"While it was still dark"-Sermon for Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18
CS Lewis’ books the Chronicles of Narnia have been beloved by me since I read them for the first time as a ten-year-old child. The books were a gift from my Great Aunt Mildred, who has many years ago now experienced her own Easter moment…her own resurrection beyond the grave into the forever life of God’s heavenly kingdom. Since that first time of getting lost in Lewis’ timeless tales, I have now re-read them many more times, including, while studying for finals my first semester at seminary—and that’s what I call procrastination! And, I have now been blessed to share them with my own children. When they were old enough, they were among the first chapter books we read to them as a family out loud each evening before bed.
And, as I am sure many of you know, the fourth book in the Chronicles, depending on how you order them, is named “The Silver Chair”, and it might be my favorite of the seven but admittedly that’s really hard to say. And, in “The Silver Chair”, we are introduced to a young girl named Jill Pole who has just been transported into the magical and unfamiliar world of Narnia. She has become lost and separated from her friend Eustace Scrubb, and, thus, she is all alone and incredibly thirsty and in search of water. She finds a stream but between her and the babbling brook she is dying to drink from…lies a lion.
Lewis writes, “But although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the lion…. “If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first….
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the Lion. “May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry, it just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.”
Now, as I, Miles, think about Jill’s choice to drink from the stream…not knowing if she would be utterly consumed by the lion or, as, indeed, was the case, have her thirst entirely quenched…for she could not know…she did not know…I think that choice to approach and drink from the stream with lion looking on took courage. I for one might have made a different choice…the choice to disbelieve the lion…hoping against hope that another source of water did indeed exist in the woods…choosing caution over valor. But, not Jill, she courageously chose to drink…and was satisfied…deeply and completely satisfied.
Brene Brown writes, “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is “cor” - the Latin word for heart.” And Easter is, if nothing else, God’s great invitation to each and every one of us to courageously take heart. For in Jesus’ glorious resurrection, death has been defeated…it has no power over us. Life and love win for all time…for all of creation…for each one of us. Christ is risen…eternally in the present tense. Christ is risen yesterday, today and tomorrow and each and every that follow…so take heart…whatever this death dealing world might throw at us…at you…at me…by the grace of God that flows out of the empty tomb at Easter as an unending stream of life and love…we shall overcome. As has sort of become a hopeful refrain of sorts for me in these apocalyptic like days of pandemic and political and social unrest and war in Europe and a return to a cold war of sorts and an unstable economy and real concerns around affordability in our community and all on top of the more ordinary struggles in work and home, in family and relationships…our Easter proclamation of love’s victory over sin, evil and death…invite us together to courageously shout out into this present darkness…you have already been defeated…you have no power over us…through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. And, in doing so…not alone but together…we take heart…we find hope and courage…not just to survive but to thrive…and not for ourselves alone but for the very life of the world.
And, it must be said that courage is not the utter absence of fear…as Lewis wrote for Jill, approaching the lion and the stream, was the hardest thing she had ever done. Fear can be an appropriate even wise response to that which seeks to destroy and dehumanize. We rightfully fear disease. We rightfully fear war. We rightfully fear the loss of financial security. We rightfully fear economic systems that prey upon those already struggling to make ends meet. We rightfully fear for those we love who by virtue of choice or just circumstance stand in harm’s way. We rightfully fear powers and principalities that seek to take our voice and autonomy away and erode our most deeply held values. To have zero fear such things is not courage…it is, instead, willful ignorance or the decaying fruit of having already lost hope…of already having given up…rendering God in Christ powerless and willfully succumbing to the powers of darkness.
But…as St. Paul reminds us in is unequaled sermon on the power and promise of love, friends, there remains a more excellent way. The way of love…a love that in Jesus’ resurrection not even death can overcome. And the way of love begins in acknowledging our fear…for as our friends working the twelve-steps have taught us…the things we name…we begin to take control over. And, with that fear present but not in control of us…we can begin to take heart and like Jill move forward…a courage found not in strength of body and mind…but in faith…faith in the very thing that we gather today to celebrate and proclaim…faith in death’s defeat…faith in Jesus’ victory over the grave…then together we can begin to make our song even in the face of this present darkness…alleluia, alleluia, alleluia…Christ is risen…the first born from the dead not the last.
Jill approached the lion and the stream with its life-giving waters…that the lion was not actually guarding but was providing…she approached with fear and trembling…but with enough heart…enough courage…to keep moving forward, one step at a time, nearer and nearer, till she could kneel alongside the stream…drink deeply and be filled…for the water did not simply represent the opportunity to take the edge off her thirst…but to give her life…abundant life. For, as those of us familiar with the story know, the lion was no ordinary beast…and the water he was offering to Jill was not simply a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. He was the King of the Wood, the High King of Narnia, the Son of the great Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea…Narnia’s own incarnation of the resurrected Jesus…the Son of God…and the waters were the very waters of life…God’s unending fount and well of life and love flowing from Jesus’ empty tomb.
Today, we are invited whether for the first time or the thousandth to place our hearts…to place your heart…into the hands of the God of life and love…Jesus our Lord whose glorious resurrection assures us that, that which we fear, should no longer control us. For, it has already been overcome. And, as we do so, as we courageously drink by faith…in prayer, worship, service and creativity…from the unending stream of God’s own life and love that flows from Jesus’ empty tomb from forever to forever…we will find ourselves encouraged and empowered to become ourselves glory…children of the resurrection…those who have overcome the great tribulations of our age…and, again, not for ourselves alone…but for the very life of the world…as we share what we have found with all those who need hope, who need help, who need the resurrected Jesus, when lost or lonely, controlled or consumed by fear, suffering or in pain.
Easter, death’s defeat, life and loves victory, is the very place we find the courage needed to take heart…to courageously take heart…when fear begins to wind its way into our hearts and minds…to take heart…when asked to risk self for the welfare of another…to take heart…when one that we love is profoundly struggling to find their way and how to help is unclear…to take heart…when the unwanted diagnosis is received for ourselves or a loved one…to take heart…when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams…to take heart…when courageously telling our honest story and not knowing how that will be received…to take heart…when making real sacrifices to build God’s own kingdom of love on earth as it is in heaven…to always take heart…a courage found not in human strength or ingenuity…but our faith that is filled all the way up, empowered, and encouraged, as we drink from the unending stream of life and love that flows from forever to forever, pouring out endlessly from Jesus’ empty tomb…the very place of death’s defeat, of life’s victory. Easter, Jesus’ glorious resurrection, that we celebrate not just today but every day is God’s eternal invitation…to courageously take heart. Amen.