Asbury First United
1. A Kodak Moment
There are two moments of joy to announce in the Easter Gospel for today. One, the joy of creation, the other the joy of redemption: one of sight and one of sound, one of eye and one of ear, one of power and one of love, one of earth and one of heaven. The first we see and savor. The second we hear and heed.
For, in the first place, there is an abiding joy in the very arrival of Easter. Especially this year after a winter of ice and war. We can put on our Easter bonnet, or its equivalent, with all the frills upon it, or their equivalents, and join the Easter parade, or some equivalent. There is miracle in every breath we take, miracle enough in every single day of life.
Sometimes this becomes crystal clear, as on a joyous Easter morning.
Did you ever have something happen that was so wonderful, so happy, so true, so good, so delightful, so pleasurable, and so joyful that you wished it would last forever?
Did you ever see someone, or catch a glimpse of something, or view a scene that captured you, captured your heart, captured your mind, captured your spirit?
Such a moment defies definition, yet we know it when we see it. Like beauty, and leadership, and genius, you know it when you see it, even if you cannot define it, for sure. Like the taste of chocolate. Or the color purple. In fact, the experience of it, repeated, and rehearsed, develops the definition.
Particularly our primary sense, that of sight produces for us, day by day, the opportunity to see something that is a joy forever, as John Keats defined beauty. You cannot predict always or easily when such a moment will arrive. In fact, the very nature of this kind of moment lies in its unexpected, unpredicted apocalypse. It happens, as William James said of truth itself, it happens.
Our city has given back to our mother tongue at least one phrase, coined locally and spoken globally: not “a Methodist handshake” and not “a New York minute”, they were coined elsewhere. Ours though is this one: “a Kodak moment”.
My student cherishes a photograph of her dad, now deceased, hugging her, and only her, on Easter Sunday 12 years ago.
My friend loves a photo of her daughter, headed off to school. You can take me, along your wall and hearth, to see many set photos, but a handful too of momentary images, taken with careless inspiration, that are, to be truthful, far more precious than the studio shots.
Before moving here, in June of 1995, we went to England for two weeks, leaving our three kids at the cottage with veteran friends as caregivers. In England we took many forgettable photos. In our absence, the kids knew one of rules: no horseplay on the dock. But we returned to a photograph of all three tumbling into the water, locked in laughter and embrace, beginning with the oldest and concluding with the youngest. It is a priceless gift, even if it does document misbehavior.
A Rochester friend, now across the river, gave the world, in his eye upon nature, a range of momentary, lasting beauty. Another, now across the river, spent a lifetime learning how the average person makes, uses, and assorts photographs. Architecture is music frozen, said Goethe. Photography is art democratized.
Did you ever see something you just wanted to enjoy forever, and wanted to hold onto forever?
But I can show you a still more excellent example. Right here, right now. We have redone our church photo directory this year. Maybe your experience was like mine when you opened the packet. There was Jan, looking young, pretty and happy. Next to her, somehow, it seemed to me, they had managed to insert a photo of my dad. “No, that’s you”, said Jan with no pity. “But all the gray hair, the wrinkles, the cheekbones—I’m sure that’s not me.” “It’s you.” Facts are stubborn things, said John Adams.
This morning, the living church is in Easter focus, and the gates of sin and hell and death have not prevailed against you. You are a happy sight, a joy to behold!
We know something about the first Easter joy, the Kodak moment. We know that sense of awe, shock, delight, surprise, wonder, excitement, gladness and love that make us reach for the camera, or the video recorder, or the paint brush or the notepad or the telephone. Or the sermon file. A Kodak moment is one filled with lasting meaning, defines what we hope life, or a part of life, is meant to become, is a proleptic image of the arrival of invisible grace, defines other, maybe all other, moments. A Kodak moment measures meaning in life, in creation, and brings joy.
