St. John’s United Methodist Church of Baltimore
Rev. Jackson H. Day, Pastor
Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
Madeleine L’Engle, who lived from 1918-2007, was a “writer of young adult fiction whose works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.” She had “a house in the Catskills that she and her husband used as a refuge retreat from their apartment in Manhattan. Behind the house she had constructed a little garden with a bench near a mountain stream that she used for meditation, some place just to sit and listen to the healing sound of gurgling water and be at peace.
“One year her daughter gave her an icon, a simple square painting of Mary holding Jesus on her lap. Madeleine took it up to the Catskills, and erected a little alcove on the side of a tree in her meditation garden. It was just what that little retreat needed to give it some prayerful focus.
“The next spring she went up to open up the cabin with her husband. As she was walking out to her meditation garden by the stream, she noticed that the icon was missing. It was lying on the ground in pieces. She bent over and picked them up, putting them together, and she noticed that the icon had been shot with a gun. Someone had taken out a pistol at close range and fired a shot right through the painted portrait of Jesus and left the icon in pieces on the ground.“
There are many worse things than vandalism. But Madeleine wrote about how hard it was to deal with that event because it was so characteristic of the way evil works. “It just invades our sacred spaces in our lives. It destroys that which is precious to us. Often it is anonymous, silent, and invisible. It just strikes out and makes us feel hopeless and helpless, like there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves, and especially nothing we can do to protect those who are precious to us.”
In this morning’s readings, the people we meet are recovering from an even more profound encounter with evil.
In the Gospel of John, we hear the story of the empty tomb. We’re familiar with the details, but it’s so important to remember that this didn’t happen on some random sunny spring morning, but on the morning of the third day after a devastating public torture and killing of a man that they loved. It came on the third day of what Christians call humanity’s most devastating encounter with evil.
Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the resurrection. She sees that the stone sealing the tomb has been removed. She fears that Jesus’ body has been removed and runs to Peter and another disciple. They come and find the linens that had wrapped the body. Then they go home, but Mary stays. She sees two angels and complains to them. Then she sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him. Then he speaks, and calls her by name – and THEN she recognizes him. Mary runs to find the disciples and tells them, “I have seen the Lord.”
In our lesson from Acts, Luke tells us of Peter preaching a sermon. It is now days, months, perhaps even years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter’s words are simple: Jesus, who is Lord of all, anointed by God, preached a message of peace, and went about doing good and healing the sick. We are witnesses to what Jesus did. They put Jesus to death. God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear to those who were chosen by God as witnesses. We testify that Jesus is ordained by God as judge of living and dead and those who believe in Jesus receive forgiveness of sins.
Peter, like the other disciples, loved Jesus – and “they put Jesus to death.” A life was extinguished on Calvary and a hole left in the lives of dozens – hundreds – of others. Remember the words from John Donne’s poem? (I’ve made the language inclusive.) “No one is an island, entire of itself…. each one’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in humankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” In Christ’s death, we all have died.
Each of us who has lived any amount of time has experienced moments when our lives have been invaded by evil. We can understand Madeleine L’Engle’s experience. We can understand Peter’s words. We have experienced moments of darkness. We have had moments when we could identify with Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished.” In our hearts we have asked, “Can I go on? Is there any reason to go on? Is everything ruined beyond repair? Is it really all over?” These are the questions the disciples were facing on Friday evening and Saturday.
Richard Rohr, a Catholic monk, wrote: “How can we know the light if we’ve never walked through the darkness?” On Easter morning, God sent the light.
Thirty years ago the pastor of our congregation in Columbia had a medical emergency. His heart stopped beating at Howard County General Hospital, but with CPR they got it started again and sent him by helicopter to Shock Trauma in Baltimore. His heart stopped beating a couple more times on the helicopter, but each time they got it started. His doctors told him, “You seem to have a condition where your heart stops unpredictably. We don’t know why, but we know how to fix it. You are getting a pacemaker.”
I saw him years later. He talks of that experience as his resurrection. If you need your heart to be beating in order to live – and of course you do – he died three times that day. He experiences his life since then as a gift, resurrection.
But really, my friend was resuscitated. As described in our scriptures, it was Jesus who was resurrected. My friend was restored to his old body and life. Jesus was given a new body that behaved differently. Now Jesus could be recognized – or not. That was Mary’s experience. It was the disciples’ experience on the road to Emmaus. Jesus could appear in a room – or not. Paul talked about physical bodies and spiritual bodies. The Risen Christ had a spiritual body. My friend’s body will die as all of our bodies will. Jesus’ new body is forever. And the promise of our faith is that we will not all be resuscitated as my friend was, but we will all be resurrected as Jesus was. On Easter Sunday, Jesus was the first-fruits of God’s new day. For that reason, Easter is a day of hope for us all.
The Resurrection expresses the biblical tradition of hope. It expresses Isaiah’s words of hope promising that the day of the Lord is a new heaven and a new earth. It expresses the psalmist’s  description of hope in which steadfast love endures in the face of rejection.
Living in Hope
So what do we do with the resurrection? We live in hope.
