Sunday’s sermon, from Revelation 1:4-8
Today is the second Sunday of Easter. The last of the leftover pot roast, deviled eggs and potato salad are gone; the Cadbury mini eggs have left us, not to appear again until next year, and family members who came to visit have gone back to their homes and their own lives.
The stone was rolled away, the tomb is empty and Christ is alive!
Even so, life goes on, and God’s people gather together on this day, longing for a word of hope. In a world of escalating violence and terror, in a nation riddled with hate crimes, riots, protests, gun and gang violence, in a time when growing threats to health and wellness seem to edge out advances in modern medicine, we need a word of hope.
These and other kinds of worries, concerns that weigh us down (whether health problems, or financial concerns, losing loved ones, losing independence, losing abilities we once had, even losing the security and stability of life as it once used to be back in the good old days – each of these are things that sometimes get in the way of our ability to feel the triumph of Easter, and the hope of the empty tomb.
We are reminded every day that the promises of Easter are still to come true.
Thankfully, John, through his revelation from Christ has a hopeful word for us today. He writes to the seven churches in Asia living under the shadow of the Roman empire; and his writing is a beautiful, poetic, prophetic word of rich comfort for God’s people and deep praise of God’s love and grace.
The Revelation of John is exactly that: a revelation. Something that God has shown him, that John has to try and make sense of. John’s Revelation is an imaginative retelling, a rich interpretation with images and word pictures, of the message John received from God and tries to put it into words for readers who need to hear a word of hope.
John’s intended audience of persecuted Christians needs to hear this hope very much, to know God’s love for them in the midst of their fear, anxiety and despair. He does this by reminding them that the ultimate source of power and strength in the world is God, the Almighty who is and who was and who is to come. John reminds them that the God who had been with them in the past would certainly not leave them now, or in the future.
Hope expands in Jesus, who has triumphed over death and made it possible for his followers to live in new life, both in the present and beyond.
The hope of the resurrection is the central hope of John’s message. And the hope of resurrection is this: Christ freed us from sin through his death on the cross, Christ calls us to be priests in his kingdom, and Christ will come again.
To be a priest in the kingdom of God is to be the servant of others. To show the world the love of Christ through our actions and our lives; serving as mediators between God and humanity. That was the task of the early church, and it is our task today.
John’s words of assurance to persecuted Christians of the early church, the first hearers of this revelation, are words of assurance and hope for us today that powerfully speak to the world’s situation today. Our response to this word from God to us is to help people understand that even in today’s world, God reigns supreme.
Let’s take a closer look at this first part of John’s writing. It begins with lofty descriptions of Christ and who Christ is and what he has done, and also includes a doxology – a hymn of praise to God.
Let’s think of it as a word to all the churches all over the globe who are in Christ, from God who is, who was and who is to come.
The God of Creation, and the God of the Exodus,
The God of Exile and the God of redemption,
The God of prophecy and the God of fulfillment,
The God of the crucifixion and the God of the resurrection,
The God of history, of present time, and of future glory;
And from Jesus, who gave witness to God’s story of love all the way to the cross and then became the living, breathing power over death,
Grace and peace be yours.
Glory to God. Though the days are evil, the time is near when God will crush evil and emerge triumphant. Your trials will only be a little longer, so keep persevering.
As we wait for God’s ultimate victory over evil, we can take hope and encouragement from this:
Jesus has freed us, Jesus makes us part of his kingdom (graciously inviting us to serve right beside him), and Jesus will come again.
Every day, when you see God at work in ordinary, unremarkable moments in your life, give God glory and honor for each of those moments, for they are holy reminders of God’s love for you.
And one day, someday soon, Christ will return. Everyone will know him, and recognize him; even those who rejected him will know him and weep for what they have done.
The people of the earth will surround him as his glory and majesty envelop the earth and the skies, worshipping him in an eternal hallelujah that will echo and reverberate throughout eternity until the very end of time.
John’s words to the churches of ancient time are the words of God for us today. We put our hope in a God we can trust; full of expectation for the future that God has crafted. We put our hope in God who is unchangeable from past, to present, to future; and God’s triumph is not finished yet.
