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Easter, in Context

Easter Sunday Sermon (April 20, 2014)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church Virginia


Context is so important:

Maybe you’ve heard the Old Minnie Pearl story told about a farmer involved in a truck accident. He went to court and sued the other driver for damages. And the lawyer for the other driver put this farmer on the witness stand and cross-examined him and said, "Now isn't it true that right after the accident you said, 'I feel fine'?"

The farmer said, "Well, it's not that simple. You see I was driving my cow to town in the back of my truck and this fella came drivin' across the center line..." And the lawyer said, "Wait a minute, we don't want to hear a long involved story. We're in the middle of trial here. Answer the question 'yes or no'. Did you or did you not say immediately after the accident, 'I feel fine'?"

And the farmer said, "Well now, I was leading up to that. You see I was taking my cow to town in the back of my truck and this fella came driving across the center line and ran right into my truck. And knocked it over. Threw me out, threw the cow out. I was trapped on one side and the cow was trapped on the other. And the highway patrolman came up and took one look at that cow and said, 'Oh, this poor thing is suffering.' He pulled out his gun and shot her right between the eyes. 

Then he came around to my side of the truck. ..."how are you, sir?"

“I feel fine!”

Context. So important.

This morning -- just as on every Easter morning all over the world, and for the past 2,000 years -- we hear the remarkable story of women going to see the tomb where Jesus was buried,  only to discover the tomb is empty, and then to encounter a risen, resurrected Jesus, alive again.

It’s a powerful, moving story but even more powerful and moving when you consider it in context, the wider context of they call “salvation history,” the history of God’s interactions with humanity.

The story of the first Easter is all the more powerful and amazing when you consider it in the context of God reaching out to humanity through creation, through God’s chosen people Israel, through God’s Word spoken through the prophets, through God’s son, the Word made flesh, and through God’s church, the Body of Christ today. 

When our children were little, one of our favorite books to read them was Margaret Brown Wise’s “The Runaway Bunny.”

At one level, the story is about a little bunny rabbit that keeps running away from its mother -- , and all the things his mother does to bring him back to her.

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
I will become a fish in a trout stream

and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

“If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”

“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.
Now my daughter Elizabeth makes fun of me for thinking that a lot of things are actually about God – we’ll be in the car listening to a country or rock song and I’ll say “you know, this song is about God don’t you?” and most of the time she’ll roll her eyes and say “no, Dad, nice try,” but every once in a while she’ll listen with a new ear and grant me,  “hmmm..”

But clearly, I’m on safe ground here with the runaway bunny book. It’s not just a children’s story about a bunny rabbit and his mother. It’s a story about God, and all the different ways we human beings try to run away from God, and the things God does to bring us back to him. 

The Bible teaches us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8).

It’s not just that God loves: God really is love…

God is so much love that God just couldn’t keep it to himself.

So that is at least part of the reason God created the world – not just any world, but this world, this beautiful world – the sky and the seas, fish and birds – and plants – God created those things as a way of expressing his love for us. Nature is a love note from God.

But like the rabbit in that story, from the very beginning, we have tried to run away from God’s love.

So God says, in effect, “if you, humanity, run away from me in creation, then I’ll bring you back through my special people – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and Moses. I will send you laws, Ten Commandments, to live by, so you’ll know how to love me and love each other.”

We said, in effect, “well if you send Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses, we won’t listen to them, and we’ll forget your laws.”

If you forget my laws, said God, then I’ll send prophets to remind you, remind you how much I love you and how you should love each other.

If you send prophets to remind us, we said, we’ll ignore them – we won’t listen to them.

If you won’t listen to my prophets, God said, then I’ll become whatever you become, I’ll become one of you…a human.

I’ll show you myself how to love one another and me.

And so God became one of us.

This is the kind of love we’re talking about: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…that’s the unique claim of Christianity: the early theologian Irenaeus said that "because of God’s immeasurable love, Christ became what we are, in order to enable    us     to become what God is."

Christ became what we are, in order to enable    us     to become what God is."

What did God-made-human say when he was with us?

He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,

All your mind,

All your strength,

And love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no law…no commandment greater, or more important than that.

He, Jesus, sought out – didn’t just welcome, but sought out those on the periphery and made them part of his inner circle…or more accurately, destroyed the whole notion of an inner circle by stretching out his arms of love so wide everyone, everyone, everyone comes within their saving and loving embrace.

Humanity ran away from that love – humanity did more than run away from it: we crucified it.

(Humanity cannot run any further away from God’s love than that.)

And what was God’s response when humanity ran away as far as humanly possible? Does God’s wrath burn against humanity? -- does God send another flood to destroy everyone except Russell Crowe and his family?

No: because it is the nature of God to forgive, God forgives.

God gambled in sending his son, in making the Word become flesh. And after that first Good Friday, on that first Easter morning, God said, “humanity, I see your hate and I raise you love: love Incarnate.”

God says  

I will fish for you,
climb for you,
dig for you,
move you,
stretch out my arms of love
take everything you have to offer

But I AM here at any time you turn, to hold you and love you.

It doesn’t make any difference how far you’ve wandered or strayed, how lost you feel, how much outside the care and love and reach of God.

Gods’ love searches, and searches and searches until God’s love finds that which is lost.

That’s the context of the first Easter morning.

The miracle of that first Easter is not just the resurrection of Jesus, it is also that God sends the Word-made-Flesh right back to us…

And starts a church. Begins a movement. A movement dedicated to living out this persistent, relentless, unconditional love of God. A movement dedicated to being disciples, followers, of Love Incarnate.

It’s right there on the front cover: We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community.

Is the church, are we, perfect? No!

One of the objections made often made, one of the reasons you often hear that people don’t want to come to church is that “the church is full of hypocrites.”

I can’t speak for other churches, but I can speak for this one and say that simply is NOT TRUE.

We are nowhere near full!  

There’s plenty of room!

(Or is it the hypocrisy part that concerns people?  Well you probably know the words hypocrite, hypocrisy, come from a Greek word meaning play actor, one who wears a mask. So hypocrite means one who wears a mask. So in that sense we are hypocrites, because we go through so much of life wearing masks…masks of bravado and confidence and independence, and the masks of political labels like conservative and liberal, republican and democrat, old, young, rich and poor….masks that we hide behind and divide and isolate us….

But here is a place that is in part dedicated to the idea that we are free from those masks, we can come out from behind them, be our true selves, be beloved.

Here you are not homeless or a millionaire, insider or outsider, believer or non-believer…here you are you, your truest you:

beloved child of God.
The apple of God’s eye.
The one in whom God delights.
Just (Sebastian. Rachel. Errin. Bill, Jack, Nancy)
Gloriously (Sebastian. Rachel. Errin. Bill, Jack, Nancy)

With all our flaws, Paul says, you are the Body of Christ, and individually, members of it.

So: in context:

Not only was the body of Christ alive miraculously and mysteriously that first Easter morning, but also the body of Christ is alive miraculously and mysteriously this Easter morning.

Can you hear the Easter story in that context this morning? Not only in the context of two thousand years ago, making love the last word -- Jesus Christ IS risen –

but in the context of our daily lives, empowering us to follow God’s way today – Jesus Christ is alive, today,
the body of Christ is alive today,
The love of God is risen today.

CHRIST is risen,
Christ IS risen,
Christ is RISEN, indeed.


One of the stained glass windows in the rear of the Main Sanctuary of The Falls Church.


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