2020 Easter I – Send Me

Postulant Ken Kubo
19 April 2020

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so I send you. – St. John 20:21

I always enjoy the chance to preach on Quasimodo Sunday. As you may have figured out, some Sundays take a reference name based on the beginning Latin word or phrase in the Introit. Thus, the fourth Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday from “Rejoice, O Jerusalem” (Laetare Ierusalem). The third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday from “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Gaudete in Domino semper). (You should notice that Latin has a lot of different words for “rejoice,” kind of like Eskimos and snow) The first Sunday after Easter’s introit begins “As” or “in the manner of” “newborn babes” (Quasi modo geniti infantes). This is taken from the Former Epistle General of St. Peter, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3, KJV). This is significant in context because this would be the first Sunday when those newly baptized at Easter would celebrate as full members of the congregation. In Victor Hugo’s novel, it was on Quasimodo Sunday in the year of Our Lord 1467 that a very special child was left in the vestibule of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame. As the old joke runs, “Does the name ‘Quasimodo’ ring a bell?” When we are again allowed to have such things as cocktail parties, you now can captivate audiences with the real story of how the hunchback got his name. After two semesters of Latin in the seminary program, I now wince when the Disney version proclaims that it means “half-formed,” because that’s just wrong. The newly baptized would have been newly but fully formed and taking their first steps into full participation in the Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people. While we don’t have any newly baptized amongst us, we can still take this day, with Easter fresh in our minds, to re-embrace our own baptismal covenant and, briefly glancing back at where the story began, sing “Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today!” (Lewis Redner, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”).

Today also happens to be the commemoration of St. Aelfheah, latterly called Alphege in the Anglican tradition. Aelfheah was a good noble-born Englishman who, probably due to being low in the line of succession, entered monastic orders and soon requested and was approved to become a hermit in Somerset. He apparently wasn’t too successful at reclusive contemplation, as he began to amass followers. Allegedly, he was a friend of St. Dunstan with whom he founded an abbey in nearby Bath where he served as abbot. St. Dunstan went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and soon called upon his friend to become bishop of Winchester. In that role, he was called upon by King Aethelred II, called “The Unready”, to serve as ambassador to King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, one of several raiders who preyed on the British. Apparently, he was successful, because King Olaf agreed to accept tribute (that’s a fancy word for payoff) and never to raid England again. Aelfheah also confirmed Olaf as a Christian. Around a decade later, Aelfheah succeeded to the See of Canterbury. For a would be hermit, he followed his calling through pretty big jobs. Six years later, as a different group of Danes laid siege to Canterbury and the surrounding area, Aelfheah was captured and the Cathedral sacked and burned. The Danes attempted to ransom him, but Aelfheah refused to allow any payment that would ultimately be levied as additional taxes upon the local poor. And so, Aelfheah became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred, struck down by the backside of a Danish axe. A few centuries later, Aelfheah would be one of the saints that Thomas a’Becket called upon, perhaps not too auspiciously, shortly before his own murder on the steps of Canterbury. Perhaps Aelfheah would have been safer in his hermitage in Somerset, but then he never would have spoken to King Olaf who history records as making the first effective attempt at Christianizing all of Norway. We do not know how God will choose to use us on the battlements of the Kingdom.

Understand that the joy of Eastertide comes with a price. As Our Lord said – even as He was sent, so He sends His own. “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” (Isaiah 43:2) History does not record how much convincing Aelfheah required at each step away from his beloved hermitage, but all that he was called to was in the Lord’s service, even in the face of great personal hardship and sacrifice. Christ’s earthly ministry was a scant three-ish years, but like ripples in a pond, and through turbulence and rapids beyond, that ministry continues.

By the whole of the Easter story, Christ has transformed the world. He has not eliminated the darkness; suffering and evil and, yes, disease remain in the world. Christ has relegated the darkness to just a part of the picture, and balanced it with light and hope. Good Friday happened, and so did Easter. We are called to live in Christ, to sacrifice and to exult in our faith, to acknowledge that our Lord loves us to the point of redemption. And by this, we bear witness to the world – albeit with careful social distancing – that our faith is active, relevant, and true. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; we must have the courage to live in the world in His ways and by doing so, overcome it. When we cry out to God, “What are you doing about all that’s wrong in this world?” We should not be surprised when He answers, “I created you.” When Christ calls to us, “Whom shall I send?”, our privilege is to stand and say, “Here I am, send me!”

“Thou art our Captain: teach us to be like thee, and where thou leadest we will follow on; We do not know what orders may await us, save the great order, “Let thy will be done.””
– Steuart Wilson, 1930

As the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden reminds us that humanity has capacity for pride and willfulness to tell God, “My will not thine,” so Our Lord modeled true obedience in another Garden, when said, “Yet not my will but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42 et al). Yes, by His Resurrection, He destroyed the hold of death on humanity, but even before suffering death upon the Cross for us, He rebuilt the bridge between humanity and God. Thy will, not mine. As soldiers of the Cross, we go where we are sent and seek to do our Captain’s will. We trust that as with Aelfheah and Becket (and others with happier endings) and Our Lord, the orders we are given to follow will lead to the building up of the Kingdom, even if we can’t fully understand the part we’re playing. As Oberbacker and Taylor penned, in their musical story of another set of soliders, “Times like this you hold on to what’s real / That’s the honest statement we’re making / I’ll march back into battle once more if I’m fighting for what’s true” (“This is Life (reprise)”, Bandstand) What is true is that Christ died and is risen and will come again. What is real is His presence among us – for He is in the midst of us when 2 or 3 gather in His name, even virtually. He is spiritually Zoom-bombing us at this moment!

The promise of Eastertide is that Christ is with us; really with us. This is Low Sunday, so-called because of its proximity to Easter, that highest of feasts and Sundays. It is the first Sunday of the five separating Easter from the Feast of the Ascension. During this time, Jesus was actually present with the disciples, teaching and counseling them. The book of Acts records, “After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). While Jesus is not physically present with us, as He is practicing divine social distancing, our faith tells us that He remains with us, ready to teach and to counsel, to strengthen and to comfort. When I greet you traditionally with, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” [and you respond, “The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!”], you will note that we use the present tense. We don’t say “did rise” or “has risen” – Christ is risen; He is part of our present reality. The miracle of Easter is not just that He rose almost two thousand years ago – it is that He is – and remains – the risen Lord. Fear not! He is present in the joys of family and friends or in the birth of a child. He is present in isolation, in the quiet times, the dark times, and with us at death’s door and beyond. And so what we witness is not just the history, nor the promise of the future – we witness that Christ is our present, and that He is risen.

We give you thanks, oh Risen Lord, for Your passion and sacrifice which continues to redeem us and open to us the gates of larger life, and for Your continuing presence in our lives. Be with us in our trials and strengthen us in the dark hours of our lives. Open our eyes so that we may look upon the darkness without despair. Uplift our eyes so that we may witness to Your light and truth. And let us this day and always be secure in the promise of Your eternal Eastertide.