The work of Easter will not be complete until Christ returns and death is swallowed up forever, suffering is squashed, and everything is made right. We do, however carry the message of Easter with us, as Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Eastertide is not the fulfillment of God’s promises; nor does Easter mean the end of suffering. Rather, the meaning of Easter is a retelling of a beautiful story; a saving love, a redeeming grace that sustains us in our suffering, swells with us in our joy, and carries us from everyday trials and deaths into the eternal life of God’s unfailing love.
Today, on the second Sunday of the Easter season, we add to the Easter greeting, with joy, that not only is Christ risen indeed, but God loves us, and though we know that we live in a broken world, God has freed us from our sin, and God will come back one day to finish the glorious work of Easter.
Until that day to come, we live in the day that is; cradling memories of what have been in one hand and hopes for what is to come in the other, lifting both up to God in an act of worship as we proclaim the Easter message, that we are loved by a wonderful, merciful savior and that God who was in the past is the same today and will always be the same, forever.
Being faithful as Easter people,people who live in this holy tension between past and future; being faithful as those called to walk the path of past deliverances, current sufferings and future hope means reflecting with our lives the God who is in charge and the kingdom that is to be.
We reflect the kingdom to be when we tell our stories; weaving the God of our past into the God of our present, trusting this God to remain as faithful in time to come as he was in the past and as he will be again, forever.
We reflect the kingdom to be when act as the priests John tells us we are called to be, in Revelation 1:6. Whether through a deacon ministry, or Church at Home; Care Partners, or WMU; or worship setup and takedown; whether helping with transportation, or visiting the homebound, or attending Bible study or writing cards, we reflect the kingdom to be when we become servants of one another.
And, on days like today, when we look back with special remembrance on the love of God for us, and the gift of Christ to us, we reflect the kingdom to be when we share in the Eucharist.
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek eukharistia, which means thanksgiving.
The first Eucharist I ever participated in was the mischievous result of two missionary kids with nothing better to do than to hold a revival in the guest bathroom of our home. Years of theological study (namely being forced to take notes during our dad’s sermons and share them with our parents at Sunday lunch) had prepared us for this moment: this culmination of theological curiosity and prowess, a big tent meeting under the canopy of a bathroom ceiling peppered with glow-in-the-dark stars.
We gathered together for the worship of God, the bathtub marking the front of our makeshift sanctuary. Fuzzy Bear and Teddy, Froggy and Mouse, Puffalump, and Gloworm were among our members in attendance. I was the song leader, and my sister, Jojo was the preacher.
We lifted our praise in glad adoration, we spoke our prayers in quiet solemnity.
Jojo preached a wonderful sermon.
I don’t remember her message, but I remember the passion of her delivery – resplendent with power, saturated with truth, dripping with evangelistic swag as her passionate voice traveled a sea of dynamic delivery: her volume reaching thunderous heights and then trailing off into valley-like whispers.
Our dad would be so proud!
She concluded with a poignant invitation, and as she offered it, she turned to the front of the “baptistery” and turned on the faucet. As the water flowed freely forth, I invited the congregation to “please come, won’t you come, as we stand and sing this song of invitation.” And just as we got to about verse 3 of “Just As I Am”, Bama, our dog came forward.
We sang the remaining verses while Jojo further encouraged any in the congregation to come and “join this soul who has come,” and then we baptized Bama. We dried her off and then we said the prayer for communion. Never before had saltines and grape juice been handled with such reverence and care. We celebrated as a community: stuffed animals and live, humans and dog giving thanks to God for love, life, and grace.
Little did I know that even then, in that makeshift sanctuary amidst elements that bore a deeper liturgical meaning than my young heart could fully grasp at the time, God was planting seeds of thanksgiving in my heart that would one day grow into a call to bring Christ’s joy to the world around me.
And in God’s infinite grace, we, too, as the gathered people of God on this day share in the same responsibility to bring Christ’s joy to the world around us, one Eucharist at a time.
Eucharist. Joyful thanksgiving amidst somber reminders of life’s fragility and the meaning of love.
Eucharist. A celebration of God with us.
Eucharist. Holy moments in ordinary time; a deep and abiding grace.
Eucharist. A thankful act of worship and remembrance, when the people of God lift prayers and praises; and hearts and voices in fragrant offerings to heaven that echo and reverberate eternal hallelujahs that will live on forever until the end of time.
Thanks to be to God for the eternal hallelujah.