Alleluia Is Our Song
11 April 2004
We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. These are not my words but those of the great St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, spoken some 1500 years ago at the Easter liturgy. Although they were spoken in a different language, at a different time and certainly in a different world, the faith which they profess is the same as the one we embrace this Easter morning. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. We would be hard pressed to find a better lens through which to perceive the meaning of Easter than this faith assertion of Augustine. Because as we gather today after 40 days of Lent, after remembering Jesus’ last meal with the apostles, after reflecting on his unjust death, two questions are important ones for us to address. Why are we an Easter people? How do we sing our Alleluia song?
Why are we an Easter people? Because it is Easter that sets us apart from every other believer. It is Easter that distinguishes us from other good and moral people throughout our world. As Christians we believe that something happened on that first Easter morning. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth who suffered a cruel and unjust death, was raised up and glorified by the power of God. We believe that Jesus became for us the way to salvation. We believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection is a pattern for our own life. This explains why Easter is not simply good news for Jesus, but good news for us as well. For you and I believe that we who are united to Christ through faith and baptism will ourselves be raised up and glorified. St. Paul says this so clearly in his letter to the Romans. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Resurrection and glory are a reality for Jesus. For us they remain a promise. Yet the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification is the guarantee of our promise. Because we believe that if God destroyed the evil of Jesus’ life and vindicated him from death, God will do the same for us. Believing this is not always easy. We can doubt, as did the apostles on that first Easter morning, whether the announcement of the women from the tomb is just an idle tale. But for those of us who are gifted by faith, for those of us who claim the truth of the resurrection that truth becomes an anchor for our lives. This is why Christians are always moving from faith to hope. From faith that Christ was in fact raised and glorified to hope that the same will occur to us. From faith in believing that Jesus was has been raised up to hope that there is no pain, no failure, no hurt that is so great that the love and power of God cannot conquer it. This is why Christians should be able to hope in every situation. For if God was loving and powerful enough to raise one person from the dead, then we believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love and power to save us.
Easter then is our identity. We are an Easter people. But how then do we sing our Alleluia song? There are many ways to sing Alleluias. We can sing them with our eyes open or with our eyes shut. The gospel, however, calls us to sing with eyes open. Even as we proclaim Christ’s victory, we keep our eyes open to the evil that still remains in our world. Even as we proclaim Christ’s victory we do not deny the weaknesses in our own life, our addictions and our need to grow. Even as sing the glories of Easter we admit that injustice and violence remains in our world. The Alleluias we sing do not deny that evil that remains in our world. They proclaim Easter joy in the midst of darkness, announcing to a broken world the promise of Christ’s final victory that is still to come.
If we sing our Alleluias with eyes open, then we are certainly impelled to be people of compassion and service. For the Risen One who we proclaim is one who knew pain and suffering. If we follow him, we cannot distance ourselves from those that suffer, from those that are marginalized in our society. Instead we see in the suffering of those around us a reflection of the suffering of Christ. Such recognition leads us to service. For the victory we proclaim is one in which we are called to participate. We contribute through our service of others to the building of God’s kingdom.
So we sing our Alleluias with our eyes open to all that remains wrong in our world and at the same time are moved to be people of compassion and service to establish God’s reign. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. So as we gather together on this Easter morning we claim Christ’s resurrection and what that resurrection means for our own glorification. We face the world around us without denial and recommit ourselves both to compassion and to service. Therefore as an Easter people let us now stand [the assembly stands] and let us with eyes open and with loud voice that reflects the faith that is our own, sing the song that is ours to sing. [the assembly sings] Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Challenge of Easter
April 8, 2007
It should be a consolation to us that the first response of the apostles to Jesus’ resurrection was one of disbelief. Luke makes this very clear in the gospel we just heard. The women come, bringing the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the apostles do not believe them. The apostles consider their words an idle tale, a pile of nonsense.
This disbelief by the apostles should be an encouragement to us because believing in Jesus’ resurrection is not easy. We are asked to believe that a man, who was dead, really dead, dead and buried, was raised up by God’s power into a new kind of life. We are called to believe that that resurrection took place in bodily form. Yes, Jesus’ body was transformed but it was still a body. It could still eat and be touched by the disbelieving apostles. So the challenge to believe in Jesus’ resurrection is a major challenge. It asks us to believe something that is outside of our experience. In the world in which we live, those who are dead and buried do not rise from their tombs and appear to us in glorious bodies. To believe that Jesus did is a challenge. Yet, every Easter, we are asked to believe it. Every page of the New Testament expects us to believe it. Every time we come together to worship God, our words and our actions proclaim that we believe it. So that leaves us this morning with two questions: Why is believing in Jesus’ resurrection so important and how can we believe something which is outside of our experience?
Believing in Jesus’ resurrection is important because the resurrection of Jesus is larger than a miracle which happened to him. On Easter we do not simply believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we also believe that his resurrection is a sign that God has begun to transform the world. If God raised Jesus from the dead, it means that God is serious about destroying evil and it means that God has already begun to eliminate the evil of our world and to establish God’s Kingdom. If God has raised Jesus up, then it means that God is on the move, already establishing a kingdom of grace and peace. That kingdom will not be completed until Jesus returns, but Easter says it has irrevocably begun. So what we believe at Easter is not simply something about Jesus and what happened to him but about God and what God is doing. When we say, “Christ is Risen,” it is shorthand for saying that we believe that God is destroying evil and establishing a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. This larger understanding of what God is doing is what makes Jesus’ resurrection so important. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it easier to believe. When we look at the world around us, we can find plenty of evidence that the kingdom of God is not yet here. In fact, some would say, it is easier to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead than that God has already begun to establish a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
So that leads us to the second question: How can we believe in something that is so difficult? How can we, with so much evidence against it, believe that God is establishing a kingdom of justice, love and peace? Here’s where the words of the two men in the gospel to the women are important. They say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” If we are going to believe in the truth of Easter, we must look among the living. We must look at our own lives and what is happening within them. We must try to find signs that the kingdom is being established, signs that God is at work and that Jesus’ resurrection is real.
