Sermon for Easter Sunday 2020

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Easter proclamation may seem peculiar to say this year. Perhaps some of us are not quite “feeling it.” The church calendar tells us that this is the Feast of the Resurrection, even as many of us feel we are still in the tomb, thanks to the isolation brought about by the current pandemic.

Well, let me just say this is not the first Easter the church has ever experienced without bonnets and processions and egg hunts for the children and all the rest. This is not to in any way to minimize our current pain and sadness about not being able to be together; quite the opposite, I hope that this will be taken as a word of encouragement. There have been periods in which the church is intensely persecuted; indeed, in some parts of the world this persecution persists. The feast of the Resurrection has been and is still being celebrated furtively, in homes and back-rooms. Yet Christ is still risen; they still shout alleluia! On battlefields and in hospice wards and in prisons and in slums there are no lilies or lamb-shanks. Yet Christ is still risen for them; they still shout alleluia! And our burial office puts it perhaps most poignantly–“All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Indeed, we may be experiencing now something more akin to the first Easter morning. The apostles were huddled in their room, justifiably afraid of what fate they might face should they leave. Would they be mocked? Would they face mob violence? Would they, like their Lord, be tried and executed for sedition? And so it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, tending our Lord’s grave (providing an essential service which no doubt put her in danger as well) who was first to receive the Good News.

Whatever our circumstances, whatever trials we face, whatever the power of evil tries to throw at us to make us lose heart, Christ is still risen from the dead and we still say alleluia.

There’s a gospel song I’ve heard our presiding bishop mention in one of his sermons that I think captures this sentiment, and it is with those words I’ll close:

I believe I’ll testify, God’s been good to me. Through every test and trial, I’ve got the victory. The enemy has tried his best to make me turn around, bring me down, but my God’s never failed me yet, so I’m gonna stand my ground.

No matter what comes my way, I’ll lift my voice and say, hallelujah anyhow.

Wait a minute, one more time, think I’ll say it again. God’s been so good to me, and He’s my closest friend. I’ve come too far to turn around now. I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna wait, watch God work it out somehow.

Oh hallelujah, hallelujah anyhow. Hallelujah, hallelujah anyhow. Hallelujah, hallelujah anyhow.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2020

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My sermons of late have, I reckon, become more pastoral than usual and less didactic–thanks both to the season in which we find ourselves in the church year as well as the very strange season of our individual and communal lives thanks to the necessity of remaining physically distant one from another in response to the pandemic. No doubt, I’ll mostly keep this approach for a while, but there is nothing wrong with a little teaching in one’s preaching even now, so I want to say just a bit about a more academic issue tonight, namely hermeneutics–that is, the study of principles for biblical interpretation–and understand I am winding up here to something which I hope is both pastoral and practical.

Those of you who have attended my theology, church history, or confirmation classes may remember that our centuries long experience of reading the scriptures as the church has evolved over time to include not only many methods of exegesis, but an insistence that the bible can be read on more than one level, revealing (I like to say) the surplus of meaning contained within holy writ. There is a literal/historical meaning, a moral meaning, a symbolic meaning, and an eschatological meaning often overlapping in the same passage or verse, each reading being just as true and faithful as the others. This doesn’t mean scripture means anything you want it to–that it’s just a matter of interpretation–but that, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration it can mean a number of true things at once.

One of the most interesting an illuminating ways the church has read the bible since the time of the Fathers (the first four or five centuries after the Apostles) is known as the typological reading of scripture. This method views events and prophetic utterances in the Old Testament in light of the new. So, for example, the servant songs of Isaiah might on one level, the historical-critical, refer to Israel as a whole, but on the typological level it refers to Jesus. Both are true readings, because the text can mean more than one thing.

Likewise, the Old Testament lesson we heard a few moments ago is on one level about an historical fact–the Passover meal shared by the Israelites in Egypt before their exodus, God’s judgment against the Egyptians, and the mercy with which he spared his chosen people. On another level, it is a type of both the supper Christ shared with his apostles, thereby instituting the Sacrament. It is also a type of the Crucifixion, in which God levied judgment against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the mercy he would show to all who would call upon the name of Jesus, that the wrath of God would pass over us, too. Just as the lamb’s meat was eaten and it’s blood placed on the lintels of the children of Israel to strengthen and protect them, so do the body and blood of the lamb slain for us strengthen us for the journey when received in the most holy sacrament, and so does the body broken and blood shed on the cross protect us from the wrath to come.

There is yet another way in which I think we can read this night’s texts faithfully. This would be what the medievals would have called either tropological or anagogical. I’ll not get into the distinction between the two, and I think whether it is one or the other depends on how our current crisis shakes out (let the reader understand). Setting that issue aside, I believe these texts speak to what we are all experiencing right now. The children of Israel and the Apostles were hunkered down in their homes. They were, you might say, self-quarantining. They were receiving what sustenance they could before a long and difficult time in which they would suffer privation. The Israelites would wander in the desert lacking food and water. The disciples would be left without their Lord physically present, locked in their rooms for fear of what lay outside their doors. We, too, are now bereft. We cannot be in each other’s company. We are locked in our rooms. And, perhaps worst of all, we are most of us denied the outward and visible sign of the Sacrament, even as we are assured of its inward and spiritual grace granted us by means of our intention being met by God’s miraculous provision.

And yet, we can set our confidence in God’s promise, which will never disappoint. However long we remain captive, God will grant release. However long we wander hungry and thirsty in the wilderness, the promised land is ahead. No matter how long we remain locked in some upper room, the risen Christ will burst in and we will go out, with him, into a world yearning to hear the Good News that he is risen and has freed us once again.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.