Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Good Friday – April 18, 2014
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been gathering materials for tomorrow’s “Easter Event” for children. One of my many stops was at a local party store – one of those places where you can buy absolutely everything you’d need for any kind of celebration – engagement parties, baby showers, afternoon tea, not to mention the themed merchandise: “Barbie” birthdays and Hawaiian Luaus.
And, of course, they have everything necessary for an Easter celebration: brightly colored plates adorned with bunnies, matching napkins, dyes and stickers for colored eggs, jellybeans, rabbit-ear headgear, plastic anything, plastic everything – everywhere.
This year, the store’s spring slogan – pasted all over the store’s plate glass widows – announces in bold, bright, happy letters says: “Nobody has more Easter for Less!”
Nobody has more Easter for less. And that’s supposed to be a good thing.
It’s a good thing, right? We want Easter – and we want a lot of it – at a discounted price. We want the joy of waking up to a bright spring morning – good coffee over the Times, a festive church service followed by a feast with family and friends. We want to celebrate new life – the blossoming of the trees, the bursting of buds – we are genuinely happy about new life.
Yes, we want Easter – a lot of it – and we’re tempted to want it for less.
We want Easter but we want it for less because the “more” – the higher cost of Easter isn’t easy. The “more” of Easter is dark, it’s uncomfortable, it’s ugly and, if we’re paying attention, it’s all too familiar.
The “more” of Easter begins on Palm Sunday with an inkling that things were getting worse. Jesus and his friends finally arrive in Jerusalem surrounded by a crowd of people who love him, who want to be with him, women and children as well as men greet him with shouts of joy, peasants whose hope was renewed by the Jesus’ words of liberation and his actions of love and healing.
Going to Jerusalem was risky. It was almost certain death for Jesus. Not all were so keen on his message of freedom. He was entering the city as one identified by both the religious and the civil authorities as a troublemaker – a serious threat to public and religious order. Entering the city meant further confrontation with the leaders of his own faith and the political establishment. The higher cost of Easter includes taking risks.
During Jesus’ last meal with his friends, he identified another cost – a new commandment: “Love one another.” Jesus asks us to put aside our own self-interest, our own privilege in order to lift up and lovingly, humbly meet the needs of others.
The “more” of Easter includes betrayal. Fanned by fear and mistrust, the flame of betrayal spread like wild fire. His best friends hid – in shadows and sleep. They wondered in anguish: who is this man we thought we knew? Who are we – now that we’ve left all that we were and all that we had in order to follow him? The higher cost of Easter includes asking hard questions – what do we believe about this man and our connection to him? How have we betrayed that relationship?
The “more” of Easter includes violence. Aroused from the silence of prayer and sleep, a garden becomes an arena filled with the noise of armed soldiers – spears and knives, sweat and spit. Blood.
The “more” of Easter includes guilt and shame – what have I done? What have I done? Confusion and remorse – that gut wrenching sense that there is no way to change what has occurred – no way to make it right – no way to go back. Sinking. The only way out is to run – far and fast. The unquenchable fire of guilt, grief and remorse settle like gall in the belly.
And now it’s Friday – Jesus has been condemned. It is too late…. too late to run, too late to hide, too late to stop the killing…. too late to do anything but be swept along with the crowd making its way through the city gates and up the hill of death. It is too late to do anything but watch the drama, the horror, unfold. And so we wait.
And we count the real cost of Easter: the risks Jesus took, the humble, loving service he offered, the betrayal he endured, the violence of anger and fear that resulted in his death.
Is the price too high – is it more than we are willing to spend?
Are we able to take some risks – to go to unpleasant and perhaps dangerous places in order to follow Jesus?
Are we willing to shake off the sleepy self-contentment of privilege in order to love and serve one another as well as those we may never meet?
Do we dare look deep within ourselves to confront the reality of our own betrayal?
Can we acknowledge and confess the violence in our lives – the pain we cause, the suffering we ignore.
Yes, we can have more Easter for less –
Or we can have Easter at closer to the real cost.
See from his head, his hands, his feet –
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did ere such love and sorrow meet –
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine –
That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine –
Demands my soul, my life, my all.