April 4, 1999 - Easter Sunday
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 16:1-8 (read by lay-reader Janet Kamm) When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Revelation 21:1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away."

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (NRSV)

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I was so busy this morning that I didn’t get a chance to unwrap my Easter gifts. I saw them so think I know what’s waiting for me, but you can’t always tell about a gift from its wrapping.

In fact, I wrapped up a couple of gifts for this sermon. See if you can tell what they are:

A chocolate Easter bunny - that was too easy. Try this next one.

An old candy tin - and inside that a beat up matchbook without any matches. The perfect gift for me!

I know this doesn’t look like much, but for me these things are priceless. This old candy tin is from Schrafft’s, where my mother worked for over 40 years, and this beat up matchbook is one of a series sold in cigar stores in 1933 with pictures of football players on them. And this one has my father on it. Someone else might have thrown this stuff away as junk, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

And I would have never guess what a treasure it was from the wrapping.

One of the things you grow to appreciate in time is how many of life’s gifts come wrapped in unexpected ways. And this is certainly true to the gift we celebrate today, the gift of the risen Christ.

It wasn’t that long ago that we celebrated his birth. You remember how we read the Bible story: While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Now, instead of being wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, Jesus has been wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb: There was a good and righteous man named Joseph from the town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was placed.

The stage is set, and at early dawn on the first day of the week the women return and what do they find? An empty tomb! Well, not exactly empty, for the linen wrappings remained behind - The unexpected gift has been unwrapped.

And what was this gift? God gave the world a gift in Jesus Christ, and God gave Jesus Christ a gift in the resurrection. In both cases the gift was the same, and that gift was life. As scripture proclaims: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And today, to you and I, to everyone gathered here - God has given us this gift as well. We are alive, the gift is ours. We are not in a tomb; we are here; we are breathing, our hearts are beating, we are aware, we are alive! Let us not make the mistake of being dead to the treasure of our own life because it comes to us wrapped in ways we do not expect.

O wait, here is one last gift I forgot to unwrap. Can anyone guess what this is?

It’s a cassette tape. This is great; I really love music.

One of my favorites - Lou Reed - singer and writer, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I know this album - it’s called Magic and Loss and I don’t think it sold many copies. It’s a collection of reflections on very difficult themes: AIDS, Cancer, Radiation and Chemo therapy, funerals, good-byes that were not said, and all the elements of loss and grief.

This first song is entitled: What’s Good?. Reed sings about all the ways in which life seems odd and out of place when you lose someone you love, and asks: What good is all this - what good is life, what good are these thoughts?

In the end there is a dialog between Reed and a chorus:

"What’s good?" he asks, and the chorus sings back, "Life’s good."

Life’s good? he asks and they answer, Life’s good

and he ends the song: Life’s good - but not fair at all.

The basic unfairness with which life is often wrapped can disguise the treasure of the gift. And there is no denying the unfairness.

Two weeks ago we had our Spring Confirmation Retreat. One of the resources we used was a video tape with some comments by Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of: When Bad Things Happen to Good People and other books. On the tape Kushner says:

The time when my faith in God was most tested was when we learned that our son was going to die of an incurable disease. This isn’t the way the world was supposed to work.. Here was an innocent child and this wasn’t supposed to be happening to him.

I really had to question whether life was worthwhile….

Then he goes on: I had to affirm the worthwhile-ness of life because I was so outraged. I said to myself if life is meaningless why does it hurt so much to know that my child will die in adolescence? If life is meaningless, I ought to be able to dismiss this, to say, "Well, easy come, easy go." Because it hurt so much, for me that was the proof that life was worthwhile.

Life came wrapped in an unexpected way for the Kushners in the illness of their son. Yet it was life, nonetheless. And what a difference that gift of life has made - how much help and comfort has come to others through the writings and reflections of this faithful Rabbi - writing of loss and doubt, but ultimately of love and trust and affirmation of the gift of life.

When I was growing up we had a tape dispenser, of all things, which we bought in Pennsylvania Dutch country. On the side it said: Too soon old, too late smart. I think I’m beginning to know what that mean - and it’s not too late, I hope.

Sometimes the gift of life is hidden from us because it comes wrapped in ways we don’t expect. But sometimes it is obscured because it is wrapped in ways that are too familiar. Sometimes the surface tranquillity of life, the ease and domestic routine, leaves us content to never unwrap the gift and find the deeper meaning and true worth.

Some of you may be quite familiar with the Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town". It’s a play set in the town cemetery of Grover's Corners, and most of the play is dialogue between the occupants of the various graves, with some commentary by a stage manager.

One of the characters, Emily, who has been dead for fourteen years, wants to return home to relive her twelfth birthday. She remembers it as a happy occasion, but, as Mrs. Gibbs, a companion in the cemetery predicts, this return is disastrous. For death has made Emily acutely aware of the preciousness and brevity of life.

As she views herself in the kitchen with her mother, it’s just another typical day. But Emily now finds the chatter and the taking for grated of life simply unbearable; she breaks down in tears and begs the stage manager to return her to her grave.

She says: "I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back - up the hill - to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by world. Good bye Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good bye to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths.. and sleeping and waking up. Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Too soon old; too late smart. But the antidote for that is: "Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom."

Well, I’d better wrap this up. We all have a lot to do today - we’ve got to get in about 60,000 heart beats before the day is out and Lord knows how many important decisions to make - should I give someone the gift of a smile? Is there some way to be a more loving, forgiving person today? Can I make someone happy? Are there opportunities to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my Lord?

Today we are alive! The gift that God gave Jesus in resurrection God gives to us right now. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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