Sunday, April 4, 2021

Phil Kniss: Are we there yet?

God’s Great Re-Weaving
Luke 24:1-12

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Good morning, all you beautiful . . . real . . . people!
Even with masks covering your faces,
you look a lot better to me than when I look at you through
a little camera lens on the back wall of the sanctuary.
Isn’t it wonderful to be together, in the flesh?
And to be here in the sunshine, and rising temperatures,
is like icing on the cake,
especially after those snow squalls we had on Thursday.
A blessed Easter Sunday to everyone of you!

You know, 
it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from,
we all share something in common today.
We are ready for a change.
We are poised for entering a new season.
Spring? Bring it on!
A new baseball season? Yes, we’re ready.
A season of more direct human connections?
Definitely yes.
And a season of living with hope for the future?
Yes, we are absolutely ready for that.

The question is . . . “Are we there yet?”
Yes, that age-old question that all of us started asking,
as soon as we were old enough to talk,
and go on road trips with our parents.
“Are we there yet?”
And we usually asked it with a whine.
In fact, let’s all ask it together 
in as whiny a voice as you can muster—
Ready? 1-2-3 . . . “Are we there yet?”

See, we’ve been apart so long,
but we haven’t forgotten how to annoy each other.
But seriously, whether we realize it or not,
we, collectively, as a culture, as a society,
are whining just about like that right now.
Everyone has had enough of sitting in the back seat,
on this road trip called COVID,
buckled in,
unable to escape.
Actually, some people are trying to get out of the car,
while it’s still moving, if you know what I mean.

But it’s not just COVID we are weary of.
So much collective grief we carry.
We are deeply troubled by the recent uptick in violence—
the deadly insurrection and attack on our capital,
the mass shootings that have been happening 
at an astonishing rate—more than one a week recently.
We are pained by the continuing ugliness
we human beings are capable of showing to each other—
the random attacks on Asian-Americans,
just because of their ethnicity,
the systemic ways that white supremacy still
impacts and shapes our lives every single day,
and some of us still deny that it’s real.

And we should all take note,
that Easter Sunday in 2021 falls on the 53rd anniversary
of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr,
and comes while the nation watches a police officer on trial
for the murder of another black man, George Floyd.

So it should be obvious.
The social ills that weary us, 
that weigh us down on our journey,
are not about to disappear tomorrow—
COVID, white supremacy, abuse of power, gun violence,
political gridlock, the widening gap between rich and poor,
I could list many more.
But there is no need.
We carry this weight in our minds, our spirits, our bodies.
We feel it.

And that’s all on top of the very deep and personal losses,
that many in this community carry right now.
This has been an awful season of grief for this community,
and this congregation.
You all know it.
It just occurred to me the other day,
that so far in 2021,
I have preached as many funeral sermons at Park View,
as I have Sunday morning sermons.

So much loss . . . 
it’s only natural that we wonder, and ask the driver,
“Are we there yet?”
Is this tortuous season over?
Are we about to enter something completely new?

Easter prompts this question.  Every.  Year.
In the Christian calendar 
Easter follows a 40-day season of shadows.
Whether or not we fast during Lent,
or give up something we enjoy,
we are all thrust into a deeper awareness of our frailty,
our sin, our weakness,
we come to terms with life in the wilderness.
So on Easter Sunday,
the biblical narrative reaches a joyful climax—
sin and death lost the battle!
Light and life and love have overcome 
everything that works against them.

So what does that really mean 
for the world we walk into tomorrow?
Does this really mark the end of the shadow season?
Are we really there yet?

Well, yes . . . and no.
Yes, we have reason to hope.
The empty tomb is a sign—a resounding sign—
that death does not have the last word.
Easter almost sounds like the end of the book.
However, it’s not.
It’s a pivot point in the biblical narrative.

The story continues,
wherein the followers of Jesus,
get in just as much trouble as Jesus did.
Just as much persecution and suffering and resistance
by all the powers that be.
See, resurrection constitutes a threat to the powers.
So expect resistance.

Powers of evil maintain their grip,
with the threat of violence and death.
So the notion of a God who might transform 
death into life
undermines their whole way of doing business.
So they push back . . . hard.
The agony of the journey of Jesus to the cross,
matches the agony of the journey of those who follow him.

This is not a new idea, folks.
The Christian tradition has always known this,
and even organized the church year around it.
In the biblical narrative, and in the Christian calendar,
Easter is not the end, but the pivot point.
Did you know that one-fourth of our whole calendar,
is oriented toward this day?
There is a forty-day period that precedes it—Lent.
And there is a fifty-day period that follows it,
lasting until Pentecost.
3 out of 12 months we spend either looking forward to today,
or looking back and pondering the implications of it for life in a world that continues to be steeped in 
grief, chaos, violence, evil, and treachery of all kinds.

The hope of Easter lies not in some fairy tale wish
that we are going to be rescued from all our suffering,
and not have to walk where Jesus walked.
No, the hope of Easter lies 
in knowing where the story is headed.
The early Christians, 
and every suffering Christian community that followed,
including our own ancestors the Anabaptists, 
16 centuries later,
all found hope in the resurrected Jesus,
because it gave meaning to their suffering.
They knew it was true, like the hymn says,
that God is working God’s purpose out,
as year succeeds to year . . . 
and the time is coming,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.
That’s where the story is heading.

When Easter people suffer,
it is hard, it is agonizing, it can be excruciating,
but the suffering is not hope-less suffering.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in 1 Thess 4,
encouraging them that they do not grieve
as others do who have no hope.
Those are the words 
that John Martin wanted to be read at his graveside,
which is exactly what I did a week ago yesterday.

Because of this Easter day,
when suffering comes,
there are several truths that we can count on,
on which we can build a hope-filled foundation for life.

One truth is 
that God does not abandon us in our suffering,
even when we feel alone.
When we suffer, God sees. God knows. 
God moves toward us in love. Always.
Another truth is that death does not 
stop the forward movement 
of God’s love and life and light.

There is a trajectory 
that still charts the path of life in this world.
God’s purposes are to save, to transform, 
to redeem, to make whole.
The Hebrew word for all that is Shalom.
God is busy building shalom.
And we are invited to be part of that.

We have every reason to rejoice today,
although more of the same suffering lies ahead.
Because of Easter, we rejoice
that no matter what detours and roadblocks lie ahead,
the end point of our journey is not in doubt.
Our loving—and very patient—God 
turns around to us in the back seat and reassures us.
No, we’re not there yet. But we will get there, together.

In a way, that’s the message we receive
anytime we come to the Lord’s Table, in communion.
The elements of the table—
the bread and cup . . . the body and blood—
are tangible reminders of how costly this journey can be.
But resurrection turned the story of suffering on its head.
When we partake, when we ingest these elements,
we are claiming, by faith,
that just as suffering is part of us,
so the Lord Jesus Christ, is part of us.
We ingest hope, when we ingest the risen Christ.
We become resurrection people,
who don’t stop grieving,
but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope.
We are people of the empty tomb.

—Phil Kniss, April 4, 2021

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