he decided that he wanted to be baptized; and so, we baptized him among
some of his business colleagues down in the Bethlehem Chapel.
So it went
for about a year for the "resurrected" Walter. Then he developed
a heart problem. He had to have a heart catheterization, a surgical procedure.
He called me on the day that he went into that surgery and asked if I
would bring him the Eucharist that evening. I arrived at his hospital
room late that afternoon, and Walter was up shaving. He was standing there
in front of the mirror shaving. I said, "Walter, what are you doing?"
He said, "Well, I'm shaving." I said, "You just had surgery."
He said, "Yea, but I'm feeling amazingly good." He was humming.
You know what he was humming? Jesus Christ Is Risen Today. I couldn't
believe it. We talked a while about his new life, and how a Voice seemed
to be calling his name. Then we had the Eucharist together. It was growing
time for me to leave, and so, after prayers I left his room and walked
down the hallway. Thats when Walter came out into the hallway with
fresh shaving cream on his still-unshaved beard. He yelled up the hallway
and said, " Doug, tell everybody it is contagious." I said,
"What, Walter, heart disease?" He said, " No, tell people
that alleluia is contagious. Tell them that Christ is risen, and lives
in us. It's contagious. Tell 'em."
come to tell you that today. You see, Walter had heard his name, his very
own name, called. He was living it out. Alleluia was all through him.
He died that night from a heart attack. But he died a veritable alleluia
I hope I
don't recover from the Walters of my life. I don't know about you, but
alleluia people like that change me. They make me want to ask the question,
How do I get to Easter? Not just on a wonderful Easter morning, but how
do we live alleluia every day of our lives? You see, I long to become
an Easter person. And that is what I want for you, for all people. I long
for Calvary Church to be an Easter congregation for the City of Memphis.
We will have to do some costly dying. And then, we will have to do some
new kind of alleluia living. We will hear our names called, and we will
have no other choice than to respond. Yes, my friends in Christ, someday
-- we will get to Easter. We will become Easter. So, spread the word.
Alleluia is contagious!
Christ is risen.
Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-10 [11-18]