Alleluia – But It Takes Time
Easter Sunday 2013 – 8am service
Luke 24: 1-12
Reverend Jan Wiley
If you haven’t been in worship over the last weeks or if it is so early in the morning you weren’t yet quite awake, you might have missed it – the symbol of the transition from the season of Lent into Easter.
Oh, you might have noticed the banners right away. They are beautiful and the word Alleluia just floats on them. I came in the sanctuary last night and I could smell the flowers too, another Easter symbol you can’t miss.
But let me share with you about the stick. During the entire 6 week season of Lent, we began each service with someone walking down the center aisle accompanied by beautiful organ music and carrying a walking stick. It was part of our theme which we planned some months ago. We used the movie The Way with Martin Sheen as part of our inspiration for the season. In it, the main character walks the pilgrimage route in northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, completing the journey that his own son began, but who died tragically on his first day. One of the constants in the movie is the father’s walking stick, his companion on his long journey not only to Santiago, but a journey that eventually leads to a measure of healing and peace.
So before the Lenten season began, I went to one of our own members here at church, a woodworker, and asked if he could make us a walking stick. And Dale took me into his garage and pulled out a piece of wood that he said he had decided long ago would make a great walking stick but he had never made it. And we both decided, in that moment, that he had been waiting for the invitation to make it for worship. Now you have to know I have a soft spot in my heart for Dale because I knew his mother. His mom was one of the active saints of the church I served in Long Beach before I came to serve here. And now she is one of the saints in heaven. Dale is a connecting point between this church and my last church – almost 20 years of ministry. So the walking stick has special meaning.
And all through Lent that walking stick was walked up the aisle and leaned against the altar table. It became for me the symbol of Jesus’ presence with each of us on our journey of life –
the walking stick
that helps us walk up hills that seem too steep to climb by ourselves,
that gives us stability when we feel shaken by life,
that provides something to just hold onto when we need to stop and
take a breath and enjoy the view and say thank you,
that we can just feel the comfort of, with its sanded and smooth finish.
The walking stick became Jesus by our side.
And so on Good Friday the walking stick was used once again as it was used to come down that center aisle and laid it against the empty and bare altar. And we heard the scriptures that told the story of Jesus’ last night.
And we saw the tall upright walking stick transformed as a shorter piece of wood was placed upon it and lashed into place. And the walking stick became a cross that we, humanity, used to put Jesus to death. His message of love was more than we could handle and in that moment the powers of darkness won. And we, like the women and disciples in Jesus’ story, went quietly to our homes.
And that is where the story should have ended. A man with an amazing message caused too much commotion and threatened too many in power. So it was done.
But the women, the women came to the tomb early on the first day of the week, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. And the stone was rolled away. And there was no body. Yet the women did not understand. They were ‘perplexed.’ And then two men, angels perhaps, appeared and spoke to them and reminded them that Jesus had predicted he would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.
And they remembered his words. And they told what happened at the tomb to the eleven disciples, who called their words an ‘idle tale’ and did not believe them. But Peter, well, Peter wondered and he came to the tomb to see for himself and he saw the empty tomb and the clothes lying by themselves, and then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Isn’t it amazing that the Gospel writer Luke didn’t describe the exact moment when they believed. Or at least we can say that they didn’t all believe at the exact same moment.
There was an alleluia in each of their hearts but we don’t know exactly when it happened. And Luke, at least, doesn’t describe that moment in any detail. In fact, it is clear in the Gospel that for some of them the Alleluia moment didn’t happen Easter morning at all but later that day.
Luke goes on to describe Easter afternoon when two disciples are walking on a road to a village called Emmaus and they meet a man and then they arrive in the village and as they break bread together they recognize that it is Jesus.
For those two disciples, maybe that is the moment that the cross, which meant death, becomes the cross of resurrection. Perhaps that is the moment that in their hearts they carried the cross, as ours was carried this morning, as a symbol of the Risen Christ, of the victory of life over death, of light overcoming darkness. For the walking stick was transformed from the means of death to a symbol of love and redemption.
