Sermon text put together from audio transcription software, so please read generously and with a grain of salt.
May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Happy Easter! Christ is risen. Amen. This year during lent St. Stephen’s produced a six part video series in which Ethan and I welcomed six different guests to our zoom room one for each episode, and together we discussed the chapters of Timothy Snyder’s short book on tyranny. The reason for this is because lent is a period of time that prepares us for Holy week and Easter. And Easter is the story of God’s victory. Over tyranny in Jesus, God overcomes the tyranny of religious corruption by which religious people, wrongly claim authority to speak for God and wrongly conclude that God shares their distaste for mercy in Jesus. God overcomes the tyranny of worldly power plainly showing that the state, which rests on the use of violence to secure order means nothing to God who brings order out of chaos. By speaking, Love’s invitation to life in Jesus, God overcomes the tyranny of small mindedness in human affairs, all the stupid mean ways that we deny abandoned and betrayed each other for nothing in Jesus, God even overcomes the apparent tyranny of death.
The inescapable end to which all our lives must one day come. So the story of Easter is the story of how God overcomes tyranny and about how we are called to know about recognize and in our own ways, resist tyranny too, because God didn’t do all this just to put on a good show. God did all this so that we would know that we can do it too. While tyrants concentrate power in their own hands, by squeezing the life of the people. Jesus shares the power of life with the whole world. We who follow him as friends and disciples ought to know the difference. Hence, the Lenten video series resisting tyranny is our father’s business and we must be it. And just coming to church is the most obvious way that we try to be about our father’s business. We come to church to learn about these things and to join with friends and fellow pilgrims, to practice living a resurrected life marked by all the ways of Jesus.
And in this year of sheltering in place and livestreaming church with all the pajama and coffee benefits that that has conferred upon us, we really have been denied the most fundamental characteristic of church, the basic experience of being together to practice our faith, to strengthen one another for life’s challenges, to witness to one another as joys and sorrows, and to be inspired by one another’s stories of mercy, generosity, friendship, and love. We have been missing what sociology calls collective effervescence, collective effervescence. If you don’t know, the term is just what it sounds like a feeling that people have when they are gathered together in community, participating in an activity of shared custom understanding and social value, and which makes them fizz together. Collective effervescence is the term for the force that binds us together, gives us an experience of kinship and common experience and causes us to feel part of something larger than ourselves.
It depends a lot on actually being in one another’s presence. So it barely needs saying that collective effervescence is what we have missed this past year. We have not collected. We have barely effort vest. What we’ve had instead is something like fragmented, fizzle, disconnected, drooping, socially distanced stress. I don’t need to tell you it’s been a drag, but today is Easter and Christ is risen. And death is overcome along with every other form of human tyranny, including maybe, especially for us, especially today, the tyranny of just constantly being bummed out about how things aren’t as much fun as they used to be. Don’t get me wrong. I want this whole episode in our common life to be over. And I am ready for a lot more collective effervescence in my life soon, getting my first shot on Wednesday.
And I get it sometimes feels hard to keep going. And the moving target of the end of the pandemic can be enough to make even the Flint Flint, the pragmatist start listening to conspiracy theories. Maybe the vaccine really will make me buy more Microsoft products and turn me into a robot controlled by satellite. So it has been hard and it remains hard. And so I want to say two things about why this is still Easter. One collective effervescence is not the same thing as having fun as being entertained. Collective effervescence is actually value neutral and the feeling of deep connection and common purpose it describes can serve wickedness just as easily as virtue. It was collective effervescence that drove the mob of people to join in unison and cry out. Crucify him. Collective effervescence is not the same thing as having fun. The other thing I want to say is that, yes, it’s been hard and it is hard, but the hardest part has already been done.
When the women go to the tomb on the morning, after his burial, they ask themselves who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb. When they arrive, they find the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away. We made despair of the worlds, many tyrannies and of the petty tyrannies of our own lives. But as we prepare and equip ourselves to overcome them, we look to Jesus to show us the way on Thursday. He gave us a new commandment, love one another. As I have loved you on Friday, he showed mercy from the cross, forgive them for, they do not know what they are doing on Saturday. He went down into hell and shattered the prison doors, setting the captives free in rising from the dead. He proves his commitment to us in love and invites our own commitment in return, though, we shy away, make excuses, get distracted, feel tired.
There was not a lot of collective effervescence among the scattered discouraged, fearful disciples. That first Easter, their response to the resurrection. Wasn’t all that fizzy either. But even though it wasn’t all that much fun, it was still something good sharing in their confusion and fear. They were still partners in God’s life. Giving mission of love for the world still folded in like yeast to the flower of God’s activity, living rising bread bubbling with life and to mercy and true joy joy, not as of being entertained, but as of being deeply known and truly loved gathered, not gathered physi, not fizzy joyful, not joyful. It doesn’t matter. Christ is risen. Tyranny is overthrown. Hell’s prison is breached. The heavy stone has already been rolled away and the tomb is empty. Let’s carry on.