The Sunday Sermon: Easter Sunday – April 21, 2019
Scripture: Luke 24:1-6
The Living Among the Dead
And to meet the proclamations that were just offered, listen for the Word of God. Read Luke 24:1-5a. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The living among the dead … That’s us! We’ve been dying all season long this Lent, as we do every year when we’re faithful. “The old was dying.” Just three days ago on Maundy Thursday, as we commemorated Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, and anticipated Jesus’ crucifixion, we died, too … to pride, greed, gluttony and lust, to envy, anger and sloth. We died so we might live resurrection life. You see …
In the fourth century, Desert Father and monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus is credited with drawing up a list of eight “offenses and wicked human passions.” In the late 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great reduced that list to seven items, folding four of the vices into two and adding one. He ranked the Sins’ seriousness based on the degree from which they “offended against love.”
We spent every Sunday in Lent exploring and explaining the depths of these “deaths” in our life so that we might die to them. And we did, a bit more each week, if only because we talked in depth about these “deadly sins” and became at least a bit more aware of how and why they get control of our lives and separate us from our love of self, the love of neighbor, and our love of God. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth.
We remained entombed on Friday and through Saturday, dying to our old selves. And on the third day – that’s today, Easter Sunday – we are among the living once again! We are the living among the dead. These “deaths,” this list of deadly vices remain in this world, I’m not naïve, we’re not fools. But these “deaths” no longer control us. We have a new “list” on this day, because of this day, all of us, whether you’ve been here every Sunday since Lent began, one or two, or none at all – all of us are Easter people. We have a new list and we must never again look for the living among the dead. Instead, we look for the living in this: Humility, generosity, gratitude, temperance, hope, faith, and love.
Life conquers our excessive confidence in our own abilities, a pride that interferes with our respect and reverence for others and our recognition of the grace of God in our lives. through Humility. Humility puts our relationship with God, with neighbors, and with self at center stage.
Life conquers our craving to acquire and possess that is never satisfied with “enough,” conquers our greed, through Generosity. Generosity is living life with open hands remembering we have nothing that we have not been given to us.
Life conquers our wish to possess what someone else has, our envy that further desires harm to anyone else who does have it, through Gratitude. Gratitude makes us focus on what we have, not on what we lack.
Life conquers our uncontrolled desire to consume more of anything than we need, our lust – be it physical, emotional, or even spiritual, through Temperance. Temperance insists we let go or our compulsion to consume by giving us a greater appreciation for what is before us.
Life conquers the anger that traps us in feelings and actions that keep us from acting with compassion and sympathy through our Faith. Faith is a trust in God and in our future. And with that faith in what will be, we lose the anger that anchors us to what has been or what is.
Life conquers our indifference, our apathy, and our boredom with what surrounds us, with what God has given us to enjoy and to care for, through Hope. Hope is not a wish for the future, but an expectation of it. And with hope, we begin to care deeply once again.
And Life conquers our uncontrolled attention to desires and passions that finds us trying to bend another’s or God’s will to do our bidding through Love. It is impossible to lust after someone, something, possessions or people if we truly love them.
This is a list for the living. We are the living. We must never look for the living among the dead again.
Our scripture reading from Luke continues: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how Jesus told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Remember how he taught us that we must die to what is old so the new may be born again. And in verse eight … they remembered his words, and they began to tell others. Do we? Will we?
The main issue in our reading this morning, and every Easter morning (every morning that’s not Easter morning, in fact!) is that we are given new life and we need to share it! We are witnesses. Witnesses not to a definitive Easter morning event – “it happened like this.” The Gospels don’t even agree on that. In Matthew, there is the drama of an earthquake and the stone rolling away to reveal an already empty tomb. In Mark, there is an empty tomb and an open, potentially unheeded, command to hurry up where Jesus has gone. In John, there is Mary Magdalene and her grief and yearning. In Luke, as we’ve just heard again this year, there are angels in dazzling clothes. Just to mention a few of the different details from each of those accounts! No we are witnesses to life. That is what each of the Gospels and every one of us has in common – resurrected life, the chance to live again, more fully and more faithfully.
We are just as guilty as those in Luke who came looking for the living among the dead. We, too, want to “tend the corpses of long gone days and long dead ideas.” We cling to former visions of ourselves and our churches as if they may come back to that life as long as we hold on to them. We grasp our loved ones too tightly, refusing to allow them to change, to become bigger, or smarter, or stronger – to grow – as if that will keep them closer. We seek comfort in acquisitions and purchases as if they will bring us joy. We choose to stay with what we know in our hearts to be “dead” because it feels safe, because it’s what we know, or what we “knew,” and because it’s what can be seen, and heard, and felt. One week from now, we’ll gather here again on Sunday morning and lament they the pews are not as full as they were on this day. I’ll be honest with you all this morning, I won’t care about that, myself. I’ll be more honest with you this morning and tell you I think it’ll be the loss of those who aren’t here, not those who are, next week! But in any and all cases, the point is we’re all here now, not looking for the living among the dead, but finding life among the living.
The old has died: pride, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The new has come: humility, generosity, gratitude, temperance, hope, faith, and love. We find the living and they are us … all … of us.
I’m done talking, that’s not why we’re here. Let’s sing some more. Will you please rise in body or Spirit and let us continue the song that is our to sing, “Christ is Alive!” And so are we.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / April 21, 2019