Saturday, March 30, 2013

Great Vigil of Easter, 2013:

At The Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

The night before he was murdered in Memphis, TN, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech in Memphis, TN. It turned out to be a prophetic speech as he was assassinated the next day.

Here is the last paragraph of that speech: “Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” (Source:

Like most prophets, Dr. King was a subversive. He challenged the established system and its practices which held African Americans in the bondage of racism. Dr. King’s message was subversive because it was a message of hope, and as theologian Walter Bruggeman says, “Hope is subversive.”

As a prophet, Dr. King gave hope not only to African Americans, but to all Americans. He assured us that despite all appearances and the entrenched practices of the established system, we could live together as one people, in freedom and in unity. He knew this because he had “seen the Promised Land.”

As we continue on this journey of our life together, it is up to us to continually discover where the established system is oppressive and to work to set those captive free. Freedom takes sacrifice; and if it is to be achieved, both the oppressed and the oppressor must work together to break those bonds that deny freedom.

Each age has a Promised Land to reach, a place where the oppressed and the oppressor are reconciled and live together in unity and harmony. In the beginning, Moses led the oppressed people of God out of Egypt into freedom in Canaan. In the 1960’s Dr. King les us all toward racial freedom. Today, gay rights advocates are leading the march to marriage freedom.

It’s a pattern that’s part of our spiritual DNA and one our Savior made eternally true for us. On the day Jesus stood up in the grave, shook loose his burial linens, and left that tomb empty, he made marching to the Promised Land a continual journey for us until his coming again.

It’s been this way from the beginning of our Christian narrative. As the women stood in Jesus’ tomb, trying to understand how it could be empty, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes are standing with them, and they are terrified. But the two men simply ask the women a question, “Why are you here looking for the living among the dead?”

That might be an awfully strange question in most every other circumstance, but not this time, and this is why: “Remember what Jesus told you…” the men said. The women did remember and returned to tell the others – who, of course, didn’t believe them.

They had all heard Jesus say these things, and yet, they still couldn’t really believe it. So Peter runs off to see for himself. Finding it just as the women described it, Peter returned home amazed.

What amazed Peter? That Jesus hadn’t lied to them? That the women hadn’t lied to them? That he, Peter, who had a history of doing so, had missed the point again? After all, this is the disciple who had been to the mountaintop with Jesus.

So what amazed Peter? Everything was just as Jesus said it was going to be.

I think what amazed Peter is that death was no longer what Peter thought it was – neither was life, for that matter. I think what amazed Peter was the power of the love he had witnessed in Jesus, the Messiah, now risen from the dead. The resurrection ushered in a new thing, a new age, a new life - just as Jesus said it would, and it took some time for his followers to let go of what was and live fully into this new thing.

Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that the disciples were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” in that upper room. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t something we can understand without devoting ourselves to continual prayer.

The reason is, resurrection isn’t about bodies, or breathing. It’s about presence. As we heard in Isaiah, God says, “Before they call I will answer.” God is present before, during, and after our understanding of anything. That is the hope we proclaim – living in the eternal presence of God - and it is, as Bruggeman said, subversive.

God, whose mercy endures forever, who is our strength and salvation, is always with us, IN us, redeeming all things before we even recognize the need for it. In fact, that’s how we recognize the need for it. That’s how we know God is sending us on another march to another Promised Land.

As we go, it helps to remember that God shows no partiality. God didn’t pick Peter because he was so astute. Right? Yet look at Peter’s legacy. God created Peter, gifted him, and sent him to live out his purpose. And Peter did that – in all his imperfection.

God chooses each of us too. We were created us for a purpose and that purpose is simple: to do God’s will.

And what is God’s will? According to our catechism, Episcopalians believe that it is the will of God that the whole world be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ by the forgiveness of sins. Reconciled people live in harmony and unity with one another and with God. The final destination of every march to every Promised Land is always reconciliation.

Sin is what separates us from God and one another. New life in Christ restores us to right relationship with God and one another. All we have to do is remember.

And by remember, I mean “re-member” as we discussed on Maundy Thursday. The word comes from the Greek work “anamnesis” which means to bring into present reality. It can also be understood like this: to re-member is to reattach, the way a surgeon reattaches a severed body part. The re-attachment has to be whole – from the inside out or it won’t work. All the tissue, all the nerves, all the blood vessels have to be connected so that the blood of life can flow into that new part.

Our purpose as Christians is to ‘re-member.’ To find the one who is oppressed or exiled or lost, and reattach them to the body of Christ, reminding them and everyone who would exclude them that God shows no partiality - which means, neither can we.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of all – no exceptions. It isn’t, Jesus Christ is Lord of all, except for the atheists… or the gays… or the unchurched. Jesus is Lord of all – and that includes you, and it includes me, and it includes everyone we meet. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all.”

As followers of Christ, we re-member, Jesus’ commanded to us to love one another as he loved us. In other words, we make that our present reality.

We remember to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors - even our enemies. Dr. King was good at that and gave us a wonderful modern example of how that looks in the midst of real conflict - in real life.

I had a discussion earlier today with my daughter. She wanted to tell me about an online argument she’d been having with on the issue of homosexuality. The argument was with friends who were Christians and opposed to homosexuality. The friends kept bringing up Bible verses to support their position – the usual ones: Leviticus, 1 Corinthians…

Here was my daughter’s response (I can’t make a better point on Easter Eve than this): “All those words [in the Bible] are different ways of illustrating one message: lovelovelovelovelove. God is love. Period. You don't have to understand it. You don't have to agree with it. You can try to collect all the rules you want, and I'm sure that's a comfort. It's just not the point. I will say it until I die: God is love.”

We gather on this Easter Eve to re-member the power of that truth: God is love. We gather to remember that in Jesus we have been made a community of love and we have seen the Promised Land.

We have just renewed the our Baptismal vows together and proclaimed our commitment to them again, remembering that what we did, what we do, is make a commitment to love: extravagant, inclusive, subversive love - the kind our Savior gives us, today and always.


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