Looking Backwards to Build a Future

Sermon for Easter 3A
(and the beginning of St. Mark's celebration of it's 153rd anniversary)

Do you remember when St. Mark’s had a men and boys’ choir and a girls’ schola? Do you remember when we would have a dinner at St. Mark’s and Cunningham Hall would be filled? Do you remember when we had a youth group that performed Godspell in the sanctuary?  Do you remember?  So many times I have heard these words – here at St. Mark’s and, before St. Mark’s, at St. Barnabas by the Bay in southern New Jersey and before St. Barnabas, at Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park and before Transfiguration at St. Mary’s in Park Ridge. . ..  Do you remember?  It’s a bittersweet question, isn’t it?  It’s one that has us looking back to a time with fondness, remembering all the good things that were present (and, often forgetting the bumps along the way) because really, even in the best of times, there are bumps. We all know that’s true.
And so, we look back.  Nostalgia- a homesickness for a home we can never go back to again, try as we might.  Cleopas and his companion are on such a journey.  They are leaving Jerusalem, heading to Emmaus reminiscing about all the things that have taken place in the weeks just passed – all the works of healing and miracles that Jesus did among them, the meals shared, the stories exchanged – and then the pain – the arrest of Jesus, his being tortured and put to death, their own feelings of guilt for doing all the wrong things, and wondering if doing something different would have changed the outcome.  But through it all, remembering the love and the loss and wishing they could start again.  If Andrew Lloyd Weber, Timothy Miles and Bindon Rice had been alive in the 1st century writing Jesus Christ Superstar, Cleopas and his friend might have been singing, “Could we start again please?”[1] as they walked along.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hear The Rev. Canon John Floberg speak at Bexley Seabury’s Spring Convocation. His name may be familiar to you as he is the canon missioner for the Diocese of North Dakota and the leader of the Episcopal Church’s support for water protectors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.  After the encampment protest along the Missouri River had ended, Floberg told us of a group setting up a second camp.  He spoke with the organizers and asked them – “are you trying to capture a moment or are you trying to build a future?”  It’s a question, he suggested, we must always ask ourselves because “the persistence of nostalgia” can keep us stuck.[2]   The disciples who had hidden behind locked doors had become stuck.  Cleopas and his companion on their way to Emmaus had become stuck.  And as they share their nostalgic thoughts with this stranger on the way, the stranger – who we, of course, know is Jesus – says to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, Jesus says, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”[3]
But then Jesus does something remarkable.  He goes back even farther into history – not just a few weeks but back to “Moses and all the prophets” and he “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”[4]  And he does this not to point to some nostaligic time where everything was better but to help them to see the future that lays ahead of them.  The final piece of Jesus’ interpretation of his life through Scripture comes not in a text – because the Gospels had not yet, of course, been written – but in an action, one that is familiar to all of us, as if we too had been there in the first century.  Jesus “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”[5]
Jesus helps Cleopas and his companion look back in order to see the future.  It is a kind of looking back that seeks out the core of who and whose they are and invites them to move into the future with their eyes wide open.  And so they do – they run back to Jerusalem to share what they have experienced only to find that Simon has also had an encounter with the risen Lord.  And together, they were freed from the “persistence of nostalgia” that was keeping them stuck and instead were able to begin building a future on the bedrock of the past. 
At St. Mark’s we too have a history – 153 years of history, in fact.  There are a few among us who can remember what things were like here 50 years ago, some who can look back 30 years and still more who can look back 10.  And there are many among us who are only familiar with the last few years or maybe even a few months.  But what all of us share is our desire to build a future.  And so we must always use caution when we look back to ensure that we are not becoming stuck in nostalgia but instead are using the past to propel us into the future.  What are the values from the past that have served St. Mark’s well?  Are they values that make sense in our current environment?  If the answer is yes, then, by all means, let’s find a way to bring those values into the future we are building – not to bring the same programs, but the same values.  And what are the traditions from the past that have served the Church?  Are they traditions that we would do well to continue in our generation?  If the answer is yes, then, by all means, let’s carry them forward into our future.  And what are some of those values and traditions that are tried and true?
I invite you to turn to the bottom of page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer for a few that have stood the test of time.

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God's help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God's help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God's help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God's help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God's help.

God help us to always be a Church that looks backward to move forward.  Help us always to be a church that does not become stuck capturing a moment but instead is propelled ever forward with your help building a future on earth as it is in heaven.

[1] Andrew Lloyd Webber, Timothy Miles, Bindon Rice, “Could We Start Again Please,” Jesus Christ Superstar, Universal-Polygram International Publishing, Inc., 1971.
[2] John Floberg, “After Standing Rock,” Bending Toward Justice: Chicago Convocation 2017, Bexley Seabury, April 26, 2017.
[3] Luke 24:25 (NRSV and The Message).
[4] Luke 24:27.
[5] Luke 24:30-31.


