Whoever you are, wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.

                 Ashfield, Massachusetts

TFirst Congregational Church, UCC

Ashfield, Massachusetts

April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday


Listen to audio of the sermon

 


Scripture Readings          John 20:1-18     Matthew 28:1-10

The Gospel According to John


20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.


20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."


20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.


20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.


20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.


20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,


20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.


20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;


20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.


20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.


20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;


20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.


20:13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."


20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.


20:15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."


20:16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).


20:17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"


20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.



The Gospel According to Matthew


28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.


28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.


28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.


28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.


28:5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.


28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.


28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you."


28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.


28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.


28:10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."


The Word of our Lord. Amen.


Sermon

"New Life for the Least of These"

Minister David Jones

Good morning,


I have to say, in some ways I feel like the wrong person to be preaching on Easter Sunday. I know; I’m the minister, and Easter Sunday--more essentially than any Sunday--comes with the territory. Certainly I want to preach on Easter Sunday; I can admit I had especially been looking forward to working with Amy and Margery and our Deacons--and all of you--to observe this Holy Week in a sanctuary that privileges me with its pulpit every week. Yet, when I find myself wrestling with my faith, there is never anything more important to me than this relationship between Jesus and his disciples gathered for their Passover meal; nothing more important to me than Jesus’ desperate prayers in Gethsemane; nothing, finally, more important to me than the clear and unmistakable righteousness of this humble teacher, executed as a criminal, contrasted with the obvious sinfulness of the jeering and violent powerful. And to this day, my faith--what it actually feels like in my chest, the essential content of it without words--is the Cross. To this day, I am a Good Friday Christian, moved more to the thought and feeling of God’s immediate presence by what is wrong in this world than by the Sunday victory of what is right. My own faith springs to life in the grief of the Cross. I have many joys in my life, and right now, every day, I am being reminded of how fortunate I am to serve this congregation and to be making a home in this community. But I can sometimes struggle to experience God in these everyday joys when the acuity of the world’s grief is also on my mind. I still feel the call to grieve more palpably than the call to rejoice. 


On the other hand, I suspect this is a common feeling this morning, not only here in Ashfield, in our surrounding communities, but among faithful people and people of good will all across this strong country. I keep coming back, again and again, to the idea that this unprecedented crisis is revelatory; that it is actively uncovering the unevenness and brokenness of our society. We are sitting in the shadow of that--in the shadow of this disease that is exposing, bringing to light, just how widespread and relentless our social inequities really are. Sitting uneasily in this creeping shadow, we can not help but ask, “What have we done?” 


A particularly devastating encapsulation of this situation is the callousness with which we have ‘dealt’ with the ‘burden’ of the homeless during this crisis. A photo circulated of a Las Vegas parking lot, showing fresh white paint on the hard concrete, marking out 6 foot by 6 foot spaces for those who are homeless to sleep--no beds, of course, just a sleeping space, as unadorned as the parking spaces that had been there before. No shelter, just even more social distancing for a group of people already profoundly alienated from our society. Meanwhile it was pointed out that Las Vegas hotels are sitting empty, countless vacant rooms with beds and water. The city eventually explained that this was a temporary measure, but in any case they were reserving other available city spaces for hospital overflow, a particularly vivid demonstration of whose life is treated with dignity, and whose is not. Somehow in the midst of a crisis where we are encouraged to support one another, to do only what is essential, to ensure care and connection and safety most of all, there has been no mention of the essential need to end homelessness. As Christians and people of faith and good will, we must always remember what Jesus taught us: “Just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my own family, you did it to me.” Jesus teaches us this, in the Gospel according to Matthew, immediately before he predicts that he will be crucified. We aspire to be among the faithful who greet Jesus at the gates; we are among those who grieve on Friday more intensely even than the hope we felt when he rode humbly into Jerusalem. But we can not deny that our society is still a society that crucifies our Lord. 


After Jesus has shared a meal with his disciples, Jesus prays in Gethsemane. Jesus tells his disciples that he has “grieved, even to death”; such is the scale and depth of Jesus’ identification with the poor and oppressed that he has been serving by his compassion. He grieves so completely--with such insight and understanding--that he knows he has come to share in their fate in this uneven and broken society we have made. He persists in answering what God has always been calling him to do: to be so utterly and tirelessly human--to love so thoroughly and constantly--that he will not be able to help but grieve even to death. When after Jesus breathed his last breath, even the soldier who had mocked him was stirred to a sudden and new faith, declaring that Jesus was after all God’s Son. We can imagine him, then, asking “What have I done?”


Now, this morning, with the dawn of a new day, we go with Mary and Mary Magdalene, grief stricken, to the tomb of Jesus. This grief is the grief of God; grief that Jesus failed, that the empire succeeded in seducing betrayal and denial, that violent soldiers mocked and humiliated him to his last breath. This is the grief that Jesus felt in Gethsemane, the culmination of a ministry of compassion, of completely identifying with the poor and oppressed and the homeless. This grief is the form that human love adopts in the face of the suffering of those who, as Jesus taught, are as members of our own family. The Gospel according to Matthew is clear: it is the attendance of this grief at the tomb that precipitates the great earthquake and the sudden appearance of the angel that rolls back the great stone. It is Mary’s grief that conjures the angel; it is grief that makes overcoming death possible. Grief is the form of love that Jesus ministered out of, that God perpetually called him into, to bring new hope to those in need of it--and now brings new life to us all.

Mary, whose grief was greatest, is entrusted with the message to the disciples. And then the disciples are suddenly visited by the resurrected Jesus! Finally the Good News of new life is to be spread a little wider: make for Galilee, where the risen Jesus will be waiting to greet us. Only from the deepest grief can we even begin to imagine the joy Jesus’ resurrection brings first to Mary, to his disciples, and to us today.


Here, I am struck by the parallels in Matthew’s account. On Palm Sunday, in a moment of unbridled triumph, Jesus’ followers rush ahead of him, getting inside the city before he can, so that they can be there to greet him and to prepare his way. Now, in Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, it is Jesus who will hurry ahead of his disciples to Galilee. Jesus was put to death because of how he was greeted by the powerless of Jerusalem. Now we know that Jesus is risen--and lives--because he is there in Galilee, waiting to greet us. This is the way God works; God teaches and nurtures and supports us in our grief, even to death, so that when we are ready to have renewed hope, to seek out transformation, God will already be there to greet us again. Jesus is there, at the end of homelessness, at the end of poverty, at the end of oppression, to welcome us home again into the eternal kingdom. It is, for me, in this sense that Jesus--so human as to grieve even to death--is divine; in our relationship to Jesus, we welcome love into our midst, and learn to love just as God does. We learn to love so much that we grieve for those our society is content to crucify. When Christ was risen, God passed judgment on this society; those who we crucify will be given new life, while those who crucified, like the guards outside the tomb, will become like dead men. 

On this day of the resurrection of the Lord, let us know that our grief is love, and remember that God is love. Grief will overcome; love will raise us from the dead.


Alleluia! And Amen.