April 21, 2019
Installation of The Most Rev. Robert Winzens as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Universal Catholic Church and Archbishop of the Province of the Untied States
(For Sri Lanka and the eight bombings at 3 churches and 3 hotels, killing 207 and over 560 injured.)
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; John 20:1-18)
"Angel gear" is what New Zealand lorry-drivers call coming down the mountains with the engine off and no brakes. On Easter morning all Christians should put themselves in "angel gear," turning off all our mechanistic doubts and refusing to put the brakes on the faith and hope that Easter morning should represent for each of us.
A lot of non-Christians have no problem agreeing that this first-century Jesus of Nazareth was a gifted leader, a provocative teacher, a prophet and a powerful moral figure that the world should emulate. But on this morning, Jesus' secular well-wishers and the church's members must part company. This morning we celebrate a mystery and a miracle - the greatest miracle and mystery ever known: Christ is Risen!
Then why do we so often crack that cornerstone and undermine its stability? Why do we doubt the miracle of Easter morning? Why do we diminish the mystery with all our explanations? Why do we come up with such silliness as the notion that the resurrection was something that happened in the minds of the disciples rather than the body of Jesus? We falsely flatter ourselves when we rationalize our doubts and dissembling’s as part of our 20th-century- critical-scientific-rationalistic heritage.
Let's not fool ourselves - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was just as hard on the faith of first century believers as it is on ours. Death has been around for a long time - first-century folk knew its face just as well as we do. In fact, they saw it more closely and intimately and frequently than do we in our hospitalized, sterilized, death-denying attempt to avoid the whole topic.
We envy those who actually saw the resurrected Jesus before the ascension. We imagine it was much easier for them to believe. But while it is true that none of us had the honor of actually bumping into Jesus in the flesh on the way to church this morning, it is also true that none of us helped pull his lifeless body off the cross on Friday evening. None of us carried his heavy, limp, blood-stained form into a barren tomb and wrapped it in a shroud. For those who had known the living, laughing, loving Jesus, there was no doubt that he was stone-cold dead. Believing that he could be truly alive again - not just some spiritual apparition, but a warm, living being - was an enormous act of faith for the first disciples.
We also know that all but one Apostle was martyred for the faith (John being the only one not). For these men to refuse to recant their beliefs in Jesus, it would, after all, imply he must have really existed, was crucified and resurrected for them to willingly die! I certainly wouldn’t willing die for someone I did not think was God!
When the news of Jesus' resurrection, the rumor of an empty tomb, began to circulate, the Roman and synagogue authorities got nervous. Having taken enormous effort to post guards so that Jesus' body could not be stolen, these officials now used these same guards to start spreading a rumor that body-snatching was exactly what had happened. The possibility that a genuine miracle had taken place was too threatening, too incredible for those who had opposed Jesus and put him to death.
They did an excellent job spreading doubt, however, for that rumor still circulates today. There are lots of church members who confess faith in Christ yet continue to suspect that the chief priests and leaders probably had the story straight. For these Christians the concept behind a risen Christ is perfectly acceptable, but the reality of an actual resurrection is just too outlandish to take literally.
We expect life and death to follow a certain set of rules and to meet certain rational criteria. Therefore we scramble around trying to find alternative explanations for the empty tomb. Maybe the guards did fall asleep and some well-meaning disciples did come to take the body. Maybe Jesus wasn't really dead - only drugged, or in a coma, or hypnotized - and he came out of it and escaped the tomb. Maybe this was all part of an elaborate plan to prove Jesus' messianic nature.
However, we also know that the Roman Guards put to guard the tomb would have suffered the penalty of death for falling asleep or failing to properly guard the tomb – that was the Roman way. So, for the fictitious reports that the body was stolen, suddenly loses credibility.
But maybe, just maybe, all our doubts are wrong!
The resurrection, as rock group U2's Bono puts it, was when "the universe exploded in one man's life." Easter is our spiritual supernova. We must experience it as the true miracle it is without trying to make it fit our expectations and, especially, our limitations. When we refuse to let the miracle be miraculous, when we try to crimp it and cramp it to fit our style, we find ourselves distorting everything that made up Jesus' life and ministry on earth. It is time to let the mystery shine.
The resurrection is where Christians start speaking a different language from everyone else - the language of miracle, the litany of faith. Accepting, believing, celebrating Jesus'' resurrection as the living Christ is the cornerstone that holds the Church together. If Christ be not raised, Paul said, then your faith is in vain.
We all have doubts, to be sure, however let's quit analyzing Easter. Instead of looking for human explanations for the open tomb, let's look with awe at that mighty angel perched in front of it. Let us be so convinced of his presence that we see the misty vapors of angel breath billowing from his mouth as he tells the wondering women what has happened to Jesus. Then we must walk with bold faithfulness through the tomb's opened doorway, look at its empty, uninhabited space and shout the miracle: "He is Risen!"
Do you see the angel's breath this morning?
No? Then maybe you need to get into angel gear.
Let us pray.
Easter is Light – – May each of us carry the Light of Easter in our homes, communities and the wider world. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Hope – – Our hope is in the Risen Christ. May we recognize that He is with us in all our daily tasks. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Commitment – – As we renew our Baptismal promises, we pray to the Lord that He give us the grace to strengthen our commitment to Him and the faith we profess. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is the Gift of Life – – In rising from the dead, Jesus has given us life. We pray that, in our country and throughout the world, God’s gift of life be treasured by all and that all life (including animals), from conception to death, be respected and protected. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Joy – through Jesus’ Resurrection we are filled with joy and confidence in the promise of life everlasting. May we share this joy with family, friends and all in our congregation today to whom we wish the happiness of Easter. We pray to the Lord.
For the citizens and Christians in Sri Lanka, that the souls lost in the bombing may rest in peace eternal, for the quick and complete recovery to the injured, for the loved ones of those who have lost loved ones that they may find comfort, and for the terrorists that commit such heinous crimes that they learn tolerance and love for all peoples. We pray to the Lord.
That peace and joy may permeate the world, especially in countries, cities, and neighborhoods that suffer violence and war, as do the lands where Jesus walked. We pray to the Lord.
That it may please Thee, O Lord, to bless this our Brother, His Excellency Robert Winzens elected to the Office of Archbishop and the Office of Presiding Bishop, and Primate of the Universal Catholic Church, granting him to think and do always such things as are right, that so he may duly execute the Sacred Office to which thou hast called him. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find resolution and comfort through our prayers and God’s grace. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God of life, you raised your Son from the dead and gave us all a share in the promise of new life with him. We thank you, Father, that we are born anew and set free to live with the dignity of your beloved children. Help us in our unbelief, so that we do not doubt and question your life, death and resurrection that we celebrate today. Give us faith in you. Give us hope in a world torn by so much evil and malice. Help us to not fear in professing you in our lives. Supplant miracles in each of us present today, that our faith may be strengthened, our belief emboldened, and our spirit lifted even unto experiencing you in the Blessed Sacrament this morning. Hear the prayers we offer today and grant them through your Son, our risen Lord. Amen.
A Blessed Easter to you all!
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA