Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Luke 24: 1-12)
There’s a prayer we say every Sunday, on glorious days like today and ordinary Sundays as well. It’s what we conclude our Prayers of the People with – the Lord’s Prayer. I’m going to ask that we say it together, but only the first little bit, at which point I’ll ask us to stop. Are you ready to say it with me? Then 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. For all the hundreds and maybe thousands of times that we have said this prayer, I’m wondering this morning if we heard what we just said: Thy kingdom come…ON EARTH as it is in heaven. On earth.
What does it mean exactly for God’s kingdom to come on earth? Seems like a lot of Christianity these days has their sights on other things – things above, not things down here; punching our ticket to heaven; this life only serving as a means to an end.
And yet in this prayer that we say every Sunday, and in our annual resurrection celebration, we dare to stake our claim in something radically different: Thy kingdom come on earth. He is risen indeed! Life in God’s kingdom – an expansive life – is not for some time down the road. It is for right here and right now.
And we feel this today, profoundly so. It is still strange to think that this is the first time we’ve gathered together in this sanctuary on Easter in three years. We find ourselves caught up in the moment – the gloriousness of all that surrounds us: the shutters flung open, the brass blaring, the lifting of voices.
But as I told you in my Easter sermon two years ago in an Easter service that took place on Zoom with worship leaders leading in separate locations, that pandemic Easter bore more resemblance to the first Easter than we might think. For there were no gathered crowds that first Easter morning. People were isolating in their homes – not because of a deadly virus, as it was for us at the time, but because of the powers-that-be that had been on full display three days prior, the execution of a man who dared, as we said last week, to shout with the stones.
It was a subdued Easter. A pensive Easter. Only a small group of women were brave enough to step out that morning; step out into the numbing void that always comes on the heels of devastating death. They made their way to the tomb to anoint the body of their friend Jesus as was their custom. They were just going through the motions, tunnel vision, what we might call limited living…..
And then they got to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away. Expansive life!
This was not at all what they were expecting. Not in the least! I can imagine them recoiling in shock at first, then just standing there staring. For how long – seconds? A full minute?
Two men appeared to the women – angels whose presence, we are told in another gospel, was “like lightning.” You know when you see a flash of lightning, how its image stays burned on your retina, seared into your brain long after it’s gone? That’s what it was like for those women to look upon those angels. To witness, with their own eyes, expansive life.
The angels tell the women that the one they’re looking for is no longer there; that he is not dead but risen. So the women go and tell the others what they had seen and heard, because who would ever keep something like this to themselves, God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth. And while most didn’t believe the women – because who in their right mind could ever believe something like this – while most stayed put, Peter ran – not walked, but ran to the tomb that was still open and still empty.
And so for two thousand years, every year on this day, the people of God relive that Easter truth. It’s why we’re here this morning, why we’ve been compelled to show up or tune in when there is plenty else we could do on our Sunday. It’s why we bring flowers to transform an instrument of torture into a powerful statement of everlasting love. It’s why we step up our game with liturgy and music, it’s why we gather around the table and take part in God’s holy meal; even if they are little communion kits it is still a glorious meal.
Easter is not an historical event to be explained. It is the cornerstone of our faith to be experienced. And we find that our God doesn’t simply roll a stone away from a tomb – no, this Jesus rolls away anything and everything that acts as a tomb for us; anything that prevents us from living an expansive life. This risen Jesus does more than call the people of God to moral, upright behavior. This risen Jesus stirs something inside us, to the point where we believe so much in another world that we cannot help but begin enacting it right now.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Time after time, Presbyterian pastor and author Frederick Buechner writes, Time after time, Jesus tries to drum it into our heads. 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 God’s mercy. It’s the time above all else for wild rejoicing.
Beloved, this is where the road has been leading us all along, this “Full To The Brim” Lenten journey of ours. The waters from the river that adorned our sanctuary steps the past forty days were flowing here. This is why the prayer we know so well declares that God’s kingdom is not in some far-off distant future or the heaven that awaits, but in the life we’re living on earth right now. 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!” Easter is a time for an expansive life.
All of which is so much easier said than done.
I mean, right now it’s easy. In this moment here. The shutters, the brass, the glory. But we leave this place and go home. We wake up tomorrow and begin a new week where life can seem anything but expansive. Where wars rage, where a shooter turns a Brooklyn subway – and just yesterday a Columbia shopping mall – into a scene of terror. A world where we see another as “the other,” where the divides get more divided, where the stones closing up the tombs are sealed shut.
And yet we are told: God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth…..
And so we are compelled to ask this Easter morning – and we are right to ask it – where, Jesus, is this expansive life? Where exactly, God, is your kingdom?
And the thing is, if we wait for all to be right with the world, if we expect that God’s kingdom is only realized when everything is as it should be, we will undoubtedly never see it. But friends, if Easter tells us anything, it’s that sometimes we have to dare to look inside the tomb in order to see how empty it really is. Sometimes we have to endure the sting of death in order to experience the glory of new life. Sometimes it’s in the thick of the storms themselves where we find the very presence of Jesus.
I wonder if you’ve seen a video that’s been making the rounds as of late. It’s of a young Ukrainian woman, in her thirties, perhaps, playing piano. A little snippet of Schubert and a longer bit of Chopin. She plays beautifully, effortlessly; but it’s not her playing that makes this video what it is. This woman, Iryna Manyukina, is playing the piano in her home, a home that like so many others in Ukraine over the past couple of months has suffered massive damage from relentless Russian bombing. Everything around her, other than the piano, is an absolute mess. Over the course of the two minute snippet, Iryna’s daughter, who is videoing it on her phone, scans around the room, into the hallway, down the stairs, revealing the aftermath of those bombs – all the while listening to Chopin in the background.
We’re going to play the audio in just a minute, and when we do I want to ask you to close your eyes. I know that’s a weird thing to do in church intentionally, but I’m going to ask you to do it anyway, so you can imagine in your own mind what you might see as you hear what you hear. Go ahead and close your eyes.
She pulls the cover off the piano…. dusts off the keys….
Video scans around the room…. windows shattered, torn rug on the floor, debris everywhere….
Now looking down hallway looking at doors blow out, holes in wall, the shredded upholstery of a sofa…..
We look outside and see a huge hole in the ground where the bomb presumably hit….
Back inside, another room. Window blinds hanging in disarray, clothes everywhere….
We see what looks like the top half of a tree blown inside the house through a window….
Walking downstairs, stairs coated in glass….
Out the door as the piano fades away….
You can open your eyes now.
Did you see it? The sights of death alongside the sounds of other-worldly music? It almost doesn’t make sense, does it? And yet this is Easter. Easter is not the avoidance of death, of fear, of pain; but rather it is choosing, like those brave, brave women on this morning long ago, to face those things head-on and discover, with monumental surprise and immeasurable joy, that not a one of them ever gets the last word. It is finding that tombs do not always stay shut up after all.
So say the prayer with me once again, friends: 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, the kingdom of God, this expansive life, is at hand! May this good news resonate within us like masterful Chopin played on a bombed-out piano:
He is risen! He is risen indeed!! And may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
 Secrets In The Dark by Frederick Buechner, New York: HarperCollins 2005, pg. 118.
 https://youtu.be/DDUdK5SYa7w – Ukrainian Pianist Plays A Final Rendition Of Chopin In The Ruins Of Her House.
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.