An Easter People

Sermon Preached April 21, 2013
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Acts 9:36-43

  • Monday – the Boston Marathon ends abruptly when two explosions near the finish line take the lives of 3 and physically injure at least 170 others
  • Tuesday - Americans are shocked by the news of ricin-laced letters being sent to President Obama and a Mississippi Senator and Justice Court Judge
  • Wednesday – a fertilizer plant explodes in West, Texas, taking the lives of 14, injuring another 200, and displacing many residents whose homes are destroyed
  • Friday – a manhunt in Boston results in more death, closes a major metropolitan area for more than 24 hours and captures the attention of a nation while every media outlet provides minute-by-minute coverage. In the end, the two suspected of Monday’s atrocities are off the streets.
  • Elsewhere in the world, two major earthquakes – one in Iran on Tuesday, the other in China just yesterday – have taken the lives of nearly 200 people and injured thousands more. 

It has been a rough week.  A week of collective disbelief, anger, fear, deep sadness, and prayer. Dr. Margaret Aymer, a Presbyterian minister and professor of New Testament theology, published an essay on Tuesday of this week called, “Why I Pray that April Tragedies Bring May Justice.”  She writes that April has been an historically traumatic month for our nation.  The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968; the end of the Waco siege of the Branch Davidians, April 19, 1993; the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995; Columbine, April 20, 1999; Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007.[1]

And yet, despite these tragedies, we boldly begin our worship saying, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”  We are an Easter people, an Easter people who celebrate the Day of Resurrection not just 1 day, but for 50 days.  An Easter people who are invited to live our lives in the hope of the resurrection not just for 50 days, but every day.  Our prayer book, in a note at the end of the burial office notes that “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, shall be raised.”[2]  And so, we boldly begin our worship saying, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”   - because we are an Easter people.  

In the story from the Acts of the Apostles which we heard this morning, an Easter people have gathered.  A group of widows gather around Tabitha, a disciple of Jesus who has become ill and dies.  These women prepare her body for burial and then send for Peter.  It is not entirely clear what they hope to receive from Peter. But, when he arrives, the women take him upstairs where they have laid Tabitha’s body.  And they begin to tell Peter stories, showing him the tunics and other clothing she had made while she was still alive.  Earlier in the passage we have been told that Tabitha was a disciple who was devoted to good works and acts of charity; perhaps the women tell Peter about these acts, perhaps some of these tunics were to be gifts for those in the community who needed them.  After hearing these stories, Peter sends everyone out of the room, kneels down and prays.  And then says, “Tabitha, get up.”  And she does.  Peter need say nothing more than these three words relying only on “his simple claim on God’s resurrection power.”[3]

After a week like this week, we may wish we could summon up Peter to come and say to the dead, “get up!” But, even without Peter, we can do like the people of Joppa as Margaret Aymer suggests:
“Like them, we can tend to the bodies, telling the truth about the fatal toll of guns, bombs, poverty and disease. When we do so, we break death’s ability to sever our responsibility to one another. Like the church of Joppa, we can tell the stories of those who have died. When we do, we break death's ability to relegate victims to oblivion and to glorify its acolytes. Like the widows of Joppa . . . we can gather to lift up our voices in weeping. For our weeping is an act of protest, a refusal to be silent in the face of the injustice of death, death from disease and malnutrition, death from domestic terrorism, death from the increasingly unregulated possession and use of military firearms. . . . And we confess, despite all evidence to the contrary, that death will not win.”[4]
Death and terror have not and will not win.  Our prayer book note concerning the burial office goes on to say that our worship
“. . . is characterized by joy, in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”[5]
We have seen this truth play out this week as well as first responders and eye-witnesses rushed into, not away from the terror; as Yankees fans sang “Sweet Caroline” – the song of their arch-rivals the Boston Red Sox; as individuals donate blood; offer shelter to strangers; and lift up their voices in prayer and in song.  My brothers and sisters in Christ, death will not have the final word.  For we are an Easter people.  Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let us pray:
Father of all, we pray to you for all who have died tragically in the past week and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

[1] Margaret Aymer, “Why I Pray that April Tragedies Bring May Justice,” Odyssey Networks, April 16, 2013 accessed on April 20, 2013.
[2] Book of Common Prayer, p. 507.
[3] Robert W. Wall, “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. X, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), p .170.
[4] Aymer, Ibid.
[5] Book of Common Prayer, p. 507.