This sermon was prepared without the assistance of AI!
On Easter Sunday, a member of our community who often quietly slips away after worship, stopped for a moment so we could exchange Easter blessings, and asked with a big smile, “Could we have music like this every Sunday?!” Nathan?
For the benefit of those who were not here, there was a brass quartet, the festival setting of the liturgy, special music by our Artist in Residence on his last Sunday with us, with Nathan, our choral scholars, the choir, solo and parts singing, and more! With great thanks to our Kantor, Nathan preparing and directing it all, and Karen, Lorna and Carolyn, Jose Enrico, Abby and DJ, Karl and all the members of the choir, and everyone involved on that Sunday and over the Three Days, it was glorious!
At the Board of Worship meeting on Thursday afternoon, we spent a little time evaluating worship as we typically do. We spoke about the wonderful music, and expressed our gratitude to those involved, as I know many of you have. And I said, “It felt to me like the pandemic had finally been lifted!” Alleluia! And I have been thinking, I could feel the resurrection in my heart!
But as good as our music is each Sunday, and although we celebrate Easter for a week of Sundays and continue to sing Easter songs, we can’t really have music like that every Sunday. Including for some who prefer more quiet and contemplative songs and worship, we may not want to. Not every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Or is it?
Today’s wonderful gospel story of the followers of Jesus on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, a journey of sadness and grief and confusion on the road to Emmaus, invites us to feel the presence of the risen Christ journeying with us, our hearts burning as Jesus opens God’s word to us, and our eyes being fully opened as Jesus stays and breaks bread with us and we see, as Jesus met the first followers just as they were on the road together that first Easter Sunday. With them, even in grief and confusion, do you feel the resurrection in your heart, sense the presence of the risen Christ breaking bread with us?
And that feeling of resurrection may be in wonderful loud pipe organ and trumpet sounds accompanying our collective voices in glorious assembly song singing alleluia! or in a single cello note, or sung solo verse, or in no sound at all in moments of quiet and space to hear our hearts beating and breath/spirit within us. And so also in words read and spoken and prayed, in the waters of the font and at the table in bread and wine blessed and given full of grace. Like the Table Thanksgiving prayer says, O God you are Bread: feed us with yourself. O God you are Wine: warm our hearts and make is one. O God you are Fire: transform us with hope. Do we feel in our hearts the resurrection in all these words and elements and expressions of song, and sense the presence of the risen Christ here as the gospel invites us? Maybe it is Easter, every Sunday?
Of course, faith is not just feelings. Luther was as suspicious of experience or feelings as a measure of faith as he was works of righteousness to gain faith and favour with God. But faith in the risen Christ as a gift of grace by God’s Spirit, is also not simply our intellectual ascent, our saying, yes, I believe “in the resurrection of the dead,” as wonderful and incredulous as that is. As Luther wrote in an explanation to the third article of the Creed in his Small Catechism that we are studying, I cannot by my own reason or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to Christ. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts and sanctified and kept me in true faith. That faith is the Spirit’s awakening this resurrected life offered to all, a new life we are invited to feel in our hearts and through all our senses opened to the risen Christ in this world.
Some suggest this resurrection account unique to Luke’s Gospel, from some years after the first resurrection story in Mark, represents the weekly Sunday worship journey of the new community of Jesus’ followers as both a mirror and inspiration. They and we meet to worship and travel together, as we are, in grief and sadness, confusion or uncertainty, gratitude, and joy. Whether our hearts are heavy with the tragic deaths of so many to toxic drugs, with Indigenous neighbours six times more likely to die in this province, or chronic homelessness and despair in our streets, to beatings, especially of those with mental health issues or who are racialized, or senseless shootings of young people who go to the wrong door and turn around on the wrong driveway, or the ongoing ravages of war, oppression and suffering for so many; whatever our and the world’s circumstances or experiences, Jesus sees us as we are and meets us on the way, opening the sacred words to us and all they say about Jesus. And stays with us, to bless and break bread, that our eyes and all senses would be opened to the risen Christ with us, to feed us and send us back with the fantastic news to share with others, that Christ is alive, Christ is risen indeed, so that we and all the world may live, not death, but risen life! It is the story of worship every Sunday, graciously inviting us to feel and sense Easter every Sunday. Do you feel this resurrection in your hearts, and sense the risen Christ right here, today and everyday, to feed us and this world?
It may be in the songs and music again today. The beautiful gathering song with text by Nigel Weaver, The Risen Christ… who breaks with wounded hand the bread for those who fail to understand, reveals himself, despite their lingering tears, enflames their hearts, then quickly disappears. May we Christ’s body walk and serve and stand with those oppressed in this and every land, till all are blessed and can a blessing be, restored in Christ to true humanity. Or the equally beautiful Hymn of the Day that we will sing in response to the gospel, “Day of Arising,” with text by Susan Palo Cherwin, that recounts the Emmaus road story as our own… When we are walking, doubtful and dreading, blinded by sadness, slowness of heart, yet Christ walks with us, ever awaiting our invitation: Stay, do not part. Lo, I am with you, Jesus has spoken. This is Christ's promise, this is Christ's sign: when the church gathers, when bread is broken, there Christ is with us in bread and wine. Christ, our companion, hope for the journey, bread of compassion, open our eyes. Grant us your vision, set all hearts burning that all creation with you may rise. Or the lively communion song by Herbert Brokering, “Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen” …Jesus is risen and we shall arise. Give God the glory! Alleluia! Or the new song, “God Be the Love to Search and Keep Me” and the refrain, O Christ surround me. O Christ, surround me. Do we feel and sense the resurrection in our hearts and surrounding us and all creation in song?
And all of this is for God’s good purpose. As we hear in the gospel story, the disciples of Jesus, with their eyes opened and acknowledging how their hearts burned within them on the road as Jesus was opening the scripture to them, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread - go! They go back down the road from Emmaus to their companions in Jerusalem to share the great news that fills their hearts and has awakened their senses to Christ alive and with us. It’s a new resurrection energy that inspires and fills them with God’s good purpose to share their hearts and all they have seen and sensed of the risen life. It is the Spirit’s energy to face everyday, as a new day, with hope, especially for those who are hurting and marginalized and alone, and for a hurting earth and all creation.
At the Annual general meeting of Multifaith at the University of Victoria this past week, we once again had the chance to hear stories of students impacted by Multifaith. Each of them witnessed beautifully to their experiences of welcome and openness and acceptance and community. One written account by someone who couldn’t be there because of illness, read by another student, especially touched my heart. They spoke of their hesitancy to be involved; but invited to lead yoga for LGBTQ+ folks and allies, they began to become connected to the Multifaith centre, and then Inclusive Christians, and grew to become part of a community in ways that they never thought possible. They belonged, and you could hear the hope and joy in their words. I could feel the resurrection in my heart. And so also in the “Beyond Grief” group” in this community meeting this past week and their shared journey of hearing and supporting one another through sadness and loss in grace and hope of new life. Or the ipad community group meeting for now 20 years, or Perk-me-up for a similar time, both offering community and new life that you can feel in your heart! And I and you no doubt can name other examples. You can feel the resurrection in our hearts! And sense the risen Christ with us and all creation. It’s Easter every Sunday. It’s Easter everyday! So that, in the words of Peter, “you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.