Easter Day, 5 April 2015: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 14:34-43; I Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8.
Throughout Holy Week I’ve told stories about our recent family trip to Ireland. We had hoped to do a special vacation last year to celebrate our son’s graduation from high school but we couldn’t get the schedules aligned. His high school trip finally happened during spring break of his first year in college. Better late than never.
We talked this week about being in old sacred spaces and remembering that the work of God is so much bigger than just this time and place. We talked about the high crosses in Ireland that include pictures from the whole Bible to remind us of God’s saving work from the very beginning, brought to a focus in Jesus. We talked about St. Patrick’s Easter Vigil fire, a fire that in many ways is still burning in Ireland and in us.
So today on this Easter Day I want to tell you what we did in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
A tour guide at one point explained that when he was a child everyone went to church on St. Patrick’s Day. It was mostly a religious holiday. Irish immigrants to the US turned it into a party holiday and then brought the party back to Ireland. But it started as a church day.
So in what sounded to us like good Irish fashion, and because we like this sort of thing, we went to church. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin – that’s a moment I’ll never forget.
It was glorious. The choir was almost as good as ours. The organ was actually louder. They handed out little bunches of shamrock to pin on your lapel as you entered. They let me take pictures before the service began even though the sign said not to. The British ambassador to Ireland spoke, which was very cool. The front seats were filled with local city leaders and members of some order of St. Patrick or other. Many of the men wore morning coats and top hats. We sang two of my favorite hymns – Be thou my vision and I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity, both of which were sung at my ordination. It was glorious.
And… there were about 220 people there. I counted – it’s an occupational hazard. We have almost that many folks here on a normal Sunday and way more people here on Easter Day. More people are worshipping today at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Columbus, Georgia than worshipped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
Outside, an estimated 487,000 people lined the streets of Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. That’s half the population of the city. They lined up 20 deep to see marching bands and floats and celebrities go by. But those folks weren’t inside the church.
The parade ended at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and we could have stayed to see it, but we wanted to beat the crowds to another attraction – the Guinness Storehouse. Imagine World of Coca Cola about a different kind of beverage. I promise there is a point to this story, so please don’t be offended that I’m talking about a brewery on Easter. We went there, yes, to learn how Guinness is made and go to the Gravity Bar at the top of the building and see lovely views of Dublin and learn how to pour a perfect pint. But we also went there, in all sincerity, to hear more about the founder, Arthur Guinness.
See, Arthur Guinness was a devout Methodist, like my husband, who has always been interested in his story. Mr. Guinness was a deeply committed Christian. He heard John Wesley preach. He believed God called him to do everything he could