Alleluia Is Our Song
11 April 2004
We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. These are not my words but those of the great St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, spoken some 1500 years ago at the Easter liturgy. Although they were spoken in a different language, at a different time and certainly in a different world, the faith which they profess is the same as the one we embrace this Easter morning. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. We would be hard pressed to find a better lens through which to perceive the meaning of Easter than this faith assertion of Augustine. Because as we gather today after 40 days of Lent, after remembering Jesus’ last meal with the apostles, after reflecting on his unjust death, two questions are important ones for us to address. Why are we an Easter people? How do we sing our Alleluia song?
Why are we an Easter people? Because it is Easter that sets us apart from every other believer. It is Easter that distinguishes us from other good and moral people throughout our world. As Christians we believe that something happened on that first Easter morning. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth who suffered a cruel and unjust death, was raised up and glorified by the power of God. We believe that Jesus became for us the way to salvation. We believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection is a pattern for our own life. This explains why Easter is not simply good news for Jesus, but good news for us as well. For you and I believe that we who are united to Christ through faith and baptism will ourselves be raised up and glorified. St. Paul says this so clearly in his letter to the Romans. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Resurrection and glory are a reality for Jesus. For us they remain a promise. Yet the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification is the guarantee of our promise. Because we believe that if God destroyed the evil of Jesus’ life and vindicated him from death, God will do the same for us. Believing this is not always easy. We can doubt, as did the apostles on that first Easter morning, whether the announcement of the women from the tomb is just an idle tale. But for those of us who are gifted by faith, for those of us who claim the truth of the resurrection that truth becomes an anchor for our lives. This is why Christians are always moving from faith to hope. From faith that Christ was in fact raised and glorified to hope that the same will occur to us. From faith in believing that Jesus was has been raised up to hope that there is no pain, no failure, no hurt that is so great that the love and power of God cannot conquer it. This is why Christians should be able to hope in every situation. For if God was loving and powerful enough to raise one person from the dead, then we believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love and power to save us.
Easter then is our identity. We are an Easter people. But how then do we sing our Alleluia song? There are many ways to sing Alleluias. We can sing them with our eyes open or with our eyes shut. The gospel, however, calls us to sing with eyes open. Even as we proclaim Christ’s victory, we keep our eyes open to the evil that still remains in our world. Even as we proclaim Christ’s victory we do not deny the weaknesses in our own life, our addictions and our need to grow. Even as sing the glories of Easter we admit that injustice and violence remains in our world. The Alleluias we sing do not deny that evil that remains in our world. They proclaim Easter joy in the midst of darkness, announcing to a broken world the promise of Christ’s final victory that is still to come.
If we sing our Alleluias with eyes open, then we are certainly impelled to be people of compassion and service. For the Risen One who we proclaim is one who knew pain and suffering. If we follow him, we cannot distance ourselves from those that suffer, from those that are marginalized in our society. Instead we see in the suffering of those around us a reflection of the suffering of Christ. Such recognition leads us to service. For the victory we proclaim is one in which we are called to participate. We contribute through our service of others to the building of God’s kingdom.
So we sing our Alleluias with our eyes open to all that remains wrong in our world and at the same time are moved to be people of compassion and service to establish God’s reign. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. So as we gather together on this Easter morning we claim Christ’s resurrection and what that resurrection means for our own glorification. We face the world around us without denial and recommit ourselves both to compassion and to service. Therefore as an Easter people let us now stand [the assembly stands] and let us with eyes open and with loud voice that reflects the faith that is our own, sing the song that is ours to sing. [the assembly sings] Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Challenge of Easter
April 8, 2007
It should be a consolation to us that the first response of the apostles to Jesus’ resurrection was one of disbelief. Luke makes this very clear in the gospel we just heard. The women come, bringing the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the apostles do not believe them. The apostles consider their words an idle tale, a pile of nonsense.
