Easter SundayB, April 5, 2015

April 6, 2015

God’s Religious Freedom & Restoration Act
Mark 16:1-8

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

I’m so happy that we’ve arrived at another Easter morning! I’m always so relieved when Easter finally arrives. Lent isn’t a particularly pleasant spiritual season, and I usually find Holy Week to be downright difficult. I tend to walk around during Holy Week with low-grade guilt – which is a lot like having a low grade fever – but it’s my heart and my mind that feel strangely out of sorts. Holy Week is that awkward period of time between the moment when Jesus’ followers got all excited about his arrival in to Jerusalem and when they totally bailed out on him and allowed him to be arrested and crucified. Holy Week reminds me of how thin his support really was, and I can identify with those people who scattered when things got seriously costly.

So I’m glad we’ve gotten to Easter – it’s the day when we are reminded that the universe has been put back on course. I think of Easter as God’s offer for a do-over. It’s our annual mulligan. Ok, you sliced last year so far out of bounds you don’t even know where to start looking for it, but today the scorecard is empty – it’s time to try again.

I like the message of Easter – we failed, but God stepped up and set things right. Jesus shouldn’t have been rejected, and he wasn’t. Not by the One who counts, and God has given us another chance to follow Jesus in to the light of life.

Easter is all about forgiveness and opportunity. Jesus was rejected by the hyper-religious people of his day, but God has given us a new opportunity to get this religious business right. Of course this message is available to us before Easter morning each year, but it’s on Easter that we are reminded of what the Christian faith is all about. The miracle of Easter is not just that something supernatural happened – the miracle of Easter is that God didn’t give up on us! And when you think about what our fore-fathers did to this man who embodied the very presence of God it’s unfathomable that God would have chosen to reestablish the relationship only three days after Jesus was crucified.

I love the forgiving and inviting message that God provided for us on that first Easter morning. It’s a miraculous message to receive after the events of Holy Week, and while I’m usually tuned in to my personal and our corporate guilt during Holy Week – the message of Easter came a little early for me this year. Holy Week wasn’t as full of dread as I usually experience it to contain.

Maybe I should feel a little extra guilty today for not remaining as guilty as I know myself to be. I know I would have been right there with Peter and the others who fled when courageous faith was called for, but last week I was reminded of how good it can feel to be with people who are trying to get close to Jesus.

I very literally had that experience last week. Many of you were here last week when we had a giant Jesus puppet for our Palm Sunday processional. It’s a puppet that’s about 8’ tall and is built on to a backpack frame and designed for a person to wear. He’s got a powerful head of hair and a beard and when you put a sign in his hand that says Love Thy Neighbor he’s a pretty convincing Jesus. I put the Jesus puppet on last Monday and went down to the prayer vigil that was held in front of the Governor’s Mansion, and let me tell you – it was a powerfully good experience!

The prayer vigil was called in response to the House Bill 1228 that was called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act that many of you know about. While that’s a fine sounding piece of legislation it would have provided defense for people who wanted to use their religious convictions to withhold service from people they don’t approve of. It seems like it was specifically designed to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community, and as you all know this issue got a lot of press attention this week. It all turned out better than I expected it to, and I’m happy about that, but what I’ll remember for a long time is how well Jesus was welcomed to that vigil. It made people so happy to see this giant Jesus. I know it wasn’t me people were so glad to see, but I was the one who was standing inside of Jesus, and there were all of these people taking pictures of Jesus and wanting to get their picture made with Jesus. It was giant Jesus that people were loving, but I was feeling it.

You just can’t buy that kind of therapy! It was a deeply good experience for me. In fact it helped remind me of how beloved Jesus is. And it reminded me of what a good story our religious faith is built upon. There are a lot of people out there who love what they know about Jesus, but many of those people have no use for the church.

And I’m not saying that I blame them for being so turned off by what is often portrayed as Christian faith. There are a lot of institutions and individuals who claim the name of Jesus in order to promote their own narrow view of reality, and I hate that about our faith tradition. So much of what goes on in the name of the Christian religion is actually quite opposite from what Jesus taught, but their primary offense is against God – the One who breathed life back in to that community of followers who first knew and loved him.

What we are celebrating today is what those first followers experienced on the first day of the week following his crucifixion, and what they experienced was the profound sense of his presence three days after his death. Each of the gospels tells the story a bit differently, and what that says to me is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality that largely defies verbal description. The resurrection wasn’t experienced in one definitive manner, but that’s not to say it wasn’t real. I’m convinced that God really did do something on that first Easter, and what God did changed everything. The love of God that was in the life of Jesus came back to life on Easter morning, and that is what we are celebrating today.

I like the way Mark tells the story. I like the fact that the women who went to the tomb didn’t actually see Jesus. I like that because I haven’t seen him either. A man in a white robe just told them that he had been raised and that was all they needed to hear. This morning you’re hearing a man in a black robe tell you that he has been raised, and I hope that’s all you need to hear!

There was something profound about that encounter because it scared them to death and sent them running away, and that’s very satisfying to me. The women fled in fear, but they didn’t leave in despair – which is how they would have felt if they had only encountered a dead body.

Easter morning doesn’t scare me – it gives me hope, but I think it’s reasonable for those women to have been frightened. I think I would have been frightened if I had been the first on the scene following an act of God that totally disrupted what I understood to be the way the world operated. I wasn’t exactly frightened by the words of Governor Hutchinson who asked the legislature to recall the bad legislation that they had produced, but I was shocked. And I think it would scare me to death if suddenly all of the most powerful people in our world began looking out for the most vulnerable people in the world. It would leave me wondering what in the world is going on. Unexpected profound changes can be frightening – even when they are good changes.

What I really wish is that people would suddenly become shocked by the goodness of religious people in this country and in the world. There are so many bad things that are done in the name of religion people aren’t even shocked when religious people act hatefully. Non-religious people almost expect religious people to behave badly, and hyper-religious people like to generate fear that non-religious people are going to take over the world. We’ve got some unfortunate religious dynamics afloat these days, but I’m not going to let that distorted religious debate get in the way of what I believe we are celebrating today – which is a truly beautiful thing.

God didn’t over-react to the bad religious behavior of people who thought they were serving God by killing the one who promoted the rule of love above all others. I hate to think of what would have happened if God had been guided by religious conviction when it came time to react to the crucifixion of Jesus, but that’s not what God chose to do. God didn’t react with the predictable form of religious conviction — God reacted with love, and by doing that, God has established a new standard for us religious people to follow.

What we are celebrating on this Easter morning is the passage of God’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and it was designed to remove all excuses from us to treat anyone with anything less than complete love and respect. The resurrection of Jesus Christ comes to us as a gift, but it’s a gift that comes with instructions, and the instructions are for us to treat one another as we have been treated by God. God didn’t use religious convictions to condemn us for our failure – God revealed what it looks like to be truly free and religious.

God breathed life back in to the body of the one who allowed love to be his guide.

And we are that body.
Thanks be to God.


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