Happy Easter St. James’s! It is so great to see everybody. Martin Luther once said, “God has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” How right he was. That promise today is written in large print in this sanctuary. Just look at all the beautiful flowers and lilies that adorn our church. Magnificent! My thanks to all those who worked so hard to make this day a joyful one.
O.k. now, stay with me on this. We only get to do this for a few weeks each year and it is my favorite thing about Easter morning. “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” (people respond – hopefully). Fantastic, thank you.
The other night I had a dream that I want to tell you about. Now I am not someone who dreams a lot, or should I say I am not someone who remembers most of his dreams. Between the three clergy, Dana is the dreamer. She has some real whoppers, just ask the staff. But not me, although I wish it were otherwise, I am not a big dreamer.
I think this unusual dream resulted from a combination of things – eating dinner too late, staying up too late, and watching too much CNN. Like most dreams, mine was a strange mixture of scenes and impressions all wrapped into one unusual experience.
It began with me lying in a cold dark place alone and scared. I couldn’t see anything, I was lying down in pain and I could feel a stone floor beneath my body. I remember wondering where I was, why I hurt so much and what I could do to get out of there. All of a sudden I heard a pounding like feet kicking against something hard. A second later a door I did not know was there suddenly burst open and the room was flooded with bright light. A man ran into the room yelling, “Get down! Get down! Get down!” Somehow I knew this man was God, although he did not look like God in any way I have ever imagined God to look. I am embarrassed to admit it, but this God looked exactly like – Charlton Heston. I know that is not very theologically sophisticated but there he was – Charlton Heston with his famous wild gray hair and beard from the movie, The Ten Commandments. Even stranger, he wasn’t wearing long robes like Moses in the movie, rather he was dressed in the dessert fatigues and Kevlar helmet of our soldiers fighting in Iraq . He was holding an M16 rifle and a flak vest. Now that I think about it, it makes a funny kind of sense – if you are going to have a crazy dream with God holding an automatic weapon then that God could only be Charlton Heston (the president of the NRA.)
Now a few nights before my dream, I remember hearing on the news about the liberation of our POWS in Iraq . I remember the newscaster explaining how American forces burst into the room where our soldiers were being held and yelled, “Get down! Get down! Get down!” After a few minutes they then called out, “If you are an American stand up.” Obviously this news report was influencing my dream.
But in my dream God did not yell, “If you are an American stand up.” Instead, God yelled, “Stand up if you want to be free!” At that moment I realized there were others in the room with me because I could see people beginning to stand up. I remember feeling that I wanted nothing more than to be free, to get out of there, to be rescued. But as is common in many dreams I couldn’t move. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make myself stand up. There was some force holding me down. I was terrified and panicked. I was afraid I would be overlooked and left behind. I remember yelling, “I want to be free, I want to be free,” and struggling to get up, but I couldn’t move. It was then that I felt someone grab me under the arm. It was someone behind me, a fellow prisoner that I couldn’t see. His hands were strong, his arms were powerful and he lifted me off the ground like a little kid and placed on my feet. I felt relieved and elated; I was going to get out of that prison. As I turned around to thank my liberator, I saw standing beside me a Middle Eastern man in shabby clothes, covered in dirt and sporting the five day old stubble of a beard. He was still holding me by the arm and he looked like one of the bedraggled Iraqi soldiers we have seen surrendering in recent weeks. There was blood on his face and blood on his clothes. He too was in pain, I could tell, but it din’t seem to bother him. He knew what I wanted and he was there to help me stand when I couldn’t do it on my own. In an instant, in spite of what he looked like, I realized who this person was. It was Jesus, I just new it. I could tell by the gleam in his eyes, I could tell by the smile on his face. It was the crucified and risen Christ. He had been there with me in my darkness and he had raised me up. I would be free, but only because Christ stood up first and brought me with him. Needless to say, I awoke with a start.
As peculiar or odd as this dream may sound, for me it was a profound experience. As I lay there shaken and wide awake I knew I had witnessed something real, something true. I had been liberated, not from an Iraqi prison but from the jail of sin and death. God had broken down the door of death and the loving arms of Christ had set me free. It was a bleeding and crucified Christ who was not above my pain and suffering but very much in the midst of it with me. God wanted me to get out of there, but it was Christ who had to stand me on my feet, hold me by the arm and take me with him into the freedom of a redeemed life.
The promise of this day, for all of us, is that we too have been saved. God armed, not with an M16, but with the loving sacrifice of his Son has broken down the doors of hell, kicked in the doors of death, rolled away the stone in front of the tomb and set us free. God took the terrible events of Good Friday and turned them into a joyful Easter morning. God took the crucified man Jesus and raised him from the dead, never to die again. As a result, you and I have the promise that no matter how dark this life may be no matter how trapped or imprisoned we may feel – we have a savior. We have a savior who has been in the same dark places life has taken us, a savior who has known firsthand the struggles of living. We have a savior, Jesus Christ, beaten and bruised with holes in his hands and holes in his feet, who stands with us, behind us, with powerful arms and a smiling face ready to help us stand up and walk into the light. God as Charlton Heston and Christ as the bloodied Iraqi existed only in my crazy dream. But in my own life I know that more than once the living Christ of Easter morning has resurrected me from the prison of my own self pity, from the prison of my own gluttony, from the prison of my own anger, from the prison of my own disbelief.
C. S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” As Christians, we celebrate today what we believe to be the central truth about life. We celebrate the belief, the guiding principal, that we are free from the great enemy – death. We will still die and we will all know suffering, but the promise of Easter is the promise that suffering and death are not the climax of life’s play. Like the best of stories there is a happy ending. To celebrate the resurrection is to celebrate the good news that goodness does triumph over evil, love does win out over despair, life is eternal and death is nothing but the limit of our sight.
This means that there are no God-forsaken places and no God-forsaken promises. The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate invasion of a loving God into places we once thought were God forsaken – a cross, a grave, a prison cell, a broken relationship, an overwhelming addiction, a grave illness. What a profound word of hope for us and our world. To those in war-torn lands; to people wandering the Earth in search of shelter and safety; to you and me who are weighed down with guilt and shame and grief; to the one hungering for food or longing for hope comes the good news: Christ is risen. God has not forsaken us. God has not forgotten his promises. God has not abandoned his creation.
What I experienced the other night was just a dream, a powerful dream, but a dream nonetheless. Eventually I woke up and went on with life. The empty tomb, the resurrected Christ, the promise of eternal life – these are dreams that have come true. They are the dreams of a loving God unwilling to give up on of his beloved children. They are the dreams of a loving God willing to give everything to set us free. Amen. Synthesis, April 20th, 2003 , Citation Lost.