What might those signs be? Let’s start with this one: Other people who believe. Every time we meet another person who says, I believe in Jesus’ resurrection, I believe that God is changing the world Easter becomes more possible. This is why the church bases the celebration of Easter around those who are to be baptized. Their choice to accept Christ makes our belief in Christ more real. All the people in our lives who believe help us to believe. But they are not the only signs. Each one of us can locate in our lives other signs that can point to Easter: a faithful spouse, whose love we know we could never merit, a beautiful son or daughter, a danger from which we have escaped, a sickness or addiction that should have finished us but did not, a moment of peace in the midst of grieving a loss, the ability to hope on the verge of despair. Any of these moments of grace, which we claim in our lives, can be a sign that points to the truth of Easter. None of these signs prove Jesus’ resurrection, for Easter can’t be proven. But it is only by claiming the signs that we find among the living, that we will ever believe that Jesus was truly raised from the dead.
So on this Easter morning, let us sing our Alleluias, realizing that many would consider them an idle tale, a pile of nonsense. But for those of us who can claim God’s grace in our lives, and how God has blessed us, they can be light in the darkness, life in the shadow of death, and a shout of joy which proclaims that Christ is risen and that I believe God is transforming the world.
Easter Doubt and Faith
April 4, 2010
Easter is the primary Christian feast. Jesus’ resurrection is not simply one of the things we believe; it is the foundation of who we are. Paul tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.” The resurrection of Jesus is what makes Christianity distinctive from any other religion. What does it tell us? We do not need the resurrection of Jesus to prove that there is a loving God. The Hebrew prophets revealed that centuries before Jesus’ birth. We do not need the resurrection to prove that we should love our neighbor. The law of Moses made that very clear. We do not need the resurrection of Jesus to assure us of life after death. Many of the great world religions believe in the afterlife, and most of the Jews of Jesus’ time believed that God would raise up the dead.
What makes Christianity distinctive is that we believe that God has in fact raised up one man, one who was human like us, and that we who follow him will share in a like resurrection. This makes the beginning of Christianity easy to pinpoint in history. It emerges with an event, an event that happened about the year 33 in Jerusalem to one man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Romans, died, and was buried. Yet God raised him up to a glorious new life, a life in which we are called to share. What makes Christianity distinctive is not simply that we believe in the promise of eternal life, but that we believe that God has in fact allowed one person to already enter into that life. We are soon to follow. This then is the central truth of the Christian message.
It is not a truth easy to believe. It calls us to accept an event that is beyond our examination. There is no proof that it happened. We only have the witness of the earliest disciples who saw the risen Christ and touched his risen body. But we did not see the risen Christ and have not touched his risen body. That leaves the door open to doubt. You can hear in the gospel today that the earliest disciples did in fact doubt Jesus’ resurrection. It is easy to doubt. Perhaps some of us here have faced such doubts. When we lose someone who is close to us in death, it is easy to question, “Is that person really at peace and with God?” As we grow older and the reality of our own death comes into focus, we can begin to question, “Will I really share eternal life with God when this life is done?” There is nothing wrong with doubt. Doubts are honest questions. Doubts, if they are squarely faced, can lead us to a deeper faith.
In many ways the purpose of this homily tonight is to state clearly that central challenge of faith: that one man has been raised from the dead. Facing this claim we might ourselves ask, do we believe it? Do we believe that it promises us life eternal? If that leads to doubt, then it’s a doubt we must face. The struggle with doubt is the way faith can grow.
But how can we move beyond doubt? There is no proof. But there are signs, signs in our life that point to the truth of the resurrection. Let me offer two: the beauty of nature, the goodness of people. Martin Luther said, “God not only wrote the truth of Christ’s resurrection in the bible. God wrote it in every leaf of springtime.” No one can deny that springtime has been offering quite a display before us these last few days. Yesterday we were warmer than Miami. Tonight we experienced an early summer storm. As you feel the warmth of springtime, as you watch the buds unfold, as you see the new life, ask yourself whether those experiences could be signs that point you to a loving and powerful God who raised Jesus from the dead.
We can also see the signs of Christ’s resurrection in the love of people. There is a story told about an English fisherman who lived by the cliffs of Dover. He was a strong Christian believer. One day as he was cleaning his nets, a friend stopped him and said, “Prove to me that Christ is risen.” He said, “I can’t prove it. But do you see that cottage that sits on the cliffs? Every morning I go out to fish before dawn. For awhile I sit in the darkness waiting for the sun. But when the first rays of the sun come over the horizon, they reflect in the windows of that cottage, and I see that reflection even as I continue to sit in darkness. When I see that reflection, I know that the sun has risen. In the same way, when I see the love of the people around me and recognize in those people the love of Christ, I know that, if the reflection in the cottage windows tells me that the sun has risen, the reflection of Christ’s love in the people around me assures me that Christ is risen.”
In these upcoming days, look for the love of Christ in the people who love you. Look for that love in the commitment of your spouse, in the joy of your children, in the wisdom of your grandparents, in the warmth of your friends. When you see that love and its reality, ask if it can be a sign that points you to the love of God who raised Jesus from the dead and calls us to share in that resurrection.
The beauty of nature, the goodness of people: two signs that point to the truth of the resurrection. There is no proof, but if we let those signs speak to us, they can lead us through doubt and to the daring assertion that God in fact raised one man from the dead. We are called to share in that resurrection. That is the gospel. That is what makes us Christian. I believe. Amen. Alleluia.