The Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, is a Roman Catholic Church located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, next to the Garden of Gethsemane. It enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest
At the entrance to the Church of All Nations, there is a sign warning visitors:
“NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH”
This explicit rule is intended to discourage talkative tour guides and pastors from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambience with loud, long winded theological and dogmatic lectures. After all, those are to be reserved for Easter Sunday! Episcopal Priest Jim Friedrich would agree with this rule, explaining how this posted warning Jim Friedrich is an Episcopal priest, teacher Jim Friedrich is an Episcopal priest, teacher has always struck him as good advice for preachers on Easter Sunday.
He writes in the Christian Century, “Confronted by a room full of people who spend most of their time in secular social ways of thinking, where the dead stay dead, and God—if there is one for them—does not intervene in the natural order, preachers are tempted to mount a defense of the resurrection within what is plausible to the modern mind. In doing so, we tame a dangerous mystery into a manageable—and rather harmless—assumption. We waste a valuable opportunity to bring the assembly into confrontation with the transformative presence of the living Christ, by making it harder and more complicated than need be.”
Friedrich is warning preachers—ok he is warning me—that Easter is not a Sunday for explanation, rather Easter Sunday is simply for proclamation.
Today is not about how the resurrection happened; today is about that the resurrection did happen. And because it did happen, resurrection is to be celebrated. Resurrection is to be embraced. Resurrection should generate in us a faithful response of thanksgiving, praise, joy, and hope.
When it comes to Easter resurrection, we are invited into a timeless event that reminds us, because of Easter resurrection everything changes… for good.
Friedrich does concede there is nothing wrong with addressing doubts, or wonderings about this resurrection miracle event. After all, the Disciples were perplexed and had questions—What’s happening? Were there grave robbers? Did the Roman authorities change their minds about giving up Jesus’ body? Was what Jesus said really happening?
These lingering questions are all the perplexities theologian Rowan Williams calls the “painfully untidy stories” of the Easter narratives. They are painfully untidy because we humans can’t handle living in mystery, we can’t handle not having answers, we can’t handle not having a reasonable explanation.
And because we can’t, when the inexplicable happens, when perplexities occur, we become like all the mystery cop dramas we’ve seen on TV—forensic investigators who search for clues and evidence that will—beyond a reasonable doubt—explain. We tame the dangerous mystery in to the manageable. But inevitably we make it harder and more complicated than it need be.
So today, there will be NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH.
And there won’t be because I don’t want to convince so much as to invite. Invite you, invite us—the mixed crowd we are of believers, seekers and doubters—invite us to embrace the Easter miracle, and invite us to consent to, or even just dabble with for a moment, the transformative power that can lead to renewed life for good.
After all, Easter Sunday is not for explanation… Easter Sunday is for proclamation.
Now while there won’t be any explanations, I do need to make you aware Easter does have some…. stipulations…which are often overlooked amidst the chocolate bunnies, plastic eggs, and Sunday’s finest. And they are…
One: Easter is now, and its always. And two: Resurrection has consequences.
First, Easter is now and always…
Since it only occurs once a year, Easter Sunday is often mistaken for a commemorative anniversary of a past event.
But the resurrection, although breaking into history on a specific temporal occasion, is not the property of the past. Easter is God’s future, showing itself in our past, but also in our present. Easter, therefore, belongs to all times and seasons because Jesus is alive and still showing up as a transfiguring presence in a world fraught with absences and struggle.
Easter is not a past event because Jesus is not a past event. Jesus is not over, and his story is not over.
Easter isn’t something we simply recognize as having happened. Easter is something we live and breathe, its something we embody as those who know this is not all there is.
And we are to live, breathe, and embody Easter because Resurrection has consequences.
Easter has consequences because the resurrection is more than an idea we talk about or believe propositionally. It’s something we become, something we “prove” beyond a reasonable doubt not with forensic evidence, but in the living of our lives of faith in a world fraught with absences and struggle.
Rowan Williams describes it this way: “The believer’s life is a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus: he or she demonstrates that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the never-failing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment and enlargement. The believer shows Jesus as the center of his or her life.”
That is what Easter requires of us. We are promised that death’s sting will never win, but it means we must live in full awareness of, and as those, who, know this.
The question becomes then, is how?
How do we show the transformative power of Jesus, in the midst of this life—lives that are struggling and broken, from worry, stress, anxiety, loss? Lives that are over worked, overburdened. Lives that are scrapping by, wondering “Is this all there ever will be?”
How do we show proof—beyond a reasonable doubt— of the transformative resurrection power of new life found in Jesus when sometimes—maybe most of the time—it feels like Jesus never left the tomb?
One way…I think…is by remembering. Remembering what it was Jesus said and did. Remembering what Jesus is still doing. Remembering how it is all good, and all for good.
