Sunday, May 15, 2011

Aftershocks of Easter

Aftershocks of Easter
Northwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly
May 15, 2011 (Easter 4, Year A)
1 Peter 2:18-25

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Christian worship is always an “aftershock of Easter.”

You know what an aftershock is. Just two months ago an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale devastated parts of Japan, causing a massive tsunami, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands unaccounted for or homeless.

What you may have missed is that aftershocks from the March 11th earthquake continued for over a month—some of those “aftershocks” serious earthquakes in their own right.

…Not that that’s so unusual. Throughout history, after some major earthquakes, the aftershocks have lasted for up to ten years.

Awe-filled worship is always an aftershock of Easter.

Three weeks ago the ground shook under our feet as we heard the story of Easter in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:1-10)—an amazing account that begins with an earthquake and an angel descending from heaven, rolling away the stone in front of Jesus’ grave—and then sitting on the stone, as if to say: “Now what do you think of them apples?”

Easter, in Matthew’s telling anyway, commences with an earthquake….an earthquake the aftershocks of which are still sending tremors through the church and the world.

Like all major earthquakes, the Easter earthquake affected everyone, turned everything upside down, altered the landscape permanently.

Unlike most major earthquakes, though, the Easter earthquake’s aftershocks are not subsiding. Indeed, the aftershocks of Easter, the reverberations of the Resurrection retain all the force of the original earthquake—so much so that we say that every Sunday, every worship gathering around the Cross is itself another Easter Day.

And none of us comes through the aftershocks of Easter unscathed.

Here’s how author Annie Dillard describes Christian worship: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? …It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982)

How can we speak this way? Is the community of Christ, really shaken regularly, in worship, by what happened on the Third Day after the Crucifixion?

Beyond the shadow of a doubt! Because Easter means at least three things:

• We have a living God on our hands.

• God has a living people on his hands.

• And the future is no longer filled with foreboding….the future is fundamentally open, in Jesus Christ.

And that means that everything we thought was true is up for grabs. We thought that sin would never release us. We thought that death would always have the last word. We thought that the future was gray and hazy and utterly uncertain.

But the Easter earthquake permanently altered all those things. Dwelling now in the awe-filled worshiping community of Jesus Christ is like living in the midst of an ongoing earthquake, walking on ground that’s still trembling, moving ahead not in terror—but in boundless hope.

Worship in the name of Jesus taps into incredible, unbelievable, bigger-than-the-biggest-atom-bomb power.

Because worship connects us to a God who is best spoken of in the present tense. If you wear a WWJD bracelet I invite you to stop talking about What Would Jesus Do?….and shift gears to a better, Resurrection question: What Will Jesus Do?--Jesus on the loose, at-large in the world, Jesus living inside of all who are “in Christ,” Jesus showing up at least once a week in your congregation.

Yes, you heard me right: Jesus “shows up” every time we worship. When the Word is read, it’s Jesus’ voice we hear. When the preacher preaches, it’s Jesus getting in a Word edgewise with us. When water, bread and wine are wrapped in the promises of God, Jesus is rescuing, restoring, setting us and all things right.

We have a living God on our hands, my friends….

….and God has a living people on his hands.

Without Easter, without the Cross and the Empty Tomb, we are all toast. We’re goners. Here today, gone tomorrow, fresh out of life, fresh out of hope.

But Easter presses the “reset button” on all of that! When Easter dawns upon us, it’s like the First Day of Creation all over again, God’s great “do-over”…and that means life for us. Sin no longer has a future with us. Life, in Christ, will have the last Word!

Every time Christians gather for worship we experience an aftershock of Easter. Because we have a living God on our hands…and God has a living people on his hands….and the future is no longer a dark question mark. In the Risen Lord Jesus Christ the future is fundamentally open, because it’s God’s future, and God beckons us out of our guilt-ridden past, out of our anxiety-driven present, into God’s hope-filled future.

…and that’s because every syllable of the New Testament was written in the glow of the Easter Sonrise. If the New Testament seems to describe a world that is “all shook up”…if it appears as though the world of the New Testament is all topsy-turvy, it’s because the New Testament is filled with rubble--the rubble of an old world destroyed by the Cross…a dying world rendered passé by the surpassing power of the Resurrection.

So, if the New Testament strikes you as being sort of a “wild ride”—it’s because folks are always poking their heads up out of the rubble left by the Resurrection.

We see that in our Second Lesson from I Peter. Picture a slave poking his head up out of the rubble from the Easter earthquake and wondering: “Now what? I’m a slave. I belong to my overseer, my guardian. I’m totally at his disposal. But Christ has suffered, died and risen again for me—so now what?”

The writer of I Peter takes a first run at that piercing question. What does the Easter earthquake do for a first-century slave who’s been embraced by the Risen Christ? He’s still a slave, right? He still has a master, a guardian—who may or may not treat him well.

But this slave now lives life in a brand new key. Even his sufferings have been transformed, but only “in Christ.” Suffering itself has been redeemed by the suffering of Jesus. “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (v. 24)

And what’s more, this slave now has two owners—and the New Owner is the Ultimate Owner, the Shepherd and Guardian of this slave’s soul. Jesus has dibs on this slave—so now what?

It just keeps going on and on like that across the pages of the New Testament, down through the history of the church and even into our own day. Folks—you and I--keep poking our heads up out of the rubble left behind by the Easter earthquake—and we keep wondering: “Now what?”

My life has been a mess—but now Jesus, the Best Shepherd, has waylaid me and made me his own. All around me—the rubble of my stupid choices, my abject failures, my wayward ways—but those no longer define me. Jesus, the Guardian of my soul has called dibs on me, on us. So now what?

Isn’t there even a word for our congregations, our synod, our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America here? It feels as though nothing is the way it used to be—everything is up for grabs—we’re rethinking everything about how to be the church in the 21st century.

But what if we, too, are simply poking our heads up out of the rubble of a tired, old dying world…poking our heads up out of the rubble left by the Resurrection…and looking to Jesus, the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls?

Where are you taking us Jesus? We’d really like to know that.

But, Jesus, if you’re not ready to tell us just exactly where you’re taking us, reassure us of just one thing: Let us know, deep in our bones that you’re the one taking us there, into God’s tomorrow, into the future that belongs solely to you.

Because if that is true, nothing else matters.

In the name of Jesus.


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