In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My name is Diane Carlisle and I am the Head Verger here at Epiphany. Epiphany has been Terry’s and my spiritual home for almost 40 years. Two weeks ago, in this very space, we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The week before Easter was Holy Week, and we punctuated that week with unfettered joy at the Great Vigil of Easter when we rang our bells with gusto and cried out that Jesus Christ is risen. I even know of some people that rang their bells with such gusto that their bells broke. Now that is Easter joy!
So, is your life different from before Easter? The Easter bunny has come and gone, the Easter egg hunts are over and done with, and the Easter baskets have been emptied of their bright yellow peeps. So is your life different, other than the couple of extra pounds you may have acquired due to multiple Easter brunches and helping the kids eat their Easter candy? Because of that first Easter, no matter how difficult these past two years have been for you, I believe the answer is yes!
Today I want to share with you what living a resurrected life could look like and perhaps a way to remember live this way.
Jesus told us, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
On Easter we celebrated Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the tomb, we celebrated His victory over Satan, sin, death, and hell. Resurrection is certainly tied to our hope for the future, for life eternal. But it is also tied to our life here and now. Our lives are different. Resurrection life is right here, right now!
What does it mean to live a resurrected life, or to be Easter people? Easter people are people who not only know what the Jesus story says, but know what it means. Jesus was resurrected from the dead so that we can have eternal life with God AND abundant life here on earth.
By Jesus’ resurrection we are promised eternal life. God loves us that much! How much? (more than my outstretched arms), Infinity, as my children would say when they wanted to express an amount they couldn’t comprehend..
The Resurrected Life is a Restored Life. WE ARE SAFE! WE ARE ETERNAL. Blessed are those who do not see but yet believe.
I know some pretty smart people who do not believe in Jesus’ resurrection, a few. They seem to have a good life, good jobs, good kids, a good 401 K. They are good people. Sure their lives have ups and downs, but they keep climbing the mountain. They have goals and work hard to achieve those goals. What happens when they get to the top, when they meet their goals? They either start a slow descent down the other side towards the bottom of the mountain, or they are pitched off the mountain top by a catastrophe. That is death with no hope of eternal life. Everything they have and everything they are is tied to the here and now and to the foreseeable future. When life doesn’t go as planned, there is no hope. It will get improve or it won’t, but that isn’t the point. It still ends, and that is the point. Their lives arc towards death.
For us as Christians we know that death is not the end. Our lives here on earth may come to their mortal ends, but we are eternal beings. What that looks like, I do not know, but I do know that no matter what happens in our mortal lives, we are still safe. It is the unstoppable hope guaranteed to us in the person of Jesus as Doyt has preached about these past two Sundays. This hope, this faith means that no matter what, no matter how bad or good our lives are here on earth, we are with God for all of eternity. Now that is good news! Our lives arc towards God.
That doesn’t mean that we can just sit on our laurels and let life happen. No, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must care for God’s people. We have a responsibility to carry our faith to those who have none. We have to spread hope when things seem hopeless. Our hope is in the Lord. We hear the beginnings of that in today’s Gospel.
In today’s Gospel we find some of the disciples fishing in the sea of Galilee. It’s what they know, and it’s what they have returned to following Jesus’ resurrection. It appears they have returned to life before Jesus. We have Peter, you remember him. He’s the impulsive one, the one Jesus was always coaching. He’s the one who denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. There were the sons of Zebedee, whose mother, when they began to understand that Jesus was going to die, wanted her sons to be seated at his righthand and his left. Then there’s doubting Thomas, whose story we heard last week. And then there was Nathanael, who said that nothing good ever came from Nazareth, and finally there was the beloved disciple and one other unnamed person. Imagine that the unnamed person in the boat is you or me. We are one of the imperfect disciples. We need to be in that boat too.
The disciples in the boat had been out fishing, casting their nets and catching nothing. I don’t think that’s too unusual, I have been fishing a few times, and often have caught nothing. I imagine they were idly talking, perhaps about Jesus, perhaps about fishing, perhaps about nothing in particular just to take up the time. We don’t really know. What we do know is that they were fishing and not catching anything.
Jesus calls out to them from shore where he has made a campfire and was preparing to eat a meal (I love that! Jesus seems to be eating a lot, a truly human thing). He tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. They have nothing to lose so they do as he suggested, and they were rewarded with a large catch of fish. Finally, the beloved disciple recognizes Jesus, and they all return to shore to share a meal with him. Was this the moment where they finally understood that they were resurrection people? Was this when they began to live their lives in a different way? Was this the moment where they lay down their nets and became witnesses to the resurrected Christ, spreading the good news far and wide? The Gospel of John ends this narrative saying that Jesus appeared to the disciples at other times as well that were not written down in the book.
