Easter Sermon, April 4

This homily makes reference to the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, which may be read here. 

John Chrysostom was a bishop who lived about 1600 years ago – a rough contemporary of Egeria, as it happens. He was one of the great speakers and writers of the early centuries of Christianity – “Chrysostom” means “golden tongue,” a commentary on his eloquence. This particular text is read every Easter in Orthodox churches. Some non-Orthodox churches have started adding it to our practice as well.

In the first part, Chrysostom is drawing on one of Jesus’ parables – the one where God is the owner of a vineyard, and it’s time for the harvest. And God starts hiring workers – some first thing in the morning, some at noon, some almost at sunset. And at the end of the day they are all paid the usual wage for a day’s work. And the ones who worked all day are a little cranky about it; they feel like they deserved more than those who only worked an hour. But God the Vineyard owner tells them, “Friends, I have done you no wrong.  Are you envious because I am generous?”

Chrysostom takes that parable and playfully re-casts it to talk about arriving at Easter after the disciplines of Lent.

If you’ve been fasting like crazy for the whole 40 days – congratulations! You made it!

If you only tuned in two days ago, and barely know what this is all about: wonderful! Welcome! Easter is for you too!

The reward, the grace, the gift is the same for all: Jesus’ triumph over death and hell, opening for us the way of life and peace. 

Of course that parable isn’t today’s Gospel. Today’s Gospel is the Easter Gospel – Mark’s version. Which has perplexed people for a long time. Mark’s story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ends with what we just heard: “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

Mark’s abrupt ending bothered people, back when the New Testament was first being put together. People kept trying to add on more verses, to make it match the other Gospels. Mark knew about the times when the risen Jesus appeared to his friends; he hints at them elsewhere. But this is where he chose to end his text.

I think there were several reasons for that choice – but one of them is that Mark wanted no human heroes in his Gospel. The brave, loving women, who stayed at the foot of the cross and later came to tend Jesus’ body – now, like their male counterparts earlier in the story, they too are defeated and scattered by fear. 

For Mark, everyone fails, in this story. Everyone except God. But it doesn’t matter. Because God is generous. Did you bail out at the first sign of trouble? Have no fear, God’s mercy is abundant!

Did you follow Jesus to the judgment hall, before denying you knew him? God honors the deed and praises the intention! 

Did you watch at the foot of the cross and go to the tomb early in the morning, before an angel’s words terrified you into silence? No more bewailing your failings;  forgiveness comes from the grave!

Mercy, reassurance, welcome are central to the message of the risen Jesus, as he meets with his friends in the texts we’ll hear in the coming weeks. 

Jesus says: It’s OK. I know it was hard, and frightening. But now it’s time to move forward, together. Because the gift, the grace of the resurrection isn’t only for a select few who earned it. It’s for everybody. No, really: EVERYBODY.

There’s a real sense in which today is both Easter 2020 and Easter 2021. Do you remember people saying, a year ago,  “It will be Easter when we can gather in person again”? Well. Today we will celebrate the Eucharist, with a congregation present, on St. Dunstan’s grounds. Still limited, still distanced, and yet: our first true step towards re-gathering in person. 

I hasten to say that St. Dunstan’s never stopped gathering.  Early on I started using the term “Building Church” to mean the way we worshipped in our nave – because I didn’t want to keep saying “real church”. Zoom church IS real church. But Zoom church has not worked for everybody – just like building church does not work for everybody.  

People’s experiences of the past year have been all over the map. Folks’ needs and struggles have been very different. Some have found all kinds of silver linings. Some have suffered brutal losses. Some were thrown into the depths, alone. Some were overwhelmed; some were numb; some were fine. Some just kept on keeping on. What it felt like for you is real and valid.  What it felt like for others is also real and valid. 

Likewise with people’s faith, in this season. Some continued your faith practices; some deepened them. Some felt pretty adrift from any kind of regular prayer or practice of faith, during this chaotic, lonely, frightening time. Some felt more connected with their church than ever – some felt completely disconnected and alone. 

The congregations on the lawn at St. Dunstan’s today include folks who’ve worshipped together regularly over Zoom, and folks who have never connected with Zoom church – for a variety of reasons, which I hear and understand! They’ll include folks who’ve been members for decades, and folks who are just getting connected – or still figuring out of St. Dunstan’s is their church. 

As we gather, on Zoom and in person, in the weeks and months ahead: I want to invite us to be universally and unconditionally glad to see one another. If you feel tempted to ask, “Why didn’t you come to Zoom Church?”, how about asking, “How was the past year, for you?” If you feel tempted to say, “Have I seen you here before?”, how about saying, “I’m so glad to be here with you!” 

For those who haven’t been able to connect much with online church: please know you were missed, and you matter. You are an essential part of the rebuilding we will do together in the weeks and months ahead. 

Collectively, through ALL our experiences, we’ve learned so much about church and community, commitment and struggle, faith and faithfulness, in the past year. We have so much wondering and listening, experimenting and celebrating to do together, dear ones.  

And so, this Easter, whatever year it is, I say to you: Were you on Zoom every Sunday, and never missed a Compline? Come and celebrate, the feast is for you!

Did you spend fifty hours a week on a screen for work or school, and couldn’t face attending church that way too? God welcomes all with equal joy on this holy feast of feasts! 

Did your kids attend Zoom Sunday school and StoryChurch; did you patiently work through every activity Miranda sent home; or were you just glad to keep them mostly fed and clothed? God gives to the one and gives to the other, honors the deed and praises the intention.

Did you spend the year mastering sourdough or planning the perfect garden? Or did you re-watch The Good Place… three times? You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy, celebrate together! There’s hospitality for all, and to spare.

Have you deepened your life of prayer? Is your commitment to the common good stronger than ever?  Is your great accomplishment that you are still alive today? I am so proud of you, and so is God. 

This Easter morning, Jesus comes to us in the sunlit garden and says: It’s OK.  It’s been hard, and frightening. It still is. But it’s time to move forward, together. 

Because the gift, the grace of this resurrection season isn’t only for people who somehow earned it, by how they spent the past thirteen months. It’s for everybody. 

I’m so glad to be here with you. To have arrived at Easter, with each of you and all of you. I can’t wait to see what we’ll do together, in this resurrection season.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. 

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.