Sermon
Easter Sunday, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 16:1-8

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.” 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.

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Sermon: TGIS

It was Sunday morning long ago and Mary Magdalene was worried - “Who will roll away the stone for me?” she thought as she approached the garden when he was laid to rest. So much had transpired that spoke of new life and hope - his teaching, his healing, his powerful presence and gentle personality. But it was all over, all destroyed. This stone was just the last in a series of insults and defeats; the crunching thud of it rolling in place to cover the grave like an exclamation point to the hopelessness they all felt when they saw him breath his last on the cross.

It is Sunday morning 2003, a different time and a different place, and a modern Mary wakes and worries about a different sort of stone, a stone of the daily grind that weighs her heart down with fear and anxiety - a stone of despair that threatens to drain the life out of her and make her roll over and refuse to face the day.

But - thank God it’s Sunday, and on this day our modern Mary gets out of bed and makes her way to the one place where she will hear how in the darkest moments of another Mary’s life, God made a way, God opened the door, God rescued the oppressed, God redeemed the day, God put the exclamation point on the victory of life, the triumph of goodness, the conquest of hope.

Our modern Mary is lives in a scientific, technological age, but still needs that Sweet Hour of Prayer, needs that Sabbath time that God made holy in the creation of the heavens and the earth, needs that early morning time that God sanctified for the healing of the world in Jesus Christ:

Sweet Hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care;

Sweet hour that calls me to the place where God my savior shows his face;

Sweet hour whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless

What joy we feel, what bliss we share, sweet hour of prayer.

Thank God it’s Sunday.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, although not a Christian, speaks of the Sabbath in terms that ring true to the Easter proclamation. He writes: When all work is brought to a standstill and the whole world becomes a place of rest, an hour arrives like a guide and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts. People assemble to welcome the wonder of the sacred day, while the Sabbath sends out it’s presence over the streets, into our homes, into our hearts. It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.

Abraham Heschel was a great Rabbi, and there are two critical insights in that single paragraph - that the sabbath raises our minds about accustomed thought and that the sabbath is a moment of resurrection - resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.

The dormant spirit in our souls - What does the good Rabbi mean by that? Is there something within from which we are now separated, a treasure that is hidden, a seed that is waiting to grow - something buried, something entombed behind a stone? Is there so much coming from outside - from other people, books, newspapers, mail, media, movies, so much external noise that we are completely distracted from the quiet urgings of our own souls?

I never realized how loud the traffic on the Green was until we tried to have an outdoor worship service and walk on Good Friday. You could barely hear what the speakers were saying let alone hear the murmur of a quiet inner voice. There was a constant dull roar of traffic and then the truck engines and the cars with the super sound systems. I’m not sure if you had a resurrection of the dormant spirit in your soul that you’d be able to recognize it in that environment. Can you imagine Elijah on the mountain waiting for the still, small voice of God and having an ATV pull up with it’s sub-woofers pounding - boom, ta ta, boom, ta ta, boom.

Whole books of the bible would be missing!

The Rabbi also said that the Sabbath raises our minds above accustomed thoughts. Why is this crucial? It is because we need to escape accustomed thoughts, to avoid the messy details of life. I don’t think it’s about escaping or avoiding, but it’s about taking the time to assess and understand the meaning and significance of all the things that make up our life - it’s about finding a place from which to put things in their proper perspective.

We all know how our perspective can be shaken by bad news. After 9/11 we experienced together a national reassessment of our assumptions and priorities. That was bad news at work. Easter Sunday and every Sunday brings a proclamation of good news - Good News far more powerful, far more prophetic, far more truthful than any bad news of war, disease, crime, or terror. This Good News shakes us up but does not bring us down - it lifts us to higher ground and puts everything else in its proper place.

Allowing a moment to let our minds rise above accustomed thoughts, allowing a sacred day to bring forth a resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls - these are the graces we are being offered in the gift of the Sabbath - thank God it’s Sunday.

A few months back, March 2nd to be exact, the New York Times Sunday magazine had an article entitled “Bring Back the Sabbath” - why even the most secular need a ritualized day of rest. The author described the Sabbath as the one day in seven dedicated to rest by divine command - and as the one holiday Americans are most likely never to take.

This is a revolutionary reversal, she reminds us, from the way it once was. The quiet Sunday, even the boring Sunday, has been replaced by the overscheduled Sunday - soccer Sunday, Little League Sunday, yoga-class Sunday, catch up around the house Sunday. She writes: Americans still go to church, of course, but only in between chores, sporting events and shopping expeditions. You can now find A.T.M. machines inside megachurches; congregants don’t have to waste a minute between services and the mall.

Obviously, the author says, we know we’re out of whack with work. What we don’t realize is that to stop working is a complicated undertaking. The New England Puritans and Orthodox Jews set up many rituals around extensive preparation for the Sabbath. These rules were “meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”

The word “striving” in that paragraph really caught my attention. It brought to mind an old hymn: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind by John Greenleaf Whittier. Listen to the words of the third and fourth verses:

O Sabbath rest by Galilee! O calm of hills above, where Jesus knelt to share with thee, the silence of eternity, interpreted by love

Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.

Now what would a Sabbath rest like that do for you - I bet you’d be the first to say, Thank God it’s Sunday!

The remembrance of creation and resurrection combine to shape the Sabbath for the Christian. In gathering for worship we recreate the walk of the women to the tomb and renew each Sunday morning the discovery that he is not here, he is risen! And each Sunday reminds us that it was not for his own sake that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and raised up in power - it was for the sake of the world. This is the understanding that raises our thoughts to a place where we can comprehend the ordinary things of this life. This is the insight that puts us in touch with the dormant spirit deep within - the spirit that gives us strength and power to persevere. This is the wisdom that interprets time and eternity in love and brings us peace. This is Good News. Thank God it’s Sunday, Easter Sunday, once again.

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