Saturday, March 29, 2008

Resurrection: the Place of Delight & Hope

Sermon preached on Easter Day: Jeremiah 31:1-6, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 28:1-10

The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness. Jeremiah 31:2

I truly understand that God shows no partiality. Acts 10:34

Do not be afraid…go to Galilee; there [you] will see me. Matthew 28:10

In my office on the shelf above my desk is a picture of a young boy playing a drum. His name is Dickson and he is a boy I met in Uganda when I was there several years ago.

Dickson is an AIDS orphan. He had been taken in by the family with whom I was staying, a common occurrence in that culture. He was a grim little boy and my heart went out to him. He slept at night in the same room with two young men who were roomers with the family. He had an old blanket worn thin and slept on a couple layers of cardboard for “comfort.”

I wanted to do something for him. Call it liberal guilt, but nevertheless I wanted to do some small thing to make his life better. I was somewhat taken aback when the man of the household with whom I was staying suggested I buy him a drum. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer. So I bought Dickson a drum.

When I presented it to him there was an amazing transformation. He smiled for the first time; beamed really. And he immediately took that drum and started playing with incredible skill. He was clearly in his element. The playing went on for over an hour. When it was time for bed that evening and I stopped in to say good night to the young men, Dickson was already asleep, clutching his drum.

I later found out that what I had done was given Dickson a piece of home. His father was a drummer in his village and he had begun to pass the art on to his son before he died.

Dickson’s transformation and his “homecoming” are what I would call an experience of the resurrection. It was an experience of delight and hope in an otherwise dreary world.

The message that Jesus gives the women who have come to the tomb is not simply to tell the other disciples that he was alive. No, there are specific instructions to go to Galilee and there they will see him.

Galilee. It is an important detail. Galilee was home for the disciples and home for Jesus, and it was the place of the bulk of Jesus’ ministry. Life had not been the same since they had left there to go to Jerusalem, a journey that had resulted in Jesus’ downfall and death. Galilee was home: the place of delight and hope.

Galilee was also, as a region, mixed territory. There were significant Jewish settlements there, but also significant Gentile ones, including large, relatively new, Roman cities. It was, in many ways, “mongrel” territory, where most Jewish purists would never live because it meant constantly rubbing elbows with foreigners, which in turn meant constantly being at risk of being made ritually unclean.

It was not what had him killed per se, but it hadn’t helped Jesus’ cause in Jerusalem that he came from Galilee. It was sort of like the feeling I get from some Rochesterians when I say I grew up in Steuben County. “Oh,” or “Oh! they say. Now to be truthful, folks in Steuben County can have the same reaction to “city folk,” defined as anyone who lives north of the Thruway, that great cultural divide in our part of the world.

Nevertheless, my main point is that Jesus was telling his disciples to go back home, to the place of their delight and hope. There they would experience resurrection for themselves. Going back to Galilee also meant going back to mixed territory, from which the disciples would receive their mission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), something we are about to do this morning, baptizing our sister Deb Costich.

Our other readings have different ways of describing this home. Sometimes home is in a surprising place, where you do not expect to find it. Peter experiences this reality when he finds God busily at work in a non-Jewish household, that of Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army. It causes him to say a very non-Jewish thing, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” For God, Galilee is normative; home is the place of delight and hope for all people.

In the reading from the prophet Jeremiah this morning home is in a place which seems the exact opposite of home. “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.” Jeremiah is speaking of those who had been driven into exile from their homeland. “The wilderness” was a foreign place: Babylon. The people of Israel were being asked to find their home in a place where they were literally captives, find their place of delight and hope in a place that otherwise was a place of hardship and despair.

This says to me that home is actually wherever we find ourselves to be, sometimes in the place we naturally call “home,” sometimes in a surprising new place, sometimes in a place that seems to be the exact opposite of home. That means we can experience the resurrection anywhere and at anytime. Resurrection is the capacity to experience delight and hope—home—wherever and whenever we are.

That is the faith we are passing on to Deb Costich this morning. We are literally creating home for her, in this place and among us in particular, and in the wider Christian family in general. We are saying join us in the place of delight and hope, join us in the experience of resurrection.

That is the message we are called to proclaim in word and deed no matter where we are or “when” we are. Sometimes that proclamation is in very mundane things like a drum to tap into long smothered delight, things that are not entirely practical, yet unlock the human spirit.

Sometimes that proclamation is to those in a place that seems to be “anti-home,” the place of illness or loss or despair. Often when we are in those places we cannot find this sense of delight and hope ourselves; it is beyond our grasp. That is when we as a community are called to offer that place, the place of encouragement and acceptance in spite of everything.

Sometimes that proclamation is to be the place of return, to simply be that place of “ok-ness,” a place of grounding, where sense can be made of a nonsensical world, more traditionally what we think of as “home.”

Whatever the reality, we are to proclaim resurrection—the experience of home, of delight and hope, where no one has to be afraid, where purity doesn’t matter anymore, and grace can be found even in the wilderness.

Let this Easter Day be this proclamation; let us all hear the voice of Jesus say, “Do not be afraid. Go to Galilee; go home; go to the place of your delight and hope. There you will see me.”

And don’t forget to take your drum with you.

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