Rev. Stacy Swain
1 Peter 1:3-9
Last Sunday, we stood with the women in the garden amazed by a stone rolled away — stunned by the words “He is not here.” We felt fear dissolve and a new life rise, as we turned to meet the Risen Christ. And we sang the great joy of Alleluia, knowing that there is new life on the far side of the empty tomb, on the far side of fear.
But this week as I prayed for help to step into the new life Easter brings, I found myself drawn to ancient ways and I began to wonder about what new life really means.
For when we think about a new start, a new life, a fresh beginning, we tend to think about setting off in an uncharted direction, down that path that bears no one else’s footprints.
I, for one, am powerfully captivated by the idea of being the first person to walk a new path, to discover something previously unknown. In fact, my Mom often tells stories of how when we would go cross country skiing, I was adamant on being the trail blazer, regardless of the depth of the freshly fallen snow. Or how persistent I was in elbowing out my brother and sister, so that I could be the first person on the trail when we hiked. And for much of my middle school and high school aged years, I dreamed of being an astronaut so captivated was I by going “where no one had gone before…..”
But what prayer opened me to this week is the understanding that Easter is not about going where “no one has gone before.” It is not about searching out something entirely new. In fact, just the opposite is true. This new life that Easter brings is really quite old and I think that’s the whole point, really. The path extending from that empty tomb is heavily trodden. It was first walked by the Risen Christ and now bears the footprints of a great company of saints that have been walking with Jesus ever since that first Easter morn. And for us, each Easter picks us up from wherever our wanderings have taken us and sets us down on this well traveled, discipleship path.
We see Easter’s call to live afresh in the old Way, in the Gospel text this morning. The disciples are together in the house. I imagine that their conversation has been filled with the question, “What next? Where do we go from here? What are we suppose to do now?” They cannot see the way forward, and the thought of being trail blazers, setting off on a new path uncertain of where it will lead them, terrifies them. And so they are staying put, locked behind heavy doors.
And then Jesus comes to them. In his resurrection he reconnects them to all the teaching and miracles, to all the fellowship and all the hope that was theirs before the horror of Good Friday. In resurrection’s light, he assures them that what is today and what will come tomorrow, stands in continuity with what has been. In Jesus’ life, the disciples followed him. In Jesus’ resurrection, he tells them, they are to follow him still, follow his teachings, carrying forward his truth in the living of their lives. And as the text from 1Peter says, this is what we too are to do, for we too are to be inheritors of Jesus Christ, and are to take up our place in the walk of discipleship throughout the ages.
To step into the new life that Easter brings, is to take up this ancient walk of discipleship. It is to become the living legacy of all that has come before and then to carry and extend this legacy into the future through our faithful living.
Now, call it the quirkiness of the calendar, or call it grace, but I cannot imagine a more appropriate Sunday to kick off this our stewardship campaign than on this first Sunday of Easter’s call for new living in the Old Way. For that great cloud of saints that have walked the path that we are called to walk today, includes those remarkable men and women who over 100 years ago, followed the Old Way of the Risen Christ to the corner of Beacon Street and Collins Road.
For in 1904, a group of disciples gathered in the upper room over what is now the Starbucks and they looked out over what seemed like an uncertain future. How could they live as faithful followers of Jesus when what they saw around them in the Christian community was fractious contention as denominational difference was used to include some while excluding others. This group of disciples looked for a new Way of being church and they found it in the old way of Christian discipleship. Moved by the Spirit of the living God, by the breath of the resurrected Christ, they created the Union Church in Waban, an inclusive Christian community based not on denominational difference but on a deep and abiding desire to follow Jesus and to walk in fellowship with all who share that desire.
Or in the words of Rev. Cutler, the first settled minister of this church, the Union Church “is now, as it was in the beginning, just a group of folks anywhere, anytime, who have fallen in love with Jesus, His ideals of life, and are seeking to realize these ideals in all the relations of their lives. Wayfarers themselves they follow Him who is the Way.”
This central and fundamental commitment to Christian discipleship is the legacy that we have inherited not just from those who gathered in the room above Starbucks 100 years ago, but also through its continuity with those who first celebrated communion with Jesus in that upper room on the night he was betrayed, — with those who three days later felt the breath of his resurrection fill them.
Personally it is deeply moving for me to serve not only all of you right now, but also to realize that I share in the stewardship of the memory and history that this building, this community, contains.
One unexpected things that has happened to me, actually many times, in the year that I have been here is to receive a phone call or a knock at the door from someone who asks if they can come into the sanctuary because, as one gentleman told me “ I want to see the windows that were dedicated to my two twin sisters who died when they were just four years old. I live now on the other side of the country, but I am here on a business trip and I just want to see those windows one more time because they help me remember my sisters, and also because they help me remember my parents who loved us all so much.”
Or a call that came from a man saying “my wife passed away, she was raised in your church. And though we lived these final years far away, I want her funeral to be in the Union Church.” And on the day of the funeral, the husband took my hand and said thank you. “The last time I was in this church” he said “was when we were married.” “I knew it would mean a lot to me to have the funeral here. It helps me feel close to her. She loved this church so much. ”
These stories go on and on and you know many, many more than I do. Stories of how people lives were strengthened and nourished by this community. Of how people came through those doors into a community that embraced them and how they grew in love of God and love of each other as they walked the path of discipleship together. How this community helped them to be the people God would have them be and how this community kept them from falling when life tripped them up.
Stewardship is about caring for and preserving the legacy of faithful living that fills this place, as we worship together, as we gather at the table together. As we pray for each other and hold each other up in times of difficulty and loss. As we study and learn together and as we work together for justice and peace in the world. And it is deeply moving for me to look into the faces of our beloved children and to think about how you and I are called to nurture their Spirit into their future.
Over these next three weeks of our stewardship campaign, we will ask you make a financial pledge to the church. For being stewards of this church is about caring for the bricks and mortar. It is about making sure that the roof doesn’t leak, that there is paper in the copy machine and that the staff is paid.
But stewardship is about so much more than finances alone. Stewardship is about living the legacy we have been given and assuring that that legacy lives on after us. Stewardship is about our commitment to be this inclusive community of Christian discipleship, to walk together with the great cloud of saints that have come before us. To walk in fellowship with all who desire to follow the Risen Christ. Not to wall ourselves away in the contentment of our own community but to throw open the doors and widen our welcome to all who seek fellowship with Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, of race, of sexual orientation or physical ability, economic circumstance, regardless of any category that tries to sort, label and assign value to people.
So, may we hear Easter’s new call to live in that Old Way. May we walk the path that those who have come before us, that path that stretches from the empty tomb to the corner of Beacon street and Collins Road, and may that Path be extended by our faithful living out into the future to nourish and sustain future generations of disciples of Jesus who will find welcome and in this beloved community. May this be so, not just for ourselves, but for all that have come before and all that are yet to come. AMEN