Sermon: “The Cruelty of April”

The sermon podcast is at the bottom of this post.

Matthew 28:1-10 and Acts 10:34-43
Easter Sunday
April 20, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Jonny Gomes #5 of the Boston Red Sox lays the World Series trophy and the 'Boston Strong 617' jersey onto the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street during the World Series victory parade on November 2, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jonny Gomes #5 of the Boston Red Sox lays the World Series trophy and the ‘Boston Strong 617’ jersey onto the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street during the World Series victory parade on November 2, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

It was the poet T.S. Elliot that once said that April was the cruelest month. Living as we do in the Northern United States, we know that April is all sunshine and flowers. April can be rainy and cold and we saw this week snow in April in Minnesota is not an unheard of event.

It was the Facebook posting of a friend that reminded me that April is the cruelest month not just because of the weather, but because some of the most memorable tragedies and disasters seemed to have taken place in April. Here’s just a few: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the sinking of the Titanic, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the genocide in Rwanda, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine School shootings, the Virgina Tech Shooting, Boston Marathon Bombing. I should add that most of these events happened to take place between April 14 and April 20.

My friend found this information on the website Gizmodo. The writer of this article says the following about this week and why is it so terrible:

Of course, if you look back far enough into history, you’re going to find something terrible for every day because, well, terrible things happen all the time. But you have to admit, this week just isn’t a good week for American history. Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s because people suck.

The writer’s words were a bit coarse, but in many ways this writer is on the right track. We live in world where death seems to rule. People hurt and kill others that they don’t agree with or are different. People hurt others because of mental illness or because they just want to see people suffer.

These events remind us that things are not right in the world. If we think about this long enough, we might just give up, believing that there is no hope for people.

Today’s scripture in Matthew is about the ressurection of Jesus. The women associated with Jesus’ ministry come to the tomb to finish preparing his body for a proper burial. They had seen what had happened a few days earlier; they saw their friend Jesus die a miserable death. They expected to do the business they had to do and then leave the tomb with heavy hearts.

But something happens. The ground starts to shake violently. An angel appears and sits on the stone in front of the tomb. I can only imagine that having an earthquake and then some odd being dressed in white had to be fear inducing. The guards at the tomb were so frightened that they fainted. The stone is moved and then the angel says to the women: “Don’t be afraid.”

“Don’t be afraid?” Really? You just roll a stone away and cause grown men and you tell people to chill out? God does have an odd way of doing things.

The angel tells the women that Jesus isn’t here. Jesus has been risen from the dead, just as he said. This is a joyous message, but listen to what the passage says: the women leave the tomb filled with fear and joy. Maybe the women were acting like most of us do at times, hopeful for better times, but knowing deep down this might be an illusion. Maybe they were overwhelmed by the odd events and wondered if any of this was real. But they also had to have a bit of excitement that maybe, just maybe, what the angel said could be true. The women carried in their hearts fear and joy at the same time. That’s not so unusual; we always live in joy and in fear. We love our children, but we are fearful of the world we are giving them; we love our work, but fear getting laid off, we are happy to retire from decades of work, but fear how to make financially and it goes on and on. Hoping for the best, planning for the worst, that’s how you have to live in a world of cruel Aprils.

When Jesus appears in this text, he tells the women the same thing: “Don’t be afraid.” I don’t think the angel or Jesus meant that its a sin to be frightened. There’s a lot in this life to fear. Jesus disciples would face many challenges that would cause them to fear. To not be afraid is to not be overcome by the fear. It is to place our hope in the Risen Savior and believe that death and fear don’t have the last word, that love and God will always win.
Easter is really about courage. It is about believing and trusting in God even when things look uncertain and scary. The ressurrection is not telling us that we will never have hard times; it is a promise that reminds us that God is the rock we can cling to when times are hard. The ressurrection is wonderous that Jesus defeated death, but remember, Jesus still died.

As we at First discern our future, we need to mindful that God is with us during these uncertain times. We believe in an Easter God, the kind that conquer death and give us new life. But we are also an Easter people- we believe that Jesus was raised, we believe God is there even when things look dark and hopeless. This congregation, First Christian of St. Paul is called to go from this place and be messengers of this ressurection hope. We are called to share Christ to those who are hungry and homeless, to those who are lonely, to those facing addiction, to the whole wide world. We share this message in word and indeed. We can say all of this in the midst of genocide, shootings, terrorism and the like not by ignoring the evil that is in the world, but by believing in the ressurection power of Jesus in thick of a world where bystanders are injured or killed by a homeade bomb and where a disgruntled person can drive a rental truck to a building in a major city and cause havoc. Nothing, nothing, nothing can deny this wonderous message: the tomb is empty, death doesn’t have the last word.

That is the message we leave here with. April can do its worst, but we are an Easter people serving an Easter God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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