This disbelief by the apostles should be an encouragement to us because believing in Jesus’ resurrection is not easy. We are asked to believe that a man, who was dead, really dead, dead and buried, was raised up by God’s power into a new kind of life. We are called to believe that that resurrection took place in bodily form. Yes, Jesus’ body was transformed but it was still a body. It could still eat and be touched by the disbelieving apostles. So the challenge to believe in Jesus’ resurrection is a major challenge. It asks us to believe something that is outside of our experience. In the world in which we live, those who are dead and buried do not rise from their tombs and appear to us in glorious bodies. To believe that Jesus did is a challenge. Yet, every Easter, we are asked to believe it. Every page of the New Testament expects us to believe it. Every time we come together to worship God, our words and our actions proclaim that we believe it. So that leaves us this morning with two questions: Why is believing in Jesus’ resurrection so important and how can we believe something which is outside of our experience?
Believing in Jesus’ resurrection is important because the resurrection of Jesus is larger than a miracle which happened to him. On Easter we do not simply believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we also believe that his resurrection is a sign that God has begun to transform the world. If God raised Jesus from the dead, it means that God is serious about destroying evil and it means that God has already begun to eliminate the evil of our world and to establish God’s Kingdom. If God has raised Jesus up, then it means that God is on the move, already establishing a kingdom of grace and peace. That kingdom will not be completed until Jesus returns, but Easter says it has irrevocably begun. So what we believe at Easter is not simply something about Jesus and what happened to him but about God and what God is doing. When we say, “Christ is Risen,” it is shorthand for saying that we believe that God is destroying evil and establishing a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. This larger understanding of what God is doing is what makes Jesus’ resurrection so important. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it easier to believe. When we look at the world around us, we can find plenty of evidence that the kingdom of God is not yet here. In fact, some would say, it is easier to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead than that God has already begun to establish a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
So that leads us to the second question: How can we believe in something that is so difficult? How can we, with so much evidence against it, believe that God is establishing a kingdom of justice, love and peace? Here’s where the words of the two men in the gospel to the women are important. They say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” If we are going to believe in the truth of Easter, we must look among the living. We must look at our own lives and what is happening within them. We must try to find signs that the kingdom is being established, signs that God is at work and that Jesus’ resurrection is real.
What might those signs be? Let’s start with this one: Other people who believe. Every time we meet another person who says, I believe in Jesus’ resurrection, I believe that God is changing the world Easter becomes more possible. This is why the church bases the celebration of Easter around those who are to be baptized. Their choice to accept Christ makes our belief in Christ more real. All the people in our lives who believe help us to believe. But they are not the only signs. Each one of us can locate in our lives other signs that can point to Easter: a faithful spouse, whose love we know we could never merit, a beautiful son or daughter, a danger from which we have escaped, a sickness or addiction that should have finished us but did not, a moment of peace in the midst of grieving a loss, the ability to hope on the verge of despair. Any of these moments of grace, which we claim in our lives, can be a sign that points to the truth of Easter. None of these signs prove Jesus’ resurrection, for Easter can’t be proven. But it is only by claiming the signs that we find among the living, that we will ever believe that Jesus was truly raised from the dead.
So on this Easter morning, let us sing our Alleluias, realizing that many would consider them an idle tale, a pile of nonsense. But for those of us who can claim God’s grace in our lives, and how God has blessed us, they can be light in the darkness, life in the shadow of death, and a shout of joy which proclaims that Christ is risen and that I believe God is transforming the world.
Easter Doubt and Faith
April 4, 2010
Easter is the primary Christian feast. Jesus’ resurrection is not simply one of the things we believe; it is the foundation of who we are. Paul tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.” The resurrection of Jesus is what makes Christianity distinctive from any other religion. What does it tell us? We do not need the resurrection of Jesus to prove that there is a loving God. The Hebrew prophets revealed that centuries before Jesus’ birth. We do not need the resurrection to prove that we should love our neighbor. The law of Moses made that very clear. We do not need the resurrection of Jesus to assure us of life after death. Many of the great world religions believe in the afterlife, and most of the Jews of Jesus’ time believed that God would raise up the dead.
