A sermon preached for the Great Vigil of Easter at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, TX
The lectionary readings for the Vigil are here.
Every preacher wants their Holy Week sermons to have a big impact on those who hear them. This is high season for us – the week we remember the events that make the foundation of all that we proclaim. How do we talk about all of this in a new way so that lives are changed! It’s a lot of pressure.
And while pondering what my high impact sermon would say, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and Andy Crouch* was talking about an article he had written about the use of the word “impact” in church circles. He explained that in the mathematical world that Impact is calculated as force over time – the bigger the force and the shorter the time, the greater the impact. He illustrates this by clapping his hands together – when we bring our hands together with a lot of force quickly, we make a loud noise and if we sustain high impact clapping for very long, our hands begin to hurt. High impact – big force in a short time – is jarring and disruptive and can be painful.
The events that we remember as we journey through Holy Week are high impact – the crowds went from praising and honoring Jesus to shouting “crucify him” in just a few days. The religious and political leaders fueled the fervor of the crowds for their own benefit and gain. The disciples shifted from swearing they’d never deny Jesus to running away and hiding. It is all fast paced, aggressive, and violent.
And yet, throughout the history of the Israelite people and with all that Jesus said and did, the message was clear: life in God’s Kingdom is about slow growth. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son and descendants in the thousands and took years and generations to fulfill the promise. God promised Moses and the Israelites the Promised Land and led them on a 40 year journey to get there. God sent the Israelites into exile and told them to build homes, grow gardens, raise families, and help their communities thrive where they were. God promised a Messiah and instead of coming as a Goliath sized grown man chose to be born into this world as an infant who lived 30 years before beginning his public ministry.
God promises to set this world right, to bring about justice and peace, and asks us to live as if this has already taken place without fretting about how long it is taking. Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily needs each day so that we can live on earth as in heaven. When we live on earth as in heaven, we will seek justice and be peacemakers; we will love God and our neighbors the way Jesus loves; we will serve and let others serve so that as a community of Jesus followers, also know as the body of Christ, we participate with God in bringing about God’s Kingdom.
Occasionally, rarely, yes, God chooses high impact moments – the pivotal moments in the history of our faith, the freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, the Resurrection. But these are God acting, not our instructions for us even if we were capable of these miraculous moves.
What Jesus shows us in flesh and blood are the low impact actions of our day to day living on earth as it is heaven. Jesus uses the metaphors of planting seeds and yeast in dough to describe how we are to live in God’s Kingdom. The slow growth that is germinated with foot washing-like care of each other, feeding the hungry, healing the hurting, having compassion on those who suffer, offering kindness to a stranger are gentle forces that take time. Changing our hearts and minds to be like that of Jesus is a life-long journey whatever age we are when we begin it.
Our impact in this world isn’t to come from forceful power but through relationships. Jesus shows us that real power isn’t picking up a weapon to attack our enemies but healing those harmed by the violence of this world – even when the one wounded is our enemy.
As the women encounter Jesus on the morning of his resurrection, he tells them to not be afraid, to go to Galilee and he will meet them there and that others will see him there. What is Galilee for us? In our community, neighborhood, stores, restaurants, offices, hospitals, anywhere and everywhere that God’s children live and work and play, we have the opportunity to both see Jesus in others and allow others to see Jesus in us.
Jesus meets us in the every day moments of our life, in loving, liberating, life-giving relationship. Like seeds grow up through the soil, like yeast grows in the dough, the love of Jesus is a gentle germinating love that offers us the freedom to not be afraid because we know that wherever we are, Jesus is walking ahead of us to lead us in the Way of Love.
Jesus sets us free from the need to always have the answer because when we look for him, he is there to show us how to love well.
Bishop Micheal Curry says that we are called to be “agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation, letting the world know there is a God who loves us and who will not let us go.” But before we can proclaim that, we have to believe it for ourselves. Do you know that God loves you? Do you trust that God will never let you go? This is the very good news of God’s Kingdom. You don’t have to figure out how to earn God’s love or God’s favor. You don’t have to wonder if you are good enough, if you matter to God. You are and you do. Without condition or caveat.
Jesus didn’t end his relationship with the disciples because they hid in fear. He didn’t condemn them or cast them out. He showed up for them, fed them, walked with them, waited for them. And he does the same for you with the same invitation: Follow me.
We don’t have to figure out how to have high impact on the world. We just have to follow Jesus, loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves with the confidence – the faith – that there is enough love, compassion, and kindness for all of God’s children.
Knowing this, trusting this, believing this is the point and purpose of all of God’s impactful acts we celebrate this week. God impacts us and this world so that we can follow Jesus in peace and hope every day. Amen.
*Good Faith podcast, April 1, 2023