Journey through The Great 50 Days of Easter with Foundry as we let stories from the early church as recorded in Acts inspire us. In story after story, we receive examples of followers of Jesus’ Way who face obstacles, keep going, and learn and grow as a result. These and other stories will be highlighted as we seek encouragement for the living of these days.
Resurrection Resilience: You’ve Got Friends in Low Places
The Rev. James A. Harnish
Foundry United Methodist Church
April 24, 2022
Revelation 1:4-9, Acts 5:27-32
Can you believe it’s only been a week since Easter Sunday? Has it only been seven days since we shouted, “Christ is risen indeed!” and felt that we might just believe it? After headlines and social media posts we’ve read this week, from Mariupol to Tallahassee, are you tempted to feel that the “hope” we declared last Sunday is little more than “a thing with feathers that perches in the soul” -- to misquote Emily Dickinson?
In some liturgical traditions, today is called “Low Sunday.” One reference, perhaps attempting to be helpful to disappointed preachers says that “low” refers to “the lack of high ritual used on Easter, and not to the low attendance usual on this day.” Whoever wrote that clearly was not a pastor in an American Protestant church!
Ginger and I have a colleague who told his congregation last Sunday that he has a recurring dream that everyone who was in worship on Easter would be in the same pews the following Sunday. He also confessed that it’s a dream that never seems to come true.
When I was a young, associate pastor in my first appointment, I looked forward to Low Sunday because that was the day I got to preach! Which, come to think of it, is not unlike being retired!
But what if Low Sunday is more than a liturgical label from a largely forgotten tradition? What if Low Sunday is, in fact, where we spend most of our days? Every day is not Easter Sunday. If it were, we’d burn the choirs out in no time! Most of us some of the time and some of us most of the time, live in the lower days, ordinary days, days that all too often seem too much like every other day.
What if the angels at the tomb got it right when they told the women that they were looking for Jesus in the wrong place? They said the Risen Christ was not hanging around the empty tomb, but was already ahead of them, going back to Galilee, back there in the real world, with real people and real problems and if they wanted to see him, they needed to get moving.
And what it that’s where we will see him, too?
So – just to prove that I listened to Ginger’s Easter sermon – to whoever needs to hear this, I want to misquote Garth Brooks to say that to believe in the resurrection is to know that you’ve got friends in low places.
To believe that Christ is risen is to believe that he walks with us in the low places, the ordinary places, and that if we keep our eyes open, we’ll find him there and in finding him, we will find resurrection resilience for the exhausting and exhilarating life to which he calls us.
One morning when our first-born granddaughter, Julia, was 3 or 4 years old, she climbed in bed with us at some ungodly early morning hour. We snuggled for a moment and then, with what I thought was grandfatherly wisdom, I said, “Julia, we can’t get up until we see sunshine in the window.” Then I closed my eyes to go back to sleep, foolishly believing that she would follow my example. A few moments later there was a tap on my shoulder. “Gampa,” she said, “you can’t see the sunshine with your eyes shut.”
Across the weeks ahead, you’re being invited to keep your eyes open as you find your way into the stories of the early church in the book of Acts. The truth is that you could hardly imagine a lower place that where the story takes us this morning.
The back story is that Peter and John found a man who had been paralyzed since birth. Like so many people without health insurance today, he was looking for any help he could get. Peter and John said, “We don’t have any money, but in the name of Jesus, rise up and walk!” I suspect they were as surprised as the paralyzed man when it happened! It caused such a ruckus that the power people who would rather than left him paralyzed that be healed, hauled Peter and John into court, told them to stop preaching about Christ, but they next day, they were at it again. This time they were beaten and thrown into prison, but the same power that tore open the tomb and raised the paralyzed man broke open the prison doors and the next morning they were at it again.
They were dragged back before the court again.
When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority.
Now, there’s sacred resistance! Here’s the question: Where can we find that kind of resurrection resilience for the low places in our lives? Like the old preachers used to tell us to do, I have three points and a poem.
First, in the low places, remember that you’re not alone. You don’t have to do it by yourself.
The readings for today include the opening verses of the last book in the bible, the often mysterious, “Star Wars” genre book of Revelation. Talk about low places! The writer in a political exile on the Island of Patmos. I can’t read the story without picture Robbin Island, that barren, hard, cold, chunk of limestone of the coast of South Africa where Nelson Mandela and his revolutionary colleagues were imprisoned. Here’s the way the writer introduces himself. “I, John, your brother in the hardship, the kingdom, and the endurance that we have in Jesus.” Even exiled on Patmos, he knew he was not alone.
Your baptism means that you don’t have to face this life alone. The congregation promised to “surround you with a community of love and forgiveness.” It’s like that opening song in “West Side Story.” “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” When you are baptized, you are born into this family called church, and in community with other followers of Christ, you can find strength, resilience for the days ahead. You’ve got friends in low places. Remember you are not alone.
Second, in the low places, we can find resilience by retelling the story; the story of what God did for us in Christ.
The problem for Peter and John was not just that they disrupted the health care system by healing a paralyzed man, but that they couldn’t stop talking about it. They couldn’t stop, would not stop, telling the story of Jesus and pointing to the way his story changes and challenges all our other stories.
That is, of course, what out Jewish siblings do every Sabbath when they light the candles and every Passover when they answer the question, “Why is this evening not like every other evening?” They keep retelling the story of God’s liberating power in their lives. And they never stop telling it.
I don’t remember how I knew this, but when my father – who, by the way, was not preacher – died, I remembered he said his favorite hymn was, “I love the tell the story of Jesus and his love.” Through all the ups and downs, the successes and failures of his life, he kept on telling and retelling the story, and finding in that story the power to go on. It was in that story he found the strength in which he lived and the peace in which he died.
So, keep retelling the story, the great biblical story of God’s love, God’s justice, God’s grace, God’s liberation, God’s power, and God’s hope revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Third, we can find resilience in the low places by rejoicing in resurrection hope.
The great good news is that Christ is risen indeed, just as much as he was risen last Sunday. In the worship calendar of the church, these Sundays following Easter are not called the Sundays after Easter, but the Sundays of Easter. The preposition makes a difference. It’s the way the church declares that Easter in not just a day we remember, but a life we live.
Some of you may remember a song that is now old but was once a contemporary Christian song.
Every morning is Easter morning from now on
Every day’s resurrection day the past is over and gone.
I have a friend who likes to say that because Christ is risen, tomorrow is never just another day.
Listen to the way this story from Acts ends. “Everyone was praising God f or what had happened, because the man who had experienced healing was over 40 years old.”
Forty doesn’t really seem that old to me but watch for it in the book of Acts. Whatever happens and whatever low places they are in, they can’t stop rejoicing in a hope that is not yet fulfilled but is always on the way.
Watch for it in the book of Revelation. This mysterious, complicated collection of Star Wars like images, is structured around vision of worship and praise the assurance the one day “the kingdoms of this earth will in fact become the kingdoms of Lord and he will reign forever and ever.” It reverberates with the choirs singing, “Hallelujah!” Now, that’s reliance!
Desmond Tutu died this year. No one knew how to rejoice in hope more than he did. Have you read The Book of Joy with his amazing conversations with the Dali Lama? He walked through low places and faced all the darkness of Apartheid with an elf-like, joyfully confident hope. Here are his words for us.
Dear Child of God, it is often difficult for us to recognize the presence of God in our lives and in our world. In the clamor of the tragedy that fills the headlines we forget about the majesty that is present all around us. We feel vulnerable and often helpless … But we are not helpless and with God’s love we are ultimately invincible … Our God does not forget those who are suffering and oppressed.
All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend [God’s] kingdom of shalom—peace and wholeness—of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.
(God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, 1–3, 128.)
If my mother had not died at 95, she would have been 101 years old this week. She was 90 when she was in worship with us on Easter Sunday. Our tradition was to invite anyone who wanted to join the choir in singing the “Hallelujah” chorus to come forward, pick up a score and join them during the closing hymn.
During the hymn, then our eight-year-old granddaughter, Julia, punched my wife in the fibs and said, “Gamma, look at Gampa’s face.” She saw the look of surprised in my face when I saw the mother stepping out into the aisle and tottering down the aisle. She always sang in choirs and loved Handel’s “Hallelujah.” But I wondered how she would make it down the aisle. Our son-in-law stepped out, took her arm, and walked her to the chancel.
When I acknowledged my surprise and concern to her later, she said, “You have to sing your Hallelujah when you can. I didn’t know if I’d get to sing it again.” The next time she sang it was with the choirs of heaven. That’s rejoicing in hope.
In the low places, we can find resurrection resilience as we:
Remember we are not alone.
Retell the story.
Rejoice in hope.