Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
We celebrate today as our seminarian, Steve Slepecki and his wife Julie officiate.
So some of you will remember, about two years ago Pastor Scott asked me to preach the early service on Easter Sunday, that year that we had the youth group officiate the entire worship service. I recall that I sat down to start working on that sermon, and I had a tremendously hard time thinking of something to write about. I felt incredibly silly – what kind of Pastor or seminarian cannot think of something to say on the most important day in the Christian year?!
The problem, of course, was that I was trying to think of some creative new spin to put on it. The entire Christian faith is all about Resurrection, new life, new beginnings, and salvation from sin and death. We talk about those things every week of the year. My problem was trying to find some interesting new way to frame it on Easter that was any different than what we do the other fifty-one Sundays. I told Pastor Scott about my writer’s block and he told me, you’re trying too hard. You’re overthinking it. Just stick to the basics. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Well this time, two years later, with nearly four semesters’ of coursework at seminary under my belt, having now received professional training in homiletics, I’m pleased to report that I sat down to write this sermon for today, AND – had the exact same problem.
So, I’ll fall back to the same advice that I was given two years ago: Keep it simple, stupid. There’s really only one thing we need to come away with today.
Now, we have a slogan in the Church for Easter Sunday, right? Everyone knows what it is. Every year for as long as we can all remember, Easter Sunday has been about: “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!” It’s a good slogan, it’s a keeper. A winning formula. Slogans are a good thing, because they’re short and simple and you’ll remember the key message if you repeat it enough times.
But THIS year… this year, the circumstances are a little different. This Easter feels a bit different than any Easter we can remember for a long time. I propose that we tweak our usual slogan a little bit today. I think the slogan I want to use today, has a message that we distinctly need right now at this time in our lives, as a congregation, as a community, as a nation, as a world.
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE! We will rise.
It’s critical, at this time in our lives right now, that we trust in the hope in those three words: We will rise. Because I dunno about you, but it sure is hard for me to get full-on gung-ho into the Easter spirit, this year. We’re over a year into the pandemic and thanks to the pandemic, I can’t be up there in that choir loft there belting out our anthems so loud my throat is hoarse afterward. Also thanks to the pandemic, I can’t safely meet all of you downstairs for Easter breakfast after church. We’re nearing three months into this new pastor-less desert journey that we’re experiencing here at CLC, and people are understandably
very nervous for the future of our congregation. I can’t greet all of you with a big Easter hug after worship. I can’t even see your smiling faces thanks to the masks we have to wear to keep us safe. (At least, I hope you’re smiling.)
And so when it’s tempting to allow our discouragement to overwhelm us, when it’s tempting to give up hope and start wondering if things are EVER going to get ANY better in our lives, that’s when WE MUST REMEMBER:
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE!
Now let’s take a closer look at our little slogan here.
Christ IS risen! We’ve been saying that every Easter for our entire lives, but have we ever really stopped and thought about it? Note that it’s present tense. It is not, “Christ was risen!” That would imply that the Resurrection of our Lord is a past tense event only, that is now completed. That makes it sound as if the Resurrection is limited to being only a historical event, that happened on this day one thousand nine hundred eighty nine years ago (back to the year 32, before anyone starts doing the math in their head). That makes it sound as if it’s completed and was a phenomenon experienced only by our Lord’s disciples in the first century and is now something that we memorialize but do not actually live and experience. But that is untrue.
Christ IS risen! Present tense! The risen Christ is in our midst, here, now, today, in this place. He is with us. Our risen Lord is a reality in OUR lives, in the year 2021, at CLC Millvale, and we take him with us when we leave.
If he’s here, why can’t we see him? Why can’t we hear him?
Well I can see him. I’m seeing him in the face of (name) over there. I’m seeing him in the face of my good friend (name) right there. You bet I can see him in the innocent face of (child’s name) over there. And I can hear him, too. I’ll hear him in your voices when you greet each other Happy Easter right after worship is concluded. I definitely hear him in the angelic voice of my dear friend Ed up there, in the choir loft, providing us with our music ministry, using the gifts and talents God gave him to serve this community and bring us closer to God. While we sadly can’t hear them today due to the pandemic, when they are able to perform, I absolutely hear him in the voices of my sisters and brothers in the choir… actually, that’s the very first example that comes to mind, of what the risen Christ’s voice sounds like, to me. I hear Jesus all over the place here, today.
And he’ll go home with us. Each one of us. He’ll ride home right here (heart), and here (mind). He rises there every morning to once again fight and defeat death, sadness, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, hate, fear, and despair! He rises there every morning to conquer death and the devil and drive them out and provide us with never ending hope!
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE! Now who is “we”?
Well, I invite you to look in the mirror when you get home from worship today. Provided you’re not a zombie or a vampire you’ll see a face in there.
That face is “we”. YOU, will rise. YOU. YES, YOU. This is not a message only for the people who we secretly, shamefully think must be better than us, the people less broken and screwed up than us, the people who look like they have it all together, the people who aren’t hopeless lost causes like we are, the people with fewer skeletons in their closet than us. IF YOU’RE HEARING MY VOICE, I’M TALKING TO YOU! There is absolutely, positively NOTHING WHATSOEVER IN THIS ENTIRE WORLD THAT YOU COULD POSSIBLY HAVE DONE that would ever separate you from the love of God or disqualify you from being included in our slogan today!
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE!
Now what does it mean, “we will rise”?
Yes, yes, of course, we will rise on the last day, at the final judgment, when our Lord Jesus returns again and calls all of his own to him, and we will spend eternity with our God and with our dear lost loved ones
in Paradise, we know that. That alone would be cause for celebration. That alone would be enough. That alone should be enough to carry us through the day, helping us through our darkest hours, knowing that we have that great reward to look forward to at the end of our journey on this mortal path.
But that’s not all that we mean when we say that WE WILL RISE. Let us not spend so much time looking forward to the next life, that we completely forget to live in this life. Remember, it’s not “Christ WAS risen”, it’s “Christ IS risen”! If it’s a PRESENT TENSE reality, then that means that the blessings of that reality begin in THIS life, right now. Our risen Lord has conquered death and defeated the devil and all his empty promises. Because he, on this day, first did that for us, and because he lives here (heart) right now, there is nothing we cannot do, emboldened and uplifted and strengthened by him. There is nothing we cannot accomplish, no evil we cannot conquer, no suffering so great as to separate us from that love.
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE!
As a congregation, the community of CLC, WE WILL RISE to overcome our hardships and begin a new age. We have a new interim Pastor starting next week. There is hope on the horizon. With her help, WE WILL RISE to overcome our divisions, overcome our sadness, overcome our fears, overcome our doubts. WE WILL RISE to usher in a new chapter in our history, heal old wounds, break ground on new ministries, and bounce back strong.
As a human race, WE WILL RISE to conquer this pandemic crap once and for all, and put it completely in the rear view mirror. A year ago at this time, some scientists were reporting the grim prognosis that, they weren’t sure we could even develop a vaccine for this thing. Not everything can be cured. They didn’t even know if it was possible. And now, only a year later, some of you out there right now have already received it. The last year has crawled by agonizingly slowly, I know. It doesn’t feel like progress has happened very quickly. But there is light at the end of this tunnel. WE WILL RISE to bounce back, after the pandemic has caused damage to the world economy in the billions of dollars, killed nearly three million as of this writing, and has harmed the mental health of every person on this planet, as we’ve all spent most of the last year, relatively locked down and isolated… scared, angry, saddened, lonely, wondering if our REAL lives were ever going to come back. That moment is at hand, sisters and brothers. WE WILL RISE and put our lives back together in the coming months. This sanctuary will be filled with SONG and hugs of peace again! We will experience the simple pleasure of smiling at a stranger in public, and being able to see them smile back at us! We only have to hang on a few more months! We can do that!! We can do it because
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE!
Even you children of CLC, YOU WILL RISE! I didn’t do a children’s sermon today because I thought I’d talk to you during the grown-ups’ sermon. For the past year during all this lousy virus stuff, your lives probably haven’t been that much fun, huh?? I remember when I was your age, I hated school. If you told me that I could have an entire year off of going to school, I probably would have been pretty excited at
first! But, after months of being at home all the time with your family, and having to go to school online on the computer, I’m guessing you’re probably getting a little tired of that, huh? I’m guessing by now there are some things you miss about school. You miss your friends, you miss recess, you miss playing sports. And I’m SURE you’re probably all tired of wearing masks, right? It’s important that we never lose hope in believing that THINGS ARE GOING TO GET BETTER!
On this day, almost two thousand years ago, Jesus rose from the dead. He was crucified, he was buried, and his disciples believed he was done for. It was all over! But he came back to life on the first Easter morning and walked among them again! Jesus proved that he was more powerful than death and there was nothing that could stop him. And so if the living Jesus walks with us now, what can stop us?? No matter how lousy our lives may seem to get sometimes, what kind of bad things can possibly happen to us that Jesus can’t help us beat? And so you kids of CLC, you too will RISE! Our lives are going to get better.
This virus will be gone pretty soon, our church is going to get a new pastor, we’ll be able to take our masks off and do fun things like going to ball games and parties and restaurants again. IT’S GOING TO GET BETTER! That’s my message to you kids.
… So I intentionally saved my message for the kids till the end, knowing that a lot of the time, the children’s sermon is the only one the adults are actually listening to anyway. The message really is that simple, sisters and brothers. On THIS wonderful and glorious morning, one thousand nine hundred and eighty nine years ago, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. His crucified and broken body came to life again and left that tomb and appeared to his previously frightened
and defeated disciples, who suddenly began risking persecution and death, to boldly proclaim to the world that they had seen him alive.
If that same Jesus who put the devil in his place on that day, who proved that he is stronger than death, stronger than despair, stronger than hopelessness, stronger than any adversity, could do those things, and if he walks among us here, now, than what hardship can we not overcome with him on our side?? What could possibly separate us from such a love?? The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
We are going to conquer all the adversities in our way, sisters and brothers. WE WILL RISE to make it to the other side of this pastoral crisis here at CLC. WE WILL RISE to make it to the other side of this pandemic, and we are not going to allow it to ruin our lives any further. WE WILL RISE to overcome fear, overcome anger, overcome doubt, overcome sadness. WE WILL RISE and show all the forces of the world, the devil, sin, death and despair that our spirits will not be conquered, because he who rose this morning walks among us, fighting our battles for us. LIFE IS NOT GOING TO GET US DOWN, BECAUSE
CHRIST IS RISEN, AND WE WILL RISE, AMEN!!!!