It seemed that up until this point, and maybe beyond, the disciples had done the very human thing. That thing that is so easy to do. While they were caught up in the joy and elation of Jesus’ resurrection and seemed to grasp a little bit of what that meant for them, they had powerful forgetters. The initial elation was over, so they went back to what they knew…fishing.
A powerful forgetter is my term for our brain’s way of blocking out prior events, both positive and negative so that we can get back to the things we are familiar with. It is sometimes very easy to slip back into what we were doing after a particularly powerful event. I wonder how long it will be for us to forget about the pandemic? To forget about the political strife, the staggering number of people who died or have life changing continuing symptoms and life situations? How long before masks become a distant memory and Covid become just one more disease that people can get, and even die from, like the flu? How long until we just forget the past two years and go back to our old ways of living? How long?
Often, we keep mementos of specific events that can transport us back to a powerful event, like a napkin from our first date with our future spouse or a child’s first trophy in T-Ball (that one they got for participation, even though they spent the entire season picking daisies in the outfield). Sometimes a smell, a place, or even a particular song can spark a memory that places us right back to that time and place.
I have one such physical memento that can instantly bring me back to the most exhilarating and terrifying event I have ever experienced. This thing is a reminder that I have a resurrected life. This thing is the antidote to my “powerful forgetter.“ As I gaze at this lantern my whole body, my whole sense of being, is transported right back to 2013. I keep it in my office. You see, this is the lantern that carried the Holy Fire from the church of the Holy Sepulcher back to our hotel on Holy Saturday in 2013 in Jerusalem.
If you have never heard of the Holy Fire, Google it.
In a nutshell on Holy Saturday, Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox patriarch enters the tomb where Jesus was buried and he emerges carrying a lighted candle – lit without the aid of matches. A miracle, the light of Christ. It was no different in 2013.
Doyt, Jonathan Roberts, and I stood squished together with many others including the Macedonians we had blended in with to get past the Israeli police. Sometimes we were silent, sometimes along with thousands of others, we chanted “We are the Christians” over and over again each in our own native language.
A hush descended as the patriarch went into the tomb. Anticipation was thick and palpable until 11 minutes later he emerged with the miraculous flame. Within seconds of his emerging, the fire spread across the darkened church. Bells competed with cheers from the crowd as a smoky haze filled the church. Imagine, if you will, over 10,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder, squished in like sardines, each holding 33 flaming candles held together by twine or rubber bands. Each gifted that flame by another from that single flame that the patriarch carried out from the tomb, much like we do as we spread the flame from the Paschal candle lit from the first fire of Easter at the Great Vigil. It was exhilarating but also terrifying as the heat from the fire raised the temperature several degrees in a matter of seconds. It is said that you cannot be burned from the fires for 33 minutes. Good news to those of us who were so close to so many flames.
This lantern carried that flame with us back to the hotel. It is our memento, our reminder of that glorious miracle. Our intention was to light it each year at the Great Vigil back home, here at Epiphany, but alas it leaks oil. Perhaps it was a miracle that we were able to carry it back to the hotel without it leaking in the first place.
Every time I gaze at this lantern on the bookshelf directly in front of my desk, I am reminded of the Holy Fire that the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church brought out of the tomb, much in the way that Jesus burst from the tomb and gave us the victory, the victory over death. Jesus’ resurrection calls us to be an Easter people, people of the resurrection, each and every day. God loves so much that God gave us God’s only Son, Jesus, and Jesus gave us the great commandment to love one another as God loves us.
So here we are two weeks after Easter, worshiping in church or online. Worship is that weekly reminder (or antidote to a powerful forgetter) that we are people of the resurrection, people whose lives have been forever changed by Jesus rising from the dead.
The Holy Eucharist, sharing a meal as Jesus often did, reminds us that we are safe in God’s loving arms, safe no matter what happens here on earth because we are loved by God, and our lives are eternal. Week in and week out we celebrate the Eucharist a mini-Easter if you will, where we hear the story of the last supper, and then eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, where we are reminded that we are in him, and he is in us. The post communion prayer asks God to send us out to do the work God has given us to do as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. And the dismissal is the final admonition to “Go and serve the Lord.”
Church reminds us to be resurrection people, to go out and do as Jesus commanded us to do, to love one another as God loves us. We do this by following Jesus. We try to live our lives as Jesus would live our lives if he were you or me. We care for one another. We love one another. We go forth and feed his sheep. We put our trust and our will in God. We share the sacred meal.
The resurrected life is a continually restored relationship with God. We are not alone. We are eternal. We are safe. And we are called to spread the good news, to follow Jesus.
Will you do as Jesus commanded Simon Peter, and follow Jesus?