Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

Acts 10
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.’

Spoiler alert! The tomb is empty.

Chances are, you already know the tomb is empty, hence your attendance here today. In fact, so many of you know the tomb is empty, I hardly have to issue a spoiler alert at all.

The newspaper I read (not that one, the other one) is generally very good about issuing a spoiler alert. Done properly, the spoiler alert should appear in the first paragraph of the article, before you get too far into it. It should explain the peril of reading further, and maybe leave a little blank space so your eye doesn’t drift over the content you don’t want to see.

So I’m issuing a low-grade spoiler alert for fans of Downton Abbey. I am being careful to reveal nothing terribly specific, although no one will fault you at this moment if you cover your ears and go “la la la la.”

In Downton Abbey, main characters die. That’s all I will say. You can uncover your ears. And apparently this is a news flash for American fans of the British show. It seems that it never occurred to colonials that a main character in an ensemble drama might suddenly die.

Clearly they were not watching Spooks. Spooks is another British show, somehow renamed MI-5 for North Americans, where main characters die. (Oops, spoiler alert). Think of Spooks as everything you wish 24 could be, with the primary difference being that you know Keifer will never die, whatever peril he encounters. Not so with Spooks.

Another spoiler alert. Bobby didn’t really die at the end of season eight. At the beginning of season ten Pam wakes from a rather vivid season-long dream to discover Bobby in the shower, never really dead after all. Maybe this was the birth of US-style happily-ever-after, but I suspect of began long before. American audiences simply cannot handle the death of main characters.

Which makes our seemingly more religious neighbour to the south even more enigmatic. For you see, Christianity is a religion where the main character dies. There is no getting around it. Dan Brown tries, and even made Jesus and his girlfriend French, but no one was fooled. We follow a religion where the main character dies.

Now, just a week or so ago I gathered a group of intrepid co-learners (they are far from students, since we learn together) to conclude our look at the unique portrayal of Jesus found in John’s Gospel. And I have to confess that I will sometimes try to provoke discussion by making outrageous suggestions, or at least suggestions that will push certain well-known buttons.

Last week it was this: I suggested to the group that Easter Sunday was really just a pleasant add-on to the story of Jesus, and that all we need to be ultimately reconciled to God happened on Good Friday. I was selling, but they weren’t buying. I explained four theories of the atonement, four different ways (all found in John) where the death of Jesus provides for the reconciliation that God promises each of us. I got that slight head shake and narrowing of the eyes frequently associated with doubt. And they were right.

Maybe I got caught up in all the excitement of such a deep look at John, and the knowledge that we were pondering together the very heart of the Gospel found in chapter 15. It came up again this Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Maundy means ‘commandment,’ and the entire day is dedicated the to the commandment found in John 15:

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Love is the ultimate command, and to lay down your life for others is the ultimate act, and when the Son of God lays down his life for every one of us, it would seem we have found the heart of the Christian religion. So I wasn’t all wrong, in spite of the head-shaking and the gentle pushback from a tough group of scholars.

What I forget, and what one should never forget, is Peter, giving perhaps the greatest sermon every delivered, the sermon that Gail preached for us just a few moments ago, the sermon found in the tenth chapter of Acts of the Apostles.

First, he draws them in: He says ‘you know the Good News we have received from God through Jesus,’ and ‘you know what Jesus did throughout Judea, doing good, and casting out demons, and healing every kind of ill.’ He continues: ‘And you know we are witnesses to all he did and said in Judea and Jerusalem.’ And then the conclusion:

You know 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.

The last part holds the key: “chosen by God as witnesses, we who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Now, we won’t have Communion today, since today is dedicated to twins and triplets and little baby Xavier, but if we did we would be doing precisely what Peter describes in his sermon: we would be witnessing to the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ as we eat and drink with him, as we share his body and blood—after he has risen from the dead.

In other words, God’s story has become our story, and each time we break bread and drink wine and welcome friends we do it in Christ’s name. We witness to his presence at our common table but also at every other table where we are nourished by the Maker-of-All. And we must tell the tale, pass on the witness that allows our faith to be transmitted from generation to generation, from disciple to the next disciple, from believer to the next believer.

Tell them we follow a story where the main character dies. He dies, and in his death we are reconciled to God, but there is more: God’s story becomes our story because we are witnesses to all that happened, his death on a cross and an empty tomb and the eating and drinking that follows. We are witnesses to a complete story from life to death to life, and finally the Good News that he is risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen.


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