Sermon: “Every Morning Is Easter Morning”
Text: Acts 1:1-11
I recently discovered a book by Kevin Kelley entitled, “The Home Planet” that contains 150 photographs of the planet earth from outer space, along with hundreds of quotes from astronauts. Their journeys were exhilarating and exciting ones, beginning when they stepped aboard the rocket ships that carried them out of the Earth’s atmosphere. After the turbulence of the journey ended, each of them had the opportunity to look out the window and stare… holding their breaths… marveling at the earth… speechless because it was so beautiful. For many of them, it was a life-changing experience.
American astronaut Donald Williams wrote, “For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.”
I particularly like the description given by astronaut James Irwin, who said, “The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”
Kelley’s book is full of quotes like these from people who saw something indescribable, and yet because of the sheer beauty and power of the event, they were compelled to try. They probably all returned to earth and at least once stared up into the sky, wondering…“How do I share that with people who can’t see it for themselves? But I have to share it! It would be a terrible thing to waste!”
Now I’ve never really compared disciples to astronauts before, but I think those very same thoughts must have been swirling around in the heads of Jesus’ followers as they watched him ascend into heaven. They had been on an exhilarating and exciting journey with him that began when he simply looked at them and said, “Follow me.” They didn’t really know what was in store for them when they did. It was a journey that had changed their lives forever, which seemingly had already ended once before when Jesus was crucified. But in an event that we simply call “Easter”, they went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty! When the risen Jesus finally appeared before their eyes, I wonder if they didn’t just stare at him, holding their breaths, speechless because the sight of him was beautiful… and they knew in that moment that they would never again look at the world the same way. Their perspective was forever changed.
But much like the life-changing journey of the astronauts, their trip had to end. That’s where we find the disciples in our scripture reading for today. The journey is finally over, and as the resurrected Jesus ascends from them, they just stand there, staring up at the empty sky. And I bet they were wondering… “How do we share that with people who haven’t seen the empty tomb, or the risen Jesus, for themselves? We have to share it, though! Easter would be a terrible thing to waste!”
We are invited today to share those thoughts as well. Today we are celebrating “Ascension Sunday”. It is the final Sunday in the season of Easter. Six weeks ago, we began our journey with a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, which is the “beautiful moment” of every Christian’s faith. It is the center of our life together. Today, however, we are reminded that the risen Jesus didn’t just hang around forever. He eventually departed, and now it becomes our task to figure out how to share the “beautiful moment” with other people. How can we share the beauty of Jesus’ life when Jesus is not around for people to see? That’s a little bit tricky!
It reminds me of the story of an artist who went and hung a blank canvas in an art gallery. During the first showing, he saw a man staring at it with a puzzled look on his face.
“I’m the artist,” he said to the man. “And I couldn’t help but notice that you look confused.”
“Well…” the man said, “What is it?”
The artist smiled and answered, “It’s a cow, eating grass.”
“But I don’t see any grass!” the man replied.
“That’s because the cow ate it,” said the artist.
“Well then where’s the cow?” the man asked.
The artist rolled his eyes and with a sigh, answered, “Sir, if there’s no more grass to eat, the cow isn’t going to hang around!”
Explaining the life of Jesus, particularly the concept of bodily resurrection, can be like this sometimes. We are trying to share something that happened two thousand years ago, something that some people will not be able to see, even though we swear that it’s there. Try as we might to explain that Jesus died on the cross, was raised from the dead, appeared to his followers, and then ascended into heaven, some people will see nothing more than a blank canvas.
Nevertheless, it is something that we must share. Easter is a terrible thing to waste. The resurrection is far too beautiful to be kept to our selves. Today, along with those disciples who stand staring into the sky after Jesus leaves, we are bound to ask, “What do we do now?” How do we share something that happened two thousand years ago?
