Sunday, April 4, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Abundance”, John 20:1-18 (April 4, 2021--Easter Sunday)

(This is the final sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance".
Previous sermons can be found hereherehereherehere, and here
and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Speaking of rising, let’s talk about bread (you can remind me to add “master of segues” to my resume later).

Throughout Lent, we’ve been talking about the specific ingredients that go into a recipe, and I’ve been particularly thinking about the ingredients of bread: yeast, flour, sugar, salt, water. It strikes me that none of these raw ingredients, on their own, are particularly appetizing. I mean, hot water isn’t very refreshing without tea or cocoa in it, and even sugar is pretty boring without any other flavoring, and I don’t know anyone who snacks on handfuls of flour, yeast, or salt. But when you combine them with intentionality, care, and patience, you suddenly find that you have before you a homemade loaf of bread. Fresh, warm, appetizing. Capable of nourishing a body, of satiating hunger, and of bringing gastronomical delight. This transformation, from unpalatable ingredients to delicious delicacy, is, frankly, unexpected, if not downright miraculous.

I’m sure there are some among us who are resistant to the idea that baking could be considered miraculous. Incredulity is not an emotion that’s usually associated with bread. But think about it; it’s not like we somehow intuitively know how baking works. Several of us who took part in the baking challenges during Lent can confirm that. There’s no logical reason that would lead us to hypothesize that combining and cooking these ingredients could result in anything other than a hot, goopy mess. Yet we’re never quite surprised to find a loaf of bread at the end of the process. The only reason it doesn’t seem amazing to us is because of our collective experience. We know what to expect when someone combine yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and water in the appropriate proportions and using the appropriate methods because it’s been done before. But imagine being the first person to ever attempt it: the idea that these strange, grainy ingredients combined into a slimy dough could produce something as wonderful as BREAD would have seemed truly absurd.

It can be difficult to fully appreciate the strangeness of something that’s become routine. That’s where we find ourselves today. For all the pomp and circumstance that we associate with Easter, in many ways, the resurrection has become mundane to us. Not because someone rising from the dead is an everyday activity, but because we’re so accustomed to the traumatic ingredients of Holy Week leading to the joy of Easter morning that we forget to be properly amazed. We forget that life and joy don’t instinctively follow violence and suffering. We’re so used to the despair of Good Friday erupting into the elation of Easter Sunday that the transition no longer even makes us blink.

The first disciples didn’t share this perspective. Their experience was much, much different. They watched as ingredients were added, one by one, to the horrifying events that were unfolding around them: betrayal, violence, rejection, pain, cruelty… No reasonable person could blame them for believing that nothing good could possibly result from this recipe.

Whatever they DID expect, it certainly WASN’T what John 20 describes. The events of Easter morning are so extraordinarily unexpected that no one can make any sense out of them whatsoever. Mary Magdalene is so surprised that she immediately turns around to find someone else to corroborate what she sees. The confusion of Peter and the beloved disciple is palpable: I can almost imagine the disciples bumping into themselves as they arrive at the tomb, trying to figure out what on earth was going on (“Should we go in? You go in; I’ll wait out here. No, wait; I’m coming in, too!”). They’re so confused that they ultimately just…go home. They needed some processing time, I guess. Meanwhile, Mary is still so confused that she’s not even phased by the sudden appearance of two angels, and when she sees Jesus in the flesh, it takes some time for her to comprehend the unbelievable situation. None of them expect joy, redemption, and LIFE to come out of the ingredients that they’d seen contributed over the last three days. It’s unimaginable…and yet it’s true.

As we look around and see sin running rampant in the world and in ourselves, we sometimes find ourselves thinking that nothing good could possibly come out of the ingredients that we see around and within us. Maybe we can even empathize with God’s decision in Genesis to flood the world and start over again from scratch. By all accounts, the recipe doesn’t seem to be working.

We try to add ingredients of our own to help, but find that even the ones intended to improve the recipe aren’t particularly enjoyable, and they don’t seem to make a difference, anyway. We contribute the things we’ve talked about during Lent, things like humility, trust, honest reflection, putting others first…but like flour, they stick in our throat and don’t seem to do anything to improve the taste of the recipe. We try to add other ingredients, like patience, offering up our personal time, energy, and resources, meeting cruelty with kindness…but like yeast, it doesn’t seem possible that these unappetizing choices could make any sort of difference. It seems like the most we could hope for is that things don’t get any worse.

But every day, just as on that Easter morning so many years ago, God looks at all these seemingly useless ingredients on the table—especially those that we contribute in faith and love—and manages not only to make good, but ABUNDANT good come out of them. Like a contestant on “Chopped”, God takes despair, pain, and fear, and transforms them into hope, love, connection, compassion, redemption. And friends, this divine recipe can only be made in bulk: no sample sizes here; God consistently bakes more than enough out of these questionable ingredients to nourish the entire world.

God, in addition to being the great physician, the potter, and the good shepherd, is the master chef, continually creating wonderful things to nourish us, body and spirit, out of whatever ingredients are on hand. And we, followers of Christ, are the sous-chefs: we must keep offering the best ingredients that we can, even when they taste bitter and are difficult to swallow on their own. We must keep returning to the kitchen, even when it feels hopeless, to find out how we can help.

These days, it may feel like the only ingredients lying around are hatred, injustice, division, violence, and greed. It may feel like society keeps heaping more and more of them into the mix, thinking that even if the recipe isn’t very good in general, at least it will make us feel safe, powerful, in control. Even if the bread isn’t edible, at least we can use it as a weapon to protect ourselves. It may feel like the ingredients that WE try to add—protests, letters to our representatives, standing up for the powerless, our personal testimonies—keep getting pushed to the side and ignored. But remember, humanity isn’t in charge in this kitchen. God is.

We may not have the first idea about how to turn these ingredients into something palatable, but God is the master chef and has been perfecting this recipe from the beginning of time. Ours isn’t to decide whether or not this recipe is worth saving—by submitting to death on the cross, God has already declared that it is. Ours isn’t to try and rescue it single-handedly, either. We just can’t do that. Ours is simply to keep offering God the best of what we have and to trust in the promise of resurrection and new life. Ours is to work alongside God, adding what we can and trusting in the skill and determination of the master chef to create abundance from our meager contributions.

So keep running towards where you’re most needed, like Peter. Keep searching for who’s missing, like the beloved disciple. Keep lamenting injustice and suffering, like Mary. Keep offering to God whatever it is you have to offer, and the great chef will transform it into a life-giving culinary masterpiece, enticing enough to draw all of creation in, satisfying enough to sate even the deepest hunger, and abundant enough to feed all who come to the table. If Jesus can conquer death, surely he can transform even the most humble ingredients into the daily bread that sustains us and gives us abundant life.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

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