John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
There’s a moment that happens every single Sunday without fail. It doesn’t matter what the context is, or what music is offered, or even what scripture is read.
It happens right before I stand right here.
There’s a silence.
An eerie silence.
Perhaps it sounds different to me than it does to all of you. Your experience of the strange silence might be born out of discomfort or awkwardness.
But as far as I can tell that moment happens every week and its special; there is true attention and silence. And in that silence there is hope.
People like you and me hope, even for but a moment, that this time we will hear an answer to the question: Is it true?
Sadly, more often than not, that hoped for question isn’t even addressed. And if it is, it is only done so indirectly. There’s an assumption that, just by being here, we all assume all of it to be true.
But that’s not right. I think we’re all here, the tall and the small, the first and the last, the believer, half-believers, and unbelievers, because we want to have our question answered.
Is it true?
Today is the second Sunday of the season we call Eastertide. It stretches all the way from Easter Sunday up to Pentecost Sunday, its the great 50 days. Every Sunday in this season is a little Easter in which we re-celebrate the most amazing thing ever to take place in the cosmos.
And let me tell you: you all are a special bunch. There is something remarkable about those in worship for the second Sunday of Easter. You’re here because you know that following the Lord is more than just being present for the big moments. You’re clued in to what takes place behind the curtain of the cosmos. You’ve experienced the Lord in such a way that you can’t imagine being anywhere else doing anything else.
But, we must confess, we of the second Sunday of Easter crowd, that the promises of Easter are not yet fully realized.
We need only turn on the television, or scroll through Twitter, to be reminded that not all is as it should be.
I, myself, riding the incredible wave of Palm Sunday worship was deeply grieved to receive a phonemail the Monday of Holy Week that my oldest friend in the world took his own life the night before.
We sang some good old gospel hymns down in Memorial Hall on Maundy Thursday, we shared the body and the blood of our Lord, and my family and I had to jump in the car to drive up to Alexandria so that I could speak at my friend’s service of death and resurrection the next day.
Not all is as it should be.
Easter Sunday, exactly one week ago, it was remarkable! First sunrise service in 100 years, the First Light Band had the whole sanctuary clapping, even our children shouted out the Good News in song and shakers.
All told we had more than 300 people in worship last Sunday! Truly remarkable.
And, I’m no mathematician, but I don’t see 300 today.
Why is that? Why are there those who only darken the doors of the church twice a year?
Much has been made of the so-called Chreasters, the C and E crowd. They come because of familial obligation, or guilt, or tradition. There’s a hope, even if people like me refuse to admit it, that one year they will actually all return the next Sunday.
But the longer I do this, the more I understand that the church swells at Christmas and Easter because those who don’t normally attend know they have a better than good chance of hearing nothing but Good News: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” and “Christ the Lord is risen today!”
Part of the challenge is that we always proclaim the joy of the resurrection, in song, sacrament, and sermon, to people who, admittedly, feel like those two on the road to Emmaus. We know something has happened, but life beckons us elsewhere.
It is true?
John the Revelator certainly seems to think so.
I don’t know what you know of John of Patmos and his epistle of Revelation. It is, perhaps, the most misunderstood book in the Bible and yet, at the same time, the most important. It, like the concluding chapter of any good book, ties everything together. But to drop in at the very end, without knowing the beginning or the middle is a recipe for disaster.
There are some wild bits to this book, some that we will encounter over the next few weeks, but, as GK Chesterton noted, “John saw many strange monsters in his vision, but he never saw a creature so wild as those who try to explain it all.”
John, whoever John was, wrote for a people living in a time in-between. They were stuck squarely between the already but the not yet, planted in the time before the end time.
You know, people just like us.
Easter people, while all is not as it should be.
Oddly enough, even with its bizarre images and confounding cassations, Revelation is an odyssey of encouragement. It tells us who we are, who God is, and what is the world is going on in the world.
To put it simply, it tells us the truth.
John begins, rather abruptly, with the decisive declaration that Jesus is Lord and King of the cosmos. He was, he is, and he will be.
Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the one who remains steadfast even when we don’t, he points to the real things that matter in this life, and he is committed to doing so no matter what.
Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead, he is the one who, by death and resurrection, makes possible an impossibility, that in our deaths we are raised to new life.
Jesus Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth, he is the one in charge.
I wonder though, if we actually believe that, or if we trust that to be true. I think, all things considered, it’s not difficult to affirm that Jesus is faithful, and that Jesus is risen. If it looks like Good News and it sounds like Good News. But Jesus being the ruler of the kings of the earth?
Its like a church meeting I remember attending long ago, certainly not something that would ever happen here, where we gathered for an important conversation, debate, decision making, and as we gathered voices were raised, accusations were made, and when finally came to the end of our appointed time, fists clenched, no wiser than we were when we stared, someone present had the audacity to ask if we might end our time in prayer.
I thought, “What for? We certainly didn’t behave like God was in the room, why invite the Lord in now?”
You see, when Jesus is in charge everything changes. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets better. Have you read about the stuff he got up to the in the backwater towns of Galilee?
Are we sure we want Jesus to be in charge?
From the very beginning he predicted that those in power would reject him, and they did. I would say that’s strike one. Jesus has the gall to call all kinds of people who have no business being in the kingdom business. I mean, fishermen for disciples? Tax collectors for apostles? What’s next, bankers for Sunday school teachers? Lawyers on the mission committee?
Jesus is risky and foolish, spending all of his time among the last, least, lost, little, and dead. If we ever want to make the world a better place, we need a leader who’s going to spend time with the first, the best, the found, the big, and the lively.
What kind of leader forgives betrayers? What kind of ruler leaves ninety-nine behind to find the one who is lost? What kind of king hosts a banquet and invites everybody to attend?
John reminds us, across the centuries, through the power of words that Jesus is the one in charge, and in his infinite and confounding wisdom, he loves us, he has freed us from our very worst mistakes, and he has made us into a new people who will always feel like strangers in a stranger land.
And, to be clear, being in charge doesn’t mean being in control. If God in Christ is the author of every war, cancer diagnosis, and car crash then God isn’t worthy of our worship. But as the one in charge it means that God in Christ is the one we follow. He leads the way.
It is to Jesus, John says, that we owe our allegiance because he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves – he makes a way where there is no way. He, himself, is Easter for us.
The key according to the Revelator, the important truth that will be brought up again and again, is that it’s all up to Jesus. We can absolutely respond to what Jesus has done, we can even take up our crosses to follow, but he’s the one in charge, he gets all the good verbs. He, to put it plainly, is the Alpha and the Omega, the A and the Z.
Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, or improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life for people like you and me, the good and the bad and the ugly.
The message of Revelation, of the one who is, and was, and is to come, is that it isn’t over yet. Easter is still happening. Until we all feast at the Supper of the Lamb, we will live in the in-between – the place where we vacillate between mourning and dancing, crying and laughing.
Every Easter we make the same declaration – Christ is risen! But that’s a little deceptive. It is true, but we have more to say: Christ is risen, and he’s in charge. Amen.