Easter Hope

Happy Easter!  I have so much to say about our Easter service, but for the time being, I will leave you with my Easter sermon.  It was short and sweet, but that’s the way I like Easter sermons – after all, the story speaks for itself!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 21, 2019

John 20:1-18

Easter Hope

A few weeks ago, my in-laws were here and they gave Harrison a tomato plant.  We watered it a few times and then transplanted it into a bigger pot.  I excitedly explained to my sweet toddler as we cared for this little plant that eventually we were going to put it in our vegetable garden outside and that it was going to get bigger and grow tomatoes that we were going to eat.

About a week later, I was at church getting ready for worship when I got a text from Bruce that simply read, “I hate her.”

A few seconds later a picture came through; a picture of our sweet toddler’s little tomato plant – or, at least, what was left of it after the cat ate it the night before.

So we took a deep breath and decided not to give up on the plant.  We moved it to a different location – one that we thought (foreshadowing!) the cat would not be able to get to and made sure it had plenty of water and sun.  Much to our delight, new growth emerged.

And then a week later, the cat found it again.

But since we are gluttons for gardening punishment, we decided, again, not to give up on this plant; and, again, with some nurturing and some patience and some time, new growth has emerged.

I was all set to use this story as my big illustration for an Easter sermon on resurrection and hope and then on Monday I saw the notification on my phone that the Cathedral at Notre Dame was on fire. And then I watched, probably with millions of people around the world, as that fire engulfed the iconic cathedral.

At the time, my silly story of a tomato plant seemed so insignificant and trivial.  I wasn’t really sure it would really be appropriate to joke about it once I watched the spire of that 800-year-old building collapse in the fire.

I kept thinking that, as a pastor, I am trained to respond with this narrative of the Bodyof Christ and not the Buildingof Christ.  We, as Christians, know that the Church is not defined by a physical structure, but by the people who have enthusiastically responded to the call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But it was hard not to be devastated as I watched that building burn.

I immediately started thinking about a different message to share on Easter morning, a message of hope; a reminder, perhaps, that the story is not over yet, that God does really great work in the midst of devastation and loss and ash.

And then photos started to emerge from the interior of the cathedral.  And those photos boldly spoke that message of hope in a way that words would never be able to.  Photos of ancient relics still in tact – the cross, the altar, the stained glass windows, the bell towers, the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus, himself.

Just like the tiny little leaves that have emerged on Harrison’s chewed-down tomato plant, those photos were real and powerful reminders that resurrection is always possible; that even when it seems as though hope is lost, God is not finished.

God is not finished with the little and seemingly insignificant and trivial things and God is not finished with the big things, either.

The Easter story is a story of hope.  It tells us that there are no lost causes, that God’s power in this world is greater than everything, even death, itself.  The Easter story reminds us that God never abandons us during out times of great need; that in fact, that God does the most incredibly-inspiring and grace-filled work in those moments.  It shows us that it is in our moments of grief and sorrow and confusion that angels are in our midst and that Christ will appear to us – in some way – and call us by name.  It teaches us that the tomb was empty because God saw the brokenness of our humanity and said, this story is not over yet.

We live in world that desperately needs to hear this message of hope proclaimed.  We live in a world where people are hurting, where they are experiencing loss and heartache and stress and pain.  We live in a world where people weep, like Mary Magdalene, because it seems as though their world is crumbling.  We live in a world where people feel the depths of their brokenness.

And it is in this world that people need to know that second chances are always possible, that in the darkest moments of their lives, God’s light will shine.

And so today we tell this story of hope to a world that is broken.  We tell this story of our God whose love is so powerful that it triumphed over death, itself.  We tell this story of a man named Jesus whose Gospel we now live out in our own lives today. We tell this story of how resurrection once turned the world upside down and how it still can, today.  We tell this story of how redemption can be found in the smallest leaves on a tomato plant or in priceless relics discovered in the ash of a fire.  We tell this story of how there are no lost causes and how hope is real, hope is powerful and hope is alive in our lives today.

