Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's (Always) Morning in the Church

Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on Holy Cross Day, the patronal feast of St. Simon Cyrene, September 14, 2008: Mark 15:15-25. We baptized five children this morning!

Two things are identified in the New Testament as having occurred at nine o’clock in the morning. We just heard one:

They nailed him up at nine o’clock in the morning.[1]

What’s the other?

It is when the Holy Spirit falls upon the followers of Jesus at Pentecost and the Church is born (Acts 2).

These two great events, with the Resurrection between them, are what we are about today as we baptize. Without them there would be no Christian faith into which to baptize anybody.

These great events all take place in the morning—two at “nine o’clock in the morning” and the Resurrection, early in the morning “on the third day.”

And so I submit to you today that it is always morning in the church.

It is clearly morning in these five young lives before us today. That’s easy enough to see. Their lives are fresh and full of promise. They delight our hearts (most of the time) as children do.

In some ways we are ruining this freshness today—figuratively drowning them, signing them with an instrument of torture and oppression and laying claim on their lives to a loyalty that is a higher loyalty than even to their families. It’s no wonder a lot of our fellow Christians wait until somebody can actually choose to do this stuff.

Especially in the case of these three infants, it seems like we are celebrating the joy of birth, and we are. But it is an odd celebration, with a hint of death in the air.

Now I suppose in some ways that is simply calling us to be realistic even before we can be conscious of being realistic, that this is what our life is. All life is lived with a hint of death in the air, like it or not. Each of these children will have to get used to that, and, parents, one of the hardest things you’ll have to do is get them used to that reality. And it won’t do them any good at all if you don’t help them do that.

But you have something else to tell them, something so strange that they won’t believe it at first. Some of us have trouble believing it even now. And that something is that despite the fact that death is ever present in this life, and the Church makes us be real about that, it is always morning in the Church.

It is always morning in the Church.

Despite the fact that we live under the cross, which we try to make as pretty as possible but we can’t stop it being what it is—not a pretty thing, it is always morning in the Church.

Despite the fact that there are so many tombs in the course of our lives at which we must weep, it is always morning in the Church.

Despite the fact that we are called into this sometimes wonderful and sometimes maddening body we call the Church, where we are forced to rub up against people with whom we would never dream of making friends outside of these walls, and Jesus tells us that they are the most important people in our lives, no matter what, it is always morning in the Church.

It is always morning in the Church because we are the people for whom Jesus died and with whom Jesus dies, and so there is nothing we cannot face with him among us.

It is always morning in the Church because we are the people who come to weep and mourn and find instead an empty tomb and are offered new life time and time again, whether we deserve it or not, whether we want it or not, or whether we believe it or not. We are God’s people, that’s the bottom line truth and nothing is going to get in the way of God giving his people new life.

It is always morning in the Church because despite all of its flaws, and the flaws of all of us who make it up, this Body is the place where the Holy Spirit keeps showing up, every time as a gift, every time as a promise and every time as the truth that will set us free.

It is always morning in the Church.

Oh Church, what an amazing thing we are doing here this morning. If you think about it even just a little, if you allow yourself to smell the hint of death in the air, and if you hear the words of raw hope that we say in spite of it, it will take your breath away.

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

How dare we say such a thing? How dare we say such a thing when although we pray that there will be joy and abundance ahead in life for these children we also know in all honesty there will be doubts and fears, frustrations and screw ups, pain and turmoil and, yes, eventually, death. How dare we say such a thing?
We dare because Jesus has died, Jesus is risen and Jesus comes again whenever we are gathered together, and it is always morning in the Church.

Whatever comes, may these children always be children of the morning. Let us give them that gift now even as we renew it in ourselves.

Church what time is it always when we are together? It is nine o’clock in the morning.

[1] Translation of The Message copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

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