A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
Easter Day Sermon
April 11, 2004
April 11, 2004. Easter Sunday. This year it is about two things. This Easter is about blood. And this Easter is about birth.
I. Easter 2004 Is About Blood
Year after year during this Holy Week we read where Jesus was arrested, flogged, scourged, his head was plaited with a crown of thorns, struck in the face, nails were driven into his hands and feet, and finally a spear pierced his side. After so many centuries of retelling, it is possible to be numb to the horror.
But not this year. Mel Gibsons Hollywood movie The Passion of The Christ brought it all home. The blood! Just like picking up the newspapers and reading about the Palestinian suicide bombers and the Israeli air strikes. Or remembering the ten-year anniversary of the Rwanda massacre with 800,000 corpses. Or today in the Western Sudan region of Darfur, where accusations of genocide are screamed by 860,000 black Africans who are being attacked by Arab forces of the Khartoum government. Or closest to home, where the Sunni triangle or Fallujah or Baghdad are places where the blood of our countrymen is mingled on the street with the others fallen in Iraq on a daily basis.
You and I have about five quarts of blood that circulate in our bodies approximately every three minutes. We live because of this cycle of blood inside us. Outside of us there is a cycle of blood that predictably flows because of ancient hostilities. People keep on dying from this circulation of blood.
What can we do about this? Three answers to the daunting predicament of the culture of bloodletting:
(1) The cynic says, All bleeding stops. If they are dumb enough to keep it going, let them keep killing until they wear themselves out.
(2) The innocent says, All they need is a little bit of . . . . Then you fill in the blank. We can microwave the crucial value for them in a short time, and they will be fine.
(3) The Jesus answer: The only way ultimately to address a bloody mess is to enter it, embrace it, and outlive it.
Somebody sometime is going to have to take on the injustices, the deformities, the brutalities, the miseries, the jealousies, the pettiness, the sadism, the denial, the avoidance, the corruption that cry out for blood. The Christian religion takes blood seriously, because Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, emptied his blood in a loving embrace for the whole human race! Easter 2004 is about blood. Always has been, always will be.
II. Easter Sunday 2004 Is About Birth
Let me confess. After I saw the movie The Passion of The Christ, I had the strongest urge to run out and rent the movie Groundhog Day. At least in that movie Bill Murray had to live the same day of his calamities over and over and over again until he got it right. Groundhog Day finally made abundant sense, spiritual sense, because the disasters were related to the breakthrough. One trouble with The Passion of The Christ is that it spends two hours and six and a half minutes on Good Friday and thirty seconds on Easter. You cant do that. The Passion and Easter go together. If you stop after the Passion, you have a wonderful religion. If you move on to Easter, you have the birth of a new universe, a new humanity.
Easter makes big claims. For instance, a new humanity. Think for a minute who we are as human beings across the world and imagine if we could rise to another level. Mary Magdalene is at the tomb of Jesus, she recognizes him, and he immediately says to her, Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. Rising from the grave is only the first part of the story. He must continue to rise, and so must we. Dont hold on. Youve got a higher place to go; you have a fuller humanity to attain.
Let me give you an Easter quiz. A pop quiz about the possibility of new humanity. It is not pass/fail. As a matter of fact, you can grade your own answers. Three questions: one on biology, one on sex, one on religion.
First question: biology. It is true that chimpanzees and humans are very close. We form a species group with a common ancestor. The DNA sequence of chimpanzees and humans differs by only one percent. One percent. If we went from chimpanzee to human, is it possible that we are only at the beginning stage of understanding what a human really is? Is it possible that we never saw a total human being until Mary Magdalene saw the Resurrected Christ? And with the eyes of faith if we can see the Resurrected One, could we live in the direction of Resurrection? Could we afford to be merciful? If we knew that shame and death would not devour us, could we breathe more deeply and love more abundantly? The Easter question.
Second question: sex. Christians of almost all stripes have forever said that gays and lesbians are sinful in their defining behavior. The largest religious group in the world has defined gays and lesbians as intrinsically disordered. As a matter of fact, this religious group marched through the streets of San Francisco a few weeks ago with signs saying that gays and lesbians would be tolerated. The assumption was that they would be tolerated as long as they lived quiet promiscuous lives. But . . . if they want to be loved and to love, if they want to enter into committed, faithful relationships, their fidelity would be morally intolerable. Nevertheless, the City of San Francisco said, We will honor your vows and treat you with dignity as full human beings. My Easter question: Did San Francisco roll the stone away from centuries of self-loathing and from gays and lesbians being objects of contempt? Was human life elevated at City Hall? An Easter question.
Third and final question: religion. A few years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, I heard a Jewish rabbi tell this story. He said:
You Christians believe in the Christ, the Messiah. So do Jews. If we both believe in the Christ, we ought to get along.
You Christians believe that the Christ came here, left, is going to come again, and you are looking for him. We Jews believe that the Christ hasnt come yet, but one day will come. So we are looking for him. If we both are looking for the Christ, we ought to get along.
Now when the Christ does come, lets get together and send out a little group to ask the Christ this question: Excuse us, but have you ever been here before?
Then the rabbi said, No, no. If we learn to love each other in the meantime, we will be so happy that the Christ came for each other that we will never ask the question . . . .
So here is my question to you: Do you think it is possible for Muslims and Jews and Christians to rise beyond mutual ghetto hatred for each other? Do you believe that some day these religions will discover a common vocation for peacemaking in the troubled parts of the world? If Easter is about rising to a new humanity, the tides of the faiths are crucial. Easter questions are always real challenges for real life.
Easter 2004 is about blood and about birth of a new humanity. Dont hold on to where you are. Gods Easter message is that you are now in the power of the Risen One, and thus you too will be rising. Fear not. Dont hold on. Jesus Christ is risen today. And so are you!
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