Behind this terror, this destruction. They knew there was more to life that what we can see. They could hear the voice of the God who Created… and is Creating. The Source of all life, the Love at the heart of everything echoing through the ages. Inside the flood, the darkness, the fear. We hear a voice that will never be drowned out. One that will never be defeated or destroyed. A voice that will never be silent. One that promises strength. And brings with it peace.
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This sermon was preached on the occasion of the baptism of Grace Lydia Schut. Grace is the daughter of Steve and Andrea Schut, who became participant members at St. George's through affirmation of their own baptisms at the same time of Grace's. There is a tradition in the ancient church of addressing the sermon to the baptized that I owe to my teacher Rev. Ed Searcy. This is addressed to Grace, and I invited those gathered to "listen in."
April 5, 2015
Sunday of the Resurrection
St. George’s United Church
"He’s Not Here"
Rev. Ryan Slifka
Dear Grace Lydia:
Today is your baptismal day. Today your mom and dad have made promises for you that you aren’t able to make for yourself quite yet. And today we made it official that, for better or for worse, you are a Jesus person. You have been welcomed into a great family of people that extends through space and time; past, present , and future. And today you have been marked by a love that was there for you even before you were born. One that was there for you even before the universe was born. And one that will carry you through all of your days until the day you die—and even beyond. What an incredible day. One that I, and so many other people gathered here are honored to be a part of. It’s a gift. And a great joy worth celebrating.
Today we also celebrate for another reason. Because today, your baptismal day, is also Easter Sunday. It’s the biggest day on our church calendars. It’s the day we celebrate Jesus being raised from death to new life. Christ is risen, we’ve said and we’ve sang joyously and with gusto. We’re not always sure about what that means. But we know that it’s a day of energy, new beginnings, and incredible hope for our lives and our world. This story is at the heart of what it means to be the people of Jesus. And now, our hope is that the same story that gives us life, and changes everything for us will become your story, too.
But what a strange story to celebrate Easter and your baptism with. This is one of the strangest versions of the Easter story out there. It ends differently than the other three—Matthew, Luke, John. Some of the details are the same—Jesus has been dead for three days. The women—led by Mary Magdalene—come to his tomb to anoint his body. And when they get there they see the huge boulder rolled away from the door. They enter go inside, and encounter a figure dressed in a white robe who tells them that Jesus isn’t there. That he’s been raised. And that he’s already gone ahead of them to Galilee.
Yet, where each of those stories ends with hope—with Jesus’ followers running to tell people what they have seen, and on the road where they meet the risen Christ walking, talking and teaching them—Mark’s gospel ends with fear. Here, when the women hear the news, it’s says, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.” Mark’s story is different for the other ones because doesn’t seem to end with hallelujahs of Easter joy. Instead, it ends with terror, amazement, and silence. “Because they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” End of story. It doesn’t seem very Easter-y. At all.
It makes you wonder what makes them run, what keeps them silent. Maybe it’s just surprise. Maybe they think it’s all in their heads. Maybe they think no one would believe them anyway. This is something out of the ordinary, after all. But maybe, they are afraid because this might means that it’s true. And if it’s true, everything they thought knew about the world is wrong. If it’s true, it means their lives and the whole world could be different. If it’s true, they have a future and it’s out on the road to Galilee. Where Jesus began his ministry of healing, teaching, and reconciliation. So maybe their running and hiding makes a whole lot of sense. Because as hopeful as it might be, living a resurrection life can be demanding. It can be scary.
And this is the demanding live we’re invited to as well. If it’s true, it means that our own lives and our world might be different. We live in times that are just as uncertain, if not even more so. Fears for the economy. Fears of climate catastrophe. And war seems to always be on the horizon. I have no doubt that your parents, like me, worry for the future might hold for you and all of our other children. Hope in the face of this kind of uncertainty is demanding. Hope takes courage, conviction, and perseverance. And it’s so easy to consign ourselves to fate. And to live like the story is over.
But today, Grace, is different than that day. For us, today, the story does not end there. For those of us who listen today, we hear the angelic figure’s voice, and his directions that say “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The ending of Mark is like a choose your own adventure. The figure invites us to begin the story again, where Jesus began his. By bringing you to the font today, your parents have taken the invitation, and have chosen to carry you with them on this adventure, back on the road to Galilee—the very place where Jesus began his ministry. By bringing you to the font today, your parents have chosen to embrace a new world full of possibility for you, for them, and the whole creation. Where the people in the story run and hide in fear, we are always invited to take the invitation to new life that they are too afraid to take. Here, at the font, your future lies open. And that future belongs to God.
No, Grace, the story is not over. In fact, for you it has just begun. Today, Easter Sunday, your baptismal day, you enter in to this story for the first time. Today is when we welcome you to God’s family, and welcome you to the story of God’s undefeatable love and life for the whole world. One that will never leave you no matter where life takes you. Today is the day where we date to say “yes” to the invitation to life on the road with the risen Christ. Today is where we say “no” to fear. And where we say “yes” to a future beyond our wildest dreams. This road is not easy. But it leads to life. And life abundant. "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. He is out on the road to Galilee, where he will meet you.”
Remember this day, Grace. Even though you are too young to remember. Remember the empty tomb. Remember your baptism. And be thankful. Walk with Christ in newness of life. Because Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
In the Christian tradition, we look at time through the lens of the church year. Thinking of time in this way reminds me of who I am and the story that I belong to that is different from other possible stories. It's not just a story I read, but one that I am living daily. But what happens when the story you are raised in has become a drain? Something that is not life-giving, but one that creates pain, guilt and hurt?