Easter Sermon

Easter Sermon
Jack Ledwon of St. Joseph’s University Church, Buffalo, NY

A few people have asked for a copy of my Easter sermon. I usually preach just from an outline, so I have tried to reconstruct the sermon from my notes. What most people asked about are the quotes from the Paul Simon song, the poet Jorie Graham and the story of the Holocaust survivor. They are included:

EASTER Sermon 2016

Well, it seems like we can really feel the beginning of Spring with the beautiful weather we’re having today. You know what that means. It means I can finally take the Christmas CD’s out of my car. Actually just one Christmas CD that I have been playing for the last three months. It’s Renee Fleming’s Christmas in New York. You may know that she is an incredible opera singer, but what you might not know is that she worked her through college singing in jazz clubs, and if you heard this CD you would never guess that it’s an opera singer performing. One song in particular captured my attention and I’ve been playing it over and over again. It’s called Love and Hard Times. There were a couple of lines I couldn’t quite get and so a few days ago I finally took out the liner notes to read the lyrics. I was surprised to see the song was composed by Paul Simon. The text goes like this:

God and His only Son,
paid a courtesy call to Earth
one Sunday morning
Orange blossoms opened
their fragrance,
blackbirds sang from the tips
of cotton roots.
Old folks wept for His love
in these hard times

Now these are the lines that really captured my heart:

“Well we gotta get going,”
Said the restless Lord to the son,
“There are galaxies yet to be born
Creation is never done.”

There are galaxies yet to be born; creation is never done!

That is what we are celebrating this Easter, the fact that God continues to create the world, our world, our lives. Creation is never done!

Another quote that I have been reflecting on through the Lenten season was from an American poet, Jorie Graham. A few months ago there was a festival in New York City based upon the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The festival included opera, ballet, poetry and even a dinner. One of the organizers, a former student of Graham said he was very influenced by a poem she wrote on this legend. He said that she had the ability to capture the way “myths depict things that happen at a subconscious level.” What was intriguing was what someone once said about her [Graham], that it seemed like she believed myths really happened.” She responded by saying: “It’s not that they happened. It’s that they are happening.”

We, with our Western, scientific, analytic mentality, think, when we hear the word myth, oh that’s just a story, a legend, a fairy-tale. But in fact myth expresses the truth in a deeper and fuller way than our rational discourse. It touches the subconscious level.

What we are celebrating in the resurrection is not something that happened in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago or that will happen sometime in the distant future, it is something that is happening today. And it must be something that is happening in our lives and in our world. What we celebrate in our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that death has been conquered and that with Christ we too will gain eternal life. But eternal life in Christ is not just some distant, far-off dream. The Franciscan theologian, Sister Ilia Delio writes in The Emergent Christ:

“Resurrection is not an otherworldly future event; rather, it is the this-worldly future breaking into the present moment through a radical choice for life. Death anticipates resurrection because it is the necessary contingent for new life and new relationship with God. The wholeness that we seek in this evolutionary creation, this new catholicity, is possible if we are willing to engage the moment as self-gift. Without giving ourselves to something greater than ourselves, nothing new can happen, nor can we evolve toward wholeness by healing the divisions among us and within us.”

There are galaxies yet to be born; creation is never done!

The only proof for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the empty tomb. No not the tomb outside of Jerusalem, but the tombs, millions of tombs throughout the world, filled with our sisters and our brothers. We must call them forth to life.

I recently came across a story that exemplifies this process in concrete terms.

In his book The Liberators, author Michael Hirsch details the stories, impressions and reactions of American soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camps. He also includes in his book the recollection of one of those liberated. Coenraad Rood was a 24-year-old Dutch Jew who worked as a tailor. He was arrested in 1942 and spent three years imprisoned at a number of camps. In January 1945, he lay dying in a covered ditch in the camp at Ampfing when the 14th Armored Division liberated the camp. Rood remembers.

“Suddenly, I heard my friend Maupy. I heard him speaking English, saying [to someone] ‘go in there. My friend is dying. He should know that he is free before he dies.’ [The trapdoor to the ditch] opened up and there was an American soldier there . . . I was laying in the dark, in the dirt, and he told me, ‘come, you are free now.’ And then I started crying. I try to get to him, but I was, like paralyzed . . . I was crawling on the ground, trying to get to the door. And then he picked me up by the collar of my little jacket [and] he was holding me. I remember I thought, ‘Man, is this man strong!’ . . . And he told me, ‘You’re free now. You understand? It’s over.’

“As dirty and sick as I was, that soldier, that American soldier, kissed me. And I kissed him back, and he was holding me and took me [outside the ditch, into the light] and said, ‘See? You are free now.’ And he cried too.”

After the liberation, Coenraad Rood was reunited with his wife Bep, who survived the war in hiding. And they made a new life for themselves in the United States. You are free; it’s over – the words of American soldiers to the victims of the Holocaust.

Like Jesus on the hillside of Bethany calling his friend Lazarus out of the tomb, we must do the same with the voice of Jesus Christ. Not just in Bethany, but in Bethlehem, and in Bangkok, and in Beijing, and in Brusells, and in Buffalo.

We must stand outside the countless tombs of our sisters and brothers, and cry out: “My sister, my brother, come forth. It’s over. Death has been conquered, you are alive. You are free now. God is stronger than death. Come forth and live!”

Yes! There are galaxies yet to be born; creation is never done! –Easter Sermon from Jack Ledwon, St. Joseph University Church, Buffalo, NY