In my office I have a book entitled, The Meaning of Jesus. In it two biblical scholars, Marcus Borg and Tom Wright, each take turns writing chapters about what the life of Jesus means. Needless to say, they do not agree with each other. That’s why the book is so entertaining. When they discuss Jesus’ resurrection, Tom Wright first claims that the resurrection was indeed an actual historical event. Jesus’ body was physically resuscitated from death, after which he appeared to his followers. Wright says that the entirety of the Christian faith rests upon this claim: That Jesus was actually raised from the dead. It was a historical event that cannot be doubted. When we say the Apostles’ Creed and speak the words, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we are talking about Jesus’ own body being raised from death to life. Without that historical event, Wright says, the Christian faith is meaningless.
In the very next chapter, however, Marcus Borg comes along and says, “Not so fast!” Borg claims that the important thing about the resurrection is not whether it was an actual historical event. What’s important about it is that those who followed Jesus believed that even though Jesus was gone, his life continued to be lived through them. For Borg, the beauty of the resurrection was that Jesus’ followers were transformed from followers into doers. While he was alive, they simply followed him around while he ministered to others. After he was gone, however, they were the ones doing ministry. Thus, when we speak the words, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we are saying that Jesus was raised in the lives of his followers. In other words, we are the resurrection. We are the body of Christ!
My purpose in mentioning these two viewpoints is not to start a debate so that we can all choose sides. I actually don’t think that the two differing views of Marcus Borg and Tom Wright are contrary to each other. I see them as two sides of the same coin. I suggest to you that as Christians we need both of those viewpoints, especially in this season of Easter, and that their differing views can answer our questions about how we can share the beauty of the resurrection with others.
Consider this: On the first Sunday of Easter six weeks ago, we celebrated the empty tomb! We celebrated the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Literally, death could not hold him. We celebrated that wonderful event of the first Easter morning two thousand years ago. We were speaking Tom Wright’s language. Now on the final Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday, we are reminded that the risen Jesus didn’t just hang around forever. We are speaking Marcus Borg’s language; this is the other side of the coin. The Ascension means that the life of Jesus had to continue in the lives of his followers. They had to be transformed from followers into doers, and so it must be for us. God now needs us to continue the work that Jesus began, and this is how we share the beauty of the resurrection with the world. Every morning that we wake up and set our sights on being the presence of Christ to others, is Easter morning all over again. And others will see us, and know that Christ is alive.
During my time as a hospital chaplain, I visited a woman who was a patient on one of my floors for weeks on end. I had the chance to get to know her pretty well because she was there for so long. During one of my last visits with her, she startled me by saying to me, “I see Christ in your eyes.” That was the scariest moment of my entire life, probably because I know that I’m just a regular guy. I’m no Jesus – not even close. About a week later I was talking to one of my supervisors about that, and how that woman’s words unnerved me and shook me up. He stopped me in the middle of my anxious ranting and simply asked, “Why can’t you be the presence of Christ to others?” Why can’t we all?
One fact of Christian faith is that we are the body of Christ. If we truly are Christ’s followers, then others will see Christ – not only in our eyes, but in our hands, our feet, our words and our deeds. If you are like me, then that’s enough to scare you right out of your socks. But I ask all of you today, why can’t you be the presence of Christ to others? Why can’t we all?
Following World War II, a group of German students volunteered to rebuild a cathedral in England that had been badly damaged by German bombers. In the cathedral was a large statue of Jesus that had been reduced to rubble. The students were able to repair all of the damage to the statue except Christ’s hands, which had been smashed into dust. They puzzled over Jesus’ missing hands, wondering what to do. Finally, they decided just to leave the hands off. At the base of the statue, they engraved the words, “Christ has no hands but ours.”
Those words come from a prayer written by St. Teresa of Avila. I think it is fully fitting and appropriate that this should be our prayer on this last Sunday in the season of Easter. It reads:
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion must look out on the
Ours are the feet by which you may still go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which you bless people now.
Bless our minds and our bodies,
That we may be a blessing to others.
Let it be so. Thanks be to God.
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This sermon was written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz.