Friday, April 10, 2015

It's Easter Sunday


It’s Easter Sunday. My friend Uli  from Berlin and I have come from the site of All Angels’ Church in Central Park. Where the foundation stones have risen from the buried Seneca Village. On a chilly morning, Uli played his violin, first a traditional German  Easter hymn. And  then Jesu joy of man’s desiring. (
Uli plays violin in Central Park
We stop for coffee along the way.

At the church, Stephen S at work. Pat K and Larry are decorating the place for Easter. Lilies will line the steps. Jed ( is preparing the musicians for the service. Andre is back and Olivia is here with her cello and Jeremy M has a new Easter suite. 
Easter musicians with Pastor Bob: Jed, Olivia, Jeremy and Andre

The congregation is arriving. Regulars. Friends we haven’t seen in awhile. Neighbors. Visitors from Texas. It feels good.

We open with Alleuia, alleluia, alleluia! Sung to the tune of Will the circle be unbroken…and the traditional Easter greeting:
One: Christ is risen!
All: Christ is risen indeed!

Our OPENING HYMN  is the traditional Jesus Christ Is Risen Today. Andre does his free jazz interpretation of  Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24. The Epistle lesson is in  1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 which contains one of my favorite verses: By the grace of God I am what I am and God’s grace to me has not been in vain..which I’ve set in a  doo-wop style.

And then the Easter story from John 20: 1-18.
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

-1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark……early in the morning…while it was still dark…

What it’s like…early in the morning…sometimes I wake…I hear the birds…their first stirrings…and I know the day is about to begin….again…If you’re in Central Park, you look across, the sun is rising out there, in the east, above the 5th Avenue apartments..before the first runners arrive..….something peaceful and quiet…can you bring to mind a sunrise you remember?

 I remember that morning, on the steps of St. Paul’s Chapel…a few weeks after 9/11 . We (our West-Park team) had  been serving food to  first responders, rescue workers, soldiers, police, sanitation workers….all night long…the pit of Ground Zero still smoldering behind us, ash falling from the sky….and yet ….there was something about the certainty of dawn rising again….

That’s when Easter comes to us….while it’s still dark…my friend Uli and I went on a Good Friday march…a stations of the cross…commemorating innocent black and brown lives lost to police violence …stopping at symbolic places of the mass incarceration movement…like the courts…and the TOMBS…finishing at 1 Police Plaza…in the month of March alone more people were killed by police than in the last eleven years in the United Kingdom….let’s be clear….it’s still dark out there…

We want to come to this resurrection morning and have it all be ok…but each of our lives are still unfinished in some way…maybe some of us have experienced the fullness of new life, of new beginning….but  for most of us, we can just now hear the birds….but it’s still early in the morning…

Let’s follow our witnesses…

Who do we have?
First Mary, remember, she doesn’t know what has happened…for all she knows, all she will find is a body…it is love that has brought her..everyone else., all those brave men, turned and ran when it looked like once again everything they had put their faith in had come to nothing…once again hopes raised and then…clearly this one was NOT the one…but he had loved her….helped her reclaim herself…and that love brought her back…she didn’t need a conquering victorious hero...she would honor the one who had loved her.

Remember…the Bible is not a history book…this is
not a news report…Imagine them telling their stories…Imagine social media…Facebook..checking in, Simon’s tomb…
Or imagine , if you will, tweets…
Hey…stone’s rolled away tomb’s empty…#wtf

 Yes Mary doesn’t care…this one had loved her…and regardless of how it all turned out…that was enough….love drew her back…

She goes to tell Peter and John…they MUST go to see for themselves…they find the stone rolled away and note this detail…
the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself…..what is this telling us? (One of my colleagues said, Jesus  cleaned up the place before he left…) and they just returned to their homes.

This story  is mainly about  Mary…
1.   She assumes  it’s a grave robbery or political plot
2.   She doesn’t recognize Jesus…no halos, no flowing robes, flashing lights, glowing robes.. he looks like a gardener…( a friend says..because he was a gardener..) a simple working man…like you or me..
3.   She only recognizes him when  she hears her name, her own name said in  that intimate way only he could say it…then she knowslove drew her there…love showed her the truth…
Can you feel the intimacy of this?
Listen…whose voice do you hear?
Can you hear the voice of Jesus that close, that intimate?

So how are we supposed to know? We who weren’t able to be there?
The earliest witness in the Bible  is not the  gospels…but Paul…writing only decades later…he never saw the risen Lord in the flesh…but he heard his name too…His experience of the appearance is the same as theirs even though he never sees Jesus in the flesh…and the key factor for Paul…as for me…is experienced GRACE….

50 years ago this weekend, Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated….yet he is still very much with us…Archbishop Romero said They can kill a bishop but I will rise again in  the Salvadoran people.

Story of woman’s witness…on the subway…At the Good Friday stations march, an African-American woman described being groped on the subway. When she got off at the next stop, she saw two police. Then hesitated. What would they do to the black man who had  groped her? It’s complicated she said. I give up my body for you….

This afternoon, people will march in Harlem…the people rise…is the rallying cry…

Then there is this… I remember my grandmother warm and soft wrapping me in her arms. Her last few years were stolen by Alzheimer's. She would curse at the nurses. Not know me. It was unpleasant to go there. That was all I could see. And then, while doing her funeral, I felt her warm arms around me again. She had been returned to me.

So…how do we know?...We know because we are we believe…or want to believe…and will believe or live our way towards believing…

As we celebrate our Eucharist today, let us remember, it is we who are the risen Christ…we together the risen body….Amen.

We prepare for prayer by singing
Be not afraid, sing out for joy! Christ is risen, Alleluia!
Be not afraid, sing out for joy! Christ is risen, Alleluia!

Hugo asks for prayers for his daughter Anna, going in to the hospital for tests tomorrow. Later I will have  special prayer with him and Arcadia. And I will feel his strong hug.

For our offertory, Andre sings the haunting  Now the green blade riseth as an art song.

For our Eucharist reflection, Jeremy plays his Easter suite accompanied by Olivia. A steady stream of people come  forward to receive.
Receiving the eucharist from Deacon James and Elder Nirka
And we conclude with Beethoven’s Joyful , Joyful We adore Thee. As we gather in a circle, I almost feel tears. As she does every year, Leila has Easter eggs for the congregation.
One of Leila's eggs
 I feel the grace of the people accepting and trusting me as pastor. I could stop right here. Feeling this beauty.

And all say: Alleluia, Amen!


Easter will continue…as the Koreans are coming in, I skype with Micah and Dan in Berlin. Later I will go to the Riverside rehab facility with a lily and communion for Deacon Ruby and Elder Philip. 
Serving Easter dinner

Stall later, we will gather at the women’s homeless shelter at SPSA to share Easter dinner with the guests. Kate provides not only ham but lamb as well.

It was a beautiful Easter. Easter as it should be.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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