April 16, 2023, Sermon, "Living in the Joy of Easter"
Apr 16th | Jerusha Van Camp | 1 Peter 1:3-9
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I love springtime, from the varied hues of green on the trees, to the luscious clumps of grass, the sprinkling of purple violets, yellow dandelions, multi-colored tulips, and the magnificent dogwood trees. Beholding all of this natural wonder sparks joy in my soul.
Attending worship on Easter Sunday has always been one of my favorite days of worship. It brings me joy to see the pews filled with people wearing bright spring bow-ties, floral patterned dresses, fun socks, and welcoming smiles. Easter brings out so much joy, so much light, so much splendor both within and without.
In her Easter sermon, Pastor Anna described how when Mary saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead, she stopped existing in the darkness of a Good Friday world, and found herself living in an “Easter Day World, reflecting the Resurrection Light.” That truth resonated with me all week long, and I thought to myself, what would that be like, to genuinely live each and every day with the same joy and wonder I experience on Easter Day.
Today’s Scripture from 1 Peter declares to us that Easter Day joy is our inheritance! It is our inheritance as children of God to live into a new birth and into a living hope that is imperishable. Our inheritance of Easter joy cannot be stolen or diminished, for it is a spiritual gift from God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We had barely begun the first Monday of this Eastertide before the news of another mass shooting began to circulate. On the first Eastertide Monday, employees of the Old National Bank in Louisville, Kentucky, were gunned down by a young white man with a semi-automatic rifle. This shooting in Louisville was not the only mass shooting that occurred this week. There were also mass shootings in Washington DC, New Jersey, Fort Wayne, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Connecticut, Michigan, and New York leaving a total of 9 people dead, 38 people injured, and countless others traumatized.
Attempting to get an early start on the week’s work, on Monday morning I started to write this sermon, but I found the concept of “Living in the Joy of Easter” to be nearly offensive. How are we supposed to daily live in Easter joy when we are bombarded by the news of evil and darkness all around us? How can we live in Easter joy if we can’t shut out the heaviness and our dismay with the world? How can we embrace an inheritance of joy with broken hearts, ebbing grief, physical and mental pain, loneliness, and doubts that is the human reality of both saint and sinner?
In our Gospel text today we read that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to a room full of frightened, hurting, and vulnerable people who were hiding away behind locked doors waiting for the next bad thing to happen to them. They were still processing the fact that Jesus was alive. Their memories of his betrayal in the garden, his beating, and his death still played over and over in their minds. Easter joy was as alien to them as the idea of living in the joy of Easter may be to us today.
Living in the reality of Easter is a journey. Jesus’ first words to the very upset disciples were, “Peace be with you.” Jesus did not respond to them with a “Don’t you all know what just happened? I just rose from the dead! You should be rejoicing!” Instead, Jesus came with compassion, with gentleness, and spoke peace into their fragile and anxious state.
Jesus did not come to them to give them a pep talk and tell them to just get over it. Nor did Jesus leave them there suffering in their fear and pain. Instead, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and filled them with power and the life that flows from the Spirit of God.
The good news for us today is that whether or not we are able to shake off our weariness and the heaviness of this life to revel in the joy of Easter in our daily lives, the joy of Easter does not depend on us. God’s kingdom has come! God’s reality of joy and peace in heaven and here on earth has already come to us in Christ Jesus. Even if we are hunkered down behind locked doors, Jesus comes to us with compassion. Whatever our state of mind, spirit, or body, Jesus comes to us with his peace.
Living in the joy of Easter should not be confused with practicing toxic positivity and pretending that everything is wonderful, when it is indeed not wonderful, but it does mean knowing that God has given us what we need to live into God’s new reality of joy despite our circumstances. We can rise above our current difficulty to embrace the joy of our inheritance through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I think this is the hardest part of following in Jesus’ footsteps, it is allowing ourselves to fully embrace our humanity, while also fully embracing the intangible inheritance of a hope and joy that defies the hopelessness and despair that wickedness inflicts upon the world. We are never more tested and tried in our faith than when we trust in God’s new world while looking with open eyes at the brokenness of the human condition and all of its maladies.
No matter what is happening in this world, we are not without hope, and we have no need to despair. It is our very act of living in God’s new birth and God’s alternate reality that denies the powers of darkness its foothold. It’s living in the Easter Joy that gives us what we need to bind up the broken-hearted. It is our own knowledge of the freedom and hope we have in Christ that we can now share with those who are in captivity.
Verses 9-11 from today’s 16th Psalm truly sums up the good news for us today. The psalmist writes, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.
So let us open our hearts to live in the joy of Easter, let us trust that God has not given us over to the darkness of this world, but instead be assured that God is leading us in the path to life. Let us be faithful in serving our Lord through the mountain highs when Easter joy is vibrant and clear, and in the valley lows when we are afraid and discouraged.
May God’s new reality come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven so that all may live in the light of Easter joy. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit, Mother of us all, Amen.
© 2023 Jerusha Van Camp
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