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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
12 April 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by thy life- giving Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
Hebrews 5:(1-4)5-10
John 12:20-23

Word has gotten around the diocese that I am on Facebook. About three weeks ago I got a call from editor of the Episcopal New Yorker asking if I would write a little piece about being “a Facebook priest.” What that really meant was that they wanted me to reflect in about five hundred words on how I use this new electronic platform as a tool for ministry and evangelism. I agreed, and you can look for the piece in the next edition of our diocesan newspaper. Indeed, I have been reflecting for some time on how I use Facebook in my ministry and how it crosses the boundaries of my personal and professional life. Among my Facebook friends are many of you. I am also friends with grade school, high school, college, and graduate school classmates. I am friends with a couple of ex-girlfriends, a smattering of random acquaintances, William’s former and current babysitters, as well as art history and clergy colleagues. The list goes on and on. Indeed, although I am not one of those people with over a thousand “friends” (like a former colleague in Boston), my real-life friends tease me about the large number of people with whom I have “connected” on Facebook.

While I do spend some time each day messing about on Facebook, I usually don’t get embroiled in some of the back and forth that goes on there. I was never one for chat rooms or discussion groups and I have tried hard to stay away from controversy. And yet, when a real-life colleague and Facebook friend posted a status update that read, “OK, here’s my query to the liturgy geeks: Is the first ‘Alleluia’ of Easter the proclamation from the font, or is it permissible to sing the A-word in a hymn in procession to the font at the Vigil?” I couldn’t resist chiming in. After all, I am a “liturgy geek” and so I wrote back (along with about five others) saying that “Yes. The first ‘A’uia’ [remember, it was still Lent] comes only after the Baptismal liturgy is completed and marks the start of the First Eucharist of Easter.” My friend then posted a thank you saying she knew this was right but that her organist was “advocating the opposite” and that she didn’t “see anything written down in any books I have about this specifically.” Figuring “in for a penny, in for a pound” I wrote back again with a more erudite opinion on how you can get this from the rubrics of the B.C.P. and how the entire weight of the Western tradition backed up this opinion. Another of her friends chimed in to agree with me and put some theological weight behind it—I guess since I was still answering for the “liturgy geek” place.

And then it happened ... another of her friends, someone I did not know, got her back up at all this technical liturgy talk and said, “I think we’re overly worried about the A-word & Lent. After all, it means, essentially, praise God, and are we really supposed to stop praising God during Lent? Anyway, I’m not terribly offended one way or another and I think God is way too busy to take much notice ...” Now, having gone to the Episcopal Divinity School this response was the kind of thing I had heard before. All these customs are just window dressing and God really doesn’t care and it doesn’t make a difference anyway so why bother about them? And although I had heard it all before, it still made me frustrated.

Of course God would forgive us if we uttered “Alleluia” during Lent. God loves us, forgives us our misdoings (as the B.C.P. says). God stands with outstretched arms ready to embrace us, imperfect as we are. This is part of the lesson of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus mounted the gibbet of the cross and from that height still called for us to love one another as he loves us, with forbearance and generosity. Indeed, John Chrysostom reminded us all last night that “pardon hath shone forth from the grave.” But this does not give this a pretext for abandoning a practice, a tradition, that has abiding meaning and that has the real power to help us experience the Paschal Mystery.

We abstain from “Alleluia” in Lent as part of our practice of fasting. We abstain from “Gloria in excelsis deo” and from the final blessing. Here we abstain from ringing the bell with the chimes. Each of us takes certain practices, sometimes actual fasts, as a discipline to prepare ourselves for the annual celebrations of the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We spend six weeks denying ourselves the “Alleluia,” the sweet, exultant “Alleluia” so that when Easter comes, when the Resurrection comes we will know and feel and experience the joy that comes with receiving or hearing or doing something that we have not been able to do for some time.

Several months ago our visiting preacher, the Rev’d Canon Andrew McGowan reminded us that we live in a time of perpetual feasting. That our culture is one that says we should have more, more, more all the time. So what happens when we come to a big celebration is that we have to heap yet more upon the occasion. Shout even louder. What would happen, he suggested, if we reconnected with the cycle of feast and fast that people used to experience in their daily lives? What would happen if treats were once again treats and not something we have or do all the time? Perhaps we would begin to experience once again the cycles of life that God wishes us to know so that we might be our best selves, so that we might have relationship and, ultimately, reconciliation with him. We fast in Lent so that we may know more fully, more completely the joys of Easter. Once again to quote John Chrisostom, “If any have laboured long in fasting, now receive your recompence.”

Just three days ago in this church we celebrated the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, extinguished the lights in the church, and stripped the altars bare. Two days ago we stood in this room and heard the Passion according to Saint John, heard the story of Jesus’ painful and tragic death. Yesterday was a day without Eucharist, a day without communion, as we contemplated the mystery of God among the dead, contemplated what it must have been like for the disciples to believe that all their hopes and dreams had come to naught as Jesus hung and died upon the cross. And just a few hours ago, we sat again in the darkness and expectation that Easter would come again, we heard the great stories of sacred history, remembered our baptism and then, in a blaze of sound and light, as incense rose again from the altar, we marked the moment of the resurrection, marked Jesus’ return from among the dead, Jesus’ triumph over his violent death on the cross, the triumph of love over hate. It was only then that I first sang, and you all repeated, “Alleluia” to the ancient tone. It was only then, after such a journey that we heard that word we had denied ourselves. It was then in hearing that word that we knew that God was with us, that God would always be with us, that God, God in Christ will always love us.

So to all of you, and to all those liturgy geeks out there, I say “Alleluia. Christ is Risen!” [The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia]. Say it again and again and again in the coming days and weeks! Alleluia. Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Easter Eve, 11 April 2009

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume