Hot Dog!

Easter
4/4/10

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Today is a really big day. Today is a day of triumph. Today you and I celebrate Christ’s resurrection, which is His triumph over evil, sin and death. God intervened. God shows us that the good guys win. He shows us that hope overcomes despair, that righteousness overcomes injustice, that mercy overcomes oppression and that love overcomes terror and hatred. What a mouthful! But what a story! What a triumph! As we used to say in the 50’s, “Hot dog!”

You and I make sense of our lives by telling narrative stories, not by philosophy, not by science. To know victory, to know triumph, is to know the release which it brings – a release that is not a rational exercise. To know victory, to know triumph, is not the result of emptying one’s mind and controlling one’s breathing. To know victory, to know triumph, is not the result of balancing one’s thoughts and actions, or balancing one’s medications. To know and experience victory, to know and experience triumph, is not a practical, everyday experience, nor is it an axiom from which we might start to build an elaborate philosophy.

To know and experience triumph is to know the end of the story. It is to see the outcome of events as unfolding in such a way that you and I encounter something that has meaning and purpose and profundity. You and I find sense in our lives through telling and hearing stories – narratives of characters, events, antagonists, protagonists, obstacles overcome and victories achieved. We cannot have a victory or a triumph without a breakthrough to a meaningful conclusion. Scientific reasoning is important, but it does not give us a triumph. Rational deduction is necessary, but it does not give us a triumph. They only seem to give victory and triumph when there is progress, but in that case the progress is set in the context of what has gone before – and that is narrative. That is story.

You and I yearn for triumphant experiences in our lives, for our team to win, for something that is affirming and positive to happen. To yearn for triumph is part of the nature of society. Now I want to tell you a story, which I have told before. (Stories by their nature are to be repeated.) Not too long ago Faye and I went to New York to hear the Philharmonic and a visiting choir perform Handel’s Messiah. As you know, I am very tolerant, but I don’t like going into New York because New Yorkers are cynical, abrasive, pushy, jaded and brusque. I looked around at the people sitting in Avery Fisher Hall, which seats about 1,800, and there were people of every background: Jewish, Asian, Hispanic, Black, Caucasian and in between. At the beginning of the performance a politically correct patronizing voice told us that we did not have to stand at the Alleluiah Chorus, even though it was a custom, attributed to King George or whomever. We were assured that the king might have had a cramp in his leg or was startled out of a sleep - we didn’t have to think he rose up because of a religious impulse. Well the orchestra was superb. The choir was glorious. When the trumpets hit the Alleluiah Chorus (Led by Phil Smith, whose daddy plays in the Salvation Army Band), 1,600 people leapt to their feet. They were pulled up by the metaphorical hairs on their heads by the inspirational triumph of the music and the narrative of Christ’s resurrection. I was stunned. What an experience! It was truly awesome. We, society, yearn  to hear words and music of victory and triumph.

Now we cannot understand Christ’s victory without some understanding of the Old Testament and the story of the Hebrew people, whom we call the Jews. The Jews knew about defeat and triumph. The whole story of their life is one of God with them, offering triumph and when they fell bringing them out of defeat and redeeming them. Their whole history is the story of the patriarchs, bondage in Egypt, the Exodus, the rise of kingdoms and the prophets, followed by life under conquering Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. That history led to a hunger that was articulated by the prophets for a messiah, for a suffering servant, for a final triumph.

God brought that triumph not in human terms, but in sacrificial terms – the triumph of submission to His will, of expiation for the sins of His people. Some time ago I was asked to do a Jewish funeral. The words from the Hebrew Scriptures are a beautiful expression of  deep faith. They are words of solace and of comfort. But they are different from our Book of Common Prayer. Our Christian faith is similar to, but different from, our Jewish brothers and sisters. How so?

As you know, the Jews celebrated Passover this week. In years pass I have heard Theodore Bikel’s reading of Passover. He reads the words for the Seder, the Passover meal, and he tells how a lamb was slaughtered as a sacrifice to God. Upon that lamb was laid the sins of the people, and it made an expiation, or atonement, for the people’s failings and sins. When I participated in the Maundy Thursday service, I heard words of a huge shift in culture, in religion and in narrative story through which we seek to find meaning for our lives. Jesus tells His disciples at the Seder meal, “Today, I am that lamb. I am to be substituted for the lamb and to be sacrificed not only for our sins but also for the sins of the world. I am the lamb told of by Isaiah. I am the Messiah foretold by the prophets.”

The Passion story culminates the story, the narrative, which began in Genesis, continued throughout the ages and finds resolution in God’s incarnation in Jesus, who in turn becomes the Pascal sacrifice for all of us. We all know in our common experiences times in which an individual incorporates all of the expectations and desires of a people (think of the Olympics or the last election). 2,000 years ago there was a dramatic shift in events, which changed the whole narrative, the whole story of the meaning of life – of your life and of mine.

The story could end with the sacrifice of one man, who became the sacrificial lamb, the vehicle for the forgiveness of our guilt and sinfulness, our failure to obey God’s commandments and will. But God is profound, beyond our ability to comprehend. He is the Creator and Recreator of existence. Three days after His death, when the stone was rolled away from His borrowed tomb, the disciples met Jesus, risen from the dead and fulfilling His promise of eternal life. In this theophany, this profoundly mysterious and imponderable event, you and I are told of an outcome to our narrative story, which is cosmic, an outcome which goes to the source of all meaning. Death has been conquered. Sin and evil are forever losers, never again to be seen as controlling the meaning of life. This affects you and me not only collectively as mankind, but also individually and personally.

Another story. In 1953 my father was asked by our Methodist minister to lead the Easter sunrise service at Swope Park in Kansas City. Now I’ve spoken of my father before, so you have some idea of the kind of person he was. Dad was quiet, unassuming and partly deaf. In the cold morning dew and damp my father spoke eloquently about the message of Easter. He spoke of the guarantee of eternal life given by Jesus as the Christ. He spoke of God’s affirmation of us by God’s action in Jesus, His Son, and how that changed who we were and how we see the world. I remember thinking in my youthful naïveté, “Holy cow! He really believes this stuff. Hot dog!” And he really did. I’ve never forgot that experience.

In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ you and I have a personal promise and an affirmation that says to you and me that life is purposeful, is meaningful, is positive, creative, and recreative, is full of redemption and hope. This is the message of the affirmation of love – of divine love. It is more than a statement of the importance of sacrifice; it is the message of the victory and triumph of God’s eternal love. The Easter event that you and I celebrate today is the affirmation of that which is mysterious and imponderable. It speaks to our own instincts and consciences, to the image of God within us, which recognizes the truth of an unimaginable triumphant act of a miracle - of the resurrection event, which is the focus and pulsating signal of our life and our hope.

Hence it is that in life and even at the end of our mortal life, we declare in the words of The Book of Common Prayer,

“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore or die, we are the Lord’s.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” (BCP p.469)

Today, you and I celebrate that victory, that triumph, because it speaks to us collectively and individually and because it also speaks for us. You and I declare, yes we exalt in, the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil, over sin and over death. Now that’s an amazing victory and triumph! That, brothers and sisters, is our triumph. Jesus Christ is risen today. Brothers and sisters, let me hear it: Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen. -Fr. Gage-