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Christ is Alive!

April 28, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the First Sunday after Easter, April 27, 2014

Luke 24: 13-35 and Luke 24:36-48

There are two ways to tell a story of faith, whether that be of our own faith journey or the faith journey of a community; one way is to focus on continuity and the other is to describe significant change. We may emphasize how God has persistently and consistently traveled with us over the years, through difficulty and hope, or we may highlight the “turning around,” conversion, or transformation we’ve experienced or seen. Many of us in this church tell a story of continuity – a story about how God has always been with us, gently but persistently drawing us ever deeper into the life of faith. We opened out service by singing:

God is here! As we your people meet to offer praise and prayer;

here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace;

here our children find a welcome in the shepherd’s flock and fold;

here as bread and wine are taken, Christ sustains us as of old.

But for a few, their story will be one of sudden change, profound experience, firm decision, aha moments:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found, was lost but now I see.

In the Gospel of Luke, the story of the resurrection is a story of continuity; the Jesus whom God has raised is the same Jesus who died. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize only late, in the breaking of bread, that Jesus had been with them all along. When he appears again to the amazed and terrified disciples in Jerusalem he displays the wounds in his hands and feet to emphasize that it is really him. The point, for Luke, is that the resurrection is not a radical new beginning, but a sign that God is present with, and faithful to, God’s people, without interruption. That nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love.

Luke makes it clear that the new life Jesus is given is not one where he returns in victory and power, to right the wrongs of the world, to reign victorious over all creation. The resurrection does not erase old wounds; it is not an escape from the past. Instead, the new life Jesus is given means that he will be present with his disciples as they set out to courageously continue the ministry Jesus began; the same ministry that led to Jesus’ death.

What is the evidence for this? In Luke’s gospel it is not found in a world made suddenly new; the Roman Empire still controls Palestine, injustice abounds.  Instead we see evidence of the resurrection in the disciples’ lives, in their response to Jesus’ call to continue his ministry:  to walk faithfully with God despite risk, despite danger, despite uncertainty.

That is another sense in which Luke’s story is one of continuity, because he continues it in the Book of Acts. And if we’re paying attention to what the disciples do in the Acts of the Apostles, we see that they are finally doing all of the things Jesus did in Luke’s Gospel: they are healing, teaching, creating communities of justice, facing their fears and giving their lives as embodiments of Jesus’ love.

So for us as Christians in the twenty-first century, Easter is not the season to passively rejoice that somehow Jesus has made everything better – that would require an incredible amount of either naiveté or cognitive dissonance. Just as in Jesus’ day, injustice, hatred, and evil still abound. Fear, distrust and hurt animate personal relationships. Rather, Easter is the season when the risen Jesus calls us to continue what he started. The season of Easter is therefore an active time of recommitment to God and engagement in the world that Jesus so dearly loves.

An Easter perspective on the ministry of the church is not a matter of donning rose colored glasses when we look at the serious, entrenched injustice of our world or a matter of celebrating trivial victories that feel good but have changed little. It’s about assessing, as a church, how we must live, what we must sacrifice, what we must dare and do if we are to carry forward the ministry that Jesus began. For it is when we continue Jesus daily, concrete work that our lives and our world are changed. Such change is not instantaneous and it is not magic. It is not miraculously wrought from the outside. Rather it requires us to live boldly in the world as witnesses to, and participants in, God’s life-giving presence.

It is the tradition of this congregation that on the first Sunday after Easter we are served the sacrament by our third grade children. This year, six of them (Jane, Justyce, Jared, Brielle, Malik, and Leah) will help us recognize the presence of Christ in ordinary bread, blessed and broken, and ordinary juice sipped and shared. We call this Emmaus Sunday because these children who have been walking with Jesus and participating in the sacrament, set aside time to learn more about what [we are doing/happens] when we gather this way. Under the guidance of Rev. Dunn, they have had the scriptures interpreted for them that tell the story Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and they have articulated their hopes for themselves in light of God’s hope for our world. Theirs is a story of continuity too!

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One of the activities that Lynn did with these students was to show them one of these black and white photos of Jesus – you know, the kind that is like a photo negative – and she had them stare at it for 90 seconds of so. When the students looked up, it took another few seconds for their eyes to adjust, and then they saw Jesus everywhere. The image was (temporarily) imprinted on their retina. What a wonderful picture for what we do in worship – through scripture, song and study we focus ourselves on Jesus, the pattern of God among us, so that we are enabled to see and recognize him everywhere. It is the students’ hope that you and I will recognize the presence of Jesus in the bread and juice; that we understand God’s way among us as we serve one another.

Among those who organized our congregation in the eighteenth century the part of the service which included the sacrament was simply called “the action.” That’s where it’s at! It truly will be our central act of worship this morning.

It takes courage to follow a resurrected Lord. That Christ is Alive! means, as we will sing in a moment, that he is

no longer bound to distant years in Palestine,

but saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place.

God can and does bring about newness – but not absent our efforts. As St. Theresa of Avila famously said, “God has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet, to do God’s work in the world.” In his post-resurrection visit to the disciples Jesus is clear that it is the disciples (that it is we) who have been entrusted with continuing Jesus’ ministry. So this Easter, let us renew our commitment to carry forward Jesus’ ministry every day – believing in God’s power to bring about profound change in our world through our faithful efforts. May our worship and our work be one, announcing God’s new way.

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