A close friend’s mother died this winter. Her death was not expected and not unexpected. On the morning of the memorial service my friend was given a specially cropped photograph: her hand clasping her mother’s hand, against a dark backdrop that accentuates every line, wrinkle, jewel, nail, and feature of that second most personal aspect of our being, our hands. (Our most personal feature is our voice.) The photograph captured the first Easter joy—life, creation, a Kodak moment. But pause, just lightly now, to meditate. The act of giving the photo became something else…..The imagination was something else…not visible…not recordable…not tangible…but very, very real…it brings to the second, and the greater Easter joy…And here the sermon turns…and here resounds the Easter good news..
One little interlude…On this day we will give sin, death and the threat of meaninglessness just one paragraph…We warn ourselves, even on Easter, not to fall into a Faustian bargain. Speaking, as we are, of moments, we are well warned not to focus exclusively on the passing parade of lovely moments, with no thought of their Giver, their Savior, their Conclusion. The legend of Faust recalls a German teacher, astrologer, musician, magician who made a deal with the Devil. The Devil agreed to give Faust youth, power, energy as long as Faust never ceased striving, never ceased moving, never ceased pressing toward what Paul might have called the prize of the upward call. But once Faust were to say, to any single moment, “linger a moment thou art so fair”, he would be damned. The Kodak moment—the first Easter joy of life and creation—is meant to usher us toward the Resurrection moment—the second Easter of joy of forgiveness and eternal life. Easter is about the nature of God’s love, which is a self-emptying, cruciform love (John 3:16, Gal. 2:20, 1 John 4: 10), and which love is stronger than death.
The purpose of life is the progress of faith. We happily celebrate the Kodak moments around us, but if for this only we have hoped, says the Scripture, we are most to be pitied. There is something else at work here. We have life in order to receive faith. Faith is the purpose of life. The second Easter joy is the point of the first. In the back pew, wrestling with a toddler and a scratchy tie, you might be wondering, “Is he saying that life in Rochester may be found at Kodak Park (etc.), but the point, purpose, meaning of life are found in faith at Asbury First (etc.)?”
2. A Resurrection Moment
For, in the second place, if there is an abiding joy in the gift of life, there is a providing joy in the gift of faith. Life comes before faith, but faith is the more precious of the two. We celebrate life in a Kodak moment. We celebrate faith in a Resurrection moment.
Did God ever hear something so wonderful, so happy, so true, so good, so delightful, so pleasurable, and so joyful that God wished it would last forever? That would be a divine Kodak moment…a Resurrection moment.
Easter morning, when we celebrate the resurrection moment of Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus the crucified, we are brought to the brink of a Resurrection Moment.
But a Resurrection Moment is not photographable. In fact, we announce a report of the resurrection, but we do not produce a record of the resurrection. Resurrection is a matter of the ear, not of the eye. There is no photograph, silver halide or digital, that can record such a moment. As we have heard it read this morning, the Easter Gospel is one of hearing, not of seeing: “He is Risen! He is not here.” What you can see is where he has been, and where he will be—tomb and Galilee.
A Resurrection Moment is audible. What you can know and receive of resurrection comes by hearing. Faith comes by hearing. Who hopes for what he sees? We hope for what we do not see. Who has ears to hear, let them hear. When you hear of freedom, of deliverance from chains that tie to sin and death, then you have heard the good news. It is good. And it to sin and death, then you have heard the good news. It is good. And it is news. A message. An announcement. A word. A report.
All of the Gospel speaks such a word…
(Here I offer the whole Gospel of Mark, including Easter morning, in full review and interpretation, in four minutes!)
A prophet shouts, prepare ye the way. Maybe you are being summoned to a form of preparation. One may be summoned to the ministry. If so, do not linger, overlong, with Faust, but find a response.
A fisherman hears an invitation, follow me. Maybe you are being invited today. Especially young adults could perhaps hear this word. Or do you expect to inherit your faith from your parents like you inherit jewelry and the garden tools? It doesn’t work that way.
A paralytic hears a command, rise, take up your pallet, walk.
Are you ready to start moving again? Motion is not progress, but there is little progress without motion. Our country has had a long history of working for peace with justice. Have we been paralyzed? Union Seminary’s current President reminds us what R. Niebuhr wrote in 1952: “any winner of the cold war will face the imperial problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice”. Rise, America. Take up your pallet. Walk toward peaceful justice. Get a move on!
