Waking Up


A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011. The lectionary readings are Acts 2:14a,36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17-23 , and Luke 24:13-35 .

What does it take to wake you up?

An alarm clock? A strong cup of coffee? An elbow in the rib?

Some wake up to a rooster crow, and others wake up to the sound of a trash truck.

For the cartoon characters Wallace and Gromit, it takes a little more than any of that. There’s an alarm that triggers a tea kettle, which makes steam which activates a giant hand that pokes the underside of the bed. Then there’s the smell of cheese—a good Stilton, usually—and then a spring-loaded bed, a slide, a chute that lands them into their clothes, with a cup of coffee made just like they like it.

We wake up, of course, not only in the morning, but all kinds of things can jolt us awake. Someone swerving into our lane on the road. A change in what we thought was to be our employment for the rest of our life. A child, a niece or nephew, or a grandchild. An unexpected test result from the doctor. And then, the other extreme, after worry and fear, we receive clean results from the doctor, and life is different from before.

We awaken in different ways and at different times.

In this morning’s first lesson, Peter follows in the footsteps of John the Baptist, trying to wake people up spiritually. His method is a bit blunt, a little like trying to wake up someone by throwing cold water on them. Peter says, “This Jesus, whom you allowed to be put to death—this is the Messiah.” “There’s a lot to answer for, so repent, get your lives in order, get right with God, be baptized and make a new start.”
Peter’s wake-up call seems effective, as the Acts of Apostles reports some three thousand persons were baptized and welcomed into the faith.

In some ways, the whole Easter Story is about the different ways in which people wake up to new faith, and wake up to new life.

One of the criminals who dies alongside Jesus wakes up the reality of the life that is possible. He doesn’t have to die alone. He doesn’t have to re-live his past over and over again. There’s another way, and so he asks for it. “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

There’s Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb that first Easter morning. She has awakened early from sleep, but after she finds the empty tomb, comes into contact with the gardner-who-is-really-God, Mary wakes up to the reality that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Last Sunday we heard how Thomas is trapped in the nightmare of his worries and fears and disbelieving. He struggles to accept what the others seem so easily to believe. Thomas wants proof, and then when proof stands right in front of him, Thomas, too, finally wakes up.

In the Gospel from Luke, the wake-up call is gentler, but no less dramatic. It’s later on Easter Day and Cleopas and one of the other disciples—perhaps Luke—are on their way home from Jerusalem. A stranger joins them, and the stranger seems to know all about what’s happened in Jerusalem, and he’s able to put it all into the context of scripture and prophecy.

The disciples and their guest go home. They continue the conversation, and almost casually, they share a meal. And then they notice a pattern. Just like in the Upper Room, just like that Passover Meal, just like the bread and cup they shared the night of Jesus’ arrest… Jesus “took the bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” And their eyes are opened. They recognize him. They wake up.

They wake up to love: the love of God that would not leave them without comfort. The love of God that would befriend, that would die in the place of, that would extend mercy and compassion and forgiveness even from the cross.

They awaken to peace: peace that transcends any and all understanding; peace that is no wimpy peace—this is a peace that has defeated death, that has won victory over violence and put evil in the grave, slammed down the lid and danced on it.

They wake up to the possibility of forgiveness: forgiveness that is beyond imagination, beyond human doing, but by God, through Christ, propelled by the Holy Spirit forgiveness then moves through each of us as we extend it to one another. Forgiveness is never deserved, never earned, never timely, but is always a grace given.

Marc Andrus, the Bishop of California, reminds us that Buddhists do not have an exclusive hold on the idea of “wakefulness.” Though the word, “Buddha” means “the awakened one,” Christians also have a word—the proper name, “Gregory.” Gregory means “wakeful watching.” In some ways, at our baptism, we’re all given the name “Gregory,” in that we’re called as followers of Jesus to be as alert as possible, allowing the Spirit to keep us with eyes wide open, with all senses alive to the presence and movement of God.

Bishop Andrus recalls the particularly watchful Gregory the First, Christian pope in the Sixth Century. Gregory reflected on what happens when one prays when he wrote, “in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without.” But as Andrus points out, Gregory’s wakeful watching doesn’t end in contemplative prayer, but also finds expression in active prayer.

During his papacy, things were not always great for the people on Rome. As Andrus tells it,

The citizens of Rome were nearly confined within the walls of the city, the population swollen by the many refugees, and the conditions being like that of a siege. Pope Gregory donated the produce from his family estates and organized a vast network of other farms who donated alms in the form of food for the starving of Rome. This remarkable exercise of Christian leadership deeply endeared Gregory to the people of Rome, changing the status of the Pope with respect not to power but to authority born of love.

[See “Wakefulness” at Bishop Marc Andrus’ blog, http://bishopmarc.typepad.com/blog/2010/11/wakefulness.html.%5D

Life wakes us up, but unlike little children who sometimes wake up cranky and disoriented, we can choose how we respond when something wakes us up.

When a notorious terrorist is stopped, we are naturally relieved at some level, but we can choose how we wake up to that news—do we celebrate with savagery or do we allow God to awaken some deeper meaning for our lives?

As people around our country awaken to flood waters and devastation from storms, do we choose to remain sleepy and ignore their reality, or do we think with wakeful creativity and compassion how we might help?

It’s appropriate on this day to remember the many times perhaps we’ve been awakened by a mother—maybe gently, maybe creatively, maybe angrily. For the motherly invitations, nudges, shoves, we can be thankful, but we can also ask ourselves: Are we alert when God moves in motherly fashion and invites us to wake up?

The sufi and mystic and poet Rumi has a wonderful poem that strikes the spirit of an Emmaus awakening. He writes

The early breeze before dawn
is the keeper of secrets.
Don’t go back to sleep!
It is time for prayer, it is time to ask for
what you really need.
Don’t go back to sleep!
The door of the One who created the world
is always open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

[Translation by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi, “Rumi: Hidden Music” HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2001]

As followers of Jesus Christ we have been awakened to the possibility of new life.

There is a whole world to wake up to.

God invites us to wakeful watchfulness, so that we might help wake up the world.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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