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Sermon: Easter Sunday, March 31, 2024

by Rev Greg Wooley



When I think of Jesus and his disciples – the twelve named in scripture, and the other faithful men and women who were part of his trusted circle – their diversity strikes me.  There were followers from fishing villages and from bigger towns like Capernaum, and Jesus himself had grown up in the home of a tradesman in the high country of Nazareth.  We read of them bickering at times, and we recall the way that more prestigious religious people of the day looked down their noses at the riffraff that sat at Jesus’ table, everyone from sex workers to tax collectors. While the gospels state that the focus of Jesus’ ministry was his own Jewish people, they also describe his interactions with people of other ethnicities and religious traditions. On the whole, then, in the disciples of Jesus I experience diversity, not homogeneity or unanimity.

Twelve years ago when I arrived in Canmore, it didn’t take long to learn that this community of faith was a bit like that. On any given Sunday there would be, gathered in this room, people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences and places regarded as home, and a wide range of beliefs.  As a preacher it was my job to engage the full range of these interesting and varied viewpoints.

This Easter Sunday, then, I’m going to stop at a few different points on this wide range of faith, and tarry awhile. It may be that none of these really hits home, but my hope is that perhaps more than one of these descriptions names something you carry in your heart, for belief tends to be a complex thing.  After each one, I’ll pause for a breath before moving to the next stop.

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I know there are worshipers here for whom a relationship with God is tangible: you relate to Jesus in a personal way, perhaps even experiencing the risen Christ walking beside you, and your prayers to God are a person-to-person conversation.  Holy Week might be a really challenging time for you, as you recalled your friend Jesus’ going through the elation of Palm Sunday, only to have the week end with the horrors of Good Friday.

And for you, on this day of Christ crucified, arisen, I share a sonnet from Malcolm Guite, an Anglican priest and poet in the UK who led me through holy week five years ago.  His wonderful “Sonnet for Easter Dawn,” on the back of today’s bulletin, engages Mary Magdalene’s face to face Easter experience with the risen Christ and it ends like so:  

“She turns, but cannot focus through her tears, or recognise the Gardener standing there.

“She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why, Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light that brightens as she chokes out her reply:

“‘They took my love away, my day is night’

“And then she hears her name, she hears Love say The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day”.

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For some – dare I say, many, in this room - God is primarily experienced as Creator, and everything you encounter in nature reflects God’s creative urge.  For you, God is experienced in awe and wonder, and because there is a sacredness to it all, every living being and even the planet itself is your kin.  On this Easter day, resurrection is seen in the processes of nature – the dying of a seed to make way for a plant, the process of metamorphosis, even the passage of the seasons, winter giving way to spring.

For you, I bring these words about resurrection from the hymn, “In the Bulb there is a Flower” by Natalie Sleeth:

“(1) In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree, in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

“(3) In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

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For some people here, God is primarily the one who liberates and restores wholeness: freeing the Hebrew people from servitude, enlivening the work of the Civil Rights movement, reaching into your lives if something is diminishing your life: addiction or chronic illness, or grief.  In the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, God’s all-in commitment to life in the face of forces that deal in death – the forces of empire – are so very evident.

For you, I bring the edgy words of Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, in a sermon that she preached in a prison in Colorado: 

“[after his resurrection], Jesus…didn’t try and hide the mark from the spear on his side.  He didn’t wear gloves to conceal his scars.  Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said peace be with you then he showed them his hands and his side. He knew that he would be known by his wounds.

“The things that happened to Jesus’ body — the state sanctioned violence, the flogging, the crucifixion — remained even after he defeated death and rose from the grave. He still bore the marks of that pain, but the pain was not what defined him.

“Our scars and our sorrow will always be part of our story but they will never be he conclusion of our story. Which means that even when you feel trapped in your pain, trapped in your past, trapped in your own story like it is itself a tomb, know this — that there is no stone that God cannot roll away.”

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For some gathered here, life is not so much about God, but rather is about embracing the virtues expressed by Jesus, and participating in a Church community gives an opportunity to be with others who want the world to be a better place. 

For you, on this day of resurrection-following-crucifixion, I offer a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian American woman who reflects on death and life, sorrow and kindness:

“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow.You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day…only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere….”

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And for some in this room, it’s all about love. To be a person of God is to be a person of love, for God is love. Jesus was a full and wondrous embodiment of that love so in Good Friday, we see forces of hatred doing their best to silence love, and in the resurrection, love arises over hate.  

For you, after weighing a bunch of different quotes, I settled on this one, from a children’s book entitled, "Together We Rise by Pastor Paul Raushenbush:

“Jesus rose from the dead to remind us that there is always hope, that God is always with us, and God's love and justice is more powerful than fear and hate.

“We rise with God's love that brings us together to love one another, we rise to bring God's promise of justice and freedom to earth as in heaven.

“We rise to remember that each one of us, is a part of God's heart, made in God's image, worthy of dignity and respect. Jesus' great invitation to rise in love continues today”

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Wherever you land on this spectrum of belief, whatever brought you here this morning, at Easter there is good news proclaimed for you and through you.  Your life can be a place that declares resurrection light and life and love for those closest to you, and well beyond that. There is in Easter a celebration of a love that cannot ultimately be defeated, arising in powerful, change-bringing, life-affirming ways.  May resurrection, in whatever way you embrace it, be real in your life this day and always.  Amen. 

References cited:

Guite, Malcolm. “A sonnet for Easter dawn”. https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/easter/ 

Raushenbush, Paul. "Together We Rise" accessed at https://togetherweriseeaster.com/ 

Sleeth, Natalie. “In the bulb there is a flower” © 1986, Hope Publishing Company.  Found at #703 in Voices United.

 

© 2024 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church. Preached in Canmore AB.

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