The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
April 1, 2018
All Saints’ Church
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today is a special day here at All Saints’ Church. Every Easter is a special occasion here, but this year, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of this parish. And in honor of our 150th year, we have decided that one lucky congregant will receive a…brand…new…car!
April fools! We live in New York City, so we don’t really need cars anyway. Plus, what we are here to do this morning is far more exciting. Easter is the principal feast of the Christian year, when we proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The tomb is empty, and Christ is risen from the dead. Love has rolled the stone away, just as love will banish any obstacle that stands between us and our God. This is no joke. This is the ground of faith, the knowledge of life, and the key to salvation.
So welcome, everyone, this happy Easter morning! In the name of Jesus, who welcomed everyone he met into his life, welcome, everyone. It does not matter who you are, where you’re from, what you believe. It does not matter if you go to church every Sunday, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve set foot in a house of worship, or if you belong to a faith tradition different from this one—or none at all. You are welcome here. It takes courage to come to church, especially if you’ve been hurt by others in the name of God. Your presence means the world—because you are a beloved child of God.
The preacher on Easter is always faced with an interesting task. Today is the central feast of the Christian year, so it seems we should be talking about the most important thing to Christianity. But what, precisely, is that? At the same time, I know it’s possible this is the only time many of you will attend a religious service this year—if ever. No judgment here. We all have our reasons for the choices we make—and please know what a joy it is to look out and see so many wonderful faces. Plus, one of the great joys of an Episcopal church is that we don’t deal in guilt. Of course we would love to see you again—and if you can’t come to All Saints’ Church, perhaps there is another community of faith out there waiting for you. But in any case, each year I feel a particular pressure on these fifteen or so minutes to share with you a word that springs from the depth of my heart.
Today, that word is this: that on this holy morning, the empty tomb where Jesus was laid declares along with heaven and earth and all that is in it, that love will always conquer fear, because God is love.
If you’ve been afraid lately, you’re not alone. Fear all around us right now. This climate of fear has descended upon us like a soupy fog. I think it started around the time of the election. The conditions were right for it, and events and people simply took their course. We got a taste for fear, and before we knew it, we decided we wanted to see just how much we could freak ourselves out. The fog rolled in, and now we’re sitting inside it.
I sense this pervasive fear in countless interactions. As a pastor, I am watching as people’s lights are dimmed by it, slowly, relentlessly. I am watching as the communities of which I am a part begin to sag under the weight of it. And this fear is most certainly a bigger burden to some than to others. Last week, the Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark shot eight times in the back in his grandmother’s back yard. America will never be a truly Christian country until people of color have the same luxury that white people enjoy of not being afraid of being shot by the state in their own home.
The fear is real. But we are also witnessing as others fight back, resolving to let their light shine all the more brightly in the darkness. Such was the tremendous display of hope and strength last weekend as our youth demonstrated all over the country, demanding a society free of random violence that has dominated their young lives.
Perhaps they know something the adults have forgotten: that love will always conquer fear, because God is love.
This message of love conquering fear may not sound like something you expect to hear in a church. And what a shame that is. The popular understanding of Christianity in America today is so warped and twisted that it’s difficult even to recover shreds of Jesus’ message of uncompromising love to all humanity revealed in the Gospel. To follow Jesus is NOT to adhere to a set of rules and norms. To follow Jesus is NOT to join a political tribe. And to follow Jesus is most definitely NOT to exclude any person from the circle of love that is a Christian community.
To follow Jesus, you must take seriously his commandment to love God and one another with all you have. You must join him in his acts of healing, justice, and compassion. And then you must follow him into the tomb, that darkest of places, where you will discover that fear has no power in the face of the unrelenting love with which God loves each and every one of us.
The power of love to conquer fear is one of the central Christian beliefs. We see this in the Gospel account of the resurrection we hear this morning. According to Mark, the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body were alarmed when they saw the stone rolled away. Upon witnessing this great miracle, they were seized by terror and amazement and left speechless out of fear. They knew this mighty act of love that raised Jesus from the dead was the hand of God at work in the world, and the power of this love was so great that they became afraid.
But this is not the end of the story. Because the Gospel is alive and moving. It lives within you and it works through you and your faith. For each of the countless tombs that enclose us in fear, there is a greater love rolling back the stone, setting us free to live again. We may be buried with Christ in his death, but it is only by passing through the tomb that we can also rise again with him in the newness of life.
Believe it or not, I am a naturally skeptical person. Perhaps that’s why God called me to be a priest—so that I could witness the victory of love over fear with my own eyes, time and time again; so that I could see the living Gospel at work in our midst.
I wish I could tell each and every one of you about the beauty I am privileged to witness on a daily basis in this community. I wish I could share the images stored in my brain of people from this church living out their faith through kindness, patience, compassion, and charity. I wish I could convey to you the thrill of seeing people here—youth and elders, powerful and dispossessed—stand up for justice and dignity among all people. I wish you had a glimpse of the fierce pride I have in our children and youth as I watch them navigate a harsh world with loving hearts. I wish I had the words to tell you how it feels to hold in my hands the very body of Christ, and then to place that body in your outstretched palms. These acts of love have been happening here for over 150 years. There is no way a community could live for a century and a half without believing in the power of love over fear. What more evidence could I need?
So, friends and neighbors, strangers and loved ones, let the joy of the resurrection ring out this morning. Love has rolled the stone away and set us free from every fear. Our anxieties no longer need have any power. Love, and they will disappear. Love, and you shall be free. Love, and you will know the love of the Most High.
So say it with me one more time: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!