Easter 4 Year C
April 21, 2013
St. James’ Quitman
Here we are . . . again. It’s Sunday morning and we’re gathered again here at St. James’. It’s a Sunday morning in April and we’ve come here on this Fourth Sunday of Easter – as many of us do most each and every Sunday – to worship and to hear God’s word for us and to say Mass and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. In some ways, it seems as though it’s been an eternity since I was here, right here in this nave, right here at this pulpit talking with you, just last Sunday.
And in an oddly similar way, it seems to me as though we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday just yesterday. I feel as though we together shouted our first “alleluias” since Shrove Tuesday just moments ago. And that feeling that this Eastertide is rushing past and away from me is magnified by the almost chaotic pace that seems to consume my everyday life.
To be clear, I don’t say any of this to solicit your sympathy. I know that many, if not all of you have lives filled with responsibility and detail and complication and stress to which mine pales in comparison. But knowing that my life, in this post-Christian world in which we live, is far less complicated than the lives of many does not alleviate the feeling that the only speed that my life has known these last four weeks is “wide open”.
I know it’s like this for many of you as well, but Susan and I spend more time together via email and cell phone than we do in one another’s physical presence. I seem to keep up with what’s going on with Carter’s school work and the many other things he has going on by text message rather than experiencing his next to last year of high school first hand. Our Basset Hound Penny has even taken to barking at me when I come home as if I’m some sort of stranger there.
Now, I recognize that, as a lawyer, I am prone to overstatement, just to make a point. But you might want to ask Susan. I suspect she might say to you something like, “you think he’s got it bad, let me tell you what my typical day is like.”
And you may be thinking just about now, “my life is every bit that busy,” so what’s the point? You may be thinking, “I have more than my fair share of responsibility and stress and obligation and strife,” so where’s the sermon in this busy-ness?”
Well, I think the point could be this. Consider with me for a moment – and perhaps for much more than a moment – this text from Revelation. Think about the question posed by one of the elders: “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” And then ponder the answer: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”
For me at least, the hard part of this passage is trying to understand what the “great ordeal” is. I’m not really sure we can know or understand with any real clarity what it is that the Seer is speaking of when he refers to the “great ordeal”. But perhaps we, as Christians, should think of our earthly lives as our great ordeal.
To be sure, many of us are blessed beyond measure. We have jobs that pay the bills and put food on the table. And we have families and homes and most everything we need and much of what we want. Others of us might not feel so fortunate in these hard times. We may be out of work or have financial difficulties. We may be alone or ill or have loved ones who are not well. Or we may have lost a family member or another that was dear to us.
But regardless of whether this world would see each of us as fortunate or perhaps less than fortunate, there is danger in this “great ordeal” in which we find ourselves. And the danger is this. The peril we face in this world in which we live is the loss of our focus and our faith in Christ Jesus.
If we stay too focused on our lives and the business at hand from one day to the next, we are in danger. If we are consumed by our rushing up and down the road to wherever it is that we go, we place ourselves in peril. If we revel in our accumulated wealth or are overcome with concern for the lack of it, we are in harm’s way.
Now you may be thinking, “Well, we all do those things because, that’s just life.” But the point is this – that’s just THIS life. And that’s why THIS life might just well be the “great ordeal.”
And that, my brothers and sisters, is the danger of the “great ordeal” in which we live. If we fail to keep our faith and our focus on Christ as our very salvation then we are at great risk of not coming out of this great ordeal. If we do not hear the small still voice of our Shepherd and follow him always, we will perish. If we allow the trappings and the trials and the tribulations of THIS life to separate us from Christ, then we permit ourselves to be consumed by our own “great ordeal”.
But there is hope for each and every one of us. And that hope is in the Cross. In this life, we all have our temporal crosses that we bear. Our cross may be too much work or not enough. Our cross may be too much money or too little. Our cross may be sickness or poor health. Or our cross may be many of the things that this world gives us to distract us from our faith in the risen Lord.
So, what do we do about the peril that we find in the great ordeal? We begin by doing what we are about to do in just a few moments. We begin with Holy Baptism. We begin with our own baptism and what that means for us. And we begin by baptizing this beautiful child Saskia in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit.
We are about to do right here is the most important thing that we can do as the body of Christ in this place. As Christians, we do not have any greater honor or any greater privilege – and we do not have any greater responsibility than to initiate this child of God into the Body of Christ. And we do this so that – beginning today – she will be prepared and empowered to live through this great ordeal.
And so my brothers and sisters, the Good News of the Gospel is this. Whatever our particular cross may be, if we hear the voice of Jesus, then he knows us. Even in the midst of the clutter and the chaos of our earthly lives, if we truly hear him, then we pick up our cross and follow him.
For it is by the Cross of Christ that we are made clean by the blood of the Lamb. And it is by the same Cross of Christ that we – you and me – and yes, little Saskia too – that we become they who have come out of the great ordeal.
Thanks be to God! AMEN!