Transcribed from the audio

In the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Do not be afraid. I know you have come to look for Jesus who was crucified. He’s not here. He’s been raised. Come and see. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, he’s not dead. He’s been raised.”

My brothers and sisters. That’s why we’re here. That’s why millions this evening gather to share in that earth-shaking history-changing truth. Death did not have the final word. He is alive. He’s been raised. But we gather tonight not just to hear the glorious history of our salvation, which was beautifully and gloriously told. We come not just to remember what happened about 2000 years ago. We come to claim it for ourselves, to embody it in our own lives. Beloved Harvard Preacher Peter Gomes said this, “That Easter is not just about Jesus. It’s about you and me. Jesus has already claimed his new life. This is our chance to claim ours.”

When we hear that story so many times, it almost becomes too familiar, doesn’t it? It can sound, you know, maybe ordinary. But there was nothing ordinary about Jesus living and dying and rising. It changed the course of human history. But how do we embody that? How do we live the power, the possibility and the potential of that reality?

I invite you for a few moments just to think in your own life of a time when God broke through to you: an earth shaking time when God was present and you knew it. Where were you? What were you doing? What did you feel? Were you fearful? Filled with great joy like the Marys? Were you thankful? Relieved? In awe? What was it for you? What’s it remained for you today?

I remember the first time in my life when I felt God break through. I was 16 and I, during my high school years, was the church organist—not because I was musically gifted. I was free—I was never confused why I was church organist. And it was my habit on Saturdays to go to the church to practice for the following day. It was also my habit to lock the two doors of the church, so I was in the church by myself. Unlike this cathedral that has lots of doors, there were only two: the one in the front and the one in the back. That was it.

It was a regular sort of Saturday. I was practicing away and then all of a sudden I knew I wasn’t alone. You know that feeling when you know, all of a sudden you’re not alone? There was a presence in that church that filled it. I screwed up my courage to look up from the keyboard and I saw a dazzling white light at the entrance of the church and it was slowly making its way up the center aisle toward me and I was terrified. I was frozen at the keyboard just watching this light make its way to me and it was getting closer and I had a split second to make a decision. I did not wait for an angel to drop into the scene and tell me not to be afraid that I am bringing you good news of great joy. Nope. This terrified 16 year-old ran out the back door as fast as her legs would carry her. I was terrified. As you might imagine, I’ve prayed and thought a lot about that ever since.

And why do I share that story? Because I can’t share things unless I know that they are true. And I know this: God is real and God is alive, even when we can’t necessarily feel it or see it. God is always with us, as near as our next breath. And on my good days, I try to live that and embody that reality. But I am flawed and I fail and I get fearful and fickle, maybe like some of you. How do we hang onto that life-changing reality that Jesus lives? Christ is alive.

I recently read an extraordinary story of embodiment that I want to share with you. It was written by Sam Wells, who is the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. A gifted preacher, he has preached from this pulpit on a number of occasions. A noted theologian. He wrote an article that in some ways is sort of self-confessional and maybe that’s what drew me to it.

The story goes like this. Sam had been on a BBC radio program in the morning that has 6,000,000 listeners or something like that and it’s one of those ministry moments with a theological underpinning. It’s short, but it gets a lot of people who listen. And he went back to the office and it was about midmorning and the phone rang and he picked it up and he heard this familiar voice say, “Sam.” And he couldn’t believe it because this was a parishioner of his that he hadn’t spoken to in 20 years, but he knew the voice. Let’s just call him Fred. Fred was a fireman and he was in Sam’s early ministry church. He was in Sam’s very first adult confirmation class and he was startled that Fred was calling and he said, “Is everyone in the family okay?” He assured them that they were and they were having a catch up for the next 15 minutes on what had transpired in Fred’s life in the intervening 20 years. And after about 15 minutes Sam said, “Well, you know, this has really been great, but I’ve got to go.” And he found a way to get off the phone. Lord, please help your clergy, please, to be half as faithful as the people in the pews. Pray for us. When he got off the phone, he went about being his busy and important self who had better things to do.

In about 10 minutes the phone rang again. It was Fred. He called back and he said, “Sam, I was so surprised to get you on the phone, I forgot the whole reason that I was calling. I called to make a confession. Sam said. “Well, I’m in that business, take your time.” And so Fred said, “You remember your first Easter at St. Luke’s? And Sam said, yeah, and he started to have these memories come back. He said, “Two weeks before Easter, you gave us three nails and you told us to hold them close daily and to bring the nails back on Easter so that we could understand and fully appreciate all that that meant: the three nails being the nails in Jesus’ hand and his feet at his crucifixion. And Sam started to remember and he’s thinking to himself, “Yeah, I used to do things like that. I wish I still did things like that.”

And Sam said, “And your confession?” Fred said, “I never brought the nails back.” And you can imagine Sam going, “That’s it?” And he said, “Go on.” He said, “Well, I knew what I needed to do with those nails. So the next day when I went to the firehouse, I pulled out my firefighter overalls and I sewed the nails into the pockets on the front of my overalls. The first nail, the largest, I named faith. The second one, that was a little rusted, I named courage. And the third is kind of twisted and almost broken, I named hope. And every day when the fire bell rang and I pulled those overalls on and went down the shute, I put my hand on my chest and I’d touch that first nail faith, and I’d say, ‘Stay close to me, I need you.’ And I’d move my hand to the courage nail and I’d say, ‘Lord, give me the strength to do what I need to do today.’ And I’d move my hand over to the nail of hope and say, ‘Lord, help me to live to see another day.’ And I did that for 20 years and that’s why I didn’t bring the nails back.”

Sam was speechless. He was in awe of the faithfulness of Fred. And he thought, you know, here I thought I was preaching the Gospel to the nation, 6,000,000 plus listeners. Fred showed me what it means to live resurrection every single day, and he preached the Gospel to me. In the Gospel is this, “…that Jesus donned the overalls of our flesh and, despite our being hard as nails, painstakingly sowed us into his heart so that we might be near him, be safe around him and dwell with him forever.”

My brothers and sisters, do not be afraid. He is risen. He is alive.  Go. Tell and change the world. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.

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