Saturday, March 31, 2018

Year B Easter Sunday 2018 Descended to the Dead/Fear Not

Year B Easter Sunday, 1 April 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Descended to the Dead” 

Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Isaiah 25:6-9 
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples 
 a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,  
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 

And he will destroy on this mountain 
 the shroud that is cast over all peoples, 
 the sheet that is spread over all nations;  
he will swallow up death forever. 

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, 
 and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,  
for the Lord has spoken. 

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;  
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. 

Acts 10:34-43 
Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." 

John 20:1-18 
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. 

From the Apostle’s Creed, from what we say we believe about Jesus Christ: 

I believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord.  
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit  
and born of the Virgin Mary.

That is why we are here today, isn’t it? We believe in Jesus of Nazareth, that he was the one? The Messiah, the Hebrew word, or the Christ, the word in Greek. The “Chosen One.” So unique, so singular in all of human history. So godly, that we had to rethink what God was like. The miracle of the Incarnation is that God shows Godself to be like Jesus, and this came through because of the godliness of Jesus. He lived in such a way that even a hardened Centurion on Good Friday declared, “Surely this man was God’s Son.” (Mark 15:39) 

The thought that the infinite became finite is beyond comprehension. That all that is took on our 46 chromosomes so that we could be shown the way things ought to be, so that we could see that Love Wins, always. C.S. Lewis was fascinated with the Incarnation, God coming in the flesh in Christ. He wrote:  
“…the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (“The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock, 80) 
He looked down and saw our need and decided that something needed to be done and that there was only one who could do something about it. God the Son. So he did. 

And from the Creed again:  
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,  
       was crucified, died, and was buried.  

This has been the focus of this week. Ensconced in history, at a particular time and in a particular place, Jerusalem around the year 30 of the Common Era, Jesus was betrayed, taken, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, scorned, ignored for clemency because of the “optics” [my least favorite political word], humiliated, spit upon, crucified, and then he died. The one thing in all of existence that had never happened, the eternal expired.  

Think on that alone.  

God died.  

God died for me. God died for you. God died for all of us. 

And again from the Creed: 

He descended to the dead.  
On the third day he rose again.  

Ever wonder about that? What happened in that space between. “It is finished!” and “Woman, why are you weeping?”  

Friday, and we have the irony to call it Good, Friday, through Saturday, and we have the Audacity to call it Holy, to Sunday, and we live in hope facing the Rising Sun, S-U-N or S-O-N, you make the call. 

Part of our faith tradition is that we claim that we know. “He descended to the Dead.” 

Other translations clarify by saying, “He descended into hell.” 

Now we have to be wary, thinking that what we mean and understand and what was meant 2000 years ago. Our understanding after 2,000 years has been enlightened, or morphed, in light of the Resurrection. Our knowledge of Easter affects how we see what happened during those quiet, deathly silent, hours. In those three days (Friday afternoon, Sunset becoming Saturday in the Jewish mind, and  another Sunset becoming Sunday), what happened? 

In the mind of the Greco-Roman world, there was an understanding of the place of the Dead, Hades NOT HELL. Our idea of HELL has influenced what we think about the Judgment Day and where the Dead go.  

Jesus says to the man who asked for remembrance on the cross beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And so the question that this begs, what is “now”? 

A few weeks ago, I was praying with a family saying goodbye to a loved one in the hospital. Their loved one had been brain dead for many hours, and they were saying goodbye before the turned off the machines supporting life. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, horrible. And they asked me where their loved one was. 

I was honest, and said, “We just don’t know. We can’t.” But then I described things this way. Like Jesus said to the man on the cross beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” So what is Today? What is Time? 

Time is a creation, just like our bodies, our minds, and this world we so enjoy. It is like a stream of water, flowing, ever flowing in the same direction. And when we step out of Creation, we step out of time. So then, where are we. 

I believe what we say in the Apostle’s Creed. “He descended to the Dead.” Where are they? When are they? Are they? 

I think this is what we are getting at when we say what we think and believe, “He descended to the Dead.”  On this side of Judgment Day, where are those who have gone? 

To the Dead. Wherever that is. 

To the Dead. Whenever that is. 

And here in the West, we do not give much credence to what took place wherever whenever that is. But if we look to our Orthodox friends, this is an entirely different approach. 

Often in our Orthodox brothers and sisters minds are the images of the Anastasis, the Resurrection in the Greek. And in icons, and mosaics, and other sacred art we tend to see the Resurrected Christ along with Adam and Eve, representing “the Dead” and all that are with them. 

Anastasis literally means “standing up,” and when we view the Resurrection from the Orthodox perspective, the Resurrection is not what happened to Jesus on Easter Sunday just shy of 2,000 years ago.  

Resurrection is what happened to all of Creation. Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and Adam and Eve, and all of the Dead who follow after, and you and me when our turn comes, then Heaven and Earth as described in Revelation, “Behold I see a New Heaven and  a New Earth coming down.” You see, like heavenly WD-40 or eternal Duct Tape, the Resurrection is a fix-all for all of Creation.  

Often you will not only see the Resurrected Christ reaching down to lift up Adam and Eve, but he will be stepping on Satan as well, vanquishing Death forever! 

