Sermon for Sunday, January 29, 2023 || Epiphany 4A
On this day of our Annual Meeting, I’d like to spend this sermon time fulfilling a request from a number of people over the last few months. Today, I am going to share with you some of the elements of the funeral homilies I have preached over the last year. Because funerals are mostly attended by family and close friends, very few of the members of our church have heard me preach at a funeral. And yet we are all grieving in one way or another the deaths of so many of our church family – 23 of whom we have buried in the last year. A funeral homily is my chance to set the life (and new life) of the person who died within the greater context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So today, on this day of our annual gathering, we are going to remember those who have died, and I am going to share with you some thoughts on heaven and the eternal love of God.
Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year A || April 20, 2014 || Matthew 28:1-11
Good morning and welcome to St. Mark’s church on this beautiful Easter Sunday. As I see some unfamiliar faces out there, please allow me to do a quick introduction. My name is Adam Thomas, and my wife Leah and I moved to Mystic three months ago today so that I could become the rector of this wonderful church. In that short space of time, I have been overwhelmed by the welcome we received from this parish, and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this community. If this holiday of Easter brought you across our threshold for the first time today, I invite you to return again on a day of less fanfare, to join us, and to enhance our community with your presence.
On Good Friday two days ago, I didn’t finish my homily. Instead, I left those present with a cliffhanger. We were standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and beloved friend. The powers of death and darkness and despair and fear and shame and domination were careening towards Golgotha, were bearing down on us, were about to crush us. Jesus had just said, “It is finished.” Jesus had just breathed his last.
That could have been the end. “It is finished,” might have been the final words of one ready to take his curtain call, to take his bow, to exit stage left. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t be here today. Today, we celebrate the resolution of the cliffhanger. Today, we witness Jesus Christ rise from the grave and leave entombed the powers that seek to separate us from God. Today, we turn away from those powers and embrace the truth that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We wait in suspense three days for the resolution of the cliffhanger. And in that time removed from the foot of the cross, we realize that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant, “It is accomplished.” It is completed. My work is fulfilled. He laid the trap for the powers that seek to separate us from God. He offered himself up as bait. And they took it. On this side of Easter, we look back on the dark events of Good Friday and see the full scope of the plan that Jesus only hinted at to his friends before his arrest.
On the cross, he lured those powers of separation in. He absorbed all our darkness and despair, our fear and shame, our desire to dominate, even the power of death itself. As he suffocated to death on the cross, they appeared to be winning. But it was all a setup. Their power died with him. And he left their wasted shells in the tomb when he rose triumphant.
Yet we still see the powers of separation active in our world today. They still seek to pull creation apart, to pull us apart. And so we might be left to wonder if Christ’s resurrection actually accomplished anything at all. We might be tempted to ask what good it did. These are fair questions to ask, and God knows we struggle with them. But in the midst of the struggle, God constantly calls us to look more carefully for God’s presence in all situations, to engage the suffering of this world on a deeper level, to see into the truth of things.
And when we do this, hope stirs in us. We see that while the forces Jesus lured to the cross still exist, their ultimate power is no more. They have lost. They just don’t know it yet. We live in a reality in which Christ is risen. The truth of the risen-ness of Christ permeates existence. Everyone and everything that can be redeemed, that belongs to God’s original intention for creation, rises with Christ. Everything else stays in the tomb.
In today’s Gospel reading, when the angel beckons the women to see the place where Jesus lay, I wonder what they see? A burial shroud in the corner, perhaps. But mostly just emptiness. Indeed, after the resurrection, the tomb was the burial place for emptiness. For nothingness. This emptiness, this nothingness is the eventual outcome of all those things Jesus lured to the cross. What the women don’t see is death and darkness and despair and fear and shame and domination all crowding for space, invisible in the emptiness of the tomb. There is no room for those things in a reality built on Christ’s risen-ness. Those things are being forced out of reality, forced to stay in the tomb where they belong.
So what does belong in a reality built on Christ’s risen-ness? All we need do is look at the opposites of the things left in the tomb.
Instead of death, we have life. We rise with Christ when we choose life-affirming paths, when we share our gifts and resources so that other may have life, and when we act sustainably so that all creation can enjoy the fullness of life.
Instead of darkness, we have light. We rise with Christ when we walk in the light, when our choices reflect values that prioritize strengthening relationships, and when we encourage others to shine with their own light.
Instead of despair, we have hope. We rise with Christ when we believe that the bounds of possibility are far wider than we can perceive, when we dare to dream of all the wonders we can do when we partner with God, and when we offer a grief-stricken friend a shoulder to cry on.
Instead of fear, we have trust. We rise with Christ when we surrender daily to God our fruitless desire to control the future, when we make choices relying on our faith, and when we ourselves practice trustworthiness and the keeping of promises.
Instead of shame, we have grace. We rise with Christ when we let go everything that keeps us from embracing God’s love, when we discover how graceful we are when we dance in concert with God’s movement, and when we look upon others and see the beautiful beings that God sees.
And instead of domination, we have freedom. We rise with Christ when we allow God to free us from everything that enslaves us, when we stop bowing down to modern-day material idols, and when we stop dominating others to ensure our own freedom.
Every time we choose life and light and hope and trust and grace and freedom, we resonate with the reality of Christ’s risen-ness. We leave the things Jesus lured to the cross where they belong – in the emptiness of the tomb. We become little pockets of Easter, outposts of the resurrection, beacons of true reality based on today’s proclamation: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!