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. 




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Blessings, Rock