Easter Morning: First Fruits

Barbara S. Blaisdell – First Christian Church Tacoma, WA

April 5, 2015

 

 

Easter Morning: First Fruits

1 Corinthians 15: 20-22, 54b-55, 58

20 …Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’

58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 

I. 

Once again, Happy Easter!

Why do we keep saying that?

 

What exactly is it that we are so happy about here?

Are we happy that spring has come? Well, we are.

 

Is it because winter is at its end

and the sun shows signs of returning full strength

and the tulips and fruit trees are flowering

and even the rhododendrons show signs of buds?

 

And suddenly it seems like we get so much more daylight!

 

And even if we are a bit chilly this morning,

we got to come to church this morning in lighter and brighter clothing;

and it feels good

and we look good

and the air smells so good!

 

Is that what we’ve come here to celebrate?

 

Well, no.

Easter is not a celebration of springtime-

believe it or not!

Today it is early autumn in South America

and in Australia

and in the part of Africa where I celebrated my first several Easters;

And they are celebrating Easter just fine there.

Easter in autumn–think of that!

 

Easter is about more than flowers and new clothes

and chocolate Easter bunnies

as wonderful as those things are.

Easter is about something bigger and stronger and even better than chocolate and warm sun and new blossoms.

 

And yet it is hard to separate spring from Easter.

There is something remarkably right about this celebration falling in the spring.

And it is especially right that this room today is filled with spring flowers.

For these flowers are not a sign today of the sun on a comeback!

II.

 

Did you notice that many of us provided these flowers in memory of loved ones that have died?

Why do we do that?

Not because the flowers are a sign of spring

but because they are a sign of Christ risen from the dead.

And his resurrection is like the first flower or fruit of spring.

 

Because you know that when the first local strawberry appears in the grocery

(and I’m not talking about the ones that are here year around, picked green in South America and shipped to us with all the flavor of straw)

I’m talking about the deep red local berries, full of flavor

When the first of those come, you know that even more are sure to follow.

 

Let me explain.

The Bible has an expression for the resurrection of Christ.

It is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth

(which we call, of course, 1 Corinthians).

And it is both a strange and beautiful phrase.

 

Did you hear it earlier, as it was read?

Paul writes that Christ was the first fruits of those who have died.

First fruits. . . is anybody here familiar with that expression?

 

It comes originally from Jewish tradition.

It is a phrase that the people of Israel use to describe the earliest,

first arrival of any harvest:

∙ the first gathering of lettuce

∙ the first local strawberry

∙ the first pressing of wine grapes-the New Beaujolais

∙ the first flower of spring

 

They call them first fruits for obvious reasons.

And they celebrate the arrival of the first fruits as something that belongs to God

and as something that is a promise of all that is to come.

 

The first evening meal we get to eat in sunlight

after a long winter of early darkness is a promise that backyard barbeques and dinners on the patio are not far behind.

 

And if you are a gardener, you know first hand the joy

the absolute joy of sun-ripened first fruit.

That first strawberry or raspberry, ripened in the backyard cannot by itself make a strawberry shortcake or raspberry bars.

Not yet.

But as you pluck it and smell it and bite into it,

still warm from the sunshine that ripened it;

its sweet juiciness carries the promise that all those

hard white nubs of unripe berries will ripen too

and soon, soon you’ll have that strawberry shortcake or those raspberry bars!

 

III.

 

In Jesus’ day, the people of Israel celebrated that first fruit by taking it to the temple in thanksgiving to God.

And the priest would take whatever it was:

strawberries or olives or grain or grapes or wine

and it would be lifted into the air and waved—not unlike we did with the palm fronds last Sunday.

The waving is to God

to give thanks for what had come and for all that was yet to come.

 

Paul says: Jesus Christ is the first fruit of all who have died.

Jesus Christ is the first fruit of all who have died.

 

And so this, most glorious day

this grand celebration begins

by thinking about death and loss

about change and the transitory

 

Which most of us prefer not to think about.

And yet, if we ignore it on this of all days, we will miss the greatest news of all.

We will miss the profound hope that is in this day and that is the biggest reason for this party.

 

III.

 

Everyone and everything we love is sure to die.

And so are we.

And on the days when we can’t ignore that,

we’d like to know why.

We’d like to know why live and why love

if everything and everyone we love we are bound lose?

 

 

Some of you began this day just that way,

thinking of someone you love very much and have lost,

someone who was with you on Easters past but is not with you this day.

 

And you showed up here out of habit or because it’s Easter      Sunday after all.

But you are sure you’ll feel left out of the celebration.

 

Still, do you remember the story of that first Easter?

Do you remember how it started?

It started in a cemetery.

According to Mark, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome came Easter morning,

not knowing it was Easter.

They came to a grave for the awful task of preparing a body for burial.

And not just any body, but the body of a friend, a beloved friend

who had died too young and with too much suffering

and who had taken all their dreams with him when he died.

 

My friends, this is where Easter starts:

only by coming to an awareness of death and loss and the evil in this world are we able to fully appreciate this party.

