Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Alleluia. Praise the Lord. Praise God for the mighty things that God did on Easter. Praise God with harps and lyres. Praise God with drums and dancing. Praise God with cornets and trumpets. Praise God with singing choirs and shouting voices. For Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead by the powers of God.
Christ the Lord is risen today and we sing alleluia. Why? Because we are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry. That is my favorite, my favorite, quote valid for every season, for every occasion. Penned by one of the old father’s of our faith – St. Augustine. “We are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry.” St. Augustine liked to preach about what it means to be an Easter people a lot. Indeed, it was probably his favorite topic. And this makes great sense. The church of Augustine’s time was very small, very much in the minority. The world was very harsh – in fact he would describe the human life as “brutish and short.” It was against that difficult, sometimes impossible, back-drop that St. Augustine would remind his people, over and over again, that they were an Easter people. And, they should cry, they should shout, Alleluia.
I found myself this week wondering how the people of Augustine’s time would have heard that reminder. I wonder if they would have believed him. Would they have considered themselves to be Easter people? People of resurrection. People of new life. People who approached their harsh and brutish world and cried aloud for all to hear, “alleluia.” Or, would they have smiled politely at their pastor, up there in the pulpit, up there with his head in the clouds, shouting alleluia when the rest of the world was crying out. Would they have simply humored their beloved pastor when he would remind them of their Easter identity, holding back their eye rolls?
You know, pastors, we worry about that sort of thing. Rest assured, though, we typically know how contrary to the ways of the world we sound. We preach justice, not persecution. We preach hope, not fear. We preach abundance, not scarcity. We preach resurrection, not death. We remind the people we love and minister to that, in the midst of a brutish and short life, we are still an Easter people. We are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry.
We do it, not to be contrary, not because we, always, have our heads in the clouds. We do it because resurrection – Easter, is the definition of our faith. The Gospels take us there. The Good News that Christ brought during his ministry was of justice, hope, abundance, and resurrection. And Jesus preached those words when the lives of his followers were even more difficult. Under Roman Imperial rule, in the midst of a social hierarchy that said basically everyone who was without was less than. In the midst of a world that held people down and left them behind, except for the few with power and wealth. Jesus followers, likely, a few times were just humoring his Good News. His alleluias. But, that is alright. Because he knew the rest of the story. He knew that God will always say yes to hope, justice, love, and life – even when the rest of the world says no. Jesus knew that God would make us into Easter people – people of resurrection.
The Gospel of John story we heard this morning, and likely you have heard on many Easter mornings, goes on after what we just heard read. After the disciples, having discovered the empty tomb and then returned to their homes, Mary remains by the empty grave. She was weeping. Not understanding. Grieving once again that she had lost her savior. And then she bends over to look inside the tomb once again, trying, striving, hoping to understand. And there she sees two angels. And they ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She tells them of her loss, her distress. In her grief, she turns around and sees another man and he too asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Please, she begs, please tell me where you have taken his body. Please, she begs, please tell me where my savior is. And, then, just for a moment, Mary Magdalen became the entire Christian church. Just for a moment, Mary is the entire Christian faith. Because, that man, asking her why she is weeping – is the risen Christ. It is Jesus and he says to her, “Mary!” And in that moment, when the resurrected Christ names her, she understands. She understands what Jesus was preaching. She understands the Good News of God. She understands and she runs to the disciples and, again, for a moment, is the first minister of the faith – the first to spread the Gospel, the first to preach the Good News – she tells the disciples that Jesus is resurrected. That God has fulfilled God’s promise. That God has said yes to the message of justice, hope, and new life.
But it is because of that first question St. Augustine reminds us we are an Easter people. The angels asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asked her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And this question echoes down the centuries of time until it reverberates within the walls of our sanctuary this morning, “Why…why are you still weeping?”
“Why are you still weeping?” This question is asked often and in many different ways. Sometimes it comes from a place of scorn. Sometimes a place of accusation. Sometimes from a place of exasperation. And, sometimes, it comes in the voice of a child – a prophetic child. Let me give you an example. Many years ago, my good friend was a youth pastor in a Missouri church. She was leading a lock-in for the kids of all ages. They were in a church basement, like most church basements. Windowless rooms full of mis-matched furniture and the smell of dust. This particular lock-in was happening on a dark and stormy night. So, right away, you know it is going to be a good story. And on that dark and stormy night, while the kids and few adults were playing in the basement, a thunderstorm raged outside. But, no one was frightened. They were in a safe, warm space. They were inside their church and that storm felt like a million miles away. But, then. BOOM! A loud thunder clap and the lights in the church went out. And that warm and safe space so removed from the cares of the world – was suddenly plunged into darkness. A thick darkness. As my friend tells this story, she could not even see her hand in front of her face. Everything, everyone, instantly grew silent. Still. What just happened? What is going to happen next? What do we do in the dark place after the light has gone out? Now this was before everyone had a smart phone in their pocket that could be turned into a flashlight. My friend, the youth pastor charged with the care of these children, started to panic. She didn’t know where a flashlight was. And in the pervasive darkness, she would not be able to find one. How would she keep these children calm? How would she manage? What was she going to do now that the world had been plunged into darkness?
And as the children began to whimper, and my dear friend fell further into despair, a faint light appeared in the center of the room. And from that light a prophetic voice called out reassurance and hope. It was the voice of a young girl – and on her feet she was wearing those shoes that light up when you walk. Do you remember those? Every time you would take a step, bright lights would flash from the soles of the shoe. And that young, prophetic voice called out to the scared gathering – “As long as we keep dancing, the lights will never go out.”
“Woman, why are you still weeping? As long as we keep dancing, the lights will never go out.” That is what it means to be an Easter people. That is what it means to cry alleluia. To shout alleluia. To keep dancing, even when, especially when, the lights have gone out. Because to be an Easter people is to carry that light within us. Not in the soles of our shoes, but in our souls. We carry within us the light of God, the light of Grace, the light of hope, the light of resurrection. We were promised that light and that promise was fulfilled. And, just as the young prophet in a dark and scary church basement knew, when we dance, the light never goes out. When we shout alleluia in the midst of a brutish world – the light never goes out. When we confront injustices with love. When we confront persecution with grace. When we confront death with resurrection – the light never goes out. Indeed – the light grows. It gets stronger and stronger and is passed from one person to the next.
Does that mean that because we are an Easter people, our heads are too in the clouds? Does that mean I am suggesting to all of you that you cry alleluia when you see pain, fear, and hopelessness? Am I suggesting to be an Easter people is to mean that we are not truly afflicted with the brutishness of this world? No. No. My beloved community, I wish I could promise you that because we are a people of resurrection that means we never experience the shadows of death. That we never experience pain. Never feel hopeless. To be an Easter people does not mean the world cannot reach us. Oh, how I wish I could promise you that.
But, here is what I know. When Jesus spoke up against those shadows of death. When he confronted the injustices of his world. When he said that God is love, and God is hope, and God is grace. When he said the ways this world are not the ways of God’s Kingdom. When he ministered against the tide, and even when the world reacted and had him crucified, even as he was laid in a tomb. When the world said no to what he was teaching, God said yes. God said yes. And that is why we shout alleluia. That is why we are an Easter people. Because we know that God said yes to the ministry and message of Jesus – a message of hope and grace. Of equality and dignity. A message that everyone, no matter who they are, or where they may be along the journey of life, are welcomed, beloved, in God’s community. God said yes to the world’s no and we shout alleluia.
That is what it means to be an Easter people. When we experience the hurts, pains, and oppressions of this world – we can know, for certain, that they are not of God. And, just as Jesus helped his disciples and followers to see that God’s Kingdom was truly possible, and here, now – we know that is true for today. God’s kingdom, the kingdom of resurrection – of Easter – is where we live. And when we look for it – we can see it. When we look for the miracles, the small gifts, the unexpected graces that fill our world – when we look, we will see. And it is by looking for all the ways that God’s Kingdom is here now that makes it possible for us to shout Alleluia and to keep on dancing.
My beloved community in Christ – we are indeed an Easter people. We are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry. We come together in community, with friends, neighbors, and strangers and cry alleluia. We reach out to those in need, give a voice to the voiceless, and meet people right where they are and cry alleluia. We look at the extraordinary diversity of God’s image in each human face and cry alleluia. We sit together in times of good and times of bad, sharing our spirits, giving strength to those who need it and we cry alleluia. We look and see that the kingdom of God is truly here now and we point it out so others can see as well, all while crying alleluia. We speak for justice. We speak for grace. We speak for hope. We speak for love. And we cry alleluia. Because we are an Easter people. We are a people of resurrection. We are people who know that God always says yes. We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our cry. Amen and alleluia!
Rev. Danielle K. Bartz, April 21, 2019