the second sunday of easter …

Acts 5. 27-35
The church is called to carry crosses!

“At last, the prince came to a chamber of gold, where he saw upon a bed the fairest sight one ever beheld—a princess of about seventeen years who looked as if she had just fallen asleep. Trembling, the prince knelt beside her, and awakened her with a kiss. And now the enchantment was broken.

“The princess looked at him with wondering eyes and said: “Is it you, my prince? I have waited for you long ….”

“That very evening the prince and princess were married. The next day the prince took his bride to his father’s palace, and there they lived … happily, ever after.”

“And there they lived … happily, ever after!” Of course, that’s the end of the fairy tale about Sleeping Beauty. But then, that’s, pretty much, how all fairy tales end. With living happily ever after. Last Sunday, that’s what came to mind … as we ate breakfast … as we hunted for eggs … as we sung our songs and said our prayers … especially the prince kneeling beside the princess, awakening her with a kiss. That was the moment the enchantment was broken. The image swirled around me. In the tulips that lined the chancel, and the flower that covered the cross, I heard the princess’ question. “Is it you?” Is it you?

Jesus Christ is ris’n today,” we sang! Our triumphant day! Holy day! Alleluia! Again and again! Over and over! Thine the glory! Risen! Conquering! Endless vict’ry! And that was just the beginning! We’ll be singing more like it for the next month-or-so! And through it all, I kept hearing those last half dozen words. And they lived happily ever after!

Well, here we are. A week later. Crowds gone. Flowers wilted. Exclamation marks missing. And we’re already back to the same old sameOld. Even the reading from Acts smacks of the mundane. Jesus has risen. He’s ascended. The Spirit’s even come. Peter and John have gone to the temple. At the gate, a beggar asks for help. And they heal him. Peter tells the people about Jesus. For that, they are arrested. Thrown in prison. In the morning, they are released – on one condition. Never talk about Jesus, again. Needless to say, here they are, in front of the Council, once more. The strife o’er? The battle done? The vict’ry of life won? All that’s true! All that’s happened! But apparently, that doesn’t mean they won’t suffer. Evidently, even as they live “happily ever after,” there are still tears.

You see, there are two kinds of suffering in life. One is the suffering all of us endure, simply, because we’re people. We have no choice. As the philosopher says, “To live is to suffer.” I won’t bother listing how. You know what I mean. But, as Christians – as church – there’s another kind of suffering. A suffering not all of us endure! A suffering experienced only by god’s people! There are crosses we have to carry, because they’re ours. But sometimes, there are crosses we carry that aren’t ours. Crosses that belong to someone else. And those crosses are expressions, demonstrations, of love! They’re expressions, demonstrations, of love! And they lived happily ever after!

The promise of the easter – the promise of resurrection – isn’t that suffering finally comes to an end! The promise is that suffering – that second kind of suffering –just begins! “If any want to become my followers,” he says, “let them deny themselves! Let them take up the cross! Let them suffer! Just! Like! Me!” “Those who want to save their life will lose it! Those who lose their life … for me … for others … will save it!” Love – for us – isn’t butterflies and goosebumps! Love – for us – isn’t candlelight and soft music! Love – for us – is sacrifice and suffering! Love – for us – is crosses! And those things never, ever end!

The enchantment’s broken! The curse is crushed! Not so we can avoid suffering! Not so we can escape it! It’s been broken and crushed, so that we can, finally, offer it as a gift to the people around us! Jesus isn’t on the cross because he’s human. He’s on the cross because he cares! On the cross because he loves! And being created – recreated – in his image, we’re the echoes, the reflections, of that love! Sure, there’s suffering that is forced on us. Suffering we must bear because we’re dust. But there’s, also, suffering we willingly and freely embrace! Suffering we bear because we are spirit! And that kind of suffering, we call love!

For us, living happily brings with it blood and sweat and tears all its own. God soLoved that god gave Jesus. To sacrifice. To suffer. To love! And that doesn’t just end on Easter morning! It doesn’t fade away! It goes on and on! God soLoves that god gives us, as well! To sacrifice! To suffer! To love! Just! Like! Jesus! It isn’t an enchantment. It’s not a curse. It’s love! It’s life!

Christ doesn’t want a people with halos and wings. Christ doesn’t need a people who strum harps while singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Christ wants and needs what our neighbors want and need … a people who loves! A people willing and able to sacrifice, to suffer! Willing and able to pick up the crosses they don’t have to carry. Pick them up and carry them as if they were their own! Because that, for us … that, for us, is love! And it starts not with us. It starts with Jesus. Picking up our crosses! And making them his own! It starts not with our good intentions … or our wishful thing … but with god’s goodFriday!

So, my friends, take a look around! A good, hard look! Because this … all this … is our happily ever after! As Christ was given, we, too, are given! And here, in this place, we become the good news – the gospel – we’ve staked our life on! We, too, sacrifice! We, too, suffer! We, too, love! Just! Like! Jesus!

Midland Lutheran Church