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the sermon for

the Memorial Service for Gene Alan [Gordon]

15 April 2017

Matthew 27:57-61
On Good Friday, Jesus dies. On Easter, Jesus rises.
On Holy Saturday, he rests.

04152017Today is the first time I've, ever, had a memorial service on Holy Saturday. Yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow Easter. But for now, Jesus is in the tomb. He rests. And to be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to do, how to handle it. You see, the last thing we did on Thursday night was to strip the altar. We removed the cup and plate we used for communion. Took away the candlesticks, the fair linen, the hangings. It's something we do every Maundy Thursday evening to foreshadow the crucifixion of Jesus, when he was stripped before being nailed to the cross. The church unadorned. Bare. Empty. Stark. And usually, this is how it stays till Easter morning. Suffered under Pilate. Was crucified. Died. Was buried. Descended to the dead. That's what all this symbolizes, what all this represents.

Anyway, my first impulse was to get the ladies on our altar guild together and decorate for Easter morning, a little early! Have the resurrection happen just a few hours ahead of schedule. Break out the white hanging, the linen, the candlesticks, even the lilies! So that by the time y'all came in, this morning, it would look a little more like church-as-usual! But the more I thought about it, the more I decided against it. In fact, I figured it would, actually, be better just to keep it the way it is.

After all, today isn't Easter, no matter how much we want it to be. It's Holy Saturday – the day the disciples mourn... the day Jesus lies in the tomb... And this is the way we decorate for it. This is what that day in between looks like... and sounds like... and feels like... That day in between Good Friday and Easter... in between the dying and the rising... in between yesterday and tomorrow... in between what has been and what is yet to be...

But even more than that, I thought I'd just keep it the same because, you see, this – for Jesus – is a day of rest! This is his seventh day! For a whole week, he's been preparing a new creation. And this is his Saturday, his day of rest! And I thought that's something that would be important for Gene, as well! Finally... at last... a day of rest! A time to do absolutely nothing! Not build ten-feet-tall, bear proof and squirrel proof, bird feeders! Not, even, do any fishing – if you could consider fishing work! One life over, another not yet begun. This is that day in between! All the achievements, all the accomplishments that lie behind. Medals and trophies scattered along the way. Describing him. Defining him. All that lies ahead waiting, unknown. But for now, just resting. No appointments to keep. No therapy! No treatments! This is Saturday! The Sabbath! The day in between! When we rest! When we get ready! But for now, .safe and sound, out of harm's way! Wrapped up in god's love like a quilt! God behind! God beside! God before! God beneath! God above!

First glance, at all of this, it seems like something's missing, that something's wrong! But look again and we realize everything we need – everything any of us needs – is right here! Family! Friends! The memories! The dreams! It's not what's outside that matters, not at times like this! It's what's on the inside! That's the decoration! The adornment! And we don't need to cover it all up! To clutter! To confuse! This is good, this is very good, just the way it is! Te good fight has been fought! The race has been run! And a life, a life has been lived well! After that, comes the rest! The well deserved rest!

In baptism, as we were reminded at the start of the service, we were joined to the dying and rising of Christ. But what I never realized until this morning... we were joined, as well, to this day! This Sabbath! This day of holy rest! And far from somber... and far from stark... this is a day full of faith and hope and love... Especially of love! Gene's love for us! Our love for Gene and for one another! Most of all, god's love for all of us! Every Sunday, I was told, is a celebration of the resurrection! That means that every Friday commemorates the cross! And every Saturday... every Saturday is this! The day of rest that lies between the two! No, there is no better time than this to commend someone to god's care! No better time to lay them to rest! And for us to rest alongside them!

So, I was tempted. Tempted to skip over, this day. And if I had, it would have been wrong. This moment is important. Even essential. This day between! Between Good Friday and Easter! This day between the cross and the resurrection, between the dying and the rising! This holy day of rest! This day of holy rest! If I had leaped right over it, it would have been unfair to Jesus! It would have been unfair to us! It would have been unfair, most of all, to Gene! So, my friends, remember this day! Remember this holy Saturday! And rest in it! Rest in it, forever!

