Easter means…

a sermon, based on Acts 7.55-60 and John 14.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 14, 2017

Continuing our Easter season celebration at length and contemplation at depth of the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, today, I offer one word: home. Easter means finding and knowing, going and being home.

Stephen, before stoned to death, beheld a vision of “Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” His dying testimony anticipated our creedal affirmation that Jesus “came down from heaven…became incarnate…was crucified…suffered death…was buried…rose again…ascended into heaven…seated at the right hand of (God).”[1]

Martyrdom of St. Stephen (c. 1560), Giorgio Vasari

Easter means that Jesus found his way back home.

Now, if Easter is all and only about Jesus, then we have little reason to celebrate. Blessedly, there’s more! Jesus declares that finding home is about us. On the night before he died, Jesus bid his disciples be not troubled by his departure, promising that he would welcome them into God’s infinitely roomy house. So also testifies our creed: “(Jesus) will come again in glory…and his kingdom will have no end.”

Easter means that we go home to God.

Where is this home? Stephen “gazed into heaven.” Presuming a first century cosmology of a spherical earth suspended in space at the center of a series of concentric heavens, Stephen looked up. Yet I think God’s “many dwelling places” is not a description of celestial space or heavenly architecture. The question, therefore, is not where, but rather what is home? As we’re talking about the realm of God, indeed, God’s being and nature, “many dwelling places” is a symbol of the infinite capaciousness of God’s Love.

Easter means we always are at home in God, Who, as Love, allows nothing to keep us apart, not even we ourselves.

George Herbert[2] understood this. In his enchanting poem, Love Bade Me Welcome,[3] he writes of God who, as Love, unconditionally bids him come…

Yet he, aware of his mortality and iniquity, resists…

Love perceiving his hesitancy, draws closer; swift to erase any distance, to ease any dis-ease between them…

Herbert, desiring to be a worthy guest, honestly confesses that he is not…

Love replies in future tense, “you shall be”; for Herbert’s sense of his present unworthiness does not, cannot prevent Love from loving…

Herbert, perhaps disbelieving for joy, counters with specificity, naming his chiefest sins, unkindness and thanklessness; his guilt so great that he dares not look at God…

Love draws closer still, taking Herbert’s hand, smiling, speaking Self-referentially that the Creator of the eye best can decide whose eyes shall see God…

Herbert presses the point, declaring his shame in misusing the gift of sight; begging to be given what he deserves: the punishment of banishment from God’s presence…

Ah, says Love, shame, Herbert’s and ours, already has been embraced and embodied in Jesus; God, our Lover, living with us as we live and die, being in us for all time and beyond time…

Herbert, persuaded, agrees to come to table as Love’s servant…

Ah, no, says Love, it alway is I who serves…

Herbert, all of his protests overcome, finally accepts Love’s welcome; sitting with Love, supping, partaking of Love.

Easter means we become Who we receive: Love.

In our Anglican ethos, scripture, tradition, and reason proclaim God’s existence. Yet it is my life’s experience that proves God’s Love. Herbert’s experience is my experience! I have known moments of painful glory when unconditional love welcomed me. When others (and I’m not talking about people who didn’t and don’t know me, but rather people who knew and know me well, very well; knowing things about me that I despise and wouldn’t want them or anyone to know!) embraced me without regard or reserve, overcoming every obstacle of my sense of my unworthiness, calling me to accept, to love myself just as I am. Though never a constant state (indeed, what is?), I have known moments of being so loved that I love.

In my pastoral ministry, listening to, loving others, I also know that everyone has not had moments of this pained glory when, in spite of their poor self-esteem, indeed, in some cases, self-loathing, the love of others bade them welcome. I have grieved with those who, in their experiences of judgment and rejection, largely only know pain and no glory.

Easter means finding and knowing, going and being home. Easter means we are called to rise in new life here on earth, being and becoming, and giving what we have received that all will know God’s Love.

If Easter ain’t about that, then Easter ain’t about anything!

 

Illustration: Martyrdom of St. Stephen (c. 1560), Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)

Footnotes:

[1] From the Nicene Creed. The full text:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[2] George Herbert, Portrait by Robert White (1674), National Portrait Gallery George Herbert (1593-1633), Welsh-born Anglican priest, orator, and poet (Portrait by Robert White, 1674, National Portrait Gallery)

 

[3] Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guiltie of dust and sinne.

But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?

My deare, then I will serve.