What makes Christianity distinctive is that we believe that God has in fact raised up one man, one who was human like us, and that we who follow him will share in a like resurrection. This makes the beginning of Christianity easy to pinpoint in history. It emerges with an event, an event that happened about the year 33 in Jerusalem to one man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Romans, died, and was buried. Yet God raised him up to a glorious new life, a life in which we are called to share. What makes Christianity distinctive is not simply that we believe in the promise of eternal life, but that we believe that God has in fact allowed one person to already enter into that life. We are soon to follow. This then is the central truth of the Christian message.
It is not a truth easy to believe. It calls us to accept an event that is beyond our examination. There is no proof that it happened. We only have the witness of the earliest disciples who saw the risen Christ and touched his risen body. But we did not see the risen Christ and have not touched his risen body. That leaves the door open to doubt. You can hear in the gospel today that the earliest disciples did in fact doubt Jesus’ resurrection. It is easy to doubt. Perhaps some of us here have faced such doubts. When we lose someone who is close to us in death, it is easy to question, “Is that person really at peace and with God?” As we grow older and the reality of our own death comes into focus, we can begin to question, “Will I really share eternal life with God when this life is done?” There is nothing wrong with doubt. Doubts are honest questions. Doubts, if they are squarely faced, can lead us to a deeper faith.
In many ways the purpose of this homily tonight is to state clearly that central challenge of faith: that one man has been raised from the dead. Facing this claim we might ourselves ask, do we believe it? Do we believe that it promises us life eternal? If that leads to doubt, then it’s a doubt we must face. The struggle with doubt is the way faith can grow.
But how can we move beyond doubt? There is no proof. But there are signs, signs in our life that point to the truth of the resurrection. Let me offer two: the beauty of nature, the goodness of people. Martin Luther said, “God not only wrote the truth of Christ’s resurrection in the bible. God wrote it in every leaf of springtime.” No one can deny that springtime has been offering quite a display before us these last few days. Yesterday we were warmer than Miami. Tonight we experienced an early summer storm. As you feel the warmth of springtime, as you watch the buds unfold, as you see the new life, ask yourself whether those experiences could be signs that point you to a loving and powerful God who raised Jesus from the dead.
We can also see the signs of Christ’s resurrection in the love of people. There is a story told about an English fisherman who lived by the cliffs of Dover. He was a strong Christian believer. One day as he was cleaning his nets, a friend stopped him and said, “Prove to me that Christ is risen.” He said, “I can’t prove it. But do you see that cottage that sits on the cliffs? Every morning I go out to fish before dawn. For awhile I sit in the darkness waiting for the sun. But when the first rays of the sun come over the horizon, they reflect in the windows of that cottage, and I see that reflection even as I continue to sit in darkness. When I see that reflection, I know that the sun has risen. In the same way, when I see the love of the people around me and recognize in those people the love of Christ, I know that, if the reflection in the cottage windows tells me that the sun has risen, the reflection of Christ’s love in the people around me assures me that Christ is risen.”
In these upcoming days, look for the love of Christ in the people who love you. Look for that love in the commitment of your spouse, in the joy of your children, in the wisdom of your grandparents, in the warmth of your friends. When you see that love and its reality, ask if it can be a sign that points you to the love of God who raised Jesus from the dead and calls us to share in that resurrection.
The beauty of nature, the goodness of people: two signs that point to the truth of the resurrection. There is no proof, but if we let those signs speak to us, they can lead us through doubt and to the daring assertion that God in fact raised one man from the dead. We are called to share in that resurrection. That is the gospel. That is what makes us Christian. I believe. Amen. Alleluia.
Letting Christ Out
March 31, 2013
A class of fourth-graders decided that they wanted to put on an Easter pageant for their parents. They wanted to enact what happened to Jesus on Easter morning. So their teacher helped them by coming up with a list of all the characters that they would have to play. She then spoke to each student asking which role he or she would prefer. Of course, many of them wanted to play soldiers or angels or one of the women who came bearing spices.
