Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Doug Bailey
Memphis, Tennessee
April 4, 1999
Easter Sunday

How Do You Become Easter?
The Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey, Rector

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
Gospel: John 20:1-10 [11-18]

May the Word of our Easter Lord be proclaimed in this place, to these people. And may only God's Word be heard. Amen.

"Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

Easter! The 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?

The Rev. 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?

Well, the 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 Easter?

I've been 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.

So, before 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. I’m 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."

Water is 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.

You know 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."

Helen goes 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.

Colossians 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?

Another suggestion 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, new life.

Walter began 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. That’s 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."

So, I've 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 person.

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!

"Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (NRSV)

Gospel: John 20:1-10 [11-18]
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (NRSV)

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