Good morning and Happy Easter! On behalf of Bishop’s Eastman and Harris, our cathedral and diocesan clergy and staff, the Chapter and the 93 congregations and the over 45,000 faithful that define the Diocese of Washington in the District of Columbia, in the Counties of Prince Georges, Montgomery, Charles and Saint Mary’s in Maryland I welcome you to the Cathedral of Saint’s Peter and Paul, the Washington National Cathedral — one of the great cathedrals in the world.
The contemporary, secular thinking is that those of us gathered here this morning made our own conscious decision to spend Easter Sunday at Washington National Cathedral. And in fact such contemporary, secular thinking begs the question as to why such a conscious decision was made. Did we come to worship and experience the majestic beauty and architectural magnificence of this, the sixth largest cathedral in the world? Did we come to be exposed to and participate in the poetry, pageantry and drama of a great, traditional liturgy rooted in the Reformation and defined by the first English Prayer Book authored by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549? Did we come because we wanted our senses of sight, and sound magnified and amplified by gorgeous Easter flowers and a great choir that befit a great cathedral? Did we come with the hope of experiencing encouragement from the pulpit or the hoped for answering of prayers for healing, the repairing of broken relationships, guidance and forgiveness? Did we come because deep in our hearts we wanted to experience anew the loving, hopeful presence of the living God in our lives at this time; a time when war and terrorism continue to tear away at the very fabric of our Nation, the Middle East and the rest of the world? Did we come because we wanted to know more about this Jesus whose never-ending life we celebrate this morning?
Supposedly we have come for these and many others reasons too numerous to mention. Yet I believe that each of us is here not because we made the conscious decision to come but because God caused us to respond to His divine suggestion to be present this morning. This reflexive process is very much like the way in which I understand the process of prayer. I used to think that when I prayed whether it was for guidance, for my own needs, my wife, family, children, grand-children, the peace of the world, the church, healing and for God’s intervention in my life, I was actually initiating the conversation with God. I was doing the praying and God was doing the listening. But in truth, prayer doesn’t always work that way. God is usually the initiator of the conversation and the intention. And so when I find myself praying now I actually am responding to God who initiated the conversation, who is reminding me about those people, things, and issues that I need to remember in my prayer life. When I pray, I am really responding to God in a mystically unconscious and yet oftentimes conscious way. And my prayers our actually reflexive responses to God’s initiated conversation with me. Prayer is more often than not intimate conversations, initiated by God.
And if we are here this morning because God has called us to be here, why is this so? Because there are times in our lives when we need to reclaim the truth that in spite of all things past and present, and in spite of where each of us may be in our search for truth and God’s presence in our lives, or where we may be in our earthly journey, God is still in charge whether we like it or not. This is especially hard for those of us who live in and experience the pulse of everyday life in the District of Columbia where it seems as if everyone believes they are important and in charge of their own or the Nation’s destiny. If there are doubters to this perception, try driving in the District, especially during rush hour, or being caught in one of the many motor-cades that snake through the city on any given day.
And also today, we proclaim Jesus Christ as not just the tortured, scourged and beaten soul portrayed in the film, The Passion of the Christ but rather the living heart of the universe — the word made flesh, God’s son. And Easter proclaims that Jesus is no longer the prisoner of death but rather is very much present in the life of the Christian world and is with us through the gift of the Spirit this morning — in our prayers, in our hymns, our liturgy, and in the very soul and life of the person sitting next to you.
And yet even as we celebrate Easter we are reminded that in order to get to this day we had to first walk in the shadow of Good Friday and reconnect with the way of the Cross. And as Episcopal Christians we are reminded through the Book of Common Prayer of our intimate connection with Christ’s death on the cross and our rebirth at Easter. “We thank you Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
What does it mean to be followers of the resurrected Christ and what does it mean to follow the way of the cross as we focus on Easter, 2004? What does it mean to die in Christ and then to be reborn again?
If in fact we have been called by God to be present this morning in this cathedral to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ what is that we must do if we really want to be followers of the resurrected Christ? What must we do if we are to be Easter Christians?
