Easter C (17-04-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on April 17th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend public gatherings.   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

Resurrection is not an event that might happen in some remote future, but it is the power of the New Being to create life out of death,
here and now, today & tomorrow.”   (Paul Tillich)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

This day we shall let the hills embrace us, the trees comfort us, and the sun enlighten our minds. This day we shall let the sap rise within us and dance the music of the Cosmos.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

HYMN 370 – “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”(click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES  

L:  We live at mystery’s edge watching for a startling luminescence or a word to guide us.

R:  In fragile occurrence the Holy One presents oneself and we must pause.

L:  Daily, there are glimmers, reflections of a seamless mercy revealed in common intricacies.

R:  These circles of grace spill out around us and announce that we are part of this mystery.  

L:  Today we celebrate life over death. Today we celebrate the flame that lives again. We will light the fire.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS  (all together)

God of all life, we give thanks for the signs of your care and creativity that surround us and bless us.  Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

      Meditation  “A Poem for Easter”  by R. Preston Price.

Like a blade of grass pushing up stubbornly through the sidewalk.
Like the butterfly
  emerging from the tomb-like chrysalis. But much more.
Like the seed after years of dormant death sending up A sprout.
Like the brown bulb breaking forth from brown earth
   into brilliant colour.
But much more.
Like brilliant daybreak after a stormy, darkened night.
Like a rainbow mystically appearing amidst the rain.
But much more.
Like a patient making an unexpected,
   unpredicted turn for health.
Like the pine cone opening to spread seed
   only after touched by fiery death.  But much more.
Like a beautiful vase emerging from a lump of clay
   in the potter’s hands.
Like a hidden spring burbling forth
   in the middle of a barren desert. But much more.
So, it comes.  Nothing else like it.
No image adequate. No simile. No metaphor.
Unable to talk about it but inadequately,
We celebrate this great, real mystery that
Neither language nor imagination can encompass.  Easter!  

     Silence

Let us take a moment to settle into the silence.  In these brief moments of silence and meditation may we find strength.  May our lives be rich in affection, deep in understanding and sym-pathy for each other.  May the blessings of life be known to all.           (at least 30 seconds of silence)

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

L:  With the confidence born of Easter day, let us approach the throne of God’s grace. People of the church, why have we sometimes look for Jesus among the dead?

R:  Because the arrogant still flaunt their power and humble people are downtrodden, because the rich can pervert the course of justicE while the poor must settle for many injustices, and we become weary.

L:  People of the church, why do we sometimes look for Jesus among the dead?

R:  Because the world panders to the lusts of the flesh, while the spirit is ignored or suppressed, because science pretends to have all the answers while the Gospel is neglected or derided, and we become weary.

L: People of the church, why do we sometimes look for Jesus among the dead?

R:  Because death appears to be so permanent and our faith feels so weak and fitful, because greed and despair seem so powerful and our love and hope feel so fragile, and we become weary.

L:  People of the church, why in spite of this dark side do you still look for a living Christ?

R:  Because in some mysterious but sure way his mercy finds us in our wanderings, his grace has forgiven our many shortcomings, his Spirit refuses to give up on us, and something of his love flows through us to others.   

            (Time for silent prayer)

THE ASSURANCE

L: People of God, by grace you are indeed saved by a faith that is not your own making. It is a gift of God through the living Christ in the fellowship of the Spirit, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God, for Christ is risen. 

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURESIsaiah 65:17-25

17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

FROM THE GOSPELS  Luke 24:1-12

1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

HYMN 392 – “At the Dawning of Salvation”  (click here to listen)

FROM THE MYSTICS  “Speak to us of religion” by  Kahlil Gibran

And an old priest said, “Speak to us of religion.”

And the prophet said: Have I spoken this day of aught else? Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

Who can separate faith from actions,
or belief from occupations?
Who can spread their hours before themselves,
saying, “This for God and this for myself;
This for my soul, and this other for my body?”
All your hours are wings that beat through space
from self to self.
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.

Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight…
And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles. Rather look about you
and you shall see God playing with your children.
And look into space; you shall see God walking in the clouds,
with outstretched arms in the lightning and descending in rain.
You shall see God smiling in flowers, then rising with arms waving in the trees.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS    “The Stuff of Easter”

     Part 1

Easter is a great time for chocolate lovers, of which I certainly am one.  Now one may rail against the commercialism of Easter and the emphasis on Easter eggs over the message of new life, but I have to tell you: I get a great deal of new life out of chocolate bunnies.  

Often life’s loves are also related to one’s pet peeves, and my love of chocolate is no exception, because one of my pet peeves is hollow chocolate.  I can still remember the first time I received a big chocolate bunny.  My ecstasy at first sight was matched only by the disappointment I felt when I took a bite out of its ear, only to discover that it was hollow;  impressive to look at but, alas, no substance.  And much of the world is like that: impressive at first sight but, in fact, hollow,… without substance.

