Easter Sermon 2017

Stand, Listen, Celebrate. We enter this wonderful day of celebration witnessing anew the Resurrection account in the Gospel with standing and hearing. This day as with all Feast days is a call to celebrate. Our celebrations have all the components of what we spoke about during Holy Week; of bearing witness as God’s people, of participating as God’s people, and as remembering as God’s people. I recall a number of years ago as a Curate in my first Parish where a member asked our Vicar why we celebrated Easter with worship when it was a family holiday. In other words, they asked if the worship services could be set aside to allow people to get together with their families. True celebration or feasting for God’s people involves WORSHIP and FELLOWSHIP, or the gathering of people to feast and enjoy each other’s company in Christ. When worship and fellowship are separated, especially on High Holy Feast days, it is not a complete celebration. It is only partial and therefore lacking. This morning, let us meditate upon proper celebration as God’s children.

Seeking by God’s Grace

          The key I would like to hone our focus on today to appreciate Christian celebration is through the lens of our Epistle, specifically verses 1-2. The first area of proper celebration is as we prayed in the Collect prayer that God’s special grace preceding us would help us to seek the things that are above. The prelude to this call is “If then you have been raised with Christ” as verse 1 states.

          Seeking the things that are above in celebration begins with worship. Worship entails every moment of our lives. Our very lives as God’s redeemed children are acts of worship. On Celebration days such as Easter, our worship is honed as one in Christ to gather to participate in the benefits He has given through His Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

          In worship, we do as Psalm 113:1 related, “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!” Later in verse 3, we see the idea that our very lives where ever we are at all times are to be acts of worship, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” Seeking implies activity. Whether we are at work, at play, at school, and everywhere in between; we are to be seeking those things above. This means as Jesus spoke in the Gospels of seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We seek not ways to muster up a self-made righteousness in the hope God will notice. We seek Christ’s righteousness, which is our only hope for life eternal.

          Worship and fellowship are connected. This was true for the Hebrews of old in terms of their Feast Days and it is true for Christians. We commune around the Lord’s Table in worship with reverence and awe. This then connects to gathering around the table later in fellowship to feast as brothers and sisters in Christ. When we separate these two, we run into grave issues. See, when we try to say worship does not flow out of the sanctuary to our lives, including our celebrations, we will go off the rails into sin. Either we do this through abstaining from Divine Worship or through thinking Christianity is an on/off switch that we turn off as soon as worship is over so that we can do as we please in worldly celebration. This is a half-hearted approach. The wholehearted approach is worship and fellowship through the connection of the celebration of the Communion to the celebration of feasting together as the Body of Christ. When celebrating as we will later today, we must always have this verse in mind, are we seeking Christ or are we seeking self? Seeking Christ is to celebrate with the mind of loving others enough to give of ourselves rather than to seek self-gratification.

Setting by God’s Grace

          Lastly, as we read in verse 2 of the Epistle, proper celebration entails God’s grace to enable us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Setting and seeking are connected.

          The second part of this verse is crucial in keeping the proper Godly perspective when celebrating. Our default mode is to set our minds on the things that are of this earth. Our default mode is to set our minds on the sins of the gratification of the flesh. In reaction to this fact, some strains of Christianity have sought to use these verses to mean we need to divorce ourselves completely from this world through physical escape. Yet, what is found every single time people buy into this is that they take their own propensity to sin with them where they escape, no matter how many human rules then enact and enforce often through cruelty to keep the world away.

 Properly, we celebrate in enjoying the fruits of God’s Creation through mindfulness on the object of our celebration, Jesus Christ. We read of this in the Psalm and the Gospel today, of all Jesus accomplished for us. The key is mindfulness in Christ in all we do, even in feasting.

          The temptation of the enemies of the Cross is to dress up within our celebrations little tokens of temptation such as “it is okay to indulge in the flesh this one time” or “I deserve this for me” or “celebration is about what I want and need … it is not about enjoying the company of each other through loving service to Christ through serving others.” C.S. Lewis wrote the following that is important to take proper celebration in perspective, “If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal; but if you live only for this world, you lose them both.

          Setting our minds on the things above is set up for us in our worship as the focus. As I noted earlier, problems arise when we divorce worship from the rest of life to stop setting our minds on things above when we leave the sanctuary. The world is transformed by God’s grace that enables us to transform even our times of celebration and fellowship into times where our minds still are set to Christ as our King. In such, the feast we keep this day is to our great King that died for our sins and was raised in glorious power to enable us to be raised on that last great day. We celebrate with feasting because He reigns now and forever. We celebrate as His people in His presence for He indwells us. We conduct ourselves as becomes His people, in loving service and great joy and thanksgiving with the fruits of His Creation He has called us to enjoy in godliness and love. NT Wright wrote, “It is central to Christian living that we should celebrate the goodness of creation, ponder its present brokenness, and, insofar as we can, celebrate in advance the healing of the world, the new creation itself. Art, music, literature, dance, theater, and many other expressions of human delight and wisdom, can all be explored in new ways.

Today as we sing His praises, gather around this Holy Table to partake of His Holy Feast, seek Him alone, set your affections upon Him, and set your mind upon Him to connect you to the feast we will enjoy this afternoon. This is a day of worship and fellowship as the family of God. We celebrate not what I want or what I need. We celebrate what was given to us as a precious gift, the promise of eternal life through the future resurrection of our own bodies to share in the resurrection of Jesus, the first fruits of the resurrection. In such, we have much to praise Him for around His Table and much to celebrate in godly fellowship to Keep His Feast. Let us close with these apt words from St. Paul in I Corinthians 5:7-8, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [8] Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Amen.