First and foremost we must re-claim Easter as a celebration of life and God’s extravagant love for us. In the religiously diverse world that you and I live in, Easter Christians along with their Jewish and Islamic counterparts cannot claim violence, hatred, genocide, indiscriminant terrorism and death as articulations of God’s will. For the God of all three great religions is the same God and he is the God of unconditional love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
As Easter Christians, we are called to be followers of the resurrected Jesus and the way of the cross. But what does that mean to you and me as we live within the strife and conflict ridden existence of the 21st Century?
And who was the Easter Jesus besides being the Son of God? He was a great teacher, a gifted healer, a Jewish mystic, a great prophet set in the mold of Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah and also God’s son. As a classic prophet in the mold of the Old Testament he protested against the social, political and economic injustices of his day and called the religious and political institutional forces of his time to be responsive to the needs of the marginalized, the poor and the outcasts of society. The Easter Jesus public ministry was very short lived, with the synoptic Gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke telling us that it lasted for about one year, while John’s Gospel tells us it lasted for about three years. Jesus did a lot in a very short time. Think what you and I could do if we really put our minds to it with the time God has given us!
The Easter Jesus was executed because of his passion for people, for his confrontational politics and for his consistent calling for justice for those who were the disenfranchised, the poor and forgotten. Regrettably the Church has sanitized Jesus so that today we have forgotten how revolutionary and confrontational his teaching and preaching were to the Jewish authorities and the Roman government of his time. Easter is a time to reclaim the REAL Jesus. The question is does institutional Christian religion have the courage and the will to do so? So far the answer has been a tepid MAYBE?
To follow the Easter Jesus and the way of the cross means to also say yes when Jesus also challenged his followers to “pick up your cross and follow me.” To celebrate his victory over death on this Easter Sunday means that we must be willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ. And those footsteps are not necessarily the easiest to follow. And they are often deemed by many to be too controversial. But as we celebrate Easter this year, here are the broad challenges placed before us as we celebrate the risen Christ among us.
The Easter Jesus challenged the institutional Temple and religious authorities of his day. You and I are challenged by Easter to engage the contemporary denominations and religious institutions of our day so that above all they reveal the God of love and compassion and claim every person as a valued child of God. We must be vigilant in making sure that Christianity is not closed minded, exclusionary and judgmental. Today the institutional Christian church and its denominations are too often convulsed by this great challenge.
The Easter Jesus challenged the established secular form of government of his day. The phrases “Lord of Lords and King of Kings” were phrases used exclusively to identify Caesar on the coinage of the realm and yet they were applied to Jesus as a direct challenge to Caesar and the Roman government. Jesus challenged the politicians of his day to care for and value those who were the forgotten and the poor, the marginalized, those who had been discarded by the government as a burden. Jesus call to his disciples then and to us this Easter morning is to work for justice, and the elimination of poverty in our time. Jesus was untiring in reminding his followers and detractors that the “Kingdom of God” was more powerful than the kingdoms of the mortals. And the Kingdom of God was not something ethereal to be found in heaven but rather the earthly rule of God, far more powerful than the earthly rule of human kings and monarchs. The Kingdom of God is now!
The Easter Jesus challenges us to become a more a compassionate and caring people. We are challenged to ask the tough questions of ourselves, our religious institutions and our secular governments that continue to have authority and governance over us. We are asked to not only engage in works of charity, “helping person who have been victimized by poverty… but also to do justice by asking the questions about why so many are victimized by poverty.”
The Brazilian Roman Catholic Bishop Dom Helder Camara said: “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a Saint. When I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a Communist.”
This Easter we are once again confronted by a world that seems to have gone mad. We seek easy ways out by trying to find someone else to blame for what ails not only our nation but also the Global community. And on the one hand pundits will tell us there is plenty of blame to go around. And yet we must get beyond blaming and seek the truth in all things and recognize that the greater part of the equation is that we have too often placed our own wills beyond the discerned will of God — the same God who has called us today to worship together on this Easter Sunday. Easter is God’s reminder that even during these challenging times, He is still in charge. And that in Jesus’ resurrection, death, violence and corruption have no dominion over the human creation. But it is up to you and me to carry the cross for the Easter Jesus, not to Golgotha but so that someday soon it will truly be seen as a symbol of liberation and freedom rather than an implement of torture and death.
How strong are you? Are you able to carry the cross that Jesus carried? Or will you celebrate this Easter and then go back to work tomorrow morning and ask someone else to carry it?