On Easter Day, for the first time in over a year, I had the privilege of presiding and preaching as a guest at The Church of the Nativity, a beautiful, historic church and vibrant parish in Greenwood MS. Everyone who knows anything about the Delta knows that the region is complicated in many ways. The Celebration of the Resurrection did not erase any of those difficulties; but for me, and I think for those gathered as well, it reminded us of how much hope there is in this world and, more than that, reminded us as Christians, of the source of that hope.
In my sermon, I told them, as I did you in an Easter sermon in 2017, about receiving an email from my college chaplain a few years back. Recalling it this year was particularly poignant for me for this good man died several months ago. He was everything a college chaplain should be: smart, funny, irreverent, handsome, and most of all for me, totally unflapped by hearing regularly what I no longer believed! Trust me: I was some kind of a mess. He listened like he was interested (and I believe he was); and, beyond that, he loved me, not once overreacting or telling me how ordinary (or annoying) I was. I think I may have learned more about being a priest from him, this Baptist chaplain, than anyone I have ever known. The email I got from him was written during Holy Week that year. Just at the end of his note, he wrote, “Buddy, in your sermon this week, try to have something really good to say. Easter is the best chance we ever have—for Easter is the birthday of hope.” The birthday of hope. I’ll never forget those words.
Easter Sunday this year was a birthday celebration of the finest order! Most of the people present at Nativity had not been in church for more than a year, and their joy at being back was palpable—as was mine. Every kid there was smocked and spit-polished from one end to the other; and even we old folks were shining the best we could, many of so happy to have been vaccinated. Coming to just one standing station in the transept, this procession of God’s people to receive seemed like a jubilant parade to me—the Easter Parade; and I don’t think I have ever loved more being able to say, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”
By the time I got to Jackson, Facebook was flooded with pictures of your celebration at Levitt Shell. I looked at every photograph I could find; and in that way that is beyond reason, I felt that I was with you somehow, as indeed I was. While we know that our theology and practice of the Eucharist is not the only way that God makes the Divine Presence known in the world or in the hearts of people, it is for us the principal way. It connects us to one another, and the best online worship in the world (and Calvary’s has been excellent) is not the same as that liturgical walk to a table of Grace we hardly understand but know we can hardly live without.