You will all have your own examples: things for which you’ve saved your money, projects on which you’ve devoted your time and energy, people to whom you’ve given much; but later, when you finally achieved your goal or purchased that for which you had scrimped and saved, or got to know people better, you discovered that they were not all that they were cracked up to be. 

The only thing that keeps us looking forward is the hope that all of life is not as hollow, trivial and superficial as many of our experiences have led us to expect.  Indeed, here is where memory serves us well, because along the road of routine disappointments, from time to time we have glimpsed, even if only momentarily, a better place.  To continue the chocolate analogy, I discovered  that all chocolate makers are not crooks on one Easter when I  received a solid chocolate airplane with a wingspan of almost a foot.  I think it lasted me about 6 months.  I knew then that there is a God 🙂

There is a way to check whether or not a piece of chocolate is solid or hollow before you buy it.  You will know from experience that hollow things sound different to solid things when you tap them.  (Demonstrate)  I won’t bore you with the physics of this difference, but wouldn’t it be nice if such a simple test could be applied to non-tangible things, e.g. ideas, beliefs, values, etc?   I’d love to be able to tap an idea and tell from the sound whether or not it had any substance to it.  With an election on the way, wouldn’t it be handy to be able to tap our politicians and their promises in order to discover if they have any real substance?

At this time of year, particularly in the media, someone will raise the issue of whether or not there is any substance to Easter.  How do we reply?  What can we say about the validity of Easter?  Of what stuff is it made?

Too often the church has defined the Easter event as Jesus’ return from the grave; as a tangible victory over death in bodily form, as an historical event in the physical world that, in some way, changed our destinies.  Whether or not events actually transpired as they are recorded in the gospels, it is nevertheless true that this kind of Easter is open to all kinds of attacks by sceptics, each with a very plausible alternative explanation of what happened.

The popular Christian version of the story would never hold up in a court of law; even the gospel writers cannot agree on what happened.  These stories are the equivalent of hollow Easter eggs.  Like hollow eggs, they look good, but tap on them and you will hear the vibrations resonate in the empty space inside.  So my task today is to identify the solid aspects of Easter; i.e. the real stuff of which it is made.

The very nature of Easter makes this a difficult task.  Easter is born in surprise, and I’m not talking about the surprise in opening a present and discovering one of the gifts for which you had hoped for Christmas.  No, that which defines Easter is a true surprise; i.e. that which had never even been imagined; a breaking into reality of something that had not even been part of someone’s wishful thinking; a totally new reality, so new that there were not even words to describe it.

This kind of surprise is not only difficult to convey in words, it is even difficult to conceive of.  In the philosophy of science we talk of paradigm shifts; that is, a change in the very way we think.  One’s paradigms are not available for discussion, for they provide the foundation by which we discuss anything, and so are outside the possibility of recognition and description, and outside of our control.  When a paradigm changes it is no less than a major development in the evolution of the human mind, and it is not of our conscious choice.  

     Part 2

Moral evolution provides good examples of the evolution of the human mind.  A few generations ago, there was no such thing as discrimination in the minds of the people.  Of course, there certainly was discrimination from our point of view, but not from theirs.  Not only did the word not exist, the moral concept did not exist; therefore, no one could be guilty of discriminating against another, because it was impossible – literally impossible – for anyone to conceive of it.  Different groups of people simply had different places in society.  This was the way God had intended it, and so no one gave a second thought.  In fact, no one gave it a first thought, for the thought did not exist.

At some point in time, an individual was given the insight to recognise this thing that we now call discrimination; perhaps just a sense that there was something amiss in his/her society.  Eventually that sense was given a name and the concept of discrimination was born.  Once it was named, the potential was created to recognise it and create a moral value around it, and so began a change to the paradigm that governed, up to that point, how people related to one another.  Prior to that insight, discrimination could not have been recognised and society was destined to continue on the same path.  After this insight, change became inevitable.

Easter is the breaking in of a new paradigm; a complete surprise, but once Easter stretched the human mind there was no way it could return to the old paradigm.  The essence of this new paradigm is that nothing is set in concrete; that at any moment, the accepted links between cause and effect, the obvious truths by which we guide our lives, even the dominance of death over our choices and our actions may be overturned by something new breaking into our existence.

Easter is not about the victory of life over death – this has been recognised by human beings since the beginning of time – rather,  it is about there being no barrier to God’s love and creativity.  It is about the possibility of goodness breaking into the world in a completely unsuspected and unpredictable way to change what humans had believed was an inevitable conclusion.

