A Sermon from the Church of
Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2023 (Easter Day)
Back when I was in the Army — and, frankly, it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — but we used to have activities on the training calendar we affectionately referred to as “forced fun.” This usually consisted of some sort of competition between platoons – tug of war, relay races, things like that. They were supposed to build unit cohesion and boost morale, but everyone involved really just wanted to go back to the barracks and take a nap.
Forced fun, of course, doesn’t work. When you resort to using “forced” as an adjective, what follows is anything but fun. What we all knew, even if we didn’t quite articulate it this way, is that unless something is authentic, it falls flat. Fun can’t be forced any more than you can force joy. It must be spontaneous and organic. It must come from deep within.
Here at Bethesda, there are so many outward manifestations of Easter joy this morning. The flowers, the music, the hats — I love the hats. And there will surely be others today — Peeps and jelly beans, Easter egg hunts, delicious brunches. And I love all of these things! Except Peeps. I’m really not a big fan of Peeps.
But on Easter, it’s important to take a step back and reflect upon the true source of our joy. Easter is indeed joyful — but not because of all those Easter-y things. Because in the end, Easter is not about the flowers, even though I’ve never been surrounded by such beautiful ones. Easter is not about the fancy clothes, though you all look fantastic. Easter is not about the music, stunning as it may be. Easter is not about the photo op, though I’m sure there will be plenty of pictures shared on Instagram today (please tag us). And it’s certainly not about the Peeps.
The source of our deep joy and gladness this day is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The joy of Easter is about the victory of life breaking the bonds of death; the triumph of hope over despair; the way of love conquering fear. The miracle of the empty tomb is what fuels and gives meaning to our celebration this morning. And there is nothing at all “forced” about that.
Because there is nothing forced about the joy of knowing that Jesus loves you. And he loves you not in theory or in the abstract. Jesus loves you. Not part of you or only the parts you’re proud of. Jesus loves all of you. Despite what you’ve done, despite what you’ve left undone. Jesus loves you for who you are, for what you are. And who and what you are is a beloved child of God. Forgiven, redeemed, and loved with abundant abandon.
That’s the good news the women at the empty tomb first discovered. And later shared with the male disciples. Who had all fled, by the way. If it weren’t for the women we heard about this morning, we wouldn’t even be here — with all our flowers and hats and Peeps. And it is this very good news of the resurrection that has been handed down to us over so many generations, the good news that has been preached in this place for nearly 100 years, the good news we have been entrusted with, to reflect upon, to revel in, and to share with others.
You know, the beauty of the Christian faith is that when the sugar high wears off, when the Peeps have become stale (sorry, I seem to be a little obsessed with them), when the organ has been powered down, when brunch is over, when the euphoria of Easter Day subsides, we’re left not with emptiness, not with a great void but with something that abides. Something that endures. Something that transcends the transitory, fleeting nature of life – and that is our relationship with the risen Christ.
That, my friends, is what the empty tomb is all about; it’s about unparalleled and unheard of intimate relationship with the God who so loved the world, that he gave his only son to live among us, and to die for us, and to be raised for us. And it’s why we delight in all the trappings of Easter joy. Even the Peeps.
May this Easter Day fill you with the joy of the risen Christ. May it open up for you an ever-deepening relationship with the God who banishes death and despair and offers us new life and hope. And may Christ’s victory over the grave remind you that you are indeed a beloved child of God. Alleluia and amen.