Sermon Preached Easter 2012
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston
The resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate [on this holiest of nights] is a promise which begins to find its fulfillment in the here and now. The promise of the resurrection – as our Easter shouts of Alleluia proclaim – is that our new life in Christ has already begun! In the waters of baptism, “we are buried with Christ in his death” and “by it we share in his resurrection” – already, now, in this moment! This is not just a future hope, a future promise, but a new life today! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
In Nora Gallagher’s spiritual autobiography, Practicing Resurrection, she reflects on the meaning of resurrection:
“When I think about the resurrection now, I don’t only think about what happened to Jesus. I think about what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too . . . it was not only what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them.”
“If there is some kind of life after death, what if it’s not a life exclusively for the dead? What if it’s a life available to us all . . . something the living can participate in, too? . . . . What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone but also about what those appearances pointed to, what they asked? And it is finally what we do with [those appearances] that matters – make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to new life. We have to practice resurrection.”
Practicing resurrection. Many are familiar with the expression practice what you preach. By this, I suppose we are being encouraged to live lives of integrity and authenticity, to not engage in behaviors which are contrary to the Gospel we preach. And while we all fall short of this noble goal at least some of the time and still others among us fall short much of the time, we can all agree that it is, both in principle and in practice, a very good idea.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between believing in God and living life rooted in our belief in God. I’m struck by the relative ease with which we say the words “I believe” – so easy, in fact, that I wonder at times if the words have lost their legs. Just now, for example, we have renewed our baptismal vows. The baptismal covenant consists of eight questions. The first three are questions of belief: “Do you believe in God the Father?”, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” But, the remaining questions take on a completely different tone. They ask us about our intentions and about our actions: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Perhaps we could be more economical with our language if we simply asked, “Will you practice what you preach?” Or, “Will you practice that which you say you believe?” Because in the renewal of baptismal vows, we are promising to give legs to our beliefs; we are promising to make our faith an action verb.
C. S. Lewis in one of his classics, Mere Christianity, says that “[t]he main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues. . .” [and, for the sake of argument, I would like to add “practicing resurrection” to that list of virtues?] – [t]he main thing we learn . . . is that we fail.” C. S. Lewis continues,
“If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out. If there was any idea of a sort of bargain – any idea that we could perform our side of the contract and thus put God in our debts so that it was up to Him, in mere justice, to perform His side – that has to be wiped out.”
So, let’s retrace our steps. In the baptismal covenant we are asked to state our beliefs. We are then asked to express our willingness to let those beliefs guide our actions in certain ways – through the prayers, through acts of social justice, and so forth. And now, we read in C. S. Lewis – and, by the way, Paul says the same thing in Scripture –we cannot do the very things we intend to do. And so, despite knowing that it is a good thing to practice what we preach – or to practice what we believe - we all fall short of this noble goal at least some of the time and still others among us fall short much of the time.
And if it were not for the resurrection of Christ, my brothers and sisters, we should all leave here very depressed indeed because one can only fall short of the goal so many times before one must simply give up – exhausted, defeated, and alone. But this is not the final word, my friends. Because there is resurrection and it is here and it is now and it is through the resurrection that we can, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’” We can turn to God and say, “It is too much for me, I cannot do it anymore. I hand it to you.” And God can and God will and God does.
Christ offers his life that we might have life. And in offering his life, he regains his life through the resurrection. And the resurrection of Christ frees us all. Because of the resurrection we are “cleansed from sin and born again” to “continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.”
We are freed to practice resurrection - a resurrection that begins to find fulfillment in the here and now – a resurrection that proclaims our new life in Christ has already begun – already, now, in this moment! This is not a future hope, a future promise, but a new life today – a new life firmly rooted in our belief in God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Practice resurrection . . . what will be set free in you this night/day?