Sermon - Easter 2021
In the Name.... In the 1950's and 60's, the Revd. Canon Bryan Green was one of England's foremost preachers. Theologically erudite, oratorically brilliant, he was once invited to preach the Easter sermon at one of London's most prominent churches. The church, which would have been crowded anyway on the holiday, was filled beyond capacity as leading citizens from all over the capital arrived to hear what the special guest would say. The service began with the traditional hymns, anthems and readings, and as the verger escorted Canon Green to the pulpit an air of anticipation grew. He mounted the steps, looked out over the congregation of 1,500 until the silence was so profound the proverbial pin could be heard. Then, suddenly, he raised his arms and shouted out "Alleluia!" He then lowered his arms, turned around, and walked back to his seat without another word. I'm not as gifted as Canon Green, so, this sermon will be a little longer than his. Today is a glorious day. And, in pre-Covid days, our church would have been fuller today than on most Sundays; in fact, every church was fuller. But, I was amazed to read that in 2019, only 45% of the American population went to church on Easter Day. 45%. Well, what's Easter? Just something on the calendar, like Columbus Day or Groundhog Day. Hey, we don't even get Monday off, so it can't be as important as Martin Luther King Day. Hopefully, the fact that we're here, or watching, shows that we think it's a little more important. But, it's easy to forget, surrounded as we are by tens of thousands of friends and neighbours and even members of our own families who don't care. It's easy to forget what Easter should mean to us. Now, I could talk about several things this morning. I could talk about the Gospel accounts and Resurrection theology. I could talk about the ways God surprises us and urge you to look for those in your lives. I could talk about new life and springtime and maybe even Easter eggs. But, instead, I want to tell you a story, a true one, about something that happened in the 1920's during the communist revolution in Russia. Our setting is a small farming village. One Monday, mounted troops with red stars on their caps arrived in this village escorting a car with the new district commissar who announced that beginning the next day all residents were to assemble for education on how the revolution would benefit their lives. So, every day, for a week, the people gathered for lectures on why it was good that their family farms be collectivized; that with redistribution of wealth severe poverty would be eliminated; that class distinctions were an evil of the past, and so forth and so on. And, as the week went on, the village elders all came out in support of the new social order. It wasn't that bad, really. There would be changes, there would be challenges, but, one could learn to live with them. After all, life had never been easy under the old order and maybe some good would come from this. Then, came Sunday and the people were assembled for another lecture - this one attacking religion. All day, the commissar showed the people how the Bible was a collection of silly stories full of contradictions and inaccuracies. How the Church was a corrupt institution and how the clergy were greedy hypocrites. How the ceremonies, icons, and devotions, were all sham and superstition. And, he shamed the people for being taken in by such nonsense for so long. After all, isn't religion the opiate of the masses provided by the ruling classes to keep the peasants under heel? Seeds of doubt were never so thickly sown and many people were nodding their heads in agreement. And, for the grand finale, the commissar produced the village priest. When the soldiers had arrived they had arrested the priest and he had been beaten daily to try and make him renounce his faith. Now, he was dragged out in front of the crowd and challenged to defend his religion. Well, the atmosphere was electric; all eyes were fixed on him - some glaring, some expectant. But, the fact is, he wasn't looking at the people, he was staring down at the ground because he was ashamed and he had nothing to say. The commissar had spoken a lot of truth. The Bible is hard to understand, isn't it? Doesn't always make sense. And clergy don't always set a good example, do we? And, isn't it easy to make the trappings of religion into a religion? So, overwhelmed by the power and force of these arguments, all this physically and spiritually crushed man could do was stand there and cry. And then, still looking down, and with tears filling his eyes, he ever so slightly moved his broken hands in a gesture of surrender and in a barely audible voice choked with emotion said the one thing that made sense to him in that horrible moment. "Christos voskrese" - the Easter greeting, "Christ is risen." Well, the crowd exploded. All the bottled up feelings of the past several days poured out of them. People were shaking their fists and shouting. But, they weren't shouting abuse, they weren't shouting condemnation, they were shouting in unison over and over "VOISTINU VOSKRESE", "VOISTINU VOSKRESE" - 'HE IS RISEN INDEED'. It's a true story and there's no happy ending. The infuriated commissar shot the priest and the panicked soldiers opened fire on the villagers and many people died with the last words on their lips, "He is risen indeed." You see, Easter isn't a day. It's something that has to be inside of us every day. When everything in life is lost to us, when you're mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore, you have to be able to stand up and shout "Christ is risen" and realize that that is the ultimate refutation of cynicism, bitterness and anger. The answer to cruelty, suffering and death. Without those three words in our lives life is not worth living and Dr. Jack Kevorkian is our merciful saviour. Easter is about decision making and it does not only come once a year. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, in fact, if Christ is truly risen in your life, today is no more important a reason to be here (watching) than next Sunday will be. If Christ is risen in your life, then you have made a decision about the direction of that life. If Christ is risen in your life, then you are ready to preach an Easter sermon every day by how you live those words. But, if Christ is not risen in your life then pray today that the stone that is blocking him from your heart will be rolled away. Pray today that "Christ is risen" will become your victory shout in the face of life's battles. Pray today that today you give yourself to the Jesus who gave himself for you. Christos voskrese. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.