You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

 

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Easter means…

  1. So Paul. I read this awesome sermon a few times since you posted it today. The first two times I read it, I was in either Disney’s Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. All four of Disney parks are what most children would want to call home. For me, home is less identifiable for me now. The home I grew up in is now a two unit condo in a neighborhood that I no longer recognize. The home I shared with my husband feels big and lonely without him, but thankfully I can feel him and God in the house that I’m searching for a new feeling of “home”. And I’m not afraid for the time that God will call me home.

    The love part of the sermon I have covered I think. I love the people I’m closest to unconditionally, and I believe that is reciprocated. I am grateful that Easter is about more than just Jesus, and is also about God, and his love for us and his making room for all of us in his “home”.

    I’ll be saving this sermon to read a few more times. There are pieces of it that I think I need time to process totally. There’s so much to the word “home” for me right now, including my physical home, my worship home and my work home. All things that are changing day by day for me!

    Much love to you… you continue to help me put some pieces together in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Now, in the light of a new, fresh day, as I continue to contemplate the notion of home and reflect on your response to the sermon, Loretta, I sense a kinship in your awareness of the changing nature of home; how home can mean different things in different settings (e.g., domicile and work) and times (e.g., past and present and, potentially, future) and circumstances of change, chiefly death, but also, it occurs to me, when moving or relocating.

        All this said, as I rethink Herbert’s poem, “Love bade me welcome”, which speaks to the depths of my heart and soul (for it defines my experience of having come to know and believe and trust in God’s Love, indeed, God Who is Love), that is the home in which, verily, in Whom I pray to dwell now in this life and fully in the fullness of eternity…

        So, this morning, I ask myself and I ask you: What would it mean, what would it look like to dwell in the capacious house of God’s Love (indeed, again, IN God Who is Love) now? How would we be different (for I assume we would be!)?

        Much love, always in deepening contemplation

        Liked by 1 person

      • Paul,

        Once again as I wrote a VERY long response I accidentally hit delete as opposed to send and couldn’t undo it. I want to cry because I wrote for more than 40 minutes, but I type on to say a few words because I had been contemplating these Fabulous questions all day… If I dwelled in the house of God, I’d never be lonely or sad or or scared or in tears as I am a lot these days, because I’d be enveloped by God and in his arms and wouldn’t need anything else so the negative emotions would be gone.

        How would I be different? I’d be non-judgmental of others who weren’t inclusive, or respectful or tolerant. I tend to judge them now because they are not behaving the way God wants us to. I’d also be free of worry!! I wouldn’t worry if I will have enough money to pay for my Mom’s care, and my own retirement. I wouldn’t worry about if my health will hold out or will betray me again at some point in the near future. In God’s home, there would be no worry or illness.

        I started my original response with Disney World and I’ll end with it. It’s called the Happiest place on earth because it allows people to temporarily escape reality. The employees all seem to be happy or they are great actors. All little girls are called Princesses, and treated as such!! Try calling a girl / young woman a Princess in the real world and see what happens. I’m a CNN junkie yet since the moment I landed on Florida I haven’t looked at CNN on TV or my phone. It shows me that I can change quickly when I am loved and comforted. In the last year I’ve learned to love myself and I believe one of the ministries I could have in God’s home. I know I’d be healthy, happy and worry free in God’s home because in my mind I believe THAT is the true Happiest place on earth in my book. With God, how could it not be??

        Much love and thanks for the questions!

        Liked by 1 person

      • My dear Princess Loretta, fret not, please, about having deleted your initial response, for what you have posted here is, in my view, quote grand!

        What a beautiful hope it is to dwell in peace without fear and worry and illness. What it is you hope, I pray for you.

        And I especially revel in your awareness that when loved and comforted you can and do change in how you engage others, the world around you, and, indeed, yourself. Marvelous!

        Thank you and love always,
        Paul

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Paul,

    The Herbert poem is so beautiful and strikes “home” with me (after reading Loretta’s lovely comment and your lovely response). It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite poems, Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven.” You must know it also. I have found myself returning to that poem at certain points in my life when I had lost sight of the relentlessness of Love’s determination to assure us of our worth. The older I become the more convinced I am of its truth. As much as we give up on ourselves, we cannot escape Love’s determination to bring us home. Thanks for the beautiful reminder yesterday.

    Much love to you and Pontheolla,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, Karen, I also love Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”…particularly that verse/phrase in which he refers to the labyrinthine pathways of time down which I run to get away from the Hound Who pursues relentlessly to win/own me in Love. This brings to mind Psalm 23 with its “goodness and mercy shall follow me all that days of my life”; “follow” in the Hebrew more literally translates as “pursue”. What a concept to perceive, believe that God’s goodness and mercy pursue us. Such is the nature of God’s restless, relentless Love!

      Blessings and love, always and in all ways,
      Paul

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s