Easter 2014

I have a friend named Eliza. In fact, I think that some of you might know her, too. Until pretty recently, she worked for her friend Jacqueline, who is a St. Mary's graduate, on the LoMo truck, a wonderful little organic grocery store on wheels that Eliza tells me visits here pretty much every week. I met Eliza when she was about 12, and she and her family attended St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Durham, where I was one of her priests. Since then she has grown up, gone off to college, then after she graduated she and a few of her friends renovated an old school bus into a rolling greenhouse and sustainable agriculture education center, and then they spent the better part of a year traveling all across the country, sleeping on the bus, and meeting with and teaching people about farming, everywhere - schools, urban neighborhoods, diverse communities, places they had never been and places where they must have seemed like pretty strange strangers. Still, they reached out and met folks, shared what they knew and learned even more, and made friends everywhere as they talked about what they are passionate about - farming, caring for the Earth, eating good food, and learning new ways to grow.

When she got back home, Eliza did a few things, including working with Jacqueline at LoMo for a little while, but recently she left because she has bought her own farmland, 28 acres in Durham county. Eliza is 25 years old.

Today, of course, we are here celebrating Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, a story that is over 2,000 years old, in a building that is 160 years old, participating in a form of worship that is at least 1,500 years old.

And I am 47 years old, which I share with you because often enough, unlike this morning, when I step into pulpits in churches all over North Carolina, I am often still one of the youngest people in the room. And one thing that I say a lot when I preach is that it is pretty obvious, in so many ways, that lots and lots of people in the generations younger than me, and most people in your generation, are no longer in our churches, no longer see what church has to do with their real lives, no longer consider it vitally important to gather as we are gathering today, to share the stories and the sacraments of the Christian tradition, to know who Jesus is and why this matters.

We are in the resurrection business, I like to say, and so the Feast of the Resurrection is a very excellent time, I think, to consider where Jesus really is in the life of the church, which seems to be struggling in many ways in our current time.

And this is one of the reasons why I love today's Gospel story so much, the road to Emmaus, Jesus' disciples walking along with him, listening to him but still not understanding who he is, until he breaks the bread for them, and then disappears. These are people who knew Jesus, they loved him, they followed him around and learned from him, and they are utterly devastated now that he is gone. They are wandering around wondering what they will do with themselves now that he is no longer with them.

And yet, of course he is with them. It just takes them a little while to figure that out.

And it makes me wonder, even though it has been thousands of years since then, if in so many ways we aren't still doing this today. If the church itself, even though our buildings are very solid and our traditions are very settled, if that isn't just a certain disguise, even from ourselves, for the fact that we are still going along, living our lives and telling our stories, but somehow thinking that the story is done.

If we aren't, in certain ways, still only looking for Jesus in the last place we saw him. Which is not a bad thing, but sometimes I think it can keep us from seeing where he is now.

My friend Eliza is a passionate evangelist for farming, and she is also a deep believer in God. I might go so far as to say that her vocation is a farming ministry. That the risen Christ is present, and is made evident, in the work that she does.

When I asked her to describe her faith to me, she said, 'In my experience, farming and living close to the earth is nothing less than a constant search for God.' She also said she has a tote bag that says "Love Thy Farmer" on it which appeals to her because, as she says, 'it inherently recognizes the connection between Christianity and the farming culture of the early church. Jesus also calls us to feed him and our neighbor and we cannot honestly do that without feeding folk with honest food.'

It is important, I think, that we learn the traditions of Christianity. Knowing the stories of the Bible, the sacraments, the worship, the church calendar, puts meaning and context to our experience of God, makes sense of what the world has known about God since the world began.

But our Gospel story today, and in fact our whole life with Jesus, and especially this moment of Easter should also remind us and encourage us that God is not done surprising us. That our story is not over. That when we least expect it, new life and new love and new adventures will be upon us, and we will suddenly see Jesus there.

Those of you who are young are especially equipped for this, I think. Because as we get older, it is natural for us to think:'I understand now. I have learned what I need to about how God works in the world.' And it is easy to keep talking amongst ourselves about what we have lost instead of keeping our eyes open to what is being born right in front of us.

In fact, I noticed that you wrote your own collect for Easter, which is very impressive, and in which you pray: 'we give thanks for the chance to start again that you revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.'

And that is the thing, isn't it? Resurrection, new life, is always the chance to start again. The great good news of our story as Christians is that death will not have the last word. Even for us AS Christians. Just when we think things are at their very worst, the tomb is empty and the word is, Jesus is alive.

We are all alive.

So here we are in this very established place hearing a very old story about things that happened to people who walked the earth thousands of years ago. This is still important, I think. Jesus, walking with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, before anything else, told them the stories of the faith again. We won't know who we are or all the things God has done for us if we don't hear about them and participate in them.

But the story doesn't end there. Not for the disciples, not for us.

Christ is alive, my friends. Right now he is here, he is out there on the road, he is present in your dreams and in what is calling you in your life. Don't be surprised if you feel your hearts burning when your passion for where you are going meets what you have heard about everything that has come before. Don't be afraid to see that Jesus is suddenly with you, that he has been with you all along.

 

-- The Rev. Canon Catherine A. Caimano. Preached at St. Mary's School, Raleigh, April 22, 2014.