Tuesday, 15 April 2014

“‘You just can’t tie Jesus down …’ (part 2)”: a sermon for Easter Day

I told this story on the first Sunday of Lent.  I’m going to tell it again.
I have it on good authority that this is a true story. It happened one December in a small town in the United States. Every year, a service club put up a big nativity scene in a park. One day, the president of the service club received a telephone call from the police: “Is your nativity scene missing anything? ... Is it missing something particularly important … something particularly important for a nativity scene … something that makes a nativity scene a nativity scene?”
As it turned out, the owner of a nearby café rang the police to tell them that the figure of the infant Jesus was found in the café, propped up as if sitting at one of the tables. Evidently, practical jokers had removed the figure from the nativity scene and left it there at a table in the café, the baby Jesus sitting in the café, having a hamburger and a cup of coffee.
As the president of the club arrived at the café to pick up the figure of baby Jesus, a reporter from the local paper also arrived at the scene. (Someone – possibly the practical jokers themselves - had tipped off the paper.)
The rather embarrassed club president found himself explaining to the journalist the difficulties in maintaining the nativity scene. “All the other pieces,” he said, “can all be securely fastened to the ground: shepherds, sheep, wise men, camels, Mary, Joseph, the lot. They can all be secured, all except the Jesus figure. ...” He explained, and then added (with an unexpectedly profound theological statement), “You just can’t tie Jesus down.”
Even more so than at Christmas,
         even more so than at the beginning of Lent
Easter is a time when we are reminded:
“You just can’t tie Jesus down!”
Pontius Pilate and his cronies thought they could tie Jesus down. The tomb was secured with a heavy stone, with official seals, and with a military guard. Pilate, the arrogant dictator, believed that might made right. Pilate believed, with a jack-booted self-assurance, that Jesus’ execution rung down the curtain on this troublesome new movement. But Pilate soon learned: “You just can’t tie Jesus down!”  
The Roman soldiers thought they could tie Jesus down. They probably felt a bit foolish. It’s not the sort of duty that soldiers relish ... guarding a corpse. In all probability, it would have been a punishment detail. The soldiers who were selected to guard Jesus’ tomb may have earned that honour by not having their armour polished to regimental standards, or by talking back to an officer, or by making too much noise on their way back to barracks from the pub the night before. But however they got there, the Roman soldiers soon learned: “You just can’t tie Jesus down!”  
The group of female disciples who went to the tomb feared that Jesus had finally been permanently “tied down”. The women went to pay their final respects to the body, with all the proper spices and oils. They found the tomb empty. They met an angel with a story of a resurrection. They even saw Jesus himself, with a message to go and share their news with that fainthearted group of male disciples. They experienced first-hand that: “You just can’t tie Jesus down!”  
The fainthearted and ham-fisted men in the company of disciples heard the words that Jesus told the women: … They argued. … They worried. … They doubted. … But eventually they also encountered the risen Christ, seeing for themselves: “You just can’t tie Jesus down!”  
And the story goes on – 
  • The story goes on down through history as late as twenty-fourteen - and even later.  
  • The story goes on - even as far away from Galilee as Australia – even as far away from Jerusalem as Sorell.
The story goes on - today - in this place - in the midst of this community: “You just can’t tie Jesus down!”  
In the waters of Baptism,
     in the broken bread,
          in the outpoured wine,
we truly encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ.
But not only there.
  • We encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ in the search for peace in the midst of war.
  • We encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ in the struggle for human rights.
  • We encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ in the struggle to preserve our environment for future generations.
  • We encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ in the honest search for meaning in life.
  • We encounter the crucified-and-risen Christ in the difficult ethical choices of our daily lives.
In our daily life, may we learn, as the disciples learned: “You just can’t tie Jesus down.”

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