A few weeks ago I took the kids down to Wooster to visit their Gramma. We had gone out for ice cream and were driving to a nearby park, when mom and I started talking about Lent, and Easter. I said something about Good Friday, which prompted my seven year old daughter Violet to ask, “Daddy, what’s Good Friday?”
Impulsively I thought for a second about how to answer this simple, yet deeply theological question, with nuanced and intricate explanation that would adequately and succinctly satisfy the dogmatic and eschatological implications of the holy event that is Good Friday.
But before I could utter nary a syllable, my mother, who knows me better than I know myself, said, “She’s seven dear.”
So in a crystalizing moment I responded, simply, “It’s the day Jesus was crucified.”
But this only brought about: “What does ‘crucified’ mean?”
Ugh. My inner theologian was now getting twitchy. I glanced at my mom, and she at me, and with a look only a son could interpret, she wordlessly said, “Don’t. Just don’t.”
So in another crystalizing moment I responded, simply, “It means Jesus was killed.”
That’s when my five year old son A.J. became incredulous, shouting out, “What!? Jesus was killed! What’d they do that for? Jesus is nice!”
And that’s when my head exploded.
It exploded with the theological scholarship that was no longer needed. And it exploded with joyful pride that my children understand who, and what, Jesus is.
While trying to contain my pride, and hold back laughter and tears of joy, I briefly explained to Violet and A.J. how the corrupt religious authorities conspired to kill Jesus who threatened their power, but that Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan for new life for all.
Jesus is nice. And Jesus is nice because Jesus is always good.
That’s what we can remember. The simple faith we were taught from the beginning of our spiritual walk. Jesus is nice. Jesus is always good.
In the midst of our struggling, and brokenness from worry, stress, anxiety, loss, we can remember…“Jesus is nice.” Jesus is always good.
In the midst of our lives that are over worked, overburdened, we can remember… “Jesus is nice.” Jesus is always good.
In the midst of our lives that are scrapping by, wondering is this all there ever will be…we can remember, “Jesus is nice.” Jesus is always good.
Too simplistic? Maybe. A bit trite? Perhaps. But is it simplistic and trite because it is simplistic and trite? Or do we say it’s simplistic and trite because we have to make it harder and more complicated than it really is?
Jesus was alive. Jesus was crucified, executed, killed. Jesus rose. Jesus lives. Jesus is nice. Jesus is always good.
It’s all the explanation we need.
Easter is not about how resurrection happened. Easter is about that the resurrection did happen, and that it is still happening. That’s the gift—and the challenge—of the resurrection.
Resurrection is about the healing and restoration of wounded and severed relationships: relationships between God and humanity, between human persons and, ultimately, among all the elements of creation.
Resurrection is not just the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.
But look at me. I’m explaining. I’m making it harder and more complicated that it needs to be because Easter is not about explanation…Easter is about proclamation.
So may we do just that.
May we remember, and proclaim… Because of Easter we know and embody and celebrate and give praise, and have hope in, and live forth from the truth that no matter how hard life gets… Jesus is nice. Jesus is always good. .
And because Jesus is nice…and because Jesus is always good… We can live faithful lives knowing this is not all there is, death had been defeated, life everlasting is assured.
So may we not explain Easter.
May we embody Easter.
May we live and breathe the Easter miracle that is still happening.
May we live lives that are living proof—beyond a reasonable doubt— of resurrection hope.
And may we do so, no matter life’s varied circumstances, because we know and believe—beyond a reasonable doubt—that Jesus is nice, and Jesus is always good.
Happy Easter. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday
On this blessed and holy Easter morning, we praise you, living God, with songs and prayers and listening hearts, and lives trying to obey your will.
You have created and are creating, bringing life and hope and love into a world where too often it seems there is less and less of such.
Indeed that life and hope and love is coming into the world, still, and you send it through your Son Jesus, your Word made flesh, all so to reconcile and make new your creation.
On this day of resurrection remembrance and celebration, we give you thanks that in a culture where the power of death gets all the headlines your Holy Spirit summons us to be people shaped by your power to work resurrection.
We are not sure we believe as fully as we think we should. We are not sure we trust as deeply as we think you require. But we bring who we are and what we have become into your presence, longing to know your grace and your love; longing to know your goodness again, so that we can live fully as you have called us to live—as those who live and embody the truth that you have conquered death, and your promise of everlasting life is fulfilled.
So we pray you forgive in us what has gone wrong.
We pray you repair in us what is broken.
We pray you reveal in us what is good and turn us toward it.
We pray you make this all possible in us so that we are implored to follow wherever your Spirit may lead, that we may love with the love of Jesus flowing through us, that we will—in body, mind and spirit—be living reminders of resurrection; living children of hope and grace; living proof of new life for all made possible through the resurrection of your son Jesus.
On this blessed Easter Day we ask you hear to the prayers we have to offer in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray, in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, “Our…”