The real stuff of Easter is found in the surprise events in human lives; life-changing events that are not only unexpected, but completely unpredictable.  Those first disciples of Jesus obviously experienced such an event, from which their lives could not return unchanged.  They could not put it into words that would make sense to anyone who had not experienced it, so they created stories to convey it, one of which we heard today.

I don’t know what happened in the outer world, but in the inner world of experience, those disciples had their lives changed: grief became joy, fear and cowardice became  bold faith.  If we simply appropriate and re-tell their stories, making religious beliefs from them, and drawing conclusions from them to ward off our natural fear of death, then we have lost the Easter faith; we are just passing on hollow chocolate.  The real substance of Easter is living as though we believe that nothing is impossible where love is concerned; living without concern for our own well-being, living as though we believe that we are not trapped by the particular rules of cause and effect that our world applies to making its decisions, always open to surprise in the face of apparent impossibility.

The really ironic message of Easter is that it cannot be used as a once-for-all  model for the in-breaking of God into the future, for Easter is about the unexpected, the never-happened-before possibility.  Jesus’ resurrection, in the context of the gospels, has already happened once. In fact, stories of resurrection had been told before in ancient myths, so they leant themselves to the early Christians as a tool by which to convey their own inexplicable experience.

In the wide variety of crucifixions in our world: in the ethnic cleansing in Africa or Ukraine, in the oppression and subjugation of people in innumerable places in the world, in the hopeless poverty that is the lot of a significant portion of humanity, in the desecration of the environment that has sustained us, God brings the promise of resurrection through those in whom God is incarnated, who faithfully keep their gaze upon injustice and the pain, the oppression and all of the other life-sapping aspects of the human condition, and who respond in faith.

When an Easter event  happens again, it won’t be the same, because, if it was,  it wouldn’t be totally new. So the resurrection itself is not the Easter event; rather it is a story about the possibility for God to surprise.  We cannot know what God is going to do next, and that is where the real power of the story lies – the real stuff!  The future is completely, totally open, and cannot be put into anyone’s religious box of goodies.  No matter hopelessness of any given situation, Easter tells us that hope reigns.  Our task is to be open to it happening in and through us.

HYMN  382 – “Now the Green Blade Riseth”  (click here to listen)

WE CELEBRATE OUR FAITH

L:  Beckoning Christ, you call us out of the comfortable ghetto oF ‘us’ and ‘them’ to risk discipline without walls.

R: You call us into a world-wide fellowship where God is worshipped above all. 

Wn: You call us into a world-wide fellowship where prayer is offered day and night.

R: You call us into a world-wide fellowship where we can share what we are with others who love you.

Mn: You call us into a world-wide fellowship where each person has something to give to the whole.

R: You call us into a world-wide fellowship where compassion and respect shape missionary endeavour.

L: Keep on beckoning us out of our safe havens into your rich fellowship of challenge and reconciliation, faith and hope.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

L: Most loving God, we bring to you our concern and  compassion for those whose lives are subject to acute sorrow, evil or disease. For those who will face an untimely, sudden death, we pray: Victims of war, terrorism, murder, and the Easter carnage on our roads. Living Christ,

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: For those who are enduring a lingering death: from cancer or aids, kidney or heart disease, or because of inadequate hospital care and inadequate medicinal supplies.  Living Christ,

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: For those who care for the dying and the bereaved: family and friends,  nurses and doctors, pastors, counsellors, and funeral directors. Living Christ

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: For those who are confronted by blatant evil, we pray: peacemakers and arbitrators, UN workers, peace keepers, aid agencies and prison chaplains. Living Christ,

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: For those who must deal with more insidious evil, we pray: teachers and ministers, psychiatrists, censorship boards, mothers and magistrates. Living Christ,

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: For those who fight suffering, handicap and disease, we pray: hospitals and research facilities, ambulance staff, flying doctors, physiotherapists,  community nurses and  kindly neighbours. Living Christ,

R: comfort and redeem your people.

L: Great living Lord of love and joy, be also with each of us gathered here for this Easter service. You know our needs better than we do. You have answers that do not occur to us. Bless us we pray, that we may not get the answers we want, but the help that will lead to your greater glory. Through Jesus Christ our brother, who taught us to pray, “Our Father

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 380  “Yours Be the Glory”  (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L:  Where Christ walks,
R:  We will follow.
L:   Where Christ stumbles,
R:  We will stop.
L:  Where Christ cries,
R:  We will listen.
L:  Where Christ suffers,
R:  We will hurt.
L:  When Christ dies,
R:  We will bow our heads in sorrow.
L:  When Christ rises again in glory,
R:  We will share his endless joy.   

BENEDICTION

May God the star-maker cradle and circle you.
May God the storyteller beckon and encourage you.
May God the life-changer challenge you and cherish you.
May you walk in the light of God’s love and laughter
   all the moments of your nights and days. Amen!

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