Though Jesus may have arisen in an instant, sometimes it takes us some time to shout our alleluias. In fact, for some of the disciples, the Gospel writer John says they didn’t really understand the reality of the resurrection until Christ appeared to them on the evening of Easter. The disciples, even in the evening, were still scared and they went in a house and locked the doors in fear and it was then, while they were still afraid, that Jesus appeared to them. And Jesus’ words were: Peace be with you.
And he showed himself to them and said again, Peace be with you.
And that was when they proclaimed Alleluia in their hearts.
You know when the women came to the tomb earlier that morning, the stone was rolled away. And it’s clear from this evening story of Jesus’ appearance that the stone wasn’t rolled away so Jesus could get out of the tomb but so the women could see into the tomb. Because in the evening he passed through walls and locked doors. The stone was rolled away so we could see in. To see the reality of Easter. To experience the power of the risen Christ and to know that there is always hope.
Easter says that there is always hope. No matter how difficult are some of our experiences, there is hope. Hope is always God’s last word. So when we are struggling or feeling overcome, we can trust that hope is God’s final word.
In one of my previous churches there was a family struggling because the father was alcoholic. He didn’t admit it. Not for a long time. And he was functional at work. But he began to pull away emotionally from his family. And I spent lots of time talking with the wife, praying with the wife, listening to the wife. And though he didn’t go to AA, she went to Al-Anon to learn more about his disease. And she spent quite a long time, trying to give him time to claim his own problem and take steps to turn his life around. And then one day, unexpectedly, he took that first step. And he went into a rehab program. And he finished the in-house rehab and did outpatient therapy and he went to AA and he got sober.
And if you had asked me a year before, he went to rehab I would have said: Little to no chance. A month before: No way. The day before: I don’t see it happening. But it did happen. There is always hope. There is always the possibility of Easter. The doors can be locked and somehow Jesus finds a way to get through and bring new life. Sometimes the Alleluia takes a long time. But Easter comes.
Even in death, God can bring healing. I’ve seen that too. I’ve seen relationships that were torn and broken come to a place of healing when someone is dying. Though in the end, the person died, the power of a reconciled relationship brought life and healing to the family. Because there is always hope. God is in the hope business.
There is a power in hearing the Easter story again and again. There’s a preacher who says that a man came up to him one Sunday and said, Preacher, you always tell the same story. Every time I come, it’s the same story. And the preacher says, well, how often do you come? And the man said, “I come every Easter.” Well, yeah, it’s the same story!
And we need to hear it again and again for it is the story of all stories. It is the foundation of our faith. It reminds us that in the cross, as Rev. Adam Hamilton says, God ran into the chaos. God wanted to be part of our lives and came into the world in Jesus and then after preaching and teaching and showing us how we might live, God ran into the chaos and ended up on a cross.
But he didn’t stay there. Because God is more powerful than death, more powerful than addictions, more powerful than hate, more powerful than any of the chaos of our lives that we create or that comes at us from the world.
And we hear the Easter story again and again because every year, in fact every Sunday, every day, we just might connect our lives to that story in a new or different or deeper way. And we might understand that God ran into the chaos of our lives because God loves us and calls us to walk beside him.
He invites us to say Alleluia, Christ is Risen, with our lips and with our lives.
To proclaim that there is always hope and to live as people with hope.
To find our own ways, our very own ways, to tell and live and sing and share and dance and draw and laugh the Easter story of joy and hope.
In our congregation, this year, we told this complex and amazing story in a simple way.
A walking stick.
Turned into a cross of death.
Transformed by God’s love into the power of the Risen Christ.
How will you tell the story?
For there is still time for us to share our Alleluias.
And to hear the words of Jesus: Peace be with you. Peace be with you.