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Easter Sermon 04/01/2018

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Easter Sermon                                                                               Jeffrey B. MacKnight
1 April 2018                                                                               St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

SLIDE 1 – Portrait of Beethoven

An old story says that Beethoven once lived in a communal house in which several people lived.  There was a piano in the front parlor, just below Beethoven’s bedroom.  In order to drive the composer crazy, one rascal in the house would walk by the piano late at night and play a bit of Beethoven’s work, but stop just before the final chord, on what’s called the dominant seventh.  (On the piano, play second phrase of “Joyful, joyful” on piano, ending on the penultimate dominant chord.)

It worked!  Beethoven couldn’t stand it – he would have to get out of his bed, pad downstairs to the parlor, and play that final chord before he could sleep again!  Poor guy.

SLIDE 2 – Women at the tomb

Mark’s original ending to his gospel is like a dominant seventh chord: it says the women were at the tomb, and “they were afraid.”  It’s very abrupt; it seems unfinished.  (Others thought so and wrote various “more suitable” endings for the work, but those were later additions.) 

But I believe there’s a message for us in Mark’s abrupt cutoff: the story isn’t over yet.  Jesus died, yes, and was buried, yes.  But when the women went to the tomb fully intending to dress a dead body for final interment, they found…nothing.  An empty tomb.  In their shock, the angel in white told them Jesus had been raised.  That’s it.  He’d meet them in Galilee.  They fled in terror and amazement.  And they were afraid.  I would be too.  Wouldn’t you be? 

I think Mark’s point is that the story isn’t ended – not by a longshot.  Jesus’ whole life, his suffering and death, his mysterious resurrection – all this is prologue to the main part of the story, which is yet to come.  That’s our story. 

We are here to write the next chapter in the Jesus story – the Jesus movement.  We have to conquer our own fears and act – get to work in the world, right where we find ourselves…..

As a matter of fact, just last Wednesday, Jesus walked in here at St. Dunstan’s.  A man I’ll call Mark came for Bible study.  He came on a bicycle (as opposed to a donkey), and had a gentle demeanor. He looked like a traveler. He was knowledgeable and thoughtful about the Bible.  He stayed for Eucharist.  He had come to Washington to visit his mother as she was dying, and he’d just buried her.  We helped him with a bus ticket to travel back home in the south.  He asked me to bless his bicycle before he left.  I felt somehow uplifted after our encounter; Mark was a blessing to me.  We never know when or where we might meet Jesus…. 

SLIDE 3 – March for our Lives

Shifting from the intimate to the enormous - we’ve all witnessed the inspiring work of our nation’s young people in the March for our Lives movement against gun violence, culminating in 800 marches just a week ago.  These are youth who have grown up in fear – in the era of school shootings (just as some of us older folks remember drills for nuclear attack).  Talk to children and teens, and you hear that shootings are on their minds.  Talk to parents and they wonder how to protect their children. 

But these young people have risen up and conquered their fear, and demanded that a complacent world take notice, and act.  I say, more power to them.  It’s not comfortable for us as adults to be cited for our neglect, our complacency; we don’t like to hear criticism, especially from young people.  But we deserve it.  We created a stew of violence in this country.  These kids have come to the tomb, to a place of death, and seen a new possibility: a society where life – all life – is respected, protected, honored – and safe.  And it seems clear to me that God’s Holy Spirit is fueling this movement for life – just as God’s Holy Spirit fueled the movement to end slavery, to ensure civil rights, to empower women, and to respect every person as a child of God.  Jesus was marching with us last Saturday, calling for a nonviolent society where every child can live in peace. 

SLIDE 4 – Youth leaders of the march

The work continues.  These kids are not prepared to remain in a world where violence reigns supreme.  They are acting.  They want to change attitudes, change laws, and change outcomes.  They want safe schools, safe streets in their hometowns.

In their hometowns - that’s where Jesus told the women at the tomb that he would meet the disciples. Not in the great Temple of Jerusalem.  The man in white said to meet Jesus in Galilee – the ordinary place of the disciples’ home towns and villages – where they live and work.  That’s where resurrection work actually gets done – right where we live.  It doesn’t happen in grand churches or soaring cathedrals; it happens in everyday life: in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in our schools, and yes, on Pennsylvania Avenue and in the corridors of Congress and the White House.  St. Dunstan’s is part of this movement as we advocate locally for a living wage in Montgomery County, affordable housing, and help for refugees settling among us.  We are part of this movement. 

Slide 5 – Image of “Ode to Joy”

Earlier, I played a phrase of Joyful, joyful on the piano, and I ended on the second-to-last chord, the dominant chord – the chord that contains tension, dissonance, and just cries out to be resolved by the next chord, the final chord, which is the root.  We can’t stop on that dominant seventh chord; we must keep moving forward. 

Slide 6 – Image of an Easter sunrise service

Jesus’ resurrection is that dominant chord: it cries out for something more, the next faithful step, from us.  It calls us to live out the spirit of resurrection life and hope in our own worlds – our homes, our offices and workplaces, our schools and organizations, our neighborhood streets and our city of Washington.  We proclaim Easter here, in church.  Let’s follow the example of our nation’s youth, and take the resurrection power of Easter out there, to change the world.  AMEN. 

(Organ plays a verse of Ode to Joy, pausing dramatically on the dominant seventh chord just before the end, then ending with the final tonic chord.) 


 

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