Matthew 6: 7-13; 28: 1-15
April 24, 2011
There’s a prayer we say every Sunday in this church, on glorious days like today and ordinary Sundays as well. We say it as part of our children’s message. And, you know, I love the fact that, as Shasta tells the kids to hold hands, I look out in the congregation and see many of you doing the same. It’s the Lord’s Prayer, and it comes to us from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; this “Kingdom Manifesto” that’s served as our scriptural focus this Lenten season. I’m going to ask that we say it together, but only the first couple of sentences, at which point I’ll ask you to stop. So let us pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven….
Stop right there. For all the hundreds and maybe even thousands of times that you’ve said that prayer, I’m wondering this morning if you heard what you said: Thy kingdom come…ON EARTH as it is in heaven. On earth.
We’ve been talking a lot the past few months about this kingdom and about the fact that, according to Jesus, it has more to do with what God is doing in our lives now than some far-off distant time after our death. We’ve talked about how Jesus has called us in this kingdom – on earth – to do crazy things like love our enemies to death, and walk an extra mile, and stop making a show of our faith, and see who the “blessed ones” really are. And so for the hundreds or thousands of times we’ve prayed this prayer, whether we realized it or not, we’ve joined Jesus in praying daily for God’s kingdom on earth, just as it is in heaven.
Easter is the culmination of that kingdom! Everything about Easter literally shakes the foundations of the cosmos. There was an earthquake that Sunday morning, we are told – one so violent that it tossed aside the huge stone that covered the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. An angel appeared to the two women there – and as if the angel’s presence alone wasn’t enough, we are told his appearance was “like lightning.” You know when you see lightning, how its image stays burned on your retina, seared into your brain long after it’s gone? That’s how it was to look upon this angel. The guards at the tomb were so afraid at the mere sight of him that they literally froze still as if dead. The arrival of God’s kingdom on earth was too much for their bodies to physically handle.
The angel told the women to go tell the others that Jesus was no longer dead; that God’s kingdom had indeed come down to earth. They ran off and brought the others to the empty tomb. And when they brought them back, it wasn’t the angel who greeted them this time, but the risen Jesus himself. And in the lone anti-climactic moment of the whole affair, Jesus greets his friends with the equivalent of, Hey, what’s up? Because even in the resurrection’s awe and majesty and wonder, the arrival of God’s kingdom on earth rightly begins with a friendly word of welcome.
And so for two thousand years since that earth-jolting day, every year on this day, the people of God relive that Easter moment. This we know. It’s why we’re here this morning, dressed in our Sunday best. It’s why we bring flowers to transform an instrument of torture into a symbol of eternal love. It’s why we double the number of hymns; why we gather around the table together and take part in God’s holy meal. Only on Easter Sunday could we do something un-Presbyterian like move the worship service an hour earlier and get away with it!
We know what happened on Easter. But that’s a whole lot different than living it. Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and writer, once explained kingdom-living like this:
Time after time Jesus tries to drum into our heads what he means by it. He heaps parable upon parable like a madman. He tries shouting it. He tries whispering it. What he seems to be saying is that the Kingdom of God is the time…when it will no longer be humans in their lunacy who are in charge of the world, but God in his mercy who will be in charge of the world. It’s the time above all else for wild rejoicing – like getting out of jail, like being cured of cancer, like finally, at long last, coming home. (Secrets In The Dark by Frederick Buechner, New York: HarperCollins 2005, pg. 118)
My friends, this is a time for “wild rejoicing!” This is what was set in motion in those first days of creation; a world where God is at the center and the people are charged with taking care of creation instead of manipulating it. This is what the prophets spoke about time and time again as they railed against the leaders of their day and spoke about God’s justice. This is what Jesus embodied in his life and death and, now, in his resurrection. Easter is a time for “wild rejoicing!” Easter is a time for “Good News!”
But that does not mean that it is easy news. For while kingdom-living is a gift we receive, it is also a burden we must bear. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we cannot help but be put at odds with the kingdoms of this world: And the contrasts between the two could not be any greater:
- The kingdoms of this world call blessed those who by human standards are considered “successful.” God’s kingdom calls blessed the meek and mild, the suffering and the persecuted, all of those forgotten and overlooked.
- The kingdoms of this world say that following the letter of the law is the way to righteousness. God’s kingdom calls its subjects to a deeper level of understanding and a deeper level of faith.
- The kingdoms of this world tell us to love those who love you back and not worry about the rest. God’s kingdom calls us to seek out our greatest offenders and love them to death.
- The kingdoms of this world put a premium on outward appearances and a “good show.” God’s kingdom cuts through all the fluff and focuses on what’s real.
- Most of all, the kingdoms of this world define power and might in terms of the size of one’s wallet or the stockpile of a nation’s weapons. But in God’s kingdom, true power comes from a wooden cross, and an empty tomb, and death-in-reverse.
That’s why the kingdoms of this world have no clue what to do with God’s kingdom. Just look at the end of our passage today – a full-on cover-up story to disclaim the resurrection. Because the mere thought of something like “death-in-reverse” absolutely terrified them. So they set out to minimize it, snuff it out like a flame that fades away when the wick is all used up.
But what they found – what the world found – is that the flame of the resurrection of Jesus Christ never gets used up. And that’s why Easter is not just a nice little story we observe from a distance. It’s one we enter into with our very lives! And when we do, we find that our God doesn’t simply roll a stone away from a tomb – this Jesus rolls away anything and everything that acts as a tomb for us; everything that prevents us from living as full-fledged citizens in God’s municipality. This Jesus does more than call the people of God to moral, upright lives. This Jesus stirs something inside them – so that, as author Shane Claiborne once put it, they “believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it right now.”
How amazing that world must be! And the fact is, if we look around, we catch glimpses of it here and there – even in the strangest of places. I saw God’s kingdom one time in a photograph taken, of all places, at an NBA basketball game. Game Five of the 1998 NBA Finals; the Chicago Bulls vs. the Utah Jazz. I’m sure you’ve seen it before. The final seconds are ticking off the clock, and Michael Jordan himself is launching a jump shot that, if it goes in, will win the game and the title for the Chicago Bulls. The picture is taken from behind him, Jordan’s outstretched right arm thrusting the ball in the air. It is a classic moment, frozen in time.
It’s easy to focus on Jordan in this picture – he is the reason it was taken, of course. But if you keep looking, you start to notice the crowd behind the basketball goal; hundreds of people in the picture. All shapes and sizes. They’re standing there in rapt attention; their eyes focused on the ball, mouths wide open, arms tucked in, hands clenched. Their entire body language is hopelessly caught up in that basketball, suspended above the goal, and whether it’s going in or not.
And if you look a little bit more, you notice something else: a young boy, around ten years old, to the left and six rows up. What you notice is, while everyone around him is stuck in basketball purgatory, this little guy is ahead of the game. He wears on his face a jubilant smile; his whole body is an expression of pure joy. And you notice one last thing: while everyone else has their arms drawn in to their side, he is the only one - the only one - whose arms are raised up; raised to the rafters in a victory that had not yet come to pass. (http://issuu.com/relevantmagazine/docs/relevant49, visited on 3.8.2011)
Say the prayer with me once again please: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. My dear friends, if Easter means anything to us, it means this: the kingdom of God is at hand! And not in some far-off distant time, but right here and right now. If only we could be like that little boy and raise our hands to the heavens, even as the world around us continues to wait for what we know will happen. For what, in a way, has already happened. He is risen! He is risen indeed!! Alleluia! AMEN!