God’s Resounding Yes: A Sermon for Easter Day 2013

This sermon, preached at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on Easter Day 2013, is built around the readings for Easter Day in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

I wonder when it happens…  when our response to the world around us becomes fixed… when the way we respond to the world around us begins to gel, to set, to harden…

I am sure that there are folks among us this morning who have studied this, who can tell us how the stress that our mothers endure affects us in the womb, how the birth experience shapes us, how the way that our early needs are met defines how we will trust, or not trust, the people and the world around us.  I know that all of these things impact our responses to the people and events in our lives.  I know that our outlook on the world is impacted and shaped by more variables than we can count and that we are all unique and wonderful individuals in or own right.

But this morning I am concerned with something that seems to be pretty universal, part of the human condition, something that we recognize in ourselves, that we know we would be better off without, and that is so hard to overcome that we will spend our entire lives struggling against it.

I believe that this tragedy begins when we are very young, during that awful period known to parents as the terrible twos.

Yup!  That’s when it happens.  The terrible twos… when we develop our obsession with the word “No!”

“No!”  it feels so powerful.  It startles the people around us, causes them to pause.  It even makes them a little uncomfortable.  And when we say it often enough we can cause quite a stir.  Everyone else seems to be saying it all of the time.  It seems like everywhere we go, every time we reach out to try something new, every time we experiment with the freedom we are beginning to feel, people are shouting it at us… “No!  Don’t touch that!  No! Don’t do that!  No! Don’t go there…”  This must be how the world works.  And if you are going to keep saying “no” to me then I am going to say “no” right back at ya!”

It happens so early.  We don’t yet have the resources or the sophistication to recognize what is happening to us.  And before we know it… It’s too late.  “No” becomes a habituated response.  It becomes familiar, predictable.  It is what we know…

So we are really ill prepared to defend ourselves from the “no” that surrounds us when our circle becomes larger and we fall under the influence and spell of the larger world.

“Can I join you?”

“No!  You don’t look like us!”


“Can I try this?”

“No!  You will just fail anyway!”


“Can I go there?”

“No!  You’ll just get into trouble!”


“Can I have some of that?”

“No!  There isn’t enough to go around, and you haven’t earned it yet!”


“But aren’t I important?”

“Are you kidding?  Who are you?  No!”


“Am I not then worth loving?”

“No!  Not until you measure up and give me what I want…  No!”

“No” rains down on us from people we trust, people we respect, even people we love.  So we don’t even recognize the fact that “No” is the tool that Madison Avenue uses to sell us their soap, “No you aren’t quite acceptable…  But if you buy what we are selling you will be just fine…”

We don’t recognize what is happening when “No” and the threat of “no” are what the powers that be use to keep us in line.  “No!  But you shouldn’t be complaining…  I am just protecting you from their bigger and even more oppressive ‘no.’  You should count your lucky stars that you only have to endure the ‘no’ that I am offering!”

Two thousand years ago, there was another word spoken.  It was spoken very quietly, by a young girl, who whispered the word in response to and unlikely and seemingly impossible request.

The word grew a little louder when, in a city that was lining up to be counted, cataloged and taxed by a foreign occupying power, a child was born in the lowest of all places.

This word grew in volume as an itinerate preacher began to wander the countryside, speaking primarily to those upon whom the world’s “no” had wreaked the greatest damage

It reached a crescendo as this word began to challenge the “no” in very public and threatening ways…

Jesus, Emmanuel, God among us, is God’s Word; God’s resounding “Yes” uttered, spoken into being, and proclaimed, in the face of the world’s “no.”

“Yes!  You can join us!  You don’t even need to ask.  Because you are already a part of us!”


“Yes!  You can try that!  And if it doesn’t work out…  we will find something else… together!


“Yes!  You can go there!  And I will go with you on your journey!”


“Yes!  You can have some of this!  There is way more than enough to go around!”


Yes!  You are important!  You are precious in my sight and there is no other like you!”


“Yes!  You are worth loving!  And I have loved you even before you were able to love me in return!”

Can you feel it?  It’s palpable!  God’s “Yes.”  Something like that could change the world!

It could… but the “no” doesn’t give up easily.  In fact, the “no” has such a deep hold on us that, as attractive as the “yes” may be… we find ourselves backing away, distrusting the very thing we long for, yet find so hard to imagine.

God whispers yes to a young girl named Mary.

God says yes in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.

God walks the dusty roads of Palestine saying yes, yes, yes!

But we turn away from the Word of God and cry “No!” as we nail him to a tree.

That “no” is still ringing in Mary’s ears as she approaches the tomb this morning.   It is screaming at the disciple Jesus loved and at Peter as they run to see what has happened.  That “no” is so loud and strong that Mary, weeping at the tomb after Peter and the other disciple have left, doesn’t recognize the voice, the Word, when it begins to speak to her again.

Then something incredible happens.  The Word, God’s “yes” calls to her by name…  Mary…  Yes!

It’s hard.  The “No” has not gone away, has not completely loosed its grip on us.  That voice is still ringing, screaming in our ears.  Sometimes the “no” even finds voice on our own lips.

It is our longing that brings us here: our longing for a different voice, and different word, a yes that might just change us and change the world; a yes that will proclaim that love is more powerful than death.

The “no” will never silence the yearning.  And this morning, as we stand weeping at the tomb… we hear it again.  That still small voice, whispering to us… calling us by name… and saying, “Yes!”

