Last year I used a favorite song from one of my favorite 80’s bands to serve as a guide for my Three Days sermon. And wouldn’t you know it, I had yet another song in mind this year as I prepared this three part sermon, from yet another 80’s band! I can’t help it, I spent years 5 through 15 in the 80’s! Can you believe the 80’s ended almost 30 years ago? Well, before we get all sad and emotional, there’ll be plenty of time for that later this week, the song I had in mind is from the band U2. And the song is called One. Released in 1991, it really made an impact on my 16 year old self. It’s been a song that I have returned to time and time again throughout my life. But I’ve never really processed why, until it came to mind while I was preparing for Holy Week.
The song ends with these words, “One love. One blood. One life. You got to do what you should. One life. With each other. Sisters. Brothers. One life. But we're not the same. We get to, Carry each other. Carry each other. One life. One.” Owen will sing it during the offering tonight, and also on Saturday night, creating bookends for our Three Days. The song is filled with themes surrounding oneness, unity, togetherness, community, and the absence of it. Being a teenager can be very lonely at times.
Maybe all the time for some of us. Lonely because, as most teenagers, you just feel like no one really understands you, no one really gets you; especially not the adults in your life! But it’s good practice because as we all discover when we become adults, those moments of loneliness never really go away entirely. We all experience them from time to time. And so it came as no surprise that this song was so powerful for me as a teenager, and has stayed with me for so long.
Oneness, togetherness, unity, things that many of us long for, hope for—and I think that plays a part in why many of us come to church, and the place where our faith sprouts from. And maybe every pastor from every era of time has said this but, these days, it seems like oneness is at an all-time shortage. It seems like the political and social fabric of our nation is split like it hasn’t been for a long time. This is has brought strife within families, between friends, and even in the church.
I find myself seeing some political bumper sticker on a car and immediately forming an opinion about the driver. I never used to do that! I’m hoping that most of you can relate to that, or at least relate to the ever-growing sense of oneness needed in the world today. And hence, the theme of this year’s Three Days sermon. And so, I’d like us to explore, how each of these three nights, contributes to the oneness that God calls us to.
Good Friday we’ll explore our oneness with God, at the Vigil of Easter we’ll explore our oneness with the world, and tonight, focuses on our oneness with each other. Not only do I think that’s a good place to start, but I think even God would say that it is in finding oneness with each other, that we find oneness with God. On this night, after Jesus washed his disciples feet he said, “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.” And then of course he gives the new commandment, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
I think this was Jesus subtle way of saying, you’ve got to get your own house in order before you can take on the world. Learn to love each other first, learn to care for each other first, learn to be a servant to one another first, allow this to be your training ground. It starts here, in this holy place, in our hearts and minds, as we experience God for ourselves, at that table of oneness. A table where all are welcomed, where all come on equal ground, with hands outstretched in want, in yearning, for oneness. In this night, and in the next two, hear God’s call to oneness, with each other, with God, and with the world.
Oneness is the theme of this three part sermon which we began last night, when we focused on our oneness with each other that God has called us to through Christ. Tonight, we hear God calling us to oneness with Christ himself. But, thankfully, it is not anything that we do that makes us closer to Christ. Thankfully, it is not anything that we say, or believe, that makes us closer to Christ.
All the focus tonight is on Christ, all the work that needs to be done rests on Christ’s shoulders, Christ does all the heavy lifting for us. Which is why, later in the service, a beautiful large cross will be carried down the center aisle and placed here for us to reverence and adore. And also why Mark White, who has graciously volunteered to carry it for us, will get to physically feel the weight of that heavy cross, symbolizing the heavy work that Christ did on a similar cross, two thousand years ago.
But why? Why did Jesus go through such a horrible death? Why didn’t he take one of the many ways out that was handed to him by his followers? Let alone, save himself? Surely he had the power! He could have still left an impact on this world without having to die! People still would have written about him, still would have revered him and his work! Why couldn’t he have just listened to Peter when he told him “Never!” after Jesus predicted his death? Why didn’t he allow Peter to fight off the soldiers so that he could escape to continue his teaching and healing? Why? Well, many answers have been given over the last two millennia. But since oneness is on our minds this week, the answer that most resonates with me is that Jesus died to create oneness between him and us.