A demon hears a word and is emptied of ill. How about you? Is it time for some spring cleaning? Ready to diet, exercise, save, get on the wagon, politic, tithe? No time like the Resurrection Moment. No time like the present. No time like this day in the one day of God. A child, dying, hears ‘talitha cumi’. Is your child ready to get up? Maybe he would if you would stop sitting on his head. Are you ready to let your children grow up? A deaf man, a deaf man , with spittle and fingers and heaven opened, “ephratha”, hears again. Maybe Easter is a time when you can hear something for the first time. How will they hear without a preacher (Rom. 10)? To paraphrase Yogi Berra, you can hear a lot just by listening.
Peter hears criticism, in fact, he is called Satan. Are we able to hear criticism? It only hurts if it is true. And if it’s true, it only hurts until you fix it. But remember that finally faith is about love not about rectitude. Blake saw the tragedy of our religion: “when Satan first the black bow bent, and the moral law from the Gospel rent, he turned the Law into a sword, and spilt the blood of Mercy’s Lord.”
Blind Bartimaeus finally summons the courage to ask for what he wants and needs. He sees: his faith has made him well. Are you ready to ask? Ask, and it shall be given. Not always, not immediately, not on your time clock, not exactly, not fairly, not in the way you most expect. But it will be given. But you do have to ask. What have you got to lose? ASK!
In the end, Peter crumbles. You know his assertion of faith. You remember his walk to the garden. You see him lurking in the dim courtyard while Jesus is arraigned. As predicted, before the cock crows twice, he has three times denied. Peter is a failure in faith. Yet today’s reading specifically mentions him by name. How sweet that sound. Are you ready to lay your burden of failure? Down by the riverside? And put on today’s long white robe? Down by the riverside? There are things worse than failure and other things better than success And until you have heard that, really heard it, your faith has not yet quickened.
I find it stunning that Peter is singled out. “Tell his disciples and Peter…” Peter who once was a disciple but is no longer so considered? Peter the most significant of the group? Peter the closest and the one most mournful, thus most needful of attention? Peter the symbol of the church, the rock on which the church is built?
Or this: Peter who reminds the church that all our failure, our 3 denials before the 2 rooster calls, our 6 before 4, our 12 before 8---you see how our capacity for failure outruns the rising of the sun—that even our greatest failure, our failure of faith, does not define us. In the Resurrection Moment you are promised that your existential failure is a landscape for learning not a deadly definition. You can get up, learn from failure, and not be defined by it. Look at Peter.
From the first days of the miracle of resurrection, the resurrection moment in life has come through report not by record. There is no photograph. I believe in the resurrection as more than resuscitation, but not less. Yet I believe the writer of this gospel, even if he could be brought back to earth, and explained the magic of our technology, would still have no grasp of our desire for proof, control, prediction, management, record. He might pause, listen to us question the resurrection, and then quietly suggest that it is not we who question resurrection; it is resurrection that questions us. Who are we, really, to question God? The resurrection is reported by preaching and hearing. Its lasting proof is found in lives like yours, loving and giving.
In the resurrection moment, one hears of something so good, so precious, so happy, so wonderful, so joyful, so splendid, that the shackles of sin and the chains of death fall away. I wonder if you hear something like that this morning?
For the resurrection moment is that spoken word in which we hear—even today for the first time?--that this world is the object of God’s vision, that this life is the object of God’s devotion, that this earth is the object of God’s care, that this crucified is the object of God’s love, that the church is the object of God’s nurture, that the human being is the object of God’s saving grace, that sin and death are the objects of God’s transforming power. God loves you, not in desire but in design, not in attitude but in act. His kingdom is not a state of mind. His kingdom is a state of affairs. The new creation is not what should be someday by and by, but what IS. Christ is risen!
It is awesome to consider.
In the Resurrection Moment, God holds the world, and everything and everyone in it, and God holds you—can you feel that?--and sees all—world and you and all—according to our text, in Jesus the crucified Nazarene NOW RAISED FROM THE DEAD, and smiles and says, “Now where is my camera when I want it most?….