by Anne Grizzle
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
I love bells. I collect bells. Our retreat home in Lexington is called the Bellfry. They remind me that we are resurrection people. At the Easter vigil after all our lessons, when we finally declare Alleluia Christ is risen, we ring bells, sometimes all over the church. Easter for us Episcopalians is not just one day, but Easter is a great season, 50 days. So let us continue our alleluias – and our ringing of bells and our living into being Easter people for a full 50 days – and then the rest of our lives!
A friend of mine went to Moscow on a business trip in the spring of 1991. He went out for a walk on Sunday morning, which happened to be Easter. He heard bells pealing, first close by and then farther away, from the north and then south, east and west – all over for hours it seemed bells were ringing. He finally found someone on the street who spoke English and asked, “why are all these bells ringing?” The man explained . “After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Soviet Union persecuted Christians and destroyed our bells. We could not ring bells in our churches. We could not ring bells even in our homes. The only place we could ring bells was in our heads. This is the first time in 68 years that we have been able to ring bells for Easter. So everyone wants a turn – I have not rung the church bell since I was a 6 year old boy.”
Thankfully we are free to ring bells and proclaim the resurrection. But what difference does this resurrection which we confess today in our baptismal covenant make in our own lives?
As we look at the three Scripture readings for today we see a dramatic transformation in the living of Jesus’ followers.
In John’s gospel, the disciples, who abandoned him at the crucifixion, are now gathered together the evening of the first day of the week – with doors locked in fear. Into this huddled fearful mass of disciples, Jesus comes – we are not sure if he walked through a solid door, flew in the window, or appeared out of nowhere. But there Jesus, the miracle maker they thought was dead, appeared in their midst. And a week later, after poor Thomas declared he would not believe unless he could see and put his fingers where the nails had been in Jesus’s hands, Jesus, not scorning doubt but rather meeting it with presence, appears again.
By Acts, which for Easter season replaces Old Testament readings, we see transformed disciples. The fear filled followers in our passage from John turn into believers so empowered as to share goods all together and share the gospel boldly despite threats of imprisonment. By the I John passage, the disciples are declaring eternal life that they have seen and heard. The motley crew of fishermen and tax collectors and ordinary folk who had walked with Jesus have become RESURRECTION PEOPLE. What changed in them and what can change in us?
Resurrection people move from fear to peace. We all have times when we are locked in fear. 365 times in the Bible we read “Fear not” so fear must be a common experience. Sometimes even small things can take hold of our minds and grip us with fear, that our new Easter recipe will flop, our work project will not be completed by the deadline, our children will not get the teacher we hoped for them, our car will be run over by the 18 wheelers on Interstate 81. And then there are the big fears, like the disciples experienced, when someone you love has died, all you hoped for has been dashed, you have no idea which way to go forward, and you can only huddle together behind locked doors. Into this place of fear with the disciples, Jesus comes saying, “Peace be with you.” Peace, that peace that truly is beyond understanding that Paul writes about in Phillipians, deep in your gut washing over
the fear peace. When we pass the peace of Christ, this is a fear fleeing, profound peace. That is what we want to pray and offer one another with every hand gesture and word we offer each other every Sunday. The peace of the Lord that conquers fears, even that of death itself. Be with you. Be with me. Be right here with us. If you have tasted of that crazy Easter resurrection peace then be sure to pray it for every person as you pass the peace. And if you have no idea what that really is, then grasp those outstretched hands and prayers tightly in hopes that it will come your way this Easter season.
Resurrection people are filled with the Holy Spirit. The second thing Jesus did in that resurrection appearance in the upper room is he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Though he will physically leave, he breathes the very essence of God into them. This is like the breath that makes dust into human life in our Genesis account. And breath that we read about from Ezekiel that makes the dry bones rise up and take on life. And Holy Spirit empowering that transforms the terrified, confused disciples into proclaimers of the good news all over the globe. This is ours today as well. This is what enlivens us to be not just come in to church people but as our bishop has commissioned us to be go out filled and following the spirit people. Why don’t we all consider every morning when we wake up and realize we are breathing to breath in with a prayer, “Lord I receive your Holy Spirit. Fill me this day.”
Resurrection people share in community. In our Acts passage we read, “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all. ” That is certainly strange for then or for now. To not follow the American rugged individual climb the ladder of your own success and property but share your goods in community. Yet that is indeed where this congregation has been called in its work in Honduras and Haiti and noon lunch. To be sharing together and reaching out to others in need.
Finally resurrection people are people of joy. I John says, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us…so that our JOY may be complete.” Joy, not happiness based on temporary good conditions but deep giddy grateful joy living a life full of God. I can go through a day trekking through my agenda and forget the great news of the resurrection and the joy that flows from that. I get so focused on little things to do and worries I forget sometimes the great gift of life and eternal life and resurrection life. I need to practice joy.
Resurrection people of peace. Resurrection people filled with the Holy Spirit. Resurrection people sharing in community. Resurrection people of joy. If we kept Lent with fasting, let us keep Easter with resurrection practices. Praying for peace when fear grips us. Asking for the leading and filling of the Holy Spirit. Giving up something that is dear to us for community. Living with joy and bringing joy to others. If you want more ideas, read Resurrection as a Spiritual Practice by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.
Bells can serve not just for celebration but also reminders. The ringing of Trinity bells remind us – and all our neighbors — of the hour. The dinner bell reminds us that a meal is ready. Do you ever forget who you are? I do. So I sometimes ring a bell. Let us ring our Easter bells all 50 days and maybe all our life as a reminder that we are resurrection people. And if we don’t have a bell with us, like our Russian fellow believers through persecution, we can ring a reminder in our minds. A reminder that when fear grips us in every day we can call out to the Prince of Peace or the hand of a fellow believer. A reminder that Jesus did not leave us alone but breathed on us the Holy Spirit. A reminder that we can have courage to let go of our goods for the sake of community in Christ. A reminder of the joy of our faith.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.