 
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the sermon for

Good Friday

14 April 2017

John 19:31-42
Only at the cross do we see god
in all god's glory!

04132017There was a time in my life when faith – believing – was a simple thing. We were all doomed! We were all going to hell! Unless and until we believed in god! It was all wrath and retribution! Hell and damnation! Fire and brimstone! With a life preserver thrown in on the side! How did we say it in the old red hymnal? "We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean!" Of course, saying it in the King's English makes it all so much more pitiful. We are sinners! We do what god doesn't want; and don't do what god wants. God is disappointed in us! Frustrated! Angry! And of course, there are consequences! There's a price that must be paid! Thus, we're all going to burn in hell! Unless... Until... It's all nice and neat, black and white, night and day...

Of course, there were times things could get a little convoluted. Like when you tried to understand what, exactly, it meant to believe! Was believing in god like believing in the Easter Bunny? Believing there was a god? That god existed? Or did it include believing in the bible? Each dotted i, every crossed t? Did it mean believing in a literal creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Flood? Did it include believing in a literal virgin birth and a literal resurrection, but only a metaphorical, symbolic Lord's Supper? Did you have to believe in angels and demons? In heaven and hell? In miracles? The devil? End times? Second Comings? And did you have to believe in all of it? Or some of it? And if some, which bits and pieces? Other than that, it was all, pretty plain, pretty simple. We're all going to hell! Unless and until we believe!

But that was before I came here. Before I came here and stood at the foot of the cross. And for the very first time, I saw Jesus! Right here! Right now! And when I did that, everything I once thought was so important... Everything I, at one time, believed fundamental, essential... no longer mattered! None of it mattered! Only one thing was vital, only one thing crucial... and that one thing was Jesus! Jesus and the love that led him, that lured him, to this place! To this moment! Christ and Christ crucified! That's what Paul calls it! Christ and Christ crucified! That's the only thing that's important! The only thing that means anything! That only thing whatsoever that matters! Standing here... sitting here... and looking up at the cross has a way of putting everything else into perspective!

God loved the world that god did this...

Having loved his own, he loved them here...

This... THIS is the great love with which he loved...

Not that we loved god, but that god first loved us...

This place, this day, is the only reason we do anything!

No, I thought it all was so simple, until I came here. And when I did, everything became even simpler, still! God loves. Period. And Jesus... Jesus is that love! Love we can see! Love we can hear! Love we can touch! Love we can, even, smell and taste! Given and shed. For you. For all. No. We come to here and everything, finally, falls into place. No threats, only promises. No fear, only peace. No ifs, ands, or buts; only the certain and sure! No unless, no until, only charity, only grace, only love!

Take a look at the cross, again! Look at the body broken... at the blood shed... and tell me... who will be excluded? Who will be left out? If god, Jesus, is willing to do this... all this... who will be cast out? Forever? Simply because they didn't believe? Whatever that means! Which sin is more powerful than this? What sinner so unpardonable? So unjustifiable? It's easy to draw lines, easy to give 'em hell... when you're standing on sinai. But it's difficult, maybe even impossible, when you're here, at the summit of Golgotha. To separate goats from sheep... chaff from grain... tares from wheat... Here... now... what was, once, so clear... is no longer quite so obvious... is no longer quite so apparent...

It's here, in the shadow of the cross, that we are, finally, blinded by the brilliance of god's love! God's grace overwhelms us! God's grace engulfs us! God's grace sweeps us off our feet and carries us away! And we're lost! Lost in wonder! Lost in awe! Dazed! Speechless! Tears well up! Our throats tighten! As we begin to understand that this – all of this – was done for us! And we are conquered, vanquished, by god's mercy and grace! The sound of that last heartbeat... The whisper of that final breath... silences and stills the mob!

God loves us! Loves us without limit! Loves us without measure! Loves us without end! And what can our mere believing ever add to that? What can our meager faith ever hope to complete? And so, all we do – on a night like this... in a place like this... is sit... and stare... and offer up our hushed Amens...

 
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