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Remember Who You Are. Remember Whose You Are: A Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter

This is an icon depicting Saint Andrew.  It was reproduced for us by a local icon writer and I have a box full of them in my office.

I keep a supply of these on hand because every spring, when members of our congregation graduate from High School and prepare to go off to college, we acknowledge their accomplishments, congratulate them and their parents for the work that they have done, and send them out into the world, to new adventures and experiences, with our blessings and our prayers, and we give them one of these icons.

I don’t know how many of you have been in that place, of sending someone you love off into the world, but as someone who has a son leaving for college this year, I know that I want to send him off with something more than blessings and prayers…

I want to send him off with some very clear instruction to help him navigate the path that lies before him and to keep him out of trouble!

So this year, the words that I always write on the back of these icons when we give them to our graduating seniors seem especially poignant to me and I know that my hands will be shaking when I write them on the icon that Suzanne and I will hand to Jacob this year.

Remember “who” you are.

Remember “whose” you are.”

Remember who you are…  When we send Jacob out into the world we will want him to remember all of the things that we have taught him.  We want him to remember the things that we have learned together, through trial and error, and through common experience.  We want him to remember us and the times that we have laughed, cried, and loved together.  Remember who you are…  We want him to remember the things that have shaped and formed his identity as a part of our family and as a part of the community that defines our common life.

Remember whose you are…  We will want him to remember that he is loved beyond measure.  That no matter how far from home he travels we are still bound to one another by our common history, by our common origin, and by a love which can never be stretched beyond the breaking point.  Remember whose you are…  Remember that you are ours, you are mine.  And always remember that we, that I am yours.

So that’s pretty close, pretty personal isn’t it?  And it is one thing for me to be writing those words, words that carry all of that subtext and meaning, to my own son.  It is another thing for me to be writing them to other people’s kids…   Interesting isn’t it?  That for as long as I have been writing those love notes on the backs of those icons… no one has ever complained.

I, and at this moment I am going to dare to say “we,” write those love notes on the backs of these icons and give them to our children because we hope that these words will become icons in and of themselves.  We hope that they will open a window on a fundamental truth that has the power to help us all navigate our way through life and to keep us in communion with one another and with God.

That truth is that:  We are called to remember…  who we are, and whose we are…  And we are called to remember together, in conversation as families, as communities of faith and hope,  and as the people of God.

We are called to remember together, in conversation…

We have these conversations spontaneously during special moments, at marker events in our lives; we have these conversations when the family has gathered for a holiday, for a birth, a wedding or a funeral.  We have these conversations around the dinner table, sharing a meal, telling stories around the fireplace or around campfires in the dark.

In these moments the stories seem to well up with in us, flowing naturally, coming from a place deep within, from our core sense of what is important and what we love.

In these moments the stories seem remarkably “present,” real, and true.  In these special moments the stories cease to be about people and places, moments and events in our past.  They become the story of who we are here and now.  In a wonderful and powerful way they tell our history, and at the same time define our present, and shape our hopes for the future.  The stories, even if they are about people who came long before us, become our story, our reality, our truth.

We shared a marvelous example of the power of story just this past week.  On Maundy Thursday we gathered for the twelfth time as a parish to experience our spiritual heritage and roots by participating in a Seder meal.  During the course of that powerful ritual we heard the story of the Exodus, the Passover, and the flight from Egypt.  We remembered God’s deliverance of the people at the Red Sea, his giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Temple as a place where God’s presence would reside in the world.

We rehearsed and gave thanks for a people’s history, their combined experience and shared heritage, and then we prayed this blessing:

In every generation each one ought to regard himself as though he had personally come out of Egypt, as it is written:  “And on that day you will explain to your children, “This is what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'”  (Exodus 13:8)  It was not only our ancestors whom the Holy One, praised be He, redeemed from slavery, but us also did He redeem.  Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, extol, bless, exalt and adore Him who did all of these wonders for our ancestors and for ourselves.  He has brought us forth from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festive day, from darkness to a great light, and from bondage to redemption.  Let us then sing before Him a new song.

Regard yourself as though you had personally come out of Egypt.  It was not only our ancestors, but us also…

Remember who you are.  Remember whose you are…  Remembering is integral to our identity, to who we are, and it is an essential part of whose we are.

Every Sunday we gather in his place and we read from our sacred scripture, from our history, from our story.  And every Sunday we claim those stories as our own.  We remember or perhaps more precisely, we recollect them.  They are not stories about people long ago and far, far away.  They are stories about us; about our hopes and dreams; about our successes and failures, about our faithfulness and our infidelities.  And they are above all stories about our relationship, our walk, with the God who continually creates, redeems, and sustains us, who loves us beyond all measure, who never ceases to call us into covenant, and who is faithful even when we are not.  They are stories that are both humbling and uplifting.  Stories that tell the truth about who we are and that give us hope because of whose we are.

This is the night, when our Lenten observance is ended, when we gather around the font, the water of baptism that binds us and makes us the church and we reaffirm our commitment to Christ, to the church, and to one another as we tell our story and remember who we are and whose we are.

And so we sing…

It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered your faithful people.

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,  and rose victorious from the grave.

How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.

How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.

Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this candle in your honor. May it shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning–he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen            (The Exultet BCP p. 286-287).