Happy Easter, friends!  May you feel the hope of God’s resurrecting love as you remember this story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

Hi friends!  Happy Easter!  I hope you all have a wonderful and joyous resurrection celebration.  We were busy and blessed at the church.  There was a lot going on, but I felt like we had something for everyone on different walks of life.

Here is my sermon – short and sweet!  This story speaks for itself.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8

You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

My uncle went to mass on Easter one year and the priest got up for his homily, paused and said, “You’ve heard the story. Think about it.”

And then he sat down.

Every year on Easter morning, I am tempted to do the same thing. After all, this story kind of speaks for itself. The tomb was empty! Death did not win! God’s love was victorious over the grave. It is because of this story that we gather in the first place; that we believe in the mystery, but also the grace of resurrection.

This story is, perhaps, one of the greatest ever told.

And yet, the account of the Jesus’ resurrection that we just heard from the Gospel of Mark has got to be the most anticlimactic of the four Gospels.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels; it is thought to have been written first and also used as a spine for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they were written. The original resurrection narrative in Mark is the shortest and least-involved of the four Gospels. It ends where this morning’s reading ended, which, when you read it, is kind of abrupt:

So [the women] 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.[1]

That’s it.

Jesus did not actually appear to anyone in this narrative. The women did not run with great joy to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen. Jesus did not walk along the road to Emmaus or break bread with his disciples when they arrived or show them the marks on his hands and in his side. The disciples were not commissioned. Jesus did not ascend into heaven. This narrative ends with three women fleeing the empty tomb, terrified.

In a way, this story seems unfinished.

Eventually – in the late second century – a longer ending was added to the Gospel of Mark. It is more conclusive; in line with the resurrection narratives of the other three Gospels, the longer ending wraps up the story in a neater bow. Rather than the women fleeing the tomb in fear and not telling anyone what happened, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the disciples and then ascends to heaven.[2]

I think, more often than not, most of us prefer to have the story end this way (which is probably why the longer ending was added in the first place). There is closure; there are not as many unanswered questions.

Which begs the question: What if this ending was never added? What if this story – the story we just heard read this morning, abrupt ending and all – was our only account of Jesus’ resurrection? Would the Easter story feel unfinished? Would the Christian story feel unfinished?

But here’s the thing: The Christian story is unfinished. And I do not say this in a bad way, either. I say this in a God-sized, grace-filled, possibilities-are-endless kind of way.

The Christian story is still being written because we are still writing this story – in the lives we are living, in the stories we are telling. The Christian story did not end with Jesus’ death; it began with his resurrection, when people experienced the Risen Christ.

And friends, that is very much still happening today. Like the women who went to the tomb and saw that the stone had already been rolled away, we, too, experience the Risen Christ in our own lives. Sometimes we experience the Risen Christ is big ways; in those life-changing, conversion-like experiences. But very often we experience the Risen Christ in the ordinary moments of our lives; when we show compassion, kindness and love; when we feel the strength of the faith of a church community, just like this one, living out Christ’s call to serve; when we gather around a table with our family and friends and break bread together.

Perhaps the ending to this resurrection narrative was so abrupt because it was never meant to be the ending; the story was supposed to continue, not only in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and the earliest Christians, but also in our lives, today. We are supposed to be writing this Christian story as we live our lives today.

Friends, if you take one thing out of this service, let it be this: You are still writing this story. The life you lead, the choices you make, the Good News you proclaim – all of this continues the narrative God started the moment the women approached that tomb and found the stone had already been rolled away, the moment they realized the prophecy had been fulfilled, the moment the bold and radical truth was proclaimed that God could do the impossible and that love would win over and over and over again.

The narrative is not anticlimactic. It just wasn’t finished.

It still isn’t

So … You’ve heard the story. Keep writing it.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 16:8, NRSV
[2] Mark 16:9-20 {The Longer Ending Of Mark}

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The Son Will Rise

Hello and Happy Easter!

I usually post my sermons on Sunday evening, but I figured everyone would be celebrating the Easter holiday and not waiting with baited breath for my sermon to post.

