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Sunday, April 12, 2009

EASTER 2009 SERMON
I got a call yesterday – someone wanted to know what the holiest day of the year was for Christians. And it only confirmed that to me that we are a people obsessed with trivia and poll-taking. What’s the holiest day of the year for Christians? Any votes for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? How about Ash Wednesday? Pentecost? Maundy Thursday? Good Friday? Easter Sunday? Any Sunday that we gather around Word and Sacrament? Where would your vote be cast – the Holiest Day of the Year for Christians.

Well, it got me thinking, which, I suppose, made the question worthwhile after all.
I’m thinking: you know there is no Easter without Good Friday.
Plain as day - There is no Easter without Good Friday.

Sure there would still be cards and eggs and a spike in the sales of vinegar and egg dye. Hams and Turkeys and the various ingredients for green bean casserole would fill shopping carts in amazing numbers. Sure the Easter lily industry would still sell millions of the white fragrant flowers and don’t forget to throw in some hyacinths and tulips and a bunch of daisies here and there. Oh, and those yellow marshmallow chicks – we don’t want to forget those - I’m sure they would continue to reproduce by the millions and fly off the shelves just in time to grace Easter baskets fighting for room next to chocolate bunnies, and all sorts of things made out of malted milk chocolate and the many flavors of jelly beans.

To the casual observer it might seem like Easter with egg hunts and special clothes that look extra nice and lots of company and all that food hardly would hiccup if Good Friday never happened.

But we know the truth. The honest and passionate truth: There is no Easter without Good Friday.

Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome are not bringing spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus unless Jesus is dead – and they know that he is dead because they watched him die on the cross – observing his pain, agony, and final cry, his final breath. On Good Friday. Without death there is no resurrection and without the cross there is no empty tomb. Without the cry and pain of loss, without the darkness of apparent defeat, there is no awe, no wonder, no joy. No Easter.

This was brought home to me this Good Friday.
We have prepared to hold Stations of the Cross at our Prayer Labyrinth and when I arrived just before noon it was obvious that some unknown person or persons had either late Wednesday or Thursday evening stomped on hundreds of the tiles crushing them into broken shards. An amazing number of people have walked our prayer labyrinth over the past year – for many it was holy space – a place where they could spend intentional time with God – walking the path together in prayer. In Advent when we lit it with candles, complete strangers would come up to see what was going on and through what could only be called the coaxing of the Holy Spirit found themselves drawn to undertake the walk, spending time in the power and presence of God. But here it was approaching the hour of noon when darkness covered the land and our Lord hung on the cross and here in this time and this place the clouds rolled in upon us masking the hundreds of broken tiles in shadow. So a decision had to be made. We certainly couldn’t replace all of the broken tiles in time – that would take hours. So we left the labyrinth broken and let folks walk it as it was. Despoiled, maimed, desecrated, abused, vandalized. Some how it seemed appropriate to just leave it that way for Good Friday Stations of the Cross. There was a certain holiness in its brokenness.

There is no Easter without Good Friday.

Mary and Mary and Salome go to the tomb only to learn that Jesus is not there. Not that his body isn’t there, but Jesus is not there. He has been raised, the angel tells them. And their response? Terror. Amazement. Fleeing feet and silent lips. The power of the resurrection had overcome them. It crashed against them like a violent sea. The magnitude of what joyful truth they had just been entrusted with weighed upon their hearts and minds until it overcame them completely.
They had lived through Good Friday.
They had watched Jesus die.
The saw the empty tomb and received the good news of his resurrection.
They understood what it meant for them and for the other disciples and for the world.
Christ is risen!

There is no Easter without Good Friday.
There is no life without death, no grace without sacrifice.
Christ paid on both accounts for us and for all.
In the waters of Baptism we proclaim that we die to sin and rise to newness of life. That we enter the waters with Christ and rise with him to eternal life.
Our lives are bound to his through God’s free gift of grace.

This Easter is the first Easter that some friends of mine will celebrate without their daughter. Samantha died after a courageous battle with cancer that had just refused to let her go. It stole a year of her life and then returned to steal her leg. It stole precious time and eventually a few months ago, her body just could not fight one more day and she died at home among those that she loved. Some might say that the cancer stole her life, but we know better. Just as there is no Easter without Good Friday, we know that Good Friday is not the end of the story, either. The clouds and stifling darkness and the painful silence do not get the last word. Just as there is no Easter without the cross we know that that very cross brings life, births a hope stronger than death. We know what the two Marys know and Salome, too. The words of the Angels ring in our hearts, and are received in awe and wonder in our very souls: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
He is not here. He is not here!
There is not Easter without Good Friday, but today, Easter has come!
Amen! Alleluia! Amen!

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