Easter Feast

Sermon, United Ministry of Aurora —Aurora, NY April 1, 2018

Thank you all for inviting me to be here with you. With all of you, I rejoice to see this day! This is the day the promises made to Abraham and Moses and proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah all come to pass. Here, today, in this holy room by a lake larger than Galilee, the Lord Jesus has been raised from the dead! Hallelujah! He has risen from the dead here, this morning, for each person in this place of worship. We are all invited to a great feast celebrating this miraculous event. The Paschal lamb of God has been raised from the dead. Today we experience the reality of the resurrection and claim our place at the great feast. This is for us.

In our first reading the prophet Isaiah announces this. Isaiah speaks to the Jewish People, but he tells them this healing deliverance is not just for them, it is for all people. On this mountain the immortal, invisible Lord of hosts and Creator of the Universe will make for all peoples … a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces...It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited...

He takes death away from us, he destroys death. And if that weren't enough, God then does something as remarkable. With his own hands he gently wipes away the tears from every eye. He erases our tears of sorrow for the suffering and loss of those we love. He erases our fear of death. God removes our anxiety at the thought of non-existence. And there’s more, the gentle Creator wipes away our tears of regret, our tears of pain, our tears of shame and disgrace. From the faces and eyes of all on earth. For all people — for you and me, here today. The one for whom we have been waiting has come. Today, today he is risen and comes to heal and bring life. This is the Lord we've been waiting for.

God does both mighty works today. He removes our fear, and he lavishly feeds us. The prophet Isaiah says twice we will receive a feast of choice food and well aged wine. And Isaiah says twice God will destroy the shroud of death spread over all peoples, all nations. And he says twice, this is the God for whom we have waited. All of us. All. Each of us in this sacred hall. This is the Easter Eucharist, the Easter Thanksgiving. The celebratory feast is prepared for all of us. And, we are given serenity to enjoy the feast. Our anxiety is past, the fear of Death is done.

This healing and new life is not only for the world to come. We experience it now. We read in our Psalm; The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. And the psalmist says it twice; I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Salvation - it’s often thought of as a Pentecostal phrase meaning snatched from the jaws of Hell. Not so. Salvation means healing, restoration, health for body and mind — and life. … And, he has become my salvation, and again, you have answered me and become my salvation. … God himself has done this great healing miracle of resurrection. Past perfect. It is completed. Jesus taught us by showing us: It is completed, finished, done.

He rose. Hallelujah! Like Jesus, we too shall rise. Death is conquered. We experience a new life even in this life. We are filled with joy whatever the circumstance. God loves and accepts us, welcomes us and adopts us as his own.

Even the disciples didn't understand at first. They were afraid. We read from Mark's Gospel, the oldest of the four gospels. Mark captures the feelings, the emotions of the disciples. When these events happened, the disciples were terrified and amazed. And they were afraid. In that first experience of the resurrection the disciples did not understand either what had happened nor what it meant. They had not yet received the Spirit of God. And they were afraid.

Jesus soon appears to the disciples. He opens their minds to understand the scriptures. … ‘So you see’, he said, ‘that scripture foretells the sufferings of the Messiah and his rising from the dead on the third day, and declares that in his name repentance bringing the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. You are to be witnesses to it all. Go then to all nations and make them my disciples...

Peter heard and obeyed the Lord. In our reading from Acts, Peter has overcome his fear. Here, responding to an angel, he is at the house of a gentile, the Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Peter begins to teach, proclaiming the gospel, the good news of Jesus, in the world in flesh, crucified and raised from the dead! There is life after earthly death!

As Peter speaks, all in Cornelius' household are weeping for joy, praising God aloud in other tongues. As Peter sees the whole house experience the love and power and freedom of God, Peter says: …Now I know that God shows no partiality. The Messiah has come for the gentiles as well as Jews. The promises of Isaiah are fulfilled. God's Holy Spirit is poured out on all who believe, all who are righteous. All the nations shall see the saving power of God. God's saving grace is poured out on ALL. Who can withhold baptism from these.

What has God been telling us all these centuries? What have the prophets been trying to help us understand? What did Jesus demonstrate in his own person? That what we call the afterlife is real. And it is not an after-life. It is life. This, on this side, is the pre-life. It feels real, and it is real. Three-dimensional, five sense kind of real. But it is not everything. It is the appetizer for the meal, it is an hors d'oeuvre; it contains a hint of the meal to come.