Looking at the front of the bulletin for today, you see that very different visioning of what all this means.  

And if you look at the squiggles in the black, that are the chains that bind, and the locks that hold us in Death’s dark shroud.  

I remind you of what we read today in the prophecy of Isaiah (25:6-7): 
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples  a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,  of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain  the shroud that is cast over all peoples,  the sheet that is spread over all nations;  he will swallow up death forever. 
We hear of the feast, and we see a one-way venture, we and those of us alive flood in. But it is two-way. It is the flooding out of the those already counted amongst the Dead. Even think of some of our phrases, like “Dead and Gone,” or “Rest in Peace.” In the Anastasis, in his Resurrection, the standing up is not just Jesus. The Dead and Gone are Dead and Back. “He will destroy… the shroud that is cast over all peoples, ...he will swallow up death forever.” 

We are only given one ride on this Merry-Go-Round we call life. May we do it right the first time, living with no regrets, loving everyone while we can. You will often hear me intone this at the Blessing before we depart, “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the…journey with us. So be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” (Henri-Frederic Amiel.  Amiel’s Journal: the Journal Intime of H-F Amiel,trans. Mrs. Humphrey Ward (London:  Macmillan, 1921: p. 146). 

Jesus did that with his one, single, solitary life. And in doing so, enabled us to do the same. Frederich Buechner put it this way, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” (Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABCs of Faith) I do know think that it is accidental that the phrase is uttered so many times in Scripture. From angels and prophets, and Jesus himself. “Be not afraid.” In fact, so much of the Good News of God in Christ is just that, that we NEVER NEED BE AFRAID. 

And lastly from the Creed: 

He ascended into heaven,  
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  

And here we have it all put back together. 

God stepped down and made Godself at home with us, sojourning in skin, and now is in heaven so that all may be made right with the world. And one day, in love and righteousness, we will all be gathered up and brought to where there is a place prepared for us, those who will be living and even those who have descended to the Dead. All of Creation will find it way home.  

In our world, too often it is said, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Sad, but too often true. But here, in this one instance, we all have someone on the inside, our Mediator and Advocate sitting at the right hand of God the Father, pleading on our behalf. As I said before, we NEVER NEED BE AFRAID. 

All will be set right. Our side wins. Love wins. All because of this day. This glorious Easter Day. 




Year B Easter Vigil 2018 Mindset of Resurrection & a Fluid God

Year B Easter Vigil, 31 March 2018  
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“The Mindset of Resurrection and a Fluid God” 

Genesis 1:1-2:4a Creation 
Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21 Passing through the Red Sea 
Isaiah 55:1-11 “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…”
Ezekiel 36:24-28 “...I will sprinkle you clean with water…” 
Romans 6:3-11 Do you know that all who have been baptized have been baptized...  
Mark 16:1-8 Mary and two other women go to anoint Jesus’ body  

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8  The woman at the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome left afraid.    

Fear is so easy to cling to in the unknown.  We have been wired that way. In the culmination of the greatest act of love ever recorded, we see these dear people respond in the only way they know how.  Fear.  

Our programming takes us to fight or flight.  Peter chopping off Malchus’ ear. Fight. The woman running from the empty tomb.  Flight. We go there without thinking. And that is the problem.  

But dear friends, we are given another possibility.  

Albert Einstein penned that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  As we move into the Mindset of the Resurrection, we are invited to take on the mind of Christ.  

We are invited to step above and beyond the fear, and view all of our problems from the perspective of Love.  How else could he stay silent when lies were being told of him? How else could he receive the Betrayer’s Kiss mere hours after washing Judas’ feet?  How else could he look down from the Cross on which he was soon to die and pray, PRAY, “Forgive them Father, so they don’t know what they are doing.”?  Father, forgive us for so often we do not know what we’re doing either. 

 When are days are dark, and it is always darkest before the coming dawn, we have been given another way.  This new way of thinking and of living has been echoed by the Saints of God across the ages.  Deep in her prayer life, the woman who has come to be known as St. Julian of Norwich wrote of her revelation of Divine Love.  We often hear the first part, but so rarely continue the passage. She penned, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” But listen to where she goes with that... “For there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”  

You came out on this darkest of days to celebrate this new life we find in Christ.  You came out to worship this God of Resurrection. Even those of us who have been in the Church for decades, might need a rethink of what this God we worship is like.  

The God we worship is flighty.  Not flighty in a ditzy way, but going from moment to moment and event to event pollinating like the bees God’s Grace and goodness.    Our God is often depicted as a great Rock or a mighty castle.  But our God is not a stolid God, impregnable like a fortress, despite the words of the old hymn.  

Our God cannot be captured in permanence. Of all things God is not, God is not static. Dynamic, awe-inspiring, ever-changing, ever-hopeful is our God.  The God we worship is infinitesimal.  Our God is not great and huge, but tiny and precise, slipping between the very atoms that we think hold us together.    The God we worship is sneaky.  The God we worship this night slips in between our defenses hacking into our hearts, and opens our protective gates so that God’s light and truth may take over the darkened chambers of our hearts. 