I don’t have to tell you how hard life can be. We all live through life’s lowest lows at some point or another. Whether they be complete tragedies, or damaged relationships, health issues, or many of life’s invisible enemies like depression and anxiety. Many of us have learned not to ask, “What could happen next?” because life has a way of showing you. But through it all, one thing that can help us to find just enough courage, or just enough will to keep going, or just enough whatever to get back on our feet after being knocked down, is the oneness that Christ has with us in suffering. Who knows suffering better than Jesus? Which is why Christ’s presence in our lives, especially through the tough times, is so profound.
It’s not like a good friend who comes over to sit with you after sharing some bad news with them that they just can’t relate to but they’ll sit with you anyway and try to help the best they can. Don’t get me wrong, those friends are not only necessary but vital to our health too. But then you have those friends that have gone through exactly what you are going through, and when they come and sit with you, not much needs to be said between you two. There is this bond in suffering that you have. This oneness that does not need to be spoken, but you both know that it’s there. That kind of oneness, as profound as it is, just scratches the surface of the kind of oneness that Christ has with us. Not only can Christ relate to our suffering but Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. That kind of oneness cannot be bought, or earned. It is freely given, by God, through Christ, from the cross.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! That never gets old does it? It’s been a long week! And we have yearned to say those words for a while haven’t we? Our children and youth made this beautiful banner for us for Easter that has been buried with the rest of our Alleluias in the columbarium since Ash Wednesday! Refraining from using the word Alleluia is an ancient tradition during Lent. The early church thought of it as a type of fasting, in the same way that you would fast from sweets during Lent and end up really missing them by the end of the forty days, so too with Alleluia. The idea is that you miss it and it becomes even more meaningful for you in the end. But I think it can go even deeper than that.
Our theme these past three days has been oneness. On Maundy Thursday we lifted up God’s call to oneness with each other. On Good Friday, we experienced God’s call to oneness with God’s very own self, through the work of Christ on the cross. And on Easter, we discovered that this oneness is for all people, not just to be experienced by us. And that is worthy of a few Alleluias! Amen? Because of Easter, we get to spread that oneness with all by sharing the good news of God’s unconditional love for the world to everyone that God places on our path. This is the night when our Alleluias take on a life of their own, as we direct them outward for all to hear and experience.
And this outward trajectory has been in the works for quite some time. It has been God’s plan all along, as we heard tonight in our selection of readings. They take a little while to get through, but be thankful that we don’t read all of them! There’s really fourteen in all! But God’s story of love for the world is not something to be rushed tonight. Tonight is when we take a moment and sit in them and let them work on us. And it’s also that time when you get to hear, in one night, this outward trajectory of God’s love for the world. It started with an empty creation, and then two people, Adam and Eve. Which led to one family, Abraham and Sara’s, which led to one nation, Israel. God’s love kept getting bigger, and bigger, and then you get to Jesus who just flings that door wide open, allowing all to enter into God’s love.
That is the kind of oneness that the world needed, that the world longed for, that the world had been waiting for since time began. And that is the kind of oneness that the world needs and longs and waits for today too. And we are the ones that get to share it! We are the ones that get to share with the world that God welcomes them, loves them, and cares for them like no other. And because of the resurrection, that message is more powerful that anything that this world can throw at them, because God will not falter in God’s walk with the world, in God’s oneness with the world.
During the offering, we will get the opportunity to hear Owen beautifully sing U2’s song One. The song ends with these lyrics, “One love. One blood. One life. You got to do what you should. One life. With each other. Sisters. Brothers. One life. But we're not the same. We get to, Carry each other. Carry each other. One life. One.” Tonight, we are reminded that none of this would be possible, without the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!