Sermon Reflections and More!
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Easter Sunday                                                                      March 27, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Acts 10:34-43Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Pr. Christine's Sermon: The
Pr. Christine's Sermon: The "Funeral" of Jesus

Children's Sermon: Easter Gum
Children's Sermon: Easter Gum

Choir Anthem: Canticle for Easter
Choir Anthem: Canticle for Easter

Hallelujah Chorus - Easter Sunday
Hallelujah Chorus - Easter Sunday

Easter Offertory: I Know That My Redeemer Lives
Easter Offertory: I Know That My Redeemer Lives

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Christine...
Some of you have heard me preach enough to know I'll chase a sermon into odd and peculiar places. Once I dragged my husband and best friend to a psychic to have our palms read for a sermon on prophets. Once I interviewed the jail keeper over at Howard County Detention Center for a sermon on the keys to the kingdom. Once I had Siri (you know the automated voice on the iPhone) help me out on a sermon on the question of "Who is God?" Although, that was, without a doubt, the biggest headache of a sermon I've ever done. Siri really wasn't in the mood to cooperate that particular Sunday morning.    
Anyway... these weird revelations about exploring a Biblical text in a new way will come to me out of thin air (or some would argue the Holy Spirit) and they seem like great ideas at the time, but then when I actually have to follow through with them and show up at the palm reader or the jail, I can't help but ask myself, "Why in the name of sweet baby Jesus did I decide to do this...?"
Which is pretty much what I was thinking last week, as I sat in the parking lot of the Adams-Green funeral home... See, somehow I had decided that interviewing a funeral director for an Easter sermon would be a FABULOUS idea.

I think because upon Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathea saw to it that Jesus' body was taken down from the tree of crucifixion and placed in a tomb, however because Jesus died just three hours before the beginning of Sabbath, there wasn't time to properly prepare the body for burial. The women would have to come back later.

If anyone knew death, the ancient people did. Dying people were not sent away to hospitals to die politely out of sight; hearses were not sent to receive the body. People were condemned and killed in public, the sick and elderly and weak died at home.

Family members and friends cared for the bodies after death.
They were the morticians of the day. That's what Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (the mother of James) were doing that fateful morning - entombing Jesus properly, with all the rituals of burial.
Washing his body with warm water, trimming his hair and nails, anointing his body with oils to stave off the stench of decomposition, and wrapping him in linen cloths.
Hence, my little field trip and how I found myself sitting around a table with three funeral directors asking all sorts of questions about death, body preparation, and what in the world would ever compel one to attend mortician school?
Because it just isn't a job I'd ever want.
"You go along Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary...I'll stay home and do the laundry."
Not these guys. One of them told me he had wanted to be a funeral director at the age of 8! Most 8 year olds that I know want to play Major League Baseball; not embalm bodies.
Anyway, they were more than happy to answer my copious questions, point out the myriad of options available for funerals and memorials, and give me a tour.

The tour didn't just consist of a quick once over of the luxurious parlor with the overstuffed comfy chairs, brick-faced fireplace, and muted oriental rugs.
No, I got the 'behind-the-scenes' tour, or I should say, I got the 'basement tour'. I knew I was about to step out of my comfort zone, as my tour guide says to me, "We're embalming a body down here. You going to be okay with that?" as he opens the basement door emblazoned with a bright red biohazard sign.
Sure. I'll be fine, right? After all, I'm here to research death. What could be better than an actual dead body?
I'm not ashamed to admit that I glanced sideways at the body as we walked by with my hand obscuring most of my face and vision. Keeping his eyes on me (I think he was making sure I wasn't going to pass out or something) my tour guide led me to a set of giant refrigerators, opened them up like it was no big deal, and said, "In here we keep the bodies that are waiting to be prepared or are being stored for burial at Arlington National Cemetery."
"Of course. Makes perfect sense," I thought, trying to look like this was an everyday occurrence for me.
And then he led me to the crematorium. was on.
He explained temperatures and sifting of fragments and log books as if it was an everyday occurrence for him.
Which it was and is.
And I began to realize how very detached we are from death.
Now, you may be thinking, "Wait just one minute. I know about death. I am not detached from it. My grandmother lost the battle to cancer in the guest bedroom when I was 17 years old. Or, I had to put my cat to sleep just last week because he could no longer eat or stand on his own. Or, I lost a baby in my womb when I was three months along. Or, my spouse is buried in the cemetery three miles away and I live without him every single day."
We. Know. About. Death.
But do we know death?

Every single day things die. We seem to live our lives as if this isn't true. Every day, before our very eyes, people die; animals die; creation dies. I am aware of this mostly in a distant and removed manner.
But walking through the hallows of the funeral home I began to recognize that we live with loss, not death. We even use this language. I lost my grandmother; I miscarried my baby; I put my cat to sleep; I lost my spouse.
No. No, we did not lose anyone, or put anyone to sleep, or miscarry anyone. They died. And we didn't do it. Death did it.  
And death had to do it for Jesus to deal with it.
But we seem afraid of that word; it's too strong, too blunt, too factual to say out loud, and so we soften it for ourselves and for others.
You may wonder why I'm so hell bent on us embracing death, when it's Easter - a day of life and resurrection and the crushing of hell underfoot. Jesus destroyed death and I've just spent 10 minutes talking about us embracing death.

Here's why: I wonder if we can really know what the resurrection is all about if we don't really sit with death? Death needs to be faced, not avoided, for life and for the resurrection to have any consequence. It seems to me that on Easter Jesus perfectly intertwined death and new life, as if they are necessary for each other.  
The funeral home - that mysterious place where the bodies of our loved ones are received and made presentable to us - seeks to provide us comfort, allowing us to remember them as they once were.
The empty tomb - that mysterious place where the body of Jesus is laid and found empty - promises not to provide us with the comfort remembering how they once were.
Or how we once were.
The empty tomb promises new life.
Not comfort. Not remembrance. Not closure.
On Easter morning, the reality of death promises life. Promises newness. Promises there's more.
Easter doesn't happen here in this buzzing sanctuary filled with brightly colored flowers, smiling faces, and exuberant song. This isn't Easter.
Easter happens in the ER when the doctor comes out and shakes his head. We couldn't save him. He's dead.

Easter happens at the funeral home when that first glimpse of your best friend in the coffin hits you like a ton of bricks. You can't breathe because she's just a year older than you. And she's dead.

Easter happens in the drug house where men and women slowly kill themselves with drugs, and life itself has become a living death.

Easter happens as you sit vigil with tears streaming down your face as the one you've loved your whole life long slowly slips away until you're sure... He's dead. She's dead. 

Easter happens where death is, because that is the only place it is needed.
No preacher can make someone believe that the dead rise. The only place you will be made to believe that is at the side of someone or something dying. It is there, in that place you will see Jesus and you will know the gift that life is, believe in something more than yourself, sacrifice all you have for the sake of true love, and trust - even if it's just for one moment - that there is hope beyond the grave.
And for that hope of the heart...
Jesus Lived. Died. And was Raised from dead.