God in Time
Easter Sermon April 16, 2017
Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa MN
(Please note: This is the 3rd in a Sermon Series that began with Good Friday, and then Holy Saturday. All were indebted to the work of Alan E. Lewis (Between Cross and Resurrection) and Hans vonBalthsar (Mysterium Pascale). The main theme is that whenever the story mentions “Jesus” we should immediately conclude that this “the story of God”!)
It’s highly likely that the day will come, some dark day or troubled one, when your pastor, or some pastor will come to be with you. In some of the hardest events in our life chance are that he or she won’t have much to say. So many times in ministry I have been without words. I stood with those I’ve loved, and those I’ve met on the occasion of a tragedy. And I didn’t know what to say, and knew that it was better not to try. And I know it will continue to be that way.
It’s partly because words, in a time of distress and loss, seem so inadequate to the reality of the moment. We pastors often appear powerless, because we know how inadequate we are in the face of real tragedy. Our calling is to preside and be present, but, as I learned the hard way, my call wasn’t to try to formulate in words answers to what in the experience of those we serve are the haunting unanswerable questions of “Why?”
Why do I start my Easter sermon this way? Well, as I will say more than once on this Easter morning, we must always keep the cross in view, lest the real meaning of Easter be marooned into an island of fuzzy bunnies and endless Easter egg hunts. Around us the world trivializes Easter with its colors of lemon yellow and Spring-like chartreuse. Chocolate covered easter bunnies, and chocolate covered crosses. I even found Cross chocolate covered oreo cookies for sale on the internet. God forbid.
The Angel said, in Matthew’s account of the resurrection, “I know you seek Jesus who was crucified.” And my question is “Do we?” How is it that we come to terms with what happened to him? Must his suffering and death be the key point of our ability to recognize him? One who was so abandoned?
The story is that first there was one disciple who abandoned him—Judas—but then the other disciples, notably Peter, abandoned him—then he was handed over to the Jewish leaders who abandoned him to Pilate—who handed him over to death. Only his Mother and a few women stayed. And his call from the cross was a cry of abandonment.
So we sang, “We’re you there when they crucified my Lord?” knowing, in the depths of honesty we may visit infrequently, that we too have times when we’ve abandoned God. But if the story is true, and it is: God has never abandoned humanity. Or, and this is the rather radical idea, nor as God abandoned time. Thus my sermon title “God in Time.”
Now I don’t mean “In time” as we do, when someone rushes into a meeting or maybe a church service, and we say “Whew. You arrived just in time.” The resurrection wasn’t a just in time event. But it was historical. Beyond that we can never say how it happened, but the stories of those who placed their lives on the line, saying that it was true Christ rose from the dead—it is their witness that speaks to us that it happened.
Thus on Easter morning we need the entire story to be before us. To grasp the meaning of Easter means placing in the frame of a particular human life, that of Jesus, and many of the people who had a proven role in his story. He was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus and died at the hands of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate—a name we recite every time we say either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.
God’s story includes the human story. And God lived a human finite life, somehow taking up that life in all its fullness. There was nothing essentially human about this Jesus left untouched. Birth, hunger, fatigue, laughter, friends, travels, learning, betrayal, suffering and death. It was all there: meaning that for us, whatever our future is in time, that God is in all the days of our lives, and in the life of God beyond all time. Whatever you and I experience within our humanity is not separate from God’s embrace of a human life.
The great danger of Easter, though, remains a tendency to trivialize the Easter event—giving into its commercialized message with Easter bunnies and egg hunts. Maybe the saving grace in that, however, is that the reality of this Easter story is hard enough to comprehend as adults, and therefore maybe the fun part of it isn’t so bad after all.
Allow me to ask this question. Where is the Cross on Easter? Is it totally out of sight? If so, how can that be? I like what the theologian Ernst Kasemann said: The cross is the signature of the one who is risen. Luther, as well, I learned, built his theology, that is to say how we know and talk about God—he did it from within the Passion Story. (vonBalthasar, p. 39) I also learned that Luther resisted trying to explain the cross—it had to remain the category of a sheer paradox, unique, and at the heart of the mystery of God. (vonBalthasar, p. 61)
When we have the cross in view on Easter morning, what it means is that we cannot talk about a God of Absolute Power, but only about a God of Absolute love. (vonBalthasar, p. 28) More to the point of Love conquering death is that the proclamaton “Christ is risen” means and I’m quoting— Alan Lewis “[the] words and deeds [of Jesus] are risen and triumphant too, verified and vouched for by God’s own power.” (Lewis, p. 63). God whose name is Love.
It was a system of collusion by political powers in Jerusalem that practiced an unforgiving legalism—a legalism which considered the kind of people Jesus loved as expendable—it was those powers that nailed Jesus to the cross. Those powers, though, were ultimately helpless for they could never do, what happened on that Easter morning.
And we are witnesses to God whose love of humanity, of all the earth, knows no bounds, not even the boundary of death. We can speak of “God with us” and “in us” and of being conformed to Christ, or praying in and through Christ, because God has chosen life, not just one single life, but all humanity.
But there’s one special segment of humanity that ought to seem more in view on each Easter morning. This Jesus, considered expendable, had his own ministry focused on the disgraced, the despairing, and those dying and dead. We know in our daily news, from wars and violence, prejudice and racism, raising walls and demeaning others, that the one we call the Son of God was biased toward the least, the lost, and the last. Those of us who call him Lord and Savior must do the same. Be assured, that a clear proclamation of the Gospel that Christ is Risen and Christ will come again, is hope for the hopeless, and still scandalous and revolutionary dissent from many of the powers that be. (Paraphrase of Lewis, p. 112)
In the Christian way of living the Easter story, we believe in a God of Hope. Not a distant inaccessible “Being”, but God in Spirit, in life, in event, in becoming. A God of Advent. God incarnate. A God of Epiphany. God in Time.
Not God distant or absent. Present in the mystery of bread and wine. A child born and baptized. Absent only in that tomb on that first Easter morning, And very much alive in those who lived this story this story two thousand years ago and still do—daring to see God also in the least, the lost, and the last.
Certainly as I can attest, and I know Pastor Kari can attest, as well, and so many of you also know, often only upon reflection, God’s spirit and love and forgiveness has been there with you at some of what might have seem the most godforsaken moments in life.
The very hidden, but real presence of God in those times when even Pastors are silent, that silent life-giving hopeful presence of God in the times of our lives, and in the lives of all in this world, speaks to the reality of the story that did not end on Good Friday. God will mysteriously be even in our death, having surrounded us with grace, forgiveness and love all days of our lives, even in and through the last day. But there is no last day in God’s time.
Easter is sometimes called the 8th Day! The day before? We call it Holy Saturday. It was also the Sabbath. And even, it was said, God rested on the Sabbath. And on the 8th day there was a New Creation. An Easter message. God in time. God in all of our lives.
So I welcome all of you, those baptized in Christ. You are welcomed to this table—this Easter morning Eucharist. And I welcome to continue your Easter worship for the next six Sundays. Today and on the Sundays that follow we will be sent forth each week as witnesses to Jesus, raised to life on Easter morning. A blessed and Happy Easter to all of us!