Sermon
April 23, 2000 - Easter Sunday (9:00AM Service)
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Scripture Reading

Mark 16:1-8

1 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.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I

proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2

through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message

that I proclaimed to you -- unless you have come to believe in vain.

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had

received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4

and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance

with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,

most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to

James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he

appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called

an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of

God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the

contrary, I worked harder than any of them -- though it was not I, but the

grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we

proclaim and so you have come to believe. (NRSV)

Acts 10:34-42

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows

no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is

right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of

Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ -- he is Lord of all. 37 That message

spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John

announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and

with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed

by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did

both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a

tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41

not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who

ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to

preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as

judge of the living and the dead. (NRSV)

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Sermon: Easter Sunday, 2000 - April 23

It was Thursday night - the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service. The lights

were turned off - the room was bathed in darkness except for the small

candles carried by the choir who encircled the congregation. Jesus' last

words on the cross were read - and the choir blew out their candles. We sat

in total darkness. As I stood to lead the Lord's prayer I was imagining

the world without Jesus - I was lost in the emptiness. After what seemed an

eternity I was able to say the words - "Our Father" I began - My lone voice

broke the silence - pleading with God… "Please God, we can not live without

our anchor."

For me it was a defining moment. It signified depth of suffering that the

disciples must have known as they watched Jesus breathe his last breath and

it signified the immense joy that must have been experienced that first

Easter Morning. That is what we celebrate today -

This is the day! This is the day all of our faith hangs on - it is the

pivotal day in Christianity. Without this day, why we wouldn't be here,

that's for sure. It is a day that is supposed to be filled with joy and love

and anticipation and peace - yet it is much more complex than that - This is

the day that we must come face to face with our trust in the story. We are

asked to declare "I believe in the resurrection - Jesus Christ was raised

from the dead. I know this because I have experienced resurrection in my

life. "

It might seem for someone looking in from the outside that being a Christian

on Easter is easy- but I would challenge that and say - being a Christian is

never easy, but it is harder on Easter than on any other day… for Easter is

the day that we all receive the challenge of our lives - We are challenged to

"go and tell." We are sent out to take a great risk… to share our belief in

this hard to believe event with those we meet, those we care about, those we

don't really know - those who need help, those who are lost and … we are

challenged to take risks - for living in the world as a Christian is a risky

departure from the order the world offers to us. It demands that we follow

the radical dictate of the Gospel to love God and one another first and let

everything else in our lives reflect that. It demands that we claim to

believe in something the world tells us is impossible. We are asked to live

as though love is enough. We find that day after day, it is easy to shy away

from that task.

Just like the women in our gospel lesson, the women who went to the tomb "

fled for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to

anyone, for they were afraid. " We have been here, we know the truth of

God's great love, yet, we are tempted to go home hunt for eggs, eat, and

wonderful dinner and tomorrow-let life resume its usual course.

But the fact is, the reason we are here is that we want to live with a deep

sense of peace running through our veins - and that doesn't come cheap.

Being a Christian is hard work! Because it begins at the cross.

Remember what Peter said, " Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and

testify that he is the one ordained by God"

We are challenged to take a risk - a risk that will spread the news, that God

exists, that Jesus is risen and has promised to go before us, to meet us

where ever we are - That God will be with us and we know that in the

resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is a huge proclamation - can you see

yourself saying that to the teller at the bank when asked, "so how are you

today?"

Indeed your faith is contingent upon you claiming the challenge and then

taking the risk. We all live with doubt - and we all live with faith. The

are not opposites, rather they support each other… The sure way to use your

doubt to grow your faith is to take a risk. For it is through that risk that

you find yourself in the midst of the resurrection story. That is where you

find yourself moving through emptiness, to fear to joy. That is where you

find yourself able to claim the resurrection for yourself, to know that this

is all real.

7 years ago I stood in this pulpit on Easter Sunday and told you the story of

my cousin Mary, who lost her husband on Good Friday after only a few weeks of

marriage. His sudden and tragic death rocked our family. Mary grieved and

questioned and struggled with the pain that was suddenly thrust upon her.

Her family and her church community spent hours with her, modeling God's love

and helping her to open her heart to life once again.

Last year we celebrated Mary's re-marriage to a wonderful young man named

Matt - and on Friday she and her husband became the proud parents of little

Hallie Kathleen.

Sorrow, emptiness, doubt, risk, faith, love, and joy!

Mary can testify to the power of God's love - through her very life we see

her living out her faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a real and

vital part of her life - she lives it and others witness her faith. And

those who see it are drawn in and become connected.

For each of us the risks are different - for some of us it will be a

willingness to love once again for other it will be action - reaching out to

those in need - helping the helpless. For others of you the risk will be

opening your heart to God, finding out that you are precious in God's eyes.

For others the risks might involve loving one another - to reach out to

accept God's forgiveness or to offer forgiveness, to stand up and speak out

for wrongs that you see, speaking God's love to bring peace to a situation…

for another the greatest risk might be to honestly pray - or trusting that

God will be with you.

Those are the risks - what are the rewards? All of the things that we seek:

Love. Peace. Joy. Faith and Hope.

There is one more reward - when you live in the light of joy, faith, hope,

love, and peace you proclaim the gospel message by your life… God's promises

are real - Jesus lives and has gone before you -you know resurrection in

every sense of the word… You are never alone. Your life becomes a testament

to the power of God's Love…which is the most convincing of all statements…

and when your life proclaims the Gospel you will find yourself transported

from fear to fervor, a renewed sense of energy for your faith - It is a

natural part of your life to take even more risks - and proclaim even more

fervently that God is with us - that Jesus has gone before us to meet us on

the road of our lives…

It is this witness that draws others into the community of faith we call the

church. That community of faith is critical to our being able to live

faithfully. We need one another - for together we dispel the emptiness and

darkness which can threaten. Together we share our faith in the resurrection

- together we proclaim the gospel - out loud - for all of the world -

together we testify that Jesus Christ is risen, that Jesus Christ is the one

ordained by God, The truth of the Easter story and the reflection of our

faith rings in this church and in our community and in our world.

I knew that in an instant on Thursday night at the Tenebrae service … repeat

a bit of the story - "Our father" I pleaded - my lone voice broke the

silence - OUR - not my - OUR… the darkness threatened - the Easter dawn was

still ahead of us - were we alone in the world? No. As the voices swelled -

the gathered faithful praying those familiar words together - I knew. We are

not alone for we have Christ's love in each other - as a group of

faith-filled Christians we pledge to worship together - to work together and

to pray together - and to take the risk to proclaim together … thank God:

Jesus Christ is Risen, Alleluia and Amen.

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