Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter 5 2016 Rogation Sunday

Easter 5 April 24, 2016

          In the western church calendar today is the 5th Sunday in Easter season. Next Sunday is Rogation Sunday – the church’s Earth Day. Since about 470 Christians in western Europe have gathered on that Sunday and on the 3 days before Ascension Day to ask God’s blessings on the newly sown crops.

          In the Orthodox churches of Greece, Russia, Egypt and other countries this is Palm Sunday.  The Orthodox keep Easter after Passover, and today is the second day of Passover. Passover continues all this week.  Our Jewish friends and neighbors celebrated Friday, the first night of Passover, remembering how God saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

          From the first Prayer Book on the Church of England and the churches she founded have read at Easter the canticle, Christ our Passover. It is on page 83 of the Prayer Book and I ask you to turn to it now.   Archbishop Cranmer put together two passages read at Easter in the medieval Latin service books and added the third from I Corinthians. We sometimes use this canticle in Easter season in place of the Gloria in excelsis. Let’s read it together.

          In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Last Supper is the Passover meal. For St. John the Last Supper is the night before Passover. For him the lambs are sacrificed in the Temple for the Passover meal at the same time as the excruciatingly painful death on the cross of the Lamb of God – who takes away the sin of the world.

          Orthodox and western churches celebrated Easter together 6 times since 2001. We will celebrate together next year on April 16, but then not until 2025. The dates will be as close as a week apart in 2018 and 35 days apart in 2024.

          Some in the early church, particularly in Asia Minor, kept Easter by the Jewish calendar, but as Christians came to celebrate every Sunday as a reminder of the resurrection Easter Day was also kept on Sunday. The ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 adopted the creed and also set Easter on the Sunday after the spring equinox. Differences in calculating the date between Roman and Celtic churches led to the Synod of Whitby in 664 where the church in the British Isles found union.

          Archaeologists have sought without success physical evidence of the Exodus described in the Bible. The earliest written accounts are dated about 600 years before Christ in Deuteronomy 26 a command to bring the first fruits as an offering, “you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage:  And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression:  And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that flows with milk and honey. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which you, O Lord, have given me. And you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God.”  

In Jesus’ time and since the Exodus has been the foundation of Israel’s understanding of God’s work in the life of his people. Exodus tells us that the Lord “passed over” the houses of the people of Israel marked with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. God saved the children of Israel, but the first born of Egypt, children and animals, died. This was the last of the 10 plagues, 10 previous efforts to get the Egyptians to free their slaves.

Israel was set free by the shed blood of the Passover. All Israel was set free, both Israel by blood, and we who have been grafted into Israel by faith. We share in the Exodus; we share in God’s gift of freedom.

          Christians believe that by the shed blood of Jesus’ cross our past sins are forgiven. We are set free from the need to continue to sin. God gives us his Holy Spirit to teach us God’s truth and to guide us to do God’s will.

          At his last supper with his disciples – at Passover or on the eve of Passover – Jesus gave them, and gives us, a new commandment, a new commandment that does not replace, but fulfills all the other commandments, the commandment to love one another.  We don’t love in our own power, but we are given power to love by the Holy Spirit of God in our baptisms.   

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast. Amen.