Yesterday afternoon I drifted in to Seabury, knowing that I was scheduled to say the Easter Monday mass at 5:00. I stopped by the chapel on my way in the door just to make sure I wasn’t scheduled to preach — well, you can guess where this is going. I sat down and concentrated on working out an Easter Monday homily, and managed to put something together before a student dropped in and whiled away the rest of my afternoon.
This morning I realized that that was my last sermon at Seabury for more than a year. I’m not scheduled to preach any time in the remaining seven weeks of the academic year, and then I’ll be on leave till September 2008.
That feels odd; I certainly don’t need more to do, but preaching constitutes an integral part of my vocation, and Seabury is the primary locus for my exercising that vocation. I’ll try to concentrate on the “time off” angle, and not the “invisible man” angle.
Anyway, here’s my homily for Easter Monday. . . .
Acts 2:14, 22b-32/Ps 16:8-11/Matthew 28:9-15
April 9, 2007
God raised him up, having freed him from death,
because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
In the name of God Almighty, the Holy Trinity on high — Amen.
I have a quiz for you about the church’s observance of Easter, to see whether you’ve been paying attention. You may write a short answer in the margins of your ordo, or maybe even just raise your hand or speak out in chapel. The quiz question is: Have you noticed that the way we observe the feast of resurrection, of new life, of joy and hope and salvation. . . comes attended with monumental stresses on your time, your forethought, your energy, your skill, and your wisdom? Have you?
I raise the question to our explicit attention partly to signal that the faculty notices too. We’re not oblivious to the experience of planning and orchestrating services of intricate complexity and intense spiritual importance; we’ve been there ourselves, we remember, and we honor the effort you’ve put into the four-day Triduum we’ve just celebrated. Thank you.
There’s another aspect to my motivation, though. As we pull ourselves together after your heroic efforts on behalf of the community’s worship, as the physical and spiritual effects of this stressful weekend recede into nostalgic memories about “the way we always used to do it at Seabury,” St Peter stands up to stop us in our tracks and say: Easter is not an occasion for exhaustion. God does not initiate us by means of hazing rituals; such tactics belong to the world of the cynical spin doctors who sought out a more plausible, less disruptive explanation for the unconstrained power of God’s life. Don’t confuse the two, sisters and brothers! The elders and governors try to harry us with fretful cares, with approval offered and withheld, with slurs and allegations; they trap our attention in the tomb, with caviling harassment barricading us in precisely the place Jesus has left vacant.
If you’re anxiously looking over your shoulder lest someone whup you with a stinging lash or a discouraging word, you’re looking to some authority other than God. If they’re threatening you with death or one of its stand-ins — failure, rejection, condescension — they’re enshrouding you in the burial-clothes that could not close Jesus in mortality. The glory, the brilliance, the savory ecstasy of God’s presence draws us out of the tomb, always ahead, always onward, always out of cringing fear toward love: toward love not just as an abstract theological topic, dear ones, but toward embodied love (we believe in the resurrection of the body!), toward a most profound intimacy that binds us to God and to one another, toward purest self-giving service to our beloved neighbors.
Sure, that’s a tall order, it’s a calling that might exhaust us indeed if we tried to accomplish it on the basis of our own planning and striving. Our plans and efforts don’t raise Jesus from death; our stress levels and caffeinated all-nighters don’t bring us closer to the kingdom. By grace we have been saved, through faith; this is not our own doing, but a gift from God. By grace the tomb lies empty; by grace the stone has been rolled away, and we have been set free from their prison camp of anxious manipulation and forced choices. Jesus has shown you the path of life, and beckoned you to leave the tomb behind. The Lord is has gone before us to Galilee, beyond where we can get by our own strength, but we will not grow weary nor shall we fall — for together in his presence we taste the fullness of joy, and we share in pleasures for evermore.