Recently I called one of our homebound parishioners to see if I could visit them.
The person said, “Oh I am so glad you called. I would love a visit because I need some help.”
I said, “Well I’m glad to come over, visit, and pray for whatever you need help with.”
The person’s response was, “Oh your prayers are appreciated, but I’ve been having a hard time sleeping so what I really need is for you to bring me one of your sermons.”
I used to take it personally when people fell asleep during my sermons.
Like many preachers, I spend a large portion of my week preparing these messages, and it’s discouraging to see nodding heads and heavy eyelids.
At times I’m tempted to take one of my bigger and heavier bibles and thump people on the head to wake them up.
I’ve also thought about setting what one preacher called his “cot of shame.” Anybody who drifts off would be escorted to the “cot of shame”, at the front of the sanctuary, and then have to sleep in full view of everyone.
Now admittedly, I have considered that maybe—and I doubt it, but maybe—the catalyst for this problem of folks falling asleep during my sermons might be on my side of the pulpit. But again, I doubt it.
All joking aside however, a few years ago my perspective about getting all worked up and discouraged when people fall asleep changed when I was at a General Assembly and noticed people sleeping while listening to one of the most gifted preachers the world has ever know—Dr. Fred Craddock—God rest his soul.
Dr. Craddock passed away a little over a month ago.
The sight was both horrifying and comforting.
If people could not stay awake during his message, then I figured that the problem isn’t simply poor preaching—that it must be something else.
And I think that “something else” is that so often we are tired.
Now I know what you’re thinking—“What a revelation! The reason we fall asleep, is because we are tired! How is it we never figured this out!?”
When I say the reason we are tired, I don’t mean tired in the sense that we went to bed too late and got up too early.
I mean we are tired of what is happening all around us, day in and day out. We are tired because of life.
We are constantly trying to do it all.
We are bogged down with burdens of family, work, and finances.
We are racked with anxiety of health concerns of our own or of those we love.
We experience how awful people can be to one another because we have been in the cross hairs of someone who became upset and angry with us.
We work our tails off, but it’s still not good enough, and we are made to feel like anything we do just isn’t’ right, or enough.
We hold our marriages together by threads.
We live paycheck to paycheck, praying the car will keep starting and gas prices keep falling.
We raise children with the constant din of fear that something will happen to them if we are not careful or that they will fall behind because we haven’t done our parts well enough.
We do everything we are supposed to do—but we are still left hunched over, broken, beaten down to the ground.
As a result, we are tired people. We are just so tired of it all.
So what are we to do?
Well, as the Disciples of Christ we proclaim ourselves to be, what we do—even when we are tired, even when we have no earthly reason to do so—is we keep getting back up.
But we don’t just get up and brush dust off of us.
No, we get up, and like Jesus, and because of Jesus, we brush death off of us.
On the night before Jesus was crucified, he had gathered with his Disciples to share with them a meal.
Later, Jesus and his Disciples went out to Gethsemane to pray, but as Jesus prayed, his Disciple slept.
And while Jesus was discouraged by this; the fact of the matter was that his Disciples were tired.
This was days after their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, being hailed as those who would conquer those oppressing the Jewish people.
This was after three years of walking from town to town, encountering person after person who were always pressing in on them, trying to get close to their leader Jesus.
This was after three years of being mentally and spiritually challenged to understand the Kingdom of God which was far beyond their ability to comprehend.
And now, they had just shared in a meal, where Jesus told them again that he would soon die, where he their Rabbi knelt down and washed their feet, oh, and also told them that one of them would betray him.
No wonder they fell asleep! They weren’t just tired from a long day. They were tired from a long everything.
Their bodies, their minds, their hearts, their very souls were all so exhausted.
It is so easy for us to understand. ***
But it didn’t stop there.
The Disciples tiredness would become even greater over the next day, when they witnessed the actual betrayal by one of their own, the injustice of an unjust trial, when they denied Jesus and ran from him in fear, and the complete reversal of the crowd who loved Jesus on Sunday, but hated him on Friday.
All then culminating as they watched Jesus die on the cross.
Their bodies, their minds, their hearts, their very souls were done…spent…fried…exhausted. They were all so tired.
It is so easy for us to understand the depth of this exhaustion because we have been there—maybe we are there right now.
Tired bodies. Tired minds. Tired hearts. Tired souls.
But though they were tired, and though all they wanted to do was crawl into bed, and hide from the world, there is a critically important lesson for us to learn.
What did Jesus’ Disciples do after it was over?
First, they mourned—a perfectly acceptable act. A time of mourning is important, it’s healthy.
They mourned on the first two days, but then after that, although no doubt still mourning, still sad, worried, anxious—still with no earthly reason to do so, they got up.
They got up because eventually you have to.
Sooner or later, even if you’re still mourning, you have to get up.
Sooner or later, even if you’re still tired, you have to get up.
And so they did. They got up early.
Early on the first day of the week, they got up, while it was still dark, and they went to do what they knew needed to be done.
And it was in doing that—what needed to be done—that they discovered resurrection.
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is the leader of the church in Albania, a place where the repression of the church was stronger than almost anywhere among Communist countries, except China.
In 1967 all places of worship, both churches and mosques, were shut down and all religious activity was prohibited, even in homes.
Twenty three years later, at the end of this religious prohibition, there were only a handful of very old priests who had survived from the many hundreds who had been serving the church before the Communist era.
Aware of the need for spiritual leaders, Anastasios came from Greece to help the people rebuild their churches, to help reconvert buildings back from weapons depots, and to help with countless other projects including the re-building of roads and the setting up of schools.
Albania is still one of the poorest countries in Europe—most people want to immigrate out if they can because to live there is to be anxious about the present and worried about the future.
It is safe to say that the people of Albania are tired.
But to the people, the Archbishop says; “As an expression of the love of one for the other, let us do our resurrection duty. For surely resurrection will shape our future.”
The Church in Albania has the resurrection as its great focus, theme and hope.
The church newspaper is called “Resurrection”.
The newly opened seminary is dedicated to the resurrection— and so are the churches.
The people are doing their resurrection duty. ***
Everywhere he goes, Anastasios takes an icon of the resurrection.
He says that the church, and its people in Albania, have been pulled out of the tomb. He says, “We are an icon of resurrection.”
And the reason they are an icon of resurrection is because even though they were tired, even though they had no earthly reason to do otherwise, they still got up.
And in getting up they discovered resurrection.
In the days before electric light, alarm clocks, and pre-programed coffee makers, people were simply woken by the dawn.
Life is much more complicated now.
We worry about the future. We are tormented by worries about our own lives and the lives of our families. We are anxious about the state of the world.
Because of it all, we are just tired.
But the wonderful thing about the dawn is that it always comes, sweeping away the dimness of night and offers a new beginning.
As followers of Christ…
As those who are here on Easter morning… we know what it feels like to be hunched over, broken, beaten down to the ground.
But we also know that we can and we must get back up—just as Jesus showed us on that first great and glorious Easter.
And it’s in getting back up that we brush death off of us, and become aware of the fact that each new day is a new chance to discover resurrection. Each new day is a chance to be an icon of resurrection.
We can discover such, and we can be such because we have been beaten down, crushed by the things of this world that cause us to grow so tired that we can fall asleep anytime and anywhere—but we are those who know, by God’s call, that we are called to do our resurrection duty, as an expression of love to the one who made it all possible.
So may we, when all we want to do is stay in bed, strive to allow resurrection to shape our future, for that is our calling, because of today.
And when we live in faithfulness to that calling, then no matter what life brings, we will always be able to discover resurrection.
Happy Easter. Amen.