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An Easter sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens April 8, 2007, 11:00 a.m. at the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio,

Dedicated to Flo Swafford who died April 7th and has entered God’s eternal Kingdom. She was my friend and a witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ and always to the glory of God!
The Sacrament of Rising from the Dead
Part VIII of VIII in the sermon series, “The Sacraments of Life”
I Corinthians 15; Luke 24: 1-12

Today, we come to the end of the sermon series, “The Sacraments of Life.” Starting on Ash Wednesday, I opened this series with “The Sacrament of Listening,” then “Compassion,” “Grieving,” “Repentance,” “Coming Home” (or reconciliation), Rev Botts offered “The Sacrament of Touch” and finally last week, “The Sacrament of Giving Your Life.”

Throughout the series, we have sought to see the sacramental nature of the everyday. In the way we live our lives for God and one another, we see God’s love and grace. All of the sermons are online at our website - plus other sermons and speeches delivered in the last few months. They are also available in the information rack by the office. Soon they will appear in a booklet form all together. Today, “The Sacrament of Rising From the Dead.”

“If you think getting up for church is hard, trying Rising from the Dead!”

So read the poster from the “God is Still Speaking” ad campaign that I was carrying into the church last Spring. As I was walking toward the door, a teenager with a pierced lip, two pierced eye brows, and several pierces on his two ears, dressed in black from the boots on his feet to his hair on top, walked up. He was headed to class at CCAD. He had been walking down the 9th St. the sidewalk with an art portfolio under his arm and he caught a glance of the poster set in black and red with white lettering. He looked at me and smiled. He said, “that is awesome!” I responded, “What do you mean by ‘awesome?’” He said, “If my parents had said this to me on Sunday mornings, instead of yelling at me about the love of God, I would have gone to church.” Chalk one up for our “Still Speaking” Campaign!

Recognizing me as the pastor, he said, “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I answered. “Do you believe in the ‘Resurrection of Jesus Christ?’” he asked. I answered, “Yes. With all my heart, mind, and soul I believe Jesus Rose from the dead. If I didn’t believe, for me, Christianity would have no meaning and I would happily be a Jew.” He smiled and said, “Awesome!”

Then he asked if we could talk. No problem. So, we sat down and over the next quarter, I listened and watched as he shared his art, his thoughts, and his faith beliefs with me. I was blown away by this young artists’ depth and conviction. His spirituality and faith were grounded and rock solid. As we talked, it was as though something rose from the dead within his soul. He had appeared out of nowhere and spoken like an angel of the Lord at midday . Then he left, never to be seen by me again. It was a sacred moment and I was a witness to a resurrection from the dead.

When questioned by a young person concerning his convictions about the physical resurrection of Christ, an old liberal priest surprised me with his answer. I thought he would blow off the question as antiquated and irrelevant. After all, he was a follower of Bishop John Shelby Spong’s progressive theology. He surprised me when he said, “I have lived too long and seen too many resurrections in my lifetime to not believe that Jesus Christ was also raised from the dead.” And I say, “Awesome, too!”

Today, the tomb stands empty. Christ is Risen! Luke’s Gospel tells us what has been unleashed cannot be put back in the cave of death. Christ is loose in the world, we are told. While Luke is proclaiming the facts of Christ’s resurrection, Paul goes further in me Corinthians. Paul points out what the Resurrection proves. He says in 15:13ff, that the resurrection proves: truth is stronger than a falsehood; good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hatred, and life is stronger than death. In a world which seeks to limit our beliefs in truth, in good, in love and in life - all this doubts and darkness is blown away by the conviction of Christ’s rising from the dead.

Nevertheless, Paul realizes that Christ’s resurrection is also a mystery. “Behold,” Paul writes, “I will tell you a mystery. We will not all die but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet!” (I Corinthians 15:51). The sacrament of rising from the dead is mysterious as well as life giving.

While Luke tells the story of resurrection and Paul tells of its theological significance, John Updike brings the story of Christ’s resurrection to full form in his powerful poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” Lest we miss the power of Updike’s resurrection faith, listen to all seven stanzas:

Make no mistake, if He rose at all,
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that - pierced - died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair
opaque in the dawn light, robed with real linen
spun as on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
(“Seven Stanzas at Easter,” in Telephone Poles and Other Poems , John Updike, 1959, Alfred A. Knopf).

As it happened for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Peter, Luke, Paul, Timothy and John Updike, Christ’s resurrection needs to become personal and real for us, if we are to feel His Risen power in our lives.

But, how DO we feel “Risen” in Christ?

Perhaps Donald Hall can help us. In the attic of his grandfather, New Hampshire’s poet laureate, Donald Hall found a box among many boxes with short pieces of string. The box was simply marked: STRING TOO SHORT TO BE SAVED. Hall was astonished. In his off-guardedness, he was able to write a poem about the string too short to be saved.

“If you have ever felt like you were a string too short to be saved, you know what it is like to be risen. God has saved us all in a great attic. Nothing is ever lost to God. No one is ever lost to God.” (Donna Schaper in Calmly Plotting the Resurrection, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1995, p. 82). Not a single dead child in Iraq or the Sudan or the streets of Columbus. Not a single teenager wondering about rising from the dead, having faced the hardships of growing-up. Not a single man, woman or child battling HIV/AIDS or cancer. Not one refugee or immigrant seeking a homeland when home has become inhospitable or foreign. In God’s great attic not one of us is a string too short to be saved. We will feel that way many, many times in our lives. And God will still save us.

Look around you. We are in a box of string too short to be saved. Nevertheless, God has brought us together for that very purpose today. The Sacraments of Life are seated at your right hand and your left hand this morning. You are God’s sacraments of life. So listen to one another. Show compassion for one another. Hold one another in grieving. Repent with one another and thus, turn your lives around together. Come home to God in one another finding healing and reconciliation in this life. Reach out and touch one another. Lay down your lives for one another. Having done this with God and one another, you will find that your string, once considered “too short to be saved” has risen.

Today, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Copyright 2007, The First Congregational Church