St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016)

Liturgical Color: White

Reverend Doctor Lyle E. McKee


Alleluia!

Christ is risen! Alleluia! [Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!]

As Pastor Colleen reminds the children on this great high and holy day, it is not only our Lord Jesus Christ who is resurrected on Easter. It is an ancient practice for Christians also to resurrect the word "Alleluia." We put that word away during the forty days of Lent as a sign of that season's time of penitence and confession. And reserving it that way, I think, is very cool-liturgically speaking, of course. What better way for us to express the supreme joy of this day than to let pass our lips again for the first time in more than a month that glorious word of psalter and hymnody-"Alleluia"?

Go ahead, say it with me. Alleluia! Oh, why not one more time, with somewhat more gusto. ALLELUIA!

The Hebrew from which this odd word comes has always been an expression of praise to God. And it was preserved untranslated by the early Christians as a superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph. After all, why mess with such a magnificent word that rolls so fluidly off the tongue as it does its light tango on the roof of the mouth for all of the "L's." The word has appeared in liturgies for millennia and will not doubt continue to do so throughout all time to come.

Some folks prefer "Hallelujah" ("H" at the front; "J-A H" at the end); some have a fondness for "Alleluia." The truth is that they are interchangeable, so wherever they occur in today's liturgy-and there are many such places-feel free to use whichever most fully floats your Easter boat. And feel free to spell it on your internal libretto in whatever fashion enhances your joy.

The word "Hallelujah" in Hebrew means simply "Praise Yahweh." or "Praise the Lord." It comes from "Hill?l" which means "to praise" and "Y?h" which is the first syllable of the Hebrew word for God, "Yahweh." Alleluia is the usual English translation and is derived from the Latin and the Greek. It is a glorious means of offering a joyful sound of praise to the God of resurrection-the God of new life, the Lord of second chances. And third. And fourth. And so on to eternity. Halleluyah?

By the way, I spelled that last one with an "H" at the front-you probably heard that-and a "y-a-h" at the end. Just so you know.

So. With this newly-minted tool for praise at our disposal on this first day after Lent, what is it being used for, exactly? What is it we employ our "Alleluias" to signify in holy praise?

Yes. I suppose that sounds like a stupid question. It's the resurrection, of course! But if you know me at all, you'll expect that I want to say more than just the word. Let me do with "resurrection" what I've spent perhaps too much time doing already with "Allelluia."

This very morning, several women came at dawn to the tomb where Jesus' body had been laid. They brought along spices they had prepared for the task of anointing his body-just as they had no doubt anointed many others, following the traditions of the time.

They're met with an empty tomb and two fellows in unusually bright outfits (Maybe that's why we have the tradition of wearing bright new clothing at Easter!). These radiant men offer an odd statement that strikes me as forgetting the most important bit of news. They go right to "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" without passing through the "He is risen" part. Odd. But they get there finally, reminding these women disciples of some of Jesus' teachings that must not have made much sense until that very moment. "Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise."

Then they remembered. And they spread the news to the male disciples, who seem to have been too afraid to go to the tomb, expecting perhaps the same fate as Jesus. It was, as Luke tells us clearly, Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who were the first witnesses of the resurrection.

This being Women's History Month, it's only fair to point out this fact. Women were the first to preach this great good news. Without the witness of women, at least as Luke tells the tale, the disciples may not have gotten this rather important message-at least not at that hour. Some politicians these days would have names readily at hand to call those cowardly men. I don't intend to let the appalling decline in civility present on the national stage these days seep into the church. So I'll let you use your imaginations.

But God, of course, would not have let those wimps (Oops. Sorry.). God would not have let the male disciples miss the most important part of the story. Luke goes on immediately to tell us about the appearance of Jesus later that day to two of the disciples as they walked to Emmaus. You remember. He was only fully recognized when he took bread, broke it, and distributed it among those at the table. It's a poignant reminder of our Lord's tangible and powerful presence in Holy Communion.

Luke says that their hearts burned within them when Jesus spoke and when he opened scripture to them. But I'll bet that an "Alleluia" was welling up in their throats too. I suspect that there were some such open proclamations of praise to God as that post-resurrection meal was shared.

Go ahead. Say it again with me. Hallelujah! (Thanks.)

The women at the tomb and those laggard disciples all came to know the truth of the resurrection. Their memories slowly reached back to the words of Jesus about what would happen to him. And they recalled his teachings about the Kingdom of God and how its ways are better than the world's ways. And it dawned on them that even when worldly powers dish out the worst they can, even if they too were executed, that even death had lost its sting. Even death couldn't stop Jesus or the truth or the message of God to God's world.

So even the men took to the streets and started preaching this gospel of the grace and good news of life, death, resurrection, and second chances. Many tried to stifle the message, and thousands of Christians paid a huge price. But the more they met with resistance, the more their movement and message spread. It spread like wildfire. Until, eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire itself, and even that empire died.

On this Easter morning, the living resurrected Christ stands before us. He knows us. He knows our joys and our fears. He knows about economic hardship and debt and diminishing resources and environmental destruction. He knows about rotten politics and racial tensions and the growing gulf between the rich and the poor. He knows about the tensions between people of different nations and the terrible drift toward endless war. And he breaks bread with us. And we recognize him. And we know both grace and purpose.

Maybe Jesus needed that walk to Emmaus in order to clear his head. It's something that we surely need in these days. Or maybe we might prefer to cower with those male disciples rather than be out doing the right things along with Mary and Joanna and company.

The charge Jesus gives in Luke is that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Jesus says, point blank, "You are witnesses."

And so, to what will we give witness as we exit from worship on this high holy day? Will we preach and teach and live and practice repentance and forgiveness of sins? Will we let the great good news of the resurrection, of second chances and more, penetrate through our armor of intellect and permeate our spirits?

This is resurrection: knowing the cost but acting anyway, spurred by the love that is willing to give everything for the sake of someone as rotten as I am. As all of us can be.

So we peek our tentative heads from behind protective doors and begin slowly to walk with our risen Lord. Christ's amazing love exposes bogus powers and restores us to right community, where we learn who we really are. We begin to perceive that we are freed by the power of a God with whom we have already died and arisen to live in and offer grace and forgiveness, mercy and peace.

Every time we act on the lordship of Christ, every time we follow the teachings of Jesus, we demonstrate the power of the resurrection in our lives and in this world. Every time we refuse to be cowed by lesser powers, every time we act with a vision of what God desires rather than what the world demands, every time we claim Christ's freedom over fear; every time we tear down the walls of race, class, and sex; love our enemies; stand with the poor; forgive those who've wronged us, restore a broken world, or resist violence by acting for peace, we roll aside the stone from the tomb and rise victorious.

We are witnesses of the greatest single event in history, an event that has motivated more generosity and self-giving love than any other, an event that is more than event. It is a core truth, burning in our hearts as it did in those disciples on the road. It is a soul-centered thing, bubbling up from a well of grace-infused water that bursts forth from us in works of mercy and shouts of-you guessed it "Alleluia." That's what resurrection is all about.

Can I get one more from you? "Alleluia!"

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Amen.

 

 

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