Hope gives us courage. Hope is powerful alone and hope is even more powerful together. When I was working with some psychologists to write the curriculum on faith and trauma that I have shared with this congregation, we asked the question, what do communities do? What can churches and synagogues and mosques do for those who have suffered evil and need hope? And we came up with an answer, a phrase: congregations are holders of hope; they can hold hope for those who need it until those who need it are able to reclaim it for themselves.
In the presence of hope, we can live with courage and we can live in persistence. Sixty years ago a man named Kent Keith wrote an inspirational poem called “The Paradoxical Commandments.” Some years later a version of that was found on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India, and today you will see it posted on the Internet attributing it to Mother Teresa as its author:
- People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
- If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
- If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
- What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
- If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
- The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
- Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
- In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
In the presence of hope, we can live in courage and persistence – and live in power. Think of the story of “Sojourner Truth, a black woman born into enslavement in Ulster County, New York, around 1797. She was sold and cut off from her family and years later when she had a child of her own, he was sold, and she was cut off from him. She was broken from the start….
“Sojourner was befriended by Quakers, who hid her until the Emancipation Law passed in New York in 1827. The Quakers, of course, told her that she was a child of God and precious in God’s sight. They blessed her with God’s blessing. We don’t know all that happened to her during that period, but she says that at some point she had a profound experience of God’s love for her through Jesus. And that blessed her and empowered her. She changed her name from the name her slave masters, to Sojourner Truth, a name which came to her during a time of prayer.
“In addition to working, finding her son and rebuilding a family together, Sojourner traveled across our country preaching for an end to slavery in the South and for Women’s Rights in our country. She became an enormous social force. Never mind that she was uneducated, never mind that she was freed slave, never mind that she was a woman. She would not be resigned to the accidents of history because she was filled with a moral and spiritual purpose and a conviction that God was with her.
“And she was an outstanding orator. She attracted large crowds, particularly of women. She was so popular, in fact, that men, often ministers, tried to keep her from speaking on the grounds that women ought to be submissive to men. I remind you that this was 1830. At one rally, she was confronted by a group of men, and this is what she said.
“’I could work as much and eat as much as any man and bear the lash as well and ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen them sold into slavery and when I cried with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman? Some say woman can’t have as much rights as a man cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, all women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again and now that they are asking to do it, the men better let ‘em.”
In the presence of hope we can live in courage, persistence, power, and service. Many of us have achieved comfortable lives and when we don’t venture far beyond our daily boundaries, we may forget how great the world’s needs are.
But God sends reminders. Remember in Peter’s sermon this morning how the point of what he was saying was that because of the resurrection of Christ, because of God’s overcoming of the terrible evil of the cross, we could be forgiven? In the midst of our comfort perhaps we don’t take that seriously. Well, yes, perhaps I sinned in some small way a couple of months ago, and I’m glad that’s taken care of…. If we minimize what we need from God, we minimize what God did for us. But it can mean a lot to others.
A writer named Charles Rush captured that in a story I came across. “Jorge Martinez had a teenage son that had been difficult. Words were exchanged, threats made, anger took the place of reason, and the kid took off from home. After a while Jorge came to his senses and decided to reach out to the boy. He put up signs all around one of the squares in Mexico City where teenagers who are on the streets hang out. The sign said, “Juan, I want you to come home. All is forgiven. Let’s start over. Meet me at a certain fountain on a certain date and we will talk. Your Father, Jorge.”
“Jorge went to the fountain early and there were half a dozen boys were there. He stood around waiting for his son before he asked one of them if they knew Juan. Every one of them said they were Juan and it slowly dawned on him that all of them had answered the sign and were there hoping for reconciliation.
“There is a lot of need out there. Despite the hurt and the distance, people want to come home. They want to be blessed. And you can keep hope alive by passing the blessing on. May you find one person this Eastertide that you can bless. Pass it on. Keep hope alive.” 
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43, Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (UMH 839), John 20:1-18
 First preached at Providence United Methodist Church, Towson, Maryland, March 31, 2013
 Madeleine L’Engle, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_L’Engle.htm. Accessed March 31, 2013
 Charles Rush, The Power of Hope – Easter. April 15, 2001. http://www.christchurchsummit.org/Sermons-2001/010415-PowerOfHope.html. Accessed March 30, 2013. citing Bill Leonard, Word of God Across the Ages, 1981, p. 71.
 John 20:1-18
20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;
20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
 Acts 10:34-43
10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.
10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:
10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;
10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
 Richard Rohr, Hope Against Darkness
 Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.
65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
118:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
118:2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
118:14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
118:15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
118:16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
118:17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
118:18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
118:20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
118:21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
118:23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
 The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith . Cited by Prayer Foundation. https://prayerfoundation.org/mother_teresa_do_it_anyway.htm.
 Charles Rush, The Power of Hope – Easter. April 15, 2001. http://www.christchurchsummit.org/Sermons-2001/010415-PowerOfHope.html. Accessed March 30, 2013. Thanks to Mark Trotter “What’s the Use?” First United Methodist Church in San Diego, CA, April 11, 1999.
 Charles Rush, The Power of Hope – Easter. April 15, 2001. http://www.christchurchsummit.org/Sermons-2001/010415-PowerOfHope.html. Accessed March 30, 2013