Here’s the text of my sunrise service reflection. Enjoy!
Becoming an Easter Church
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It is on this day we as Christians take a moment to remember the event that changed the very course of history: the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. On this day, emerging from the tomb of a rich man who sympathized with His teachings and followers, Jesus made the kingdom of God, the liberation of the oppressed, the exaltation of the poor, and the redemption of all creation a reality. It became more than just the words of some radical rabbi from Nazareth, a town no one would willingly admit they hailed from, more than the magic tricks and “healings” of some mystic traveling about like the thousands of other “Messiahs” of that day, more than one more failed revolution crushed by the might of the Roman empire. It is on this day that we found that God loved creation so much, that God truly came down in the form of a humble man, lived among us, and flung our prison doors wide open.
I chose to use the passage for today over traditional Easter texts for a reason: it is because in Nazareth on that Sabbath day that Jesus made clear his intentions for his ministry: bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus obviously did this on purpose, and knew full well the trouble He would land himself in for proclaiming the Scripture’s fulfillment. He is taking his place as more than a prophet, but as the very bringer of hope and liberation, not just messenger or herald, but the liberator in flesh. From this moment forward, this is not only what we see Jesus teaching through his sermons and parables, but also living out through the miracles He performs and the company He keeps, all of which ran in opposition to the authorities of His day, both religious (the Pharisees and Sadducees) and political (King Herod and Caesar). It was these actions that branded Him an enemy of the State, and brought him to the violent death of a revolutionary, which we observed on Good Friday.
It is the events of THIS day, however, that bring Jesus’ life and death to fulfillment, which set him apart from the rest, that make Jesus our true Savior. With the Resurrection, Jesus not only conquered death, but conquered the powers that be in a way that no one ever imagined, No longer captive bound and double ironed, we stand before God liberated and free, the resurrection being God’s warm embrace of His creation, letting us know that we are loved and forgiven, and made to love and forgive.
Today is a day of joy! Lent has ended. We can now confidently proclaim from the mountaintops, “Alleluia! He is risen!” and return to eating chocolate and drinking soda! In reality, today is even more important for Christians than Christmas; you cannot have Christmas without an Easter! However, today is much more than a time for rejoicing, but a time to self-examination and looking toward the future. You see, in setting the captives free, Jesus also left us with work to be done. The resurrection comes with a caveat of sorts, one of the most beautiful catches in human history. With the glorious redemption of the resurrection, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “As I have done, so must you do as well.” The resurrection’s effects are universal, but they are carried out in God’s people. As the year of the Lord’s favor was first proclaimed in Christ, so it should also be proclaimed through us. Easter, therefore, is also a time to ask, “We are set free by the resurrection; how, then are we being an Easter Church?”
My reflection today is also inspired by Oscar Romero, former archbishop of El Salvador and outspoken advocate for the poor and oppressed of his country, who was assassinated by the ruling government for being such a strong advocate of the poor (and opponent of the ruling party). It was he who, in his first pastoral letter, challenged the churches in his diocese to be Easter churches, a concept I find to be inspiring and challenging. What Romero pushed his diocese to realize is that this hope we hold in Christ, that we are given through the events of Easter, has real implications here in this world. The kingdom of God is more than just some far-off pie-in-the-sky when you die fairy tale; it is a present reality that the Church has the capacity to bring about, that the Church is commanded to bring about!
However, what Romero found, and what I continue to find, is how much following the teachings of Jesus makes you look very strange, different, and threatening to the rest of the world. The love we have in Christ and our obedience to His commands and teachings often will pit us against the ruling party, and has the potential to make us very unpopular with this world, perhaps even with other members of the church. These ideas were what got Oscar Romero assassinated. Why? Because to live a life of Christ is to let in the same spirit of God that fell on Jesus in that synagogue, the one that proclaims the same things that Christ proclaimed, and that spirit speaks truth and acts out of love in the face of authority, no matter the consequences. That spirit is still in the Church, groaning to be heard, beckoning us to let her use us as God wills.
We are called to be liberators, chain-breakers, healers, and hope-givers. We are given the task of setting the world to rights by the One who set US to rights, and it is high time we began acting like it. Today, we celebrate the new life and hope given to us by Jesus Christ. Shout it from the rooftops! Act like you’re redeemed, for Pete’s sake! He is risen indeed! However, it is also time to prepare ourselves to take this hope and joy into the world, to be the hands and feet of Jesus here in Middletown, in Harrisburg and Lancaster, and to the very ends of the Earth. Jesus taught us that God not only loves us, but also that God wishes to be among us. How much more can we let God be among us than by flinging wide the doors of the church and going out to be with those whom God wishes to be with?
Let us pray.