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FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE THE REV. SARAH REID BIRD EASTER DAY, SUNRISE SERVICE APRIL 21, 2019 Sunrise On the Beach JOHN 21:1-14 I realize this text is not a traditional Easter morning text. It’s not the familiar scene of the empty tomb, the bewildered disciples, the angels in blazing white raiment and the words, “He is not here. He is risen!” But this is my first time preaching at a sunrise service, and I thought I’d mix things up a bit. It’s been a source of teasing around the office. The new pastor always preaches this early morning service and trust me I’m not an early morning kind of person. But in addition to the jokes, the resounding consensus in this church is that this is a beautiful service – unique in so many ways. Consider where we are. We are literally surrounded by that Great Cloud of Witnesses. As we celebrate Christ’s defeat over death, we know that each of those who have gone before will be raised again to new life. Because He lives, we know we will live also. This is a place of immense hope; do you feel it? Yesterday, after the Easter celebration with hundreds of kiddos scrambling around the church yard in search of eggs, I took a quiet moment to walk through this space – to look at each name, to think of their stories, their families, their legacies, their faith journeys. It was quite the juxtaposition – the squeals of laughter and life as it was bursting at the seams with energy, bounce houses and balloon animals … set next to the silence of this somber place that ultimately reminds us that we too will one day die. The names on these plaques are not familiar ones to me – I’m new to this community and never met these folks, but it was meaningful all the same. Because in the midst of what the world would see as a sad and dreary place, we are here this morning boldly proclaiming the Gospel – singing songs of joy, celebrating the eternal life we can be sure of through Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s almost an act of defiance, holding worship here filled with resurrection hope. This is a very special place. It’s also a really special time. I mean we all had to get up while it was still dark and make our way to this place. We are in essence coming out of this dark season of Lent, crowned with thorns as we marked Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. But this morning as the sun peeps out over the horizon, we celebrate as the dew-drenched silence of the tomb is transformed into unbridled resurrection joy. And it is that joy that I see reflected so well in this text from the Gospel of John. So let’s orient ourselves in the story first. It’s been about a week since the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples after Mary had discovered the tomb was empty and clumsily mistook her Lord for the gardener. A few days later Jesus showed up among them again and the dubious Thomas swept his trembling hand over His Teacher’s hands and side. But after all of that, Jesus was gone again. So what do they do now? How do they respond to the chaotic, scandalous, miraculous, glorious revelation of the resurrected Christ? They go fishing. They go back to what they know. And the line that has always confounded me is when we’re told “the disciples did not know it was Jesus” standing on the shore calling out to them. Are you kidding me?! They’d spent the last three years with the man! They just saw him a week ago after He’d risen from the dead! But how quickly they forgot. In spite of it all, we too tend to look right past the Risen Savior in our midst. Maybe not today. Today we are gathered around this intoxicating Good News, eager to celebrate, even more eager to go down and have some of Ms. Kim’s delicious scones. The sanctuary is filled with the perfume of lilies as the energy of this Easter morning takes holds of our hearts and restores our hope. But as we enter into this day, I want us to heed the caution this story provides. We are just like those disciples. We will return to life as usual tomorrow just as they did. But let us not forget what we’ve seen and heard. Let us not fail to recognize our Savior calling to us. Let us not shrink back into our pre-resurrection existence disregarding the Good News and losing heart. It’s interesting, sometimes I think Lent is actually easier for us than Easter. They are both seasons in our church calendar, but we can do Lent ... focusing on how bad we are, seeking to come to terms with our humanity and depravity. It seems to us a darker time and we can handle the dark – it is familiar. It is when the crucified Christ rises from the dead and shatters our every doubt and expectation ... well, that’s when things get tricky. Embracing that hope and living into that joy is not easy. Especially after we’ve returned to the Monday morning grind, post-Easter. Be very sure tomorrow will still come and so will the demands and frenzied pace of our overscheduled, overstimulated, overworked lives. But our day-to-day experiences and witness to the world as an Easter people hinge on our ability to receive the joy offered to us by the Risen Christ, not just one special Sunday in the spring, but every day. We are made for joy. Think of Peter’s uninhibited joy as he recognized Jesus and threw himself out of the boat to meet his Lord. What would that look like for us in our lives? To not only see Jesus in our midst but to run to him? This is one of my favorite scenes in all of Scripture – Peter swimming towards Jesus as he’s stoking a charcoal fire on the beach at daybreak. He once again breaks bread and multiplies fish reminding his disciples that the incredible ministry they were witnesses to has only just begun. And they get to be a part of it. And so do we! Just as the sun rose over the Sea of Tiberias that morning, it is now rising here today. Just as the disciples hauled in that staggering load of fish, we have been entrusted with a staggering message of joy and hope. So along with John, we might proclaim, “It is the Lord!” He is here. He is risen! And He is longing for us to receive the joy of this morning and then to carry it forward into the spectacular and the mundane, the Easter Egg hunts and the columbaria, the celebration and the sorrow because we know that death is not the end. So may you find joy in Him today, tomorrow and every day. Alleluia! Amen. He has risen indeed! Alleluia
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