Will you take the gift?

(By request, my homily from Easter Sunday.)

We’ve got this Easter thing down. There’s a flow to it. Kind of a checklist.

It starts with Palm Sunday - we’ve got palms, a procession, the world’s longest Gospel reading. Check.

Then there’s Holy Thursday – we’ve got the Last Supper, stripping the altar, adoration until midnight. Check.

Next it’s Good Friday – veneration of the cross, no mass, the world’s second-longest Gospel reading. Check.

Yesterday, it was Holy Saturday – candles, music, RCIA folks joining the church. Check.

Now we’re here, Easter Sunday – the church looks great, and so do you. Check.

And after this, it’s brunch.

     “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

Okay, so maybe that’s not it. Maybe there’s a little more, something we don’t really understand.

Oh, we know it here, in our heads.

We can all tell the story - of the last supper, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We remember what St. Paul said, that “all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” We’ve heard about how that sin separates us from God. And from each other. We’ve heard about how the debt for that sin was paid for each of us by Jesus’ death on Good Friday. And how he rose again on the third day, in triumph over sin and death.

But we really don’t know it here, in our hearts.

So let’s take a moment, to clear up a little clutter. To make room for that in our hearts.

We’ll start with sin. Sin isn’t what you think it is.  Throw out any notions about sin as a bunch of “thou-shalt-nots,” or things on a list. Sin is much simpler. And much more dangerous.

Sin is anything that separates us from God.

This is why St. Paul is right when he says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Because all of us do things every day, often without thinking, that come between us and God.

For most of us, it’s not the great scarlet sins of commission that come between us and God. It’s the little gray sins of omission.

The things we didn’t do, what we could have done but didn’t. Things as simple as the kind word not spoken. The helping hand not offered.

Even though we saw the need.

It’s slow process, separating myself from God with those little gray sins. One that I may not notice, because it works in such tiny steps. But in the end, it’s just as effective at coming between me and God as the more dramatic stuff.

Does that mean that you and I are stuck? Forever separating ourselves from the One who made us and who has always loved us?

No. That’s what Good Friday is all about. And why it’s good.

St. Paul tells us “the wages of sin is death.” Just like the payoff for planting apple trees is apples, the payoff for sin is death.

Good Friday is sin doing it’s very worst. To the very best.

It is the full brunt of every sin – yours, mine, and everybody’s – past, present, and future – bearing down. Good Friday is the undeserved gift of God’s son, to each of us.

Taking your place. Taking my place. Suffering the death that you and I have earned. Giving you and me the gift of freedom from the wages of our sin.

Let’s be clear, this is personal. Jesus did not die for an abstraction. Jesus did not die for the generic sins of a generic humanity.

Jesus died for each one of us. He loves each us so much that if you or I were the only person who needed to be saved from their sins, Good Friday still would have happened.

And Easter Sunday, the day that Jesus rose from the dead? It’s a joyful day. And it should be. Because it’s a day of two questions, both by God.

It’s a day of God looking in love at his risen Son, and then asking sin and death - “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”

And it’s a day of God looking in love at each one of us, at you and me, and then asking – “Will you take the gift?”

So here’s what we need to understand about Easter. What we need to make room for in here, in our hearts.

No matter how good you are at separating yourself from God, God is better at calling you home.

No matter how solid a wall you think you’ve built between yourself and God, God is more than able to knock it down.

Which leaves just one thing. Your answer to God’s question – “Will you take the gift?”

St. Als Spire color.jpg