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This Week's Sermon !

April 18, 2021 - Easter 3

Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36b - 48

Jesus Stand Among Us!

Christ is Risen

Christ is Risen Indeed

This is the first proclamation of the group that would eventually become the Christian church. It is, I hope you noticed, a statement written in the present tense. Jesus’ resurrection is not a past event; it’s not something from history, but a present reality! The experience, the encounter with the Risen One, was pivotal in the life of that early faith community. It made all the difference in the world to them! As time went on this proclamation was the key Christian statement of faith.

When I was in theological school, the chair of the Education and Students Committee of Halifax Presbytery, in which the school was located, used to tell us, “You are so lucky that you are not from THIS Presbytery. During their ordination interview, any of our students may be asked to recite the Pre-Nicene Creeds from memory! It was supposed to be a joke as there ARE NO SUCH THING as “Pre-Nicene Creeds”. However I took up the challenge (leave it to me, eh) and said, “oh, you mean, “Jesus is Lord and Christ is Risen”. He had to admit that those statements qualified! ((This story got a big laugh from my last congregation because the minister in question had served the neighbouring Pastoral Charge for many years and was well known! )))

Before the church grew and became more organized and found that there was a need to write down what the church DID believe, these simple statements were the basis of their faith. The women who ran from the empty tomb, the disciples and their close friends who were the next witnesses passed on the proclamation, again and again, so that it has come to us, 20 centuries or so, later! Again it is not meant to be dusty history, but experienced as present reality.

I saw an article in the online edition of a newspaper. A pedestrian was hit by a car and subsequently died. The car and driver have not been found. Anyone with information is asked to contact the police.

What kind of information do they want? “My neighbour was washing a bloody fender the other week. He said that he’d hit a goose!” I once hit a pheasant, or more properly, a pheasant hit my car. I suppose hitting a goose could happen - especially outside of Codette, near those sloughs! Or, did you overhear the driver of the car talking at a bar when she’d obviously had “a few too many”. Or did you actually see it happen and could not tell anyone because you weren’t supposed to be in that part of town at that time!

There are many kinds of witnesses and many kinds of information sources for those trying to solve crimes. Wikipedia defines Crime Stoppers as “a community program that helps people to provide anonymous information about criminal activity.” The ads are enticing, “if your information leads to arrest and conviction, you could qualify for a cash reward.”

Back when I was in university, (which seems to have been somewhere between 100 years ago and just yesterday), some fiends and I were into “inspirational posters”. It was about the only way we could decorate our rooms! A friend had one which posed the question, “if being a Christian was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Hummmmm?

When we look at the stories of the earliest Easter experiences, they appear to be eye witness accounts. Like modern eye witness accounts, they are all over the map, they disagree on details, some minor, some pretty big? Some give a clearer picture than others. They were ALL written some time later and all we were written for particular communities - and so that people would come to believe in the power of God as shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We all know that 99 year old Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II has died, about 2 months short of his 100th birthday. Any news article or biography written about him now, after his death, would be different than those written earlier. And they will also be different than those written when one of their descendants ascend the throne! Each passing year changes how we view not only the present, but also the past.

When we look at the Gospels we also realize that these are Gospel, not unbiased news reports. Consider the differences between the newsletters sent out by our own MPs when they are in power and when they are, “on the wrong side of government”, as the expression goes!

These women and men, disciples, secret admirers, and hangers on, missed their friend, their leader, the one who had opened the scriptures to them in exciting and profound ways. Perhaps it was only after his death that they realized how close they felt to God while they were in his presence. It was only then that all the truths began to fall into place. They desperately wanted more time. They wanted more meals together. They wanted to just sit in his presence! For any of us who have lost loved ones, the longing to “have one more conversation” is almost universal; it’s so real we can “almost taste it”.

When Jesus died, his followers were devastated. That much is clear. When Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state, his followers were scared out of their minds! We know this as well. In the dark, outside the trial, one woman had recognized Peter; maybe others would. Would she tell someone if “Jerusalem Crimestoppers” offered a cash reward for the whereabouts of the “Jesus People.” How long would it be before the authorities would come knocking, looking for the rest of them. They would crucify the lot of them, if that would return the country to a semblance of peace! Their fears were not unfounded: Church tradition and history tells us that it happened - within a few years!

