By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

April 26, 2009

Read: Luke 2:36b-48

Jesus was the talk of the town! Everyone wondered what the events in Jerusalem meant. What were they to make of the disaster of that Friday and the mystery of that Sunday? And now rumors abounded that Jesus was still alive.

The disciples and the others gathered in Jerusalem were immersed in chaos and confusion—fear, frustration, guilt, grief, doubt, anxiety, suspicion, distrust, restlessness, despondency and terror. Their leader was dead, and his wounded body missing. And, in the midst of their confusion, out of nowhere, Jesus himself appears!

Jesus shows up, providing words of comfort, assurance and chastisement. “Peace be with you” was followed by “why are you freaking out?”. As he had done so many times in Luke, Jesus asked what was for dinner! It was the same Jesus, yet different—once dead but now alive, caring yet still fussing. Jesus acted as if nothing had happened—he seemed normal, natural, just what they had come to expect.

Yet the appearance of Jesus after his cry of abandonment, the giving up of his spirit, and being laid in a tomb is anything but normal, natural, or expected. Earthly, human power had triumphed over him. The high priest, the scribes, the elders, the skeptics, and the curious had all condemned Jesus as a scoundrel and blasphemer—guilty as charged! The governor, the Roman soldiers, interested bystanders, and criminals had condemned Jesus as a traitor and a rebel—guilty as charged! Even God seemed to confirm the verdict, with no rescuing angels, no last-minute acquittal, no surprise witnesses to change the verdict—guilty as charged! According to the law of the day, Jesus got what he deserved. This should be the end of the story.

I’d like to share a poem entitled Dying from the Cold Within, the author is unknown:

Dying from the Cold Within
Six humans trapped by happenstance, in bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood. Or so the story’s told.
Their dying fire in need of logs, The first woman held hers back,
For on the faces around the fire, She noticed one was black.
The next man looking cross the way, Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give, The fire his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes, He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use, To warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat back and thought, Of the wealth he had in store.
And how to keep what he had earned, From the lazy poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge, As the fire passed from his sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood, Was a chance to spite the white.
And the last man of this forlorn group, Did naught except for gain.

Giving only to those who gave, Was how he played the game.
The logs held tight in death’s still hands, Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without, They died from the cold within.

Is this the end of our story? Dying from the cold within? It wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story. We are surprised. The disciples and the others were surprised, startled and terrified. Just when we think the story is over, God has something to say. It’s not about us. It has always been about God and continues to be so. It has always been about God’s purposes, aims and agendas for creation—repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins and the wholeness of creation.

The risen Christ appears to groups and couples to assure them that he lives; to teach them to put their fear and doubts in the context of God’s grand plan; to open their understanding of the Scriptures; to commission them as witnesses of all that God has done and is doing in the world. The defense is sure—Christ is risen!

A Civil War story: Robert E. Lee once visited a woman in Kentucky after the hostilities ceased and found her mourning the remains of a grand old oak tree that had stood in her front yard for who knows how long. Its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least commiserate with her. But he did nothing of the kind. All he said to her was, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.”

There’s a wonderful story about a church custodian’s discovery one Monday morning when he went to clean the sanctuary. Instead of finding the usual fare – forgotten Bibles, umbrellas, bulletins covered with children’s drawings, and torn-up notes the teenagers had passed to each other instead of listening to the sermon – he found something very different indeed.

In a middle pew on the right side of the church lay a discouraged man’s anger towards God. On the back left pew sat a woman’s profound disappointment and fear over an uncertain future. Further down the pew lay a middle-aged father’s feelings of failure. Across the aisle the custodian found a young couple’s lukewarm commitment. On the front row he discovered an old man’s fear of death. In the corner, so small he could barely see it, lay a young person’s sins. On other pews he found jealousy, bitterness, pride, fear and doubt. The custodian was not sure what to with all this – but finally he swept it up – all those wounds, hurts, fears and sins – and threw them away.

Sisters and brothers, that story is your story and my story. Or if it isn’t, it can be. Dying from the cold within doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Because God has forgiven us and made us his friends and his family, and freed us and given us a new future, we can walk away from all that binds and shackles us. Just walk away.

Consider the signs of hope in our world, where we do share our logs and our sticks, where we choose life and keep the fire glowing. Patricia Quigley and Susan Retik, are two mothers who were widowed on 9/11. Patti was eight months pregnant with her second child when her husband Patrick was killed while traveling on United flight 175. Susan was seven months pregnant with her third child when her husband David was killed on American flight 11. Patti and Susan were profoundly moved by the support offered by friends, family and strangers from around the world. They were cared for financially and emotionally and today they remain deeply grateful to all who helped them.

And, grateful for the outpouring of support they received, they started thinking about the women in Afghanistan who, when widowed, lose status in that society and therefore find their already difficult lives even harder. They raised money and formed a foundation called Beyond the 11th to support Afghani widows, and even made visits to Afghanistan in 2006 to meet the widows they were helping. For them, these connections have helped to make sense of the world.

You see, Jesus is among us, in the midst of our fear, frustration, guilt, doubt, anxiety, suspicion, despair, restlessness, despondency and terror. He is not dead. He is real and says to each of us, “Peace be with you”. Do not be afraid. Let’s keep the fire glowing. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.