Sermon: Saturday, April 11, 2009: Easter Vigil

Text: John 20,1-18

A gracious welcome, the most unconditional of loves, and fellowship without borders – your birthright as children of the most high. Amen, let it be so!

Welcome once again to St. Luke’s this evening. I am so thrilled that you are here! It isn’t just your candles or your bodies that warm this cavern of a sanctuary – it’s your presence, your stories.

We call this annual Easter Vigil a “service of story and sacrament.” Story is the easy part – you’ve been hearing stories all night – presented in more or less familiar formats. Sacrament, depending on your tradition, may be a little less familiar to you. Some churches have many sacraments, some don’t talk about them at all. Lutherans have two – baptism and communion – but on a more basic level, sacrament is what we call a tangible, visible sign of the intangible, invisible reality of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s justice. Those things you know when you see and feel them, even if their deepest meaning eludes our definitions. Tonight is all that – a celebration of stories and sacraments, tales of divinity touching humanity in tangible ways.

I’m so impressed with the offerings we’ve received tonight. The creative gifts of our members and our friends, our partners in reaching out to Logan Square and the city beyond with music and arts and healing and health. I gave everyone a really vague assignment, “take this story from scripture and find a way to retell it in your own voice.” The idea was to celebrate not only the ways that God, the divine, the holy, has moved throughout history – but to celebrate the way it is moving here, today, now, through us. The result, I’m sure you agree, has been amazing.

From our Sunday School teacher, Libby A’Hearn-Gilmore, we hear a story about creation told in a way that represents our beliefs about the inherent beauty and worth of each human life. Something we believe and try to support not only with our early childhood faith formation program, but our bilingual early childhood music program – Fine Arts for Tots of Logan Square.

From Teatro Luna, which makes its home here at St. Luke’s, we’ve heard the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in a variety of voices, asking us to consider those people and places and situations that cry out still for liberation and healing.

Sally Levin, who teaches yoga here each week, took up Ezekiel’s task and prophesied to the breath – to our breath – and has me thinking that my dry bones need to get to yoga more often.

Tim and Christa took a story, set to music, made famous by a legend, and reimagined it as their own. In their song we are reminded that God stands with those who stand by the truth – perhaps not always saving them from the fires in ways that we can easily see, but standing with them nonetheless.

It’s a festival of stories, and the sermon is really just one more story in the mix. One more recontextualization, reimagining, of an ancient story made true for us here and now.

I love the line in Teatro Luna’s piece:

“And a myth is just something that happens over and over again.” A myth is just something that happens over and over again.

In the story that I’ve been assigned to re-present Jesus has already been crucified. He’s been buried and laid in a tomb. He’d spent his life standing by the truth, testifying to it. He called to himself little children, the illiterate and rude, the sexually scandalous, the religiously blasphemous, the manual laborers, the abused, and those suffering from horrible diseases—anyone devalued by society. These were the ones he chose to lead his new movement.

He honored them, touched them, delighted in them. He gathered these outcasts under his wings and invited them to see themselves as beautifully crafted in God’s image. He encouraged them to be no one’s subordinate, but no one’s superior either. Again and again, in festive meals and imaginative storytelling and compassionate healing, Jesus shared with them God’s dream that all of creation be healed, whole, joyful and abundant. He inspired the hopeless with hope and promised comfort to those who were broken and alone. He initiated a new way to be in relationship, a way that was the antithesis of hierarchy and domination and blaming.

And so he was led into a fire of a different kind, a burning cross – one intended to consume him. Those who loved him wondered why he’d been left alone to die there, why God did not spare him from that fire the way Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been spared. He was laid in a cold cavern of a tomb, and that was supposedly the last word.

We know a little something about cavernous spaces mistaken for tombs around here. Take a look at this sanctuary. Look how many pews there are, and imagine how many people it would take to fill them. You know, just a few years ago there were only a handful of people left at St. Luke’s. We would gather for worship on Sunday morning with maybe ten, maybe twelve people. The story going around was that our flame had gone out, our fire was cold. We had nothing left to offer.

A myth is just something that happens over and over again. And it has been the case, time and again, that just when you give up on a person, on a community, on a class of people or a whole neighborhood – it rises up again from the ashes. There is something in the nature of life that it reaches for itself, and St. Luke’s has been no exception. The people here had been told that death had finally come for them, but they had also been nurtured over the years with a story we tell in the church over and over again. That the only way for new life to emerge is for something else to pass away.

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him,” the women said as they arrived at the empty cavern where Jesus’ body had been. We looked around this huge cavern of a sanctuary – sanctuary, a word that draws its origins from the same root as the word sacred – and we wondered to ourselves, “where has God gone? Where is the presence of the holy? Where is the body of Jesus, the one we have followed?” We did not know where God had gone.

Then we looked around. First we found Voice of the City and their full menu of arts programming for youth and families, their mission to make art and teach art here in Logan Square in and out of the schools. We were encouraged by LSNA, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which we had belonged to for decades and which reached out to support our redevelopment with access to grants and networks of other churches and community organizations working to build a stronger community. Through those connections we soon met the phenomenal artists and actresses of Teatro Luna, and they moved in. We become the home for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and their mission of opening up the Lutheran church to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We were asked to host a new Narcotics Anonymous group, a new Weight Watchers group, a new Tai Chi studio, and on and on.

God was not here! The stone had been rolled away and God had escaped out into the world and as we left this cavern we kept meeting God – in you! We keep meeting God in you! You, children
of the most high, bearers of the divine spark, you living sacraments – evidence of God’s creative power, God’s love, God’s justice, God’s mercy. You, that we can see and hear and touch. Your stories reveal God’s life outside the tomb, your lives reveal God’s real presence. In this festival of story and sacrament, you are both.

A myth is just something that happens over and over again. Each time we come together; each time we light the fires that call us to gather ‘round; each time we feel the cool waters that surrounded the earth, that surrounded our tiny bodies still forming in the womb, that daily cleanse and sustain us; each time we tell our stories to one another; we discover that God, the holy, the divine is constantly calling new life out of people and places left for dead. God is doing this, over and over. Myth? Reality.

Let it remain so. Amen!

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