Sunday, May 6, 2012

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

[The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!]

Happy Easter, everybody. The Easter season goes on for fifty days. I hope you’re not still looking for that last missing colored hard boiled egg the Easter Bunny hid, because by now, it probably doesn’t smell very good. I suspect the chocolate bunnies are mostly eaten, and infestations of Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs have been tamed, and yet the Feast of Feast continues for a week of weeks.

To be honest, I find this to be one of the hardest parts of the Church year. Fifty days of rejoicing that our Lord is risen indeed. Fifty days of celebrating that Christ, our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast. Fifty days of feasting. Fifty days of celebrating the here and the now of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I have to confess that I more readily find God’s grace in reading lessons from the Old Testament than I do in lessons from the New Testament. The messiness of Hebrew scripture and its competing narratives speak to my condition more often than the passages the Lectionary gives us from the Epistles, or even from the Gospel. But in Easter, our first lesson changes. Rather than a reading from Hebrew Scripture, our first lesson comes from the Acts of the Apostles. If the Church is the new Israel, then in Eastertide, rather than hearing the foundational stories of the first Israel, we hear the foundational stories of the establishment of the new Israel, where the twelve tribes find their successors in the twelve apostles. Exciting stuff, and it’s the one time of the year we get to hear the stories of the early Church that the Acts of the Apostles recounts. But for me, it’s a challenge, losing my fall-back plan: for most of the year, I know that if I don’t hear the Spirit speaking to me about the day’s Gospel, I can always preach about the lesson from Hebrew Scripture. Come Eastertide, that option goes away.

I do a lot better with the forty days of Lent. Preparing. Listening. Waiting for the Lord. I suppose I can better identify with meditative silence and fasting than I can with trumpets and feasting. But here we are in the Easter season, when we are called not to reflect on broken-ness, not to wait for our deliverance, but to rejoice that now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!

Apparently, I’m not particularly good at extended rejoicing. But the Church year is a gift. God nudges us out of our comfort zone, so we can grow. And if extended rejoicing is the end for which we were created, to join in the anthem of the seraphim singing Holy Holy Holy at the feast of the Lamb for all time, perhaps it’s best if we take this opportunity to grow. All this practice at keeping the feast of the resurrection just might end up serving us well.

Our lesson from Acts today begins with an angel telling Philip “Get up and go!” There is a time for healing and a time for rest and a time for recovery and a time for fasting and praying and listening for the still, small voice of God – all of this is true, and vitally important, but a time also comes to take action.

If scripture were a movie, we’d switch genres here. We go from a contemplative drama in The Garden of Gethsemane – “stay awake with me and keep watch” – to an action adventure flick. God says “Get up and go,” so Philip races to catch up the Ethiopian eunuch. On foot, Philip outruns a chariot, known throughout the ancient world for their speed. And what happens at the end of this chase seen? Philip catches up to the chariot and… conducts a bible study. That’s right, they sit down and read together. Okay, maybe this isn’t the next Indiana Jones movie.

Yes, in this action-packed post-resurrection world there is still thought and discernment and study. But, keep in mind, Philip’s bible study here takes place in a racing chariot. And then, the Ethiopian eunuch hears what Philip has to teach him, and makes a decision instantly: Here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?

The action of salvation accelerates. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, and then is immediately whisked away by the Spirit to his next task. It’s go, go, go in this outfit.

Now, to be honest, I’ve thought about this story many times in the past twelve years. In January of 2000, I approached my rector, John Keydel, to talk about the process of exploring a call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. And for much of the last twelve years, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from God and the Church to wait. And wait. And wait. And there have been times this lesson from Acts has come to mind, where the Ethiopian eunuch says to Philip, “Here is water; what is to prevent me from being baptized” – no catechesis, no waiting for the Easter Vigil, no paperwork, no delays. Just stop the chariot, go down to the water, and boom – you’re baptized; start your new ministry. I’ve dreamed that perhaps someday a bishop might just be wandering by (not that there would ever be a bishop around this place) and say hey, there’s work I want you to do. Here are my hands – what is to prevent you from being ordained? And then it’s boom – on to the next mission.

Now it doesn’t work that way, and for good reason. An ordained leader in the Church can do a lot of damage, so the Church needs to be careful that it calls people who are well selected, well supported, and well prepared. But when the message is wait, wait, wait, when, one can start to expect that the word from the Lord is always “wait.” In the time of Elijah, the voice of the Lord was not in the wind and not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. When that happens, it’s easy to become complacent. To expect that the message is always “wait until later.” To miss the call to action of the Lord speaking in the sound of sheer silence. But after the wind, earthquake, and fire, God did speak to Elijah, and said Get up and Go. And just like Philip, once God said Go, Elijah went indeed.

For us here at Nativity, we’ve been in a time of healing. We’ve been in a time of praying, and listening, and waiting for the Lord. And when God isn’t calling us to get up and go yet, the proper course of action is indeed to wait for the Lord. But today’s lesson is an important reminder that the hour is coming when the word from the Lord won’t be wait, but rather Get up and Go. We’ve got to be listening for that call, and ready for the change of pace that might follow. There’s a time to wait for the Lord. A time to pray and study scripture and discern. And also a time when God presents us with opportunity: here is water. What is to prevent us from doing God’s work in the world. And we do it, and boom! It’s on to the next mission. Amen.