 We come this night, this night of all nights, in recognition that God is NEVER set and ALWAYS changing.  How often do we try and make it so, though?  People say, and rightly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8  True, but what is the constant? Change!  Justice! Transformation!  Our God seeps in where God is unwanted, ravaging the cold and stagnant treasures we hide deep, deep within, and bringing the hidden out into the open.  Tonight, on this night of Resurrection, I want us to think on God.  

Our God is a God of Resurrection, but even more so, our God is a God of Insurrection, overthrowing the past and embracing and creating the new.  “I am about to do a new thing;” God declares in Isaiah 43:19, “now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This Easter Vigil, as we await the dawn I invite you to dream the dream of a God that makes all things new.  Nothing could be more radical, nothing could be more subversive. Nothing could be more terrifying to so many. But, nothing could be more true. 

Tonight I preach of a fluid God.  A fluid God is one you cannot get a handle on.  When we try to grasp, it slips through our fingers.  Do not hold onto me, the Resurrected Christ tells his disciples, follow.  “Follow me,” and “Go, and do likewise” are Christ commands.  

A fluid God is without shape, because God gives shape.  “The earth was formless and void” as we saw in the Genesis reading, “and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the Deep.”  And out of this chaos shape and meaning and purpose was brought forth. A fluid God can flow between what is and what should be and bring out the purpose of God’s creation.  

A fluid God can stop the very rules of Nature.  We know water flows downhill; it does not stand up straight and tall and form walls.  But with a fluid God, the children of Israel can pass through on dry ground between walls of water in the Red Sea.  Rules do not apply when fluid God gets flowing. The very fabric of the Universe can get soaked and become dripping when the fluid God begins.   And as this fluid God soaks into the fabric of the Universe, holding back the waters of the Red Sea is nothing to our fluid God. 

A fluid God can be consumed as well.  In our thirst, a fluid God can be drunk, a drink quenching the unquenchable in us.  “Ho, everyone who thirsts come to the waters…” we read in the prophet Isaiah. That was for a people long ago;  is it any different for God’s people this night? Come to the waters of this fluid God, drink God in and be quenched.  

A fluid God can also cleanse us.  “I sprinkle you clean with water,” Ezekiel reminds.  As the water transfers from the bowl to the cloth to our blemished skin, the fluid God can wash us removing those things that cling so closely, and return us to the state we were meant to hold.  

A fluid God can baptize us.  As we are baptized, immersed into the waters of Baptism, our fluid God is surrounding us and transforming us.  Romans 6 tonight told us:  
3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 

Our baptism is our catalyst into the newness of life in Christ.  We use the word catalyst as something that causes change, but our fluid God is a true catalyst in the chemical sense, “something that initializes and promotes change without being changed itself.”  In our interaction with this fluid God, we are transformed and changed throughout, while our fluid God continues on the same forever and always. It is hard for us to conceive, but the waters that quenched the dinosaurs thirst is the same the quenches ours.  This precious fluid of life continues being utilized and transforming millennia, after after millennia, after millennia, and it is still here doing what it is supposed to do. Our fluid God is the same. And those same waters of the Jordan in which Jesus was baptized are the very same waters we use in our font.  The beauty of that cannot be lost.  

What is more, on this night of Resurrection, this fluid God connects beyond just time, God connects us between this world and the next. Our fluid God connects us in the here and now with the great cloud of witnesses.  Jesus promised the thief who asked to be remembered that today he would be with him in Paradise.  In the eternal Now that is to come, our fluid God connects us as one day we will be connected as well.   
 Once again from tonight’s Romans reading: 
 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 

May we do the same. The life we live, may we live to God.  

Lastly, a fluid God can anoint us.  The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning to anoint the body.  But in the fluidity of Resurrection, Christ was no longer there. An anointing is a setting apart.  David was anointed to become King, even though he was not in the royal lineage. We anoint the newly baptized, marking them as Christ’s own forever.  I would urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, in the sure hope of the Resurrection, to be anointed in your hearts and minds. Set them apart from the way you are wired.  Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was gunned down just shy of 50 years ago (April 4). This man looked beyond the hatred to a world transformed in God, a world transformed by God.  MLK called it “The Beloved Community.” The women that morning almost Two-Thousand years ago, chose the natural, the safe, the normal way. But in Christ’s Resurrection we are promised something new.  

When we are seized with terror and amazement, the words from Mark’s gospel, remember our fluid God.  Take on the Mindset of Resurrection. Rise above the fight or flight, and be an agent of Grace, an agent of Hope, an agent of Resurrection.  The women, Mark tells us, “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” As a Resurrection people, we must proclaim.  Our fluid God surrounds us and binds us. Our fluid God baptizes and anoints us.  Our fluid God goes before us into the unknown, and whatever situation may terrify or amaze us, our fluid God is already flowing ahead of us to meet us there.    May the words of our sister St. Julian of Norwich be our cry even during our darkest night and our fears surround us,  
“All shall be well,  
and all shall be well,  
and all manner of thing shall be well.”   
Or better yet, “Alleluia!  The Lord is Risen!” 
Response: The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!