 

IV.

 

It need not be a morbid awareness.

We need not even be sad.

Even good things can make us aware.

 

 

I think this is part of why those of us here who are no longer young, love and cherish children and babies.

We hope the little ones among us will have a long future, a future even after we are gone.

They dwell in the promised land of tomorrows we will not see.

This need not make us maudlin.

This makes us god-grandparents in the faith.

 

Bishop John Shelby Spong has written that being a grandparent is

something like being a cherry on top of the whipped cream-

not essential but very pleasant. He adds, “If my future is to be the cherry,

then bright, red, and tasty I will try to be.”[1]

 

We can face our finitude, our non-essentialness angry, resentful, filled with worry;

 

But it won’t add a day to our lives.

 

We can face life as the bulletin blooper recommends:

“Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help.”

 

Or in contrast, we can welcome the great good news

AND THIS IS OUR REASON FOR SINGING HALLELUJAH!!

 

Christ, who died as real a death as anyone else’s’,

Christ, who died too young and too violently

has conquered death with love.

He has burst forth from a tomb of violence and hate.

And he’s walked back into the world alive with love with Your name on his lips, calling Your name.

 

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

And Christ is but the first fruit of all who have and all who will fail to overcome evil, all who have and will die.

 

 

And his triumph over evil and death is not for him alone.

Christ is the first fruit of all who have and will die,

the first blooming of a triumph that will come to all God’s children.

Because Easter is not just about what God wants for his Son, Jesus

but about what God wants for all God’s sons and daughters.

 

When the first flower breaks through to vivid blossom,

soon all the other blossoms follow.

In the same way, Christ will lead us all into new life, eternal life, victory over evil, over hatred and over death.

 

“Death where is thy victory?” Hatred where is thy sting?

For in Christ we become a part of what is eternal, ongoing, forever, ever healing, ever loving, ever expanding the circle of God’s family.

 

V.

 

Some of you may have heard our General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins on and in the news this Holy Week.

On Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Dr. Watkins spoke of the diversity of our denomination.

  • We are black and brown and white.
  • We are gay and straight, men and women.
  • We are made up of five different generations.

This means we do not agree on everything. But we believe that our being in community together, worshiping together and talking with each other about our differences makes us all better able to love each other and the world.

 

Dr. Watkins was invited to be on “Morning Edition” because she and the denomination have been getting a bit of press for the decision of the General Board of the Christian Church for deciding to move the 2017 General Assembly out of Indiana unless the so called “Religious Freedom” law is repealed.

 

I’d encourage you to get a text of the law and read it and think carefully about what it implies.

It appears to me to give license to people to practice discrimination in public forums, by public businesses, and by government employees.

 

I am proud to say that my husband Chuck sits on the board that made the decision not to hold our General Assembly in a place where too many of our brothers and sisters in the faith might not be served in the name of religious freedom, the “freedom” to discriminate against sexual minorities. Not all within our denomination will agree with that decision. There will be some backlash to this stance. There always is when the circle of welcome is expanded.

 

There was just such a one a century ago in this very church.

 

Did you know that in March of 1913, First Christian Church of Tacoma hosted the great anti-slavery leader and then President of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington?

 

When the invitation to Dr. Washington to speak became public, there was some fierce opposition and the board of FCC was asked to reconsider its invitation.

The church minutes do not delineate the reasons for the opposition.

But it was not uncommon at the time to hear segregation cited as “Biblical law” and the desire to discriminate against people of color sited as a constitutional right to freedom of religion. “Christian” businessmen claimed the “right” not to serve black and brown people based on religious freedom and on their reading of the Bible.

 

The Board of FCC listened to the opposition to Dr. Washington speaking at the church.

But according to the Tacoma Tribune on the day of the event, Dr. Washington spoke at FCC despite the controversy, at the old 6th and K church site.[2]

The Rev. Dr. W. A. Moore was FCC’s pastor at the time, a servant of God who continued to preach into his second century of life.

I want to interview that guy when he and I get to sit around that banquet table that God has set for us in the kingdom.

I want to hear about how he found his courage to stand against racism in an era when it would have been easier to stay silent, to play it safe.

From whence did his courage come?

I wonder if his courage is rooted in this Easter conviction:

 

All that has died, all who have died before us,

all that is dying or changing in your life and mine,

through God it will all be brought to new life and freedom.

 

New life, the new life that comes from unconditional love and freedom from evil;

That new life is offered in ever widening, ever expanding circles until that great day…

when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that God is love… fruitful, blossoming love.

 

 

Christ is the first bloom of all who have died.

And we are all the blooms to follow, each of us blossoming in our order.

 

That is why we are throwing this party this day.

That is why the celebration and the song,

the hallelujahs and the happy Easters!

 

So let me say it one more time:

Happy Easter! Hallelujah! Christ has risen to reign in love!

 

 

 

 

[1] 1Spong, The Bishop’s Voice (New York: Crossroads Publishing), 1999.

[2] http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1913-03-17/ed-1/seq-1.pdf

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