Rise and Live!

Easter Day
Matthew 28:1-10
My brothers and sisters in Christ, THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!  We rejoice this day because the Lord is risen and so are we.  This is the day when we are hauled out of the darkness of the tombs we create for ourselves and thrown headlong into the full light of day. [1]  This is the day that proclaims “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[2]  This is the day on which we celebrate the feast of “victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”[3]  And, my friends, this is the day when we celebrate victory for all creation.
In St. John Chrysostom famous Easter Sermon he wrote,
“Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!”[4]
Indeed, this is the feast of victory for our God and for all of creation.  The resurrection hauls us out of the tight, constricted tombs we construct for ourselves and shouts, “Live!”  Let go of all that holds us back – the isms, the phobias, and the addictions of our individual and communal death – let go of the racism, materialism, Islamophobia, homophobia, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexism  - all that holds us back.  Let it go.   Let go of these false systems of belief, these ways of living that are no living – let go of all that binds us and live into the fullness of God’s resurrection love for life is liberated this day! 
THIS is a new day and we are called forth from the waters of baptism to begin again because Jesus is raised from the dead and so are we.  Jesus is raised from the dead and so are we.  Because the resurrection didn’t just happen to Jesus. It happened to a community as one by one they got back up on their feet and lived.[5] 
Resurrection happened for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when they arrived at the tomb and were told, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”[6] Their mourning turned to confusion and then, upon meeting the risen Christ, their confusion turned to resurrection joy.[7] They got up and lived.
And in the weeks ahead we’ll hear how resurrection happened for Thomas as his doubt turned to renewed belief and faith in the risen Christ.[8]  We’ll hear how resurrection happened for Peter as his denial turned to proclamation of the promise of the resurrection for all.[9] We’ll hear how resurrection happened for Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus – how their grief was turned to gladness as a stranger “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” and they realized that they were in the presence of the risen Lord.[10]  We’ll hear how resurrection happened for those first communities of Jesus followers who devoted themselves, as we do, to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.[11]  Every one of them got up and lived.
And in the days and weeks ahead, as we hear the stories of these early followers of Jesus being raised up, I pray that we will begin to share our own stories of how resurrection is happening to us in the here and now.  Stories of the ways in which God has liberated us from our bondage to self.  How our blindness to systemic oppression is being stripped away and our sight restored.  How we have found reconnection after a time of feeling alone.  How we have experienced resurrection or rebirth after a time of feeling dead in the midst of life. 
I love this poem by Susan Bock as it expresses so simply what living resurrection looks like:
“Make us an Easter people,
O Christ, whose name
is ‘Alleluia.’
May we, like Mary,
rise in joy when you call our name.
May we, like Thomas,
see and believe.
May we, like Peter,
become bold and brave.
May we, like Cleopas,
meet you in every road.
May we, like them,
be utterly changed,
in the victory of the love
by which you left your tomb,
and saved us forever
from death.”[12]
May you and I get up again and live.  For this is the day of the resurrection of the Lord – a day of celebration because Christ is Risen and so are we.  For we are an Easter People. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 
There is Good News this day, my friends.  Jesus is not here.  The tomb is empty.  Christ has been raised from the dead.  And we are witnesses to this truth.  We are the ones whom God calls forth from the waters of baptism each day.  Do you believe in God the Father? Then rise up and live!  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Then rise up and live! Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Then rise up and live!  You and I are the people who promise to serve God faithfully through God’s Church.  So, let us rise up and live!  Through the waters of baptism we have been received into the household of God.  So let us rise up and live!  We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.  So, let us rise up and live!  God has anointed us in baptism to share the Good News.  “Do not be afraid; go and tell your brothers” and your sisters so that they too can see the Risen Christ.[13]  For we are an Easter people.

[1] Jeffrey D. Lee, “Remembering Who We Are,” Preparing for the Paschal Feast: A Morning of Reflection, Eucharist & Blessing of Chrism for All, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, April 11, 2017.
[2] 1 Peter 2:10
[3] John W. Arthur, “This is the feast of victory for our God,” The Hymnal 1982, 417.
[4] from The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom(circa 400 AD), accessed April 13, 2017.
[5] Lee, Ibid.
[6] Matthew 28:6a.
[7] Matthew 28:9.
[8] John 20:24-28.
[9] Acts 2:36-41.
[10] Luke 24:13-35.
[11] Acts 2:42.
[12] Susan K. Bock, “Easter,” Liturgy for the Whole Church: Multigenerational Resources for Worship, New York: Church Publishing, 2008, 97.
[13] Matthew 28:10b.