Easter Sermon-- "Dressed in White"

First Presbyterian Church, Pardeeville, WI

April 12, 2020

 

WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD
 

GOSPEL READING Matthew 28:1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

 

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They cam and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”

 

SERMON:  “Dressed in White”    Pastor Bill Dow

     It is said that “seeing is believing.” In this day of Photo Shop and digital imagery, I’m not so sure. Like Pontius Pilate, we often find ourselves asking, “What is truth?” The images we see on our digital devices and on printed media have often been edited to enhance appearances. Green screen technology allows videographers to place their subject anywhere they chose in any situation. This is fine for fiction, but who wants to make life decisions based on fiction?

     Any serious biblical scholar is also a participant, or a least a serious sponsor of archeology, studying the physical remains of history. This usually involves digging, very careful digging and careful recording of what is found, and where. There’s always great excitement at a dig when something of significance is found that challenges the existing understanding of history. Papers are written. New theories are raised, and the debate goes on.

     Curiously, much of what we believe comes from the entertainment industry. Did you know that Moses looked a lot like Charlton Heston with long hair and a beard? 

     It has become a tradition in our house to listen to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” during Holy Week. It’s great theatre with lousy theology. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber stirred things up in the religious world in the early 70’s. Preachers had a field day and the musical still draws a crowd to this very day.

   In the final scene during the Broadway production, Jesus is attached to flying wires and is slowly lifted up on a stage with a forty-foot ceiling. He’s wearing a brilliant white robe that unfolds the whole time he’s being raised. At the end, you no longer can see the person of Jesus. What you see is the white column of his robe. It’s a powerful scene.

   But you know, in my walk of faith, which has a lot to do with the circumstance of my birth, the powerful moments have not been moments of spectacle, but rather moments when I became convinced that God was present and invested in the outcome of my being…moments when I absolutely knew that God was at work in my life. 

   Resurrection is the ultimate expression of divine love. It is God’s desire to be with us for all time, even when time is no longer part of our lives. In this time of safer at home living, that’s a thought with far-reaching implications!

   God’s love is perfect. It is not manipulative. It is not covert. It is not possessive. By God’s choice, we are creatures of free will. God, the Source of all being, is not a micromanager. Yet God participates in our being. God is present in the tension between good and evil with the endless hope that we will choose the way shown to us through Christ Jesus.

   This has been the strangest Holy Week I’ve ever experienced. On Monday, I sewed a mask to wear when voting…Industrial Arts meets Home Economics. The good news is that I didn’t break Ruby’s sewing machine. The mask will not win any awards, but it does have the Packer logo. On Tuesday, after all the posturing and gyrations of those we’re supposed to trust with our well-being, I put on my mask and went to our little town hall to vote. I was so angry! I didn’t say a word. I took my cotton swab and touched the screen with my choices, turned on my heel and went for the door. One of the poll workers said, “Thank you!” I waved, but just kept walking. To this very moment I don’t know if I’m a carrier of the disease that could bring harm to a poll worker or if I got the disease because I went to that place and voted. On Wednesday we participated in a Lenten Bible study group via Zoom. I confessed my anger to the group and that helped. It’s Thursday morning as I write these words. The plan is to participate in a Zoom Maundy Thursday service. I’m praying that Holy Communion will restore me to spiritual balance. Today we will listen to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” from beginning to end and I’ll remember when C.B. Olson walked out of our church choir gathering in 1970 halfway through Herod’s Song. Friday we will listen to John Stainer’s, “The Crucifixion” from start to finish. By then, my hope is to be ready to receive, once again, the message of resurrection, a message that falls outside my ability to comprehend…a message of eternal love that puts political strife and deadly disease into a framework of hope. 

   I love the King James translation of 1 Peter 2:9 that identifies us as a “peculiar” people. The Common English Bible uses the phrase “a people of God’s own possession.” Here’s the whole verse from the Common English Bible: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light” (1Peter 2:9 CEB).

   First, let’s talk about the chosen race. The writer is speaking to the relationship between God and God’s creation – the human race. The white of the lily, the white of Easter is the color of clothing, NOT the color of skin. Any questions? Likewise, the holy nation is a nation without geographical boundaries. The boundaries, if there are any, are formed by human rejection of divine grace…I don’t need you, God. Go away. That’s a boundary, for sure. 

   This pandemic is cruel lesson that reveals our vulnerability and our need for God and each other. If only we could protect our children from images of adults fighting over shopping carts filled with toilet paper! They’re watching, you know. They see everything!

   COVID – 19 provides a grim view of the inequities in our most basic services dedicated to health and wellbeing. How is it that 29% of a population experiences 72% of the deaths? When will we learn? If our neighbor is sick or malnourished, our own health is compromised. If our neighbor is in poverty, everyone’s prosperity is always in jeopardy. We were warned not to fall in love with money! Yet here we are, weighing the risk between human life and economic recovery. May God have mercy!

   The resurrection of Christ Jesus serves notice that life exists beyond the realm of our comprehension, more precious than any commodity on the planet! Eternal life! Life that resides within the stories of faith…coming to us through the witnesses and saints who preserved the stories and lived in ways that continue to move the mundane and the profane into the realm of the divine. 

   When I was fourteen, I was invited to join the senior choir of our church. I sat next to Stu and he showed me the ropes. Like all bass sections, we goofed off when we thought the director wasn’t looking. Stu was the metals teacher at our high school. If you need more information about our relationship…I became a high school metals teacher. He crafted the cross I’m wearing today. Every year we sang “The Crucifixion” by Sir John Stainer. Stu sang the partof Jesus. Was he a saint? No. His wife, Phyllis was the saint.

   Stu had a mid-life crisis with a beautiful woman. It was very public. He would sit in the second row of the church with her, proud as a peacock. Two minutes before church would start, Phyllis would slip in the back. She would worship and then slip out during the last hymn. As this was going on, the whole church was just hemorrhaging. 

   I don’t know what happened, and I don’t need to know. But somehow the affair ended, and Phyllis took him back. Such is the way of resurrection…new life. You can’t explain it. But there it is. It happens. 

   There will come a time when we will occupy the same space again and worship the One who claims and loves us. It will be a time of celebration! New life. Resurrection! Easter! Until that time, it will be a matter of faith and longing as we live apart to protect each other in steadfast love and respect. 

   Today, we keep alive the story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who experienced an impossible encounter with Jesus. Not dead! Alive! Risen to the glory of God, and they worshiped Him.

     Let's give thanks for their witness, praying that their faithfulness and joy will guide us and give us strength…that we might be the steadfast presence of divine love in an unstable and diseased world. enter into the story.

 

Amen.

 

 
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