A few weeks ago, Jon and I went to see The Lion King when it came to PPAC and as I was watching, I had an idea for this year’s Easter Sermon.  After watching April the Giraffe give birth on Saturday morning (yes, I was totally sucked in!), I thought about going in a different direction, but really wanted to stick with this message.  So stay tuned for an April sermon illustration! :)

I preached out of Matthew this year.  I tend to bounce back and forth between John and wherever we are in the lectionary cycle, but have preached on John for the past few years and really was looking for something different so I turned to Matthew this year.

I hope you all had a blessed Easter celebration!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

The Son Will Rise

Did anyone happen to catch The Lion King when it was at PPAC a few weeks ago? It is one of my favorite productions to see live (the opening sequence gets me every time) and I was thrilled when a friend of mine texted me and asked if I wanted his extra ticket. I am not sure who was more excited, the six-year-old girl that was sitting behind us or me.

Bruce will tell you that I have a hard time getting through any musical without having some sort of deep theological reflection on it. But, The Lion King, especially, always gets me thinking; about life and death, relationships and community, pain and anguish and hope and trust in the promise of resurrection.

Now that last one might be putting a lot on Disney, Elton John and Tim Rice, but hear me out: During the song Endless Night, Simba, still deeply mourning the loss of his father, feeling heavily the guilt of his death and wondering how he could ever go back to his homeland, sings to his father, who is no longer with him on earth. He cries out that he is alone and cannot find his way out of the darkness.

And then the chorus starts:

I know that the night must end and that the sun will rise.
And that the sun will rise.
I know that the clouds must clear and that the sun will shine.
And that the sun will shine.[1]

This got me thinking about Easter; about the cries of those who loved Jesus who watched him die on the cross, who visited the tomb and who then held onto hope until resurrection came on that first Easter morning.

I say this every year, but I will say it again: As people of faith, we cannot fully understand the power of resurrection without first experiencing the pain of the crucifixion. This is why we put in the time during Lent, doing the hard work to see who we are, who we want to be and who God is calling us to be. This is why we come to worship during Holy Week, why we listen as the story of Jesus’ death is told and why we, like Jesus’ first followers, hold onto hope until resurrection comes on Easter morning.

Because as people of the resurrection, we do not want to ignore the crucifixion. We do not want to turn away from the hard parts of our faith; we want to face them head on, knowing that resurrection is coming, knowing that on Easter morning, the Son – and the sun – will rise.

This morning we heard the story of the resurrection as told in the Gospel of Matthew. In this telling of the Easter story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb and an angel of the Lord appears and rolls away the stone to reveal an empty tomb. The women are afraid, but the angel says to them:

Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.[2]

Just as he said, the Son did, in fact, rise.

This morning we not only rejoice in Christ’s victory over the grave, but we also remember that this was a promise Jesus made in his lifetime. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus foretold his death and resurrection three times; three times Jesus made the promise that the Son would rise.

And this promise was fulfilled.

And, as people of the resurrection, we know this was not a once and done thing. This is a promise that God still makes to us today: In the midst of our own pain, suffering and darkness, the Son will rise.

The truth is, the world can be a really scary place to live in sometimes. But on this Easter morning, I am here to remind you that in the midst of the scariness, therein lies a promise: A promise of hope, a promise of love and a promise of resurrection.

And do you know what? A lot of times people do not want to hear about or talk about the scary stuff in life because it might bring them down or challenge them in a way they do not like. But I think the Easter story gives us permission to talk about our own struggles. Because facing them head on does not mean that we are succumbing to them. It just means that we are as confident in God’s ability to create resurrection today as God did 2,000 years ago when two women found that tomb empty. We believe, even when we are standing in the midst of our own darkness, that the Son will rise.

So may we, like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, bear witness to this promise. May we see the presence of angels in our lives and know that the promise of resurrection has been fulfilled. And then may we leave quickly and with great joy and run to tell the world that death has not won, that resurrection is real that the Son will rise.

Love wins! Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Endless Night, from Disney’s, The Lion King, music & lyrics by Elton John & Tim Rice
[2] Matthew 28:6, NRSV