Sermon/homily on Sunday, April 23, 2017, in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida. The Rev. Tom Weller
Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 20:19-31: that’s a fine gospel, but I’m not going to talk about the gospel, I’m going to talk about our collect for today. So, with every head bowed and every eye closed let us pray, as we listen closely to what we pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Easter mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: May we who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So this is our Prayer of the Day then, from the 10th century Gregorian Sacramentary, our Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter. It’s printed in your worship booklet: for God’s sake, don’t throw it in the trash basket as you leave church today, take it home and look again, that’s your assignment for this week.
Praying, I changed the collect from third person to first person (that is, from “they” to “we”), and I changed the “literary mood” from imperative to subjunctive (from “grant” to “may”) in order to move the action onto us instead of unlikely, impossibly onto Almighty and Everlasting God. First because why on earth would we try to pass our responsibilities off onto our God? And second, because what’s the use anyway: when it comes to managing unruly, disobedient, self-directed, selfish humans, history evidences that God has laid self-imposed limits on God’s almightiness; and that from the time of Adam in the Garden, we submit less to the will of God and fall more under the enchanting spell of NawCawsh the serpent, at whose enticing lead we have ever since Eden insisted on being our own masters, Free Will, mindless, unsensible of the will of God.
Over against a theology of God’s own self-restraint, one alternative which I will in no wise entertain this morning, is that God, like Pontius Pilate at Gabbatha, has washed his hands of this failed human experiment, stepping back to let us fall and fail on our own. But the absence of God is not our Christian faith.
So, listen again:
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
But no! The gospel is not about them, whoever they are, the gospel is about us, about me, about you. The lectionary collect is weasel words. Never happen. Cannot work. God is not going to “grant that.” “God has no hands but our hands,” says an old prayer —
God has no hands but our hands to do his work today;
God has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
God has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died;
God has no help but our help to lead them to his side.
Collect notwithstanding though, the Second Sunday of Easter is not a day to scold you, the faithful remnant, and I’m not scolding, although I am struggling with this collect. We are in a new Season: Easter, weeks and weeks of joyful celebration, “Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, Allelua!” and what “Christ is risen” means to us who seek to live by faith, is that God will raise us also, from death; and not only from death into a life to come, but into the joy of life in God’s kingdom, a “kingdom” into which you step the instant you accept Jesus into your heart, into your mind, into your life, into your way of living, as part of your Being. Thy kingdom come here and now.
I’m sorry but I don’t, I do not have a joke or other funny story to tell you this morning, instead I have an exhortation, a godly admonition (you can take it or leave it, and most will leave it): and my godly admonition is that you take God as seriously and lovingly as God takes you. “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you; because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” Easter is about what God has done and does for us because of chesed, a Hebrew word about God’s gracious lovingkindness.
There is no charge, salvation is free. I am not certain what “salvation” is, but I am certain that “salvation” is free. God loves us, God loves me, God loves you, do you believe that? Yes, you believe that, or you would not be here this morning. And believing that God loves you, do you love in return? Because, remember, love is not a feeling, love is action, something you do, how you live. Love goes both ways, meaning that you earnestly try, in your daily living, to live the Easter faith that you profess. “Grant that we who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.” But wait: “Grant”? God will not magically stand outside you and grant this, you must do it yourself, for yourself, in faithful response to Jesus’ resurrection. If you do not, God will not.
Listen again: from St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless people now.
Do not wait for God to “grant.”
Christian, God has baptized you to “do.”