Jesus Our Shepherd

Easter Vigil
07 April 2007

Homily
Rev. Jim Ryan

When was the last time you won? Was it playing cards last night? Was it as part of a team? Was it that Lottery ticket? How did it feel to be on top? Was it all it’s cracked up to be?

Did you come close and victory just slipped away? Was being close even worth it? I grew up in Ohio. Recently the Ohio State University had two – not one, but two – chances to be National Champions in a major college sport. They blew it on national television even though they had early leads in both contests. Ah, to be so close. Was it worth it?

Victory is so rewarded in our culture that we like to spread out the path to its final conclusion. I mean, will American Idol ever stop?

Tonight we celebrate victory. Jesus is Risen, He is truly risen. This victory has a different feel than National Champion or TV Idol, doesn’t it? Some skeptics think our Resurrection victory is nothing like winning and how could we think of it as victory at all. Well, we have been through this week of stories and services for the sole purpose of reminding ourselves again that overcoming death is certainly a victory. In fact, it is the most basic victory we carry with us every day and into eternal life.

So, this evening we retell those stories that assure us of victory – the old, old stories of creation, sacrifice, betrayal, renewal, love, and faith. Are these stories convincing to us? And if they are, then what do they compel us to do - us victorious ones, for we say we share this triumph with this Risen Christ. This is important because others dismiss these stories and say our victory is hollow, if not non-existent.

I recently read this view in a book by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who is making a career out of dismissing the claims of believers. His book, “The God Delusion,” declares his view as part of a wide and lively group of atheists who see God as not only non-existent but a bad idea besides. Take creation, for instance, a contested teaching between certain scientists and certain believers. Dawkins restates a comment made elsewhere that the statistical probability of life beginning is akin to a hurricane sweeping through a junkyard and leaving in its wake a fully functioning Boeing 747. Dawkins comes down on the side of statistics to say that we are here so the probability must have happened.

In Dawkins’ view belief in a Creator is not only quaint, but perhaps even dangerous. Science for him has the elegance of explanation, while religion presents only descriptions – and unreliable descriptions at that. How unfortunate that his view of the basis for truth is limited to the scientific method.

On this evening we celebrate the victory of God’s Word, that spiritual force of creation that grounds and inspires our lives. Is it only description to believe that God’s Word is present at the beginning – in short, the Word lives before anything is made? Is it, rather, an explanation of the Spirit of God who lives in and beyond our human mortality? Regardless of intelligent design what we celebrate is God’s Life among us in Jesus who overcomes death in Resurrection.

The conversation between ourselves and scientists, even the discussion that engages believers and non-believers, when done with respect and tolerance is a blessed event. We are blessed to both explain and describe our respective faiths and bodies of knowledge. This story of the victory of God’s Word is the victory of the Cross in this celebration of Resurrection. For some of us the Cross means atonement – Jesus dies for our sins, as Jack reminded us on Good Friday. The Cross also means justice must be done – Jesus dies to overcome violence and abuse. We are to be servants as Bob reminded us on Holy Thursday.

These are the stories of victory and the Cross points the way. Tonight we take these stories to heart and pray for direction, pray for the conviction that Jesus is the Way. We are winners when we take these stories as constellations in our life’s sky. These point out the path to take.

Most nights, before bedtime, Seamus and I go for a walk. Taking an 85 pound, 2 year old Irish Setter for a walk is really a euphemism – because who takes who for a walk is usually up for grabs. Luckily, we live in the country so we don’t get in anybody’s way. In this time, though, because of our open view of the northern sky I have become very familiar with the movement of the Big Dipper in the sky. As we have walked from late winter into Spring we have been following the Dipper’s sweep around to the East. These days it is directly overhead at the top of the sky. The scientists will have to forgive my ignorance of all things astronomical except that I know the Dipper always points to the North Star.

And the theologians will also have to forgive me if I make a too direct connection to say that this is the night when we recommit to the Cross because it always points to Victory.