So, at first, they scattered.

Then they met! Usually, behind locked doors! They met because some women of their group brought them news - news not only of an empty tomb but of “resurrection”. The women had told them that this Jesus they had come to know and love had been raised from death. Jesus was alive!

It was hard to believe; impossible, in fact and the Risen One proved to be a slippery and elusive fellow; not everyone was at every “appearance”. In some he could be touched and could eat and in others the people were told not to touch him. He could pop into and out of locked rooms - like ghosts are supposed to be able to do - but he made it clear that he was not a ghost. It was all so confusing.

But what became certain was that death had not defeated him. What was certain was this the love of God they had experienced in his presence was still with them, in the most mysterious way - yet in the most certain way.

It was also certain that this was not meant to be a private revelation, it was not to be kept a secret - it was to be and did become both their central proclamation and the very foundation of their lives.

You might say, “But that was then, and this is now” The proclamation of the church is that the resurrection can be a reality today - it is a faith which has sustained the countless generations who have lived since that first Easter.

At Easter we may pray, in song:

1	Jesus stand among us, 
	in your risen power
 	let this time of worship
	be a hallowed hour.

2	Breathe the Holy Spirit
	into every heart;
	bid the fears and sorrows
	from each soul depart.

3	Lead our hearts to wisdom
	till our doubting cease,
	and to all assembled
	speak your word of peace. 

So here we may be - gathered behind the locked doors of “COVID 19-20-21" - some have had their vaccinations, some have seen signs of hope, some had known people who died because of it and we are all a little bit afraid. But then, as we gather, and share our faith we realize we are unquestionably in the presence of the One whom we have met in the Gospel story and we are not alone.

Or our doors are locked - because of a diagnosis of cancer - and doctors have told us that there is nothing more to be done, other than comfort care - so we visit with the family we can, phone or Zoom or Facetime the family we cannot, sit and hold hands, share memories and favourite cookies, shed tears and smile and realize that somehow the Risen One is there with us - in our joy and in our sorrow.

Or we are sitting in our house with our pile of unpaid bills because of job loss or business closure and we work through our anger at the world about why this happened to us - “it is so unfair” and we receive an unexpected letter or email, a drop off at the door and we know that others care and have reached out to us with the love of Christ. His presence becomes so real we can almost touch it!

As I prepared the Easter services I was almost in tears because I knew that COVID best practices would prevent us from singing in community. I knew that those who had stayed home and were watching online, did not need to keep from singing. I kind of envied them but now showing up on Easter morning is not an option for the preacher, is it! Even though I cannot carry a tune, it is one of the things I miss most about COVID-time worship. But perhaps our life and our faith will have be our song for now.

40 years ago this coming December a group of us University students went to the local Nursing Home to sing Christmas Carols. An assortment of elderly residents in wheelchairs were lined up to hear us, but I saw one woman, on the arm of a staff member, walking down the hall to join us in song. She looked like she would have weighed about 90 pounds and was about 110 but her smile was as big as the room. Her actual words made no sense but this former Professor of Music was singing, “Joy to the World” in her soul; perhaps the only place that really counts.

At Easter, I think of this song:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing?

Sometimes we sing songs of faith with great gusto because it is our faith; sometimes we sing because we are searching for that faith, that certainly, that experience and we so much want it to be true.

Then, as we sing, as we share with others, as we gather in community we realize that this IS our faith and that the risen Christ has answered our prayer and is among us. And we become part of that great cloud of witnesses who have lived and told the story from inside locked rooms and from mountaintops and prison cells and hospital rooms and all sorts of other places that the living God, as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, has been present with and has transformed us. This proclamation is as true for us as it was when Mary first said, “ I have seen the Lord.”

May this be our experience this Easter-time and our life-long proclamation!

Christ is Risen.

Christ is Risen Indeed!

Amen.

1995- 2020 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.





For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church
journeywithjesus.net

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!


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