Easter is Hard Won

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen Indeed, alleluia.

Good morning on this glorious spring Easter Day. It's always so nice to see your faces, parishioners, friends, and family, people from afar. If you’re visiting for the first time, a special welcome to you. After the service we have a coffee hour and I hope you'll join us for that, and also come back. This is a great parish, and a great time to be part of it.  

Today, we celebrate our happiest day, the very reason we exist, as a church, and as Christians, Easter Day. It happens to fall, this year, on the same day as the feast of someone in our calendar of saints that you may or may not have heard of. His name is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now, technically all Sundays and especially Easter Sunday override lesser commemorations like saints’ days. But I always check the calendar for interesting convergences like this, to see what they might teach us. 

Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who was part of the resistance to the Nazis. He began speaking out in the early 1930s, and soon became part of an organized resistance movement. Many of its members were arrested and put into prison camps. Some survived; some did not. Bonhoeffer was executed just months before the war ended in 1945. Today his feast is honored each year on April 9 by churches all over the world. 

He also made a visit right here to Scarsdale, in 1941, and spoke at the Greenville Community church just over the hill, on Ardsley Rd. A week from now they’ll be hosting a symposium on the 75th anniversary of that visit (delayed because of Covid). 

Many here also know that the local Baptist Church, Scarsdale Baptist (just down Popham Rd towards the village), once hosted Dr. Martin Luther King. We, many of us, including St. James, have incredible stories to tell of times when our churches have stood on the right side of history. 

The coincidence of Bonhoeffer’s feast with Easter Day is meaningful. Because his life modeled the central truth of Easter: that to get to today, with its trumpets and flowers and joy; to reach the fullness of what we’re called to be by God, we have to first pass through Good Friday, and the cross. There is no other way. Struggle and freedom, death and resurrection--are inextricably bound together. 

Some of you were able this past week to spend time here walking through the last days of Jesus’ life, which we act out liturgically--and have done for almost 2000 years. On Thursday we gathered to remember the night Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, then taken away by the Roman guards. That service ended with one of the most striking moments in the church year, the stripping of the altar where we removed everything--every candle, cross, even the linens and kneelers from the high altar and chancel around it. The cold marble altar and its bleak surroundings recall a tomb. 

On Friday, many came back to hear St. John’s Passion sung, in which was told the final hours of Jesus at his trial, and his death on the cross. We consumed the remaining sacrament, and extinguished the candle signifying Christ’s presence.

Easter doesn’t come out of the blue. It follows a process of pain and death. It’s hard won. And I wonder, looking each of us at our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, and of the institutions and societies we belong to: If we’re not engaged in some struggle, are we claiming the fullness of life that was promised us that first Easter morning? 

Struggle, even death--Big D, but also small “d” death as in the the things that have to die to free us up for new ways, new friendships, new patterns of thinking and living, new life--struggle and death, far from being signs something is heading in the wrong direction, may well be signs they’re going in the right direction. That a fuller life lies ahead, if we can just pass through and get to the other side.

We English speakers are among the few who call this day “Easter,” which actually (I didn’t know this until this year) derives from the name of an old pre-Christian pagan goddess Aestre. The majority of the Christian world uses a word for today that comes from the Hebrew festival underlying our celebration: Pesach, Passover. So Greek Christians call today Pascha, the French Paques, Spanish Pascua, in Dutch Pasen, in Swedish Pask. And so on. We’re the odd ones out. And so we miss the sense of it being a passing through trial to get to freedom. Passing through death, to get to life.

So What does an Easter life look like for you, a life “fully alive”? What must you overcome, pass through, to get there? Christ, and so many of the saints (like Bonhoeffer) made better lives and worlds by taking this Easter journey. The journey to which God calls us every year, all over again, so that one of these times, or once again, we’ll stand up and claim our life in Christ, the life (to quote St. Paul) that really is life.