The last supper Jesus shared with his disciples 1,985 years and three days ago was a Passover Seder The Passover Seder is a memorial supper at which we recall God's freeing us from slavery and fear and death, and we remember the Paschal lamb under whose blood we passed from death to life. Today Jesus the Paschal lamb of God is raised, and he to calls us to the great feast on the Mountain of God.

The first time I remember taking part in the old traditional Jewish Passover Seder was as a child on our farm in Massachusetts. We were poor Jewish farmers, part of the remnant of Israel, living and working on the land. We were waiting for the promised Messiah to come. We had been waiting for a long time.

On that Passover night many years ago, as a child I had my first glass of wine and ate a piece of the special bread that had been hidden earlier. The blessing over the wine is said in Hebrew, thanking God: In English the blessing is: Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe who hath created the fruit of the vine. An extra cup of wine is prepared for the Prophet Elijah, and the front door of the house is left ajar for Elijah. We always expect this will be the year the prophet will return and join us at the Seder table. We kids watched the table closely, and sure enough, at the right time my grandfather would say, “Look! The wine rippled! Elijah had a drink!” (Maybe Gramps helped it along with his knee under the table.)

The second special ritual was the hiding and finding of the Afikomen. At the beginning of the Seder meal, three large matzos, unleavened bread are blessed; Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe who brought forth bread from the earth. Then the middle matzo is broken in two. Half the broken matzo is put back in the basket, and the other broken half is wrapped, wrapped as if for burial in a linen napkin, removed from the table and hidden. At the end of the meal the children search for the hidden matzo, and once found we celebrate and joyfully share in it. This hidden matzo is called the Afikomen. It was explained to me the Afikomen symbolizes the hidden Messiah who will come to redeem and save Israel. This sounded good, but I did not understand then what the Messiah would do or what this really meant.

Today I understand the mystery of the broken, hidden matzo. The Messiah has freed us from slavery to the ancient enemy of humanity. The Messiah Jesus has freed us from fear of death. The power of death is the belief, the fear that death is the end — there is no more. Our modern era has no language for what is to come. Pundits dismiss the life to come as wishful thinking. What's here and now is all there is.

But, as Moses says, I place before you a choice; a promise and a threat. Life or death. Choose life. Be assured. Life is to come. This is boot camp. Easter is our proof that death can no longer hold us. As certainly as the Christ rose from the dead, we too will rise. Loved ones who went on before are there now. The tears have been wiped from their faces and they have been comforted as we will be comforted.

The power of the risen Christ is here, now, this morning in this sacred place. God used a tiny group of fragile people as his beachhead on earth. Our Old Testament lays the groundwork of the Creator's call to primitive humanity. Bronze Age humanity, pressed on all sides by the fear of deadly predators and a pantheon of unseen spirits, lived in constant fear of death. Today, that anxiety, that ancient fear of non-being is gone.

God spoke his promise, his promise proclaimed over the ages by his prophets, and finally, in Jesus Christ, all of humanity can now experience the boundless love and healing of God. God's desire is that each of us experience the joy of new and eternal life with him. Yes, Heaven is real. Life is to come. God calls us to be with him - but at the right time. While we are in this life we are to live it with joy, rejoicing, no matter the circumstance. As Paul says, whether in plenty or in want, whether in sickness or robust health, I rejoice in all things through the power of the risen Christ who died for me. Christ died to show us that life is before us, not behind us. Jesus showed us how to cast all fear away, our sins forgiven, filled with the sureness that life is waiting.

He is risen. He is with us now. The Holy Spirit is here with us, for each of us, within each of us. We cast fear away for good. We joyfully anticipate what is to come.

To be a Mystic means to feel, to experience the reality of our faith. This is an experiential religion. Not a religion we discuss in remote lofty words, but a deeply felt experience of God's love for us and the certainty that he waits for us. Rejoice! Today we are all mystics. Everything is changed. God hugs us to his bosom in Love and life. God feeds his flock.

The great Thanksgiving Banquet on the mountain of God foretold by Isaiah has already begun. This is the Easter celebration. You are invited. Let us go in to the feast together. Hallelujah! Amen!