But when she came to a young boy named Kevin and asked him,” Kevin who would you like to be?” Kevin responded quickly, “I would like to be the stone.” “The stone?” said the teacher, taken back by his response, “We have no lines for the stone, there’s nothing you would be able to say.” “That’s okay,” said Kevin, “I’ll be happy just to roll away at the appropriate time.”
So since she had more children than roles, she allowed Kevin to be the stone. The play was a great success. Afterwards, the teacher went to all the children to affirm them and to thank them. When she came to Kevin, she first of all thanked him for the excellent job he did rolling away. But then she asked him, “Kevin, tell me why was it so important to you to be the stone. It wasn’t after all the biggest role.”
“I know,” said Kevin, “but I really wanted to be the one who let Jesus out of the tomb.”
Kevin’s words are important to us this Easter morning. We have heard the proclamation that Jesus is risen. In faith, we believe that he now sits at the right hand of God in power. But the power of Jesus will not benefit us unless we are willing to let him out of the tomb.
We let him out of the tomb when we move our faith from our head to our heart. There are many things that we believe and do that are based in our head. If people were to ask us we would answer, “Yes, I believe in God. I am a Catholic. I come to church with my family.” All good things. But the power of the resurrection is when we move our faith to our heart, when we let the power of the risen Christ pervade our very center, our very being.
What does it mean to let Christ into our heart? It means that we live each day trying to be aware that the power of Christ is with us. Aware that Christ is with us to protect us, to guide us, to help us. Living that way is very different than simply living on our own. It is different than making our own decisions and plans, thinking of our own future. It is different from only thinking of God when someone else brings God up or when we come to church on Sunday or on Easter. If we were to invite Christ truly into our hearts, into the center of who we are, we would live differently. Christ would give us more clarity, more commitment, and more confidence.
We need clarity because every day we are bombarded by issues and demands that come on us from all sides and we keep going doing one thing after the next. If we are not careful, we can end up living our lives surrounded by matters of little consequence. But if we invite Christ into our hearts, he will help us clarify what is important and what is not. If Christ is with us, he will show us which things are distractions and which things are essential. Then we will never ignore the people who love us and we will never forget which decisions are the ones that can really make a difference.
So we need clarity. We also need commitment. Now, we are committed people. We try to live good lives, to love our neighbor, to serve those in need. All of this is good. But if we place the power of Christ at our center we will find a new way to be committed. We will realize we do the good things in our lives not simply because they are right but because they are God’s work. That insight should give us the ability to keep going even when it is difficult and disappointing. It should give us new energy because the good things we do are not simply our good things but they are part of God’s plan for recreating the world.
Inviting Christ into our life will give us a new kind of commitment. It will also increase our confidence. We worry about a lot of things. We worry about the bad decisions our children might be making. We worry about our aging parents as they cope with sickness and grief. We have problems at work or at school. We have disagreements we cannot resolve. But if we let the power of Christ come into us, it will give us greater confidence because we will realize that Christ wants to resolve these issues as much as we do. We will realize that God is active, bringing our problems to a good conclusion. When we invite Christ into us, we have the confidence that once we have done everything we can, we can leave the rest in God’s hands.
The risen Christ can give us power. The risen Christ can give us clarification, commitment, and confidence. But first, we must invite him in. Christ is risen. But he does us no good if we keep him in the tomb.
So, should today not be the day that we decide to roll the stone away?
The Curious Omission
March 27, 2016
The gospel we have just heard is a familiar one. It is Luke’s version of the women discovering the empty tomb on Easter morning. All four gospels have some variation of this story. And all the Easter stories share one thing in common. None of them ever describes to us the resurrection of Jesus. The gospels describe many things about Jesus’ life and ministry. They describe his baptism in the Jordan River, his struggle with Satan in the desert, his curing of the blind man, his walking on the water. They describe his death on the cross. But no gospel describes Jesus being raised from the dead. We have no picture of this. Now in time Christian artists provided a picture of Jesus’ resurrection. (You’ll see one on the bulletin tonight as you leave church.) But, in the gospels all we have are stories of the women finding an empty tomb and Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection.
What a curious omission. The resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith. It is what we celebrate at Easter. Yet it is never described to us. What possible reason could the evangelists have for leaving it out? Let me suggest to you an explanation. I think the evangelists avoided describing Jesus’ resurrection because they did not want us to become stuck on what happened to Jesus. They wanted us to remember what will happen to us.
Easter is not simply believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. Easter is believing that we too will be raised from the dead. Through the resurrection of Jesus God made a promise to us and to the world. God promised that we are heading to glory. God promised that our world is heading to goodness and justice and peace. These are the promises that we are challenged to believe this Easter Day. And to be frank, these promises are not easy to believe. When we look at all that is wrong with our lives—our failures, our regrets, our inability to heal broken relationships, the sickness which continually robs us of life—it is difficult to believe that God is leading us to life and glory.
When we look at all that is wrong in our world—prejudice, terrorism, political dysfunction, the lack of sufficient nutrition and dignity to millions of people in our world—it is difficult to believe that God is changing this world into the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that is without want, violence, or hate.
The promises of Easter are big promises, and it takes courage and strength for us to claim them as our own. But, unless we do claim them, we cannot credibly be called Christ’s disciples. This why we gather together as we do today to support one another in our conviction that God’s promises are true. We encourage one another to understand that when we proclaim that Christ is risen, we are proclaiming that the same God that was good enough to raise Christ from the dead is good enough to raise us beyond our failures and our sins and is good enough to change this flawed world into a new creation.
To live these promises, of course, demands that we do our part. We have to work to follow Jesus’ teaching, to forgive and love one another. We have to work to oppose injustice and build a peaceful world. But, as Christians we will not find the strength to work unless we can trust in the promises and the hope of Easter.
The evangelists never describe Jesus’s resurrection. They leave us a blank canvas. But they do this with the confidence that through our faith, hope, and love we can fill the picture in.
The Easter Egg
April 21, 2019
One of the most common symbols of Easter is the Easter egg. Eggs have been associated with Easter from the earliest days of Christianity. But what is the meaning that the egg is meant to convey? Usually when we ask this question, the answer is something like “new life” or “Jesus coming out of the tomb.” These answers are appropriate. But I suggest to you that if we reflect on the egg a bit deeper, we can discover a more complex meaning that is useful for our lives.
The egg contains within it the bird-to-be. But if that bird is to live it must peck over and over again on the inside of the egg until, after a number of days, it breaks through the shell and steps out. None of this can happen without the egg falling into pieces. You see the egg is not simply about life, it is also about destruction. If the bird is to mature, the egg must be broken. New life demands the shattering of the old. This is what makes the egg such a suitable symbol for Easter. Easter is not simply about new life or the beginning of springtime. By modeling Jesus’ death and resurrection, the egg tells us that we must break what is old if we are to find what is new. We must shatter what confines us if we wish to be free.
When we lose someone that we love, when a friend walks away, when a spouse sues for divorce, when a parent dies, Easter tells us that we will not find life by holding on to what used to be. It is only by breaking the old, the old world as we knew it, that we can find a way to live again. Some of us carry some naïve notions about our country or our church. We say to ourselves, “Certainly the people we elect to office will be honest. Certainly our Bishops will protect our children from sexual abuse.” Then we find ourselves betrayed. Easter says that life is not to be found in anger and disgust. We must shatter simple ideas of how our country and church operate and insist that our leaders act in truth and transparency. It is only then that our democratic freedoms will be secure and our church will be healed. Perhaps we have been confined for some time by hurt or jealousy, brooding over something that someone once said to us, measuring ourselves against the success of others. Easter says to us that we must not remain in the pain of that confinement but push through the shell holds us with forgiveness and love.
It is not easy to break through the way things used to be. It is a challenge to shatter the crust that confines us. But the good news of Easter is this: Christ is risen. He who is our pattern for new life is alive. He is ready to help us. If we ask for his help, he will not ignore us. Easter then is a day of hope, a hope of new life. Because of Jesus’ love for us, we believe that new life is possible. But if we intend to enter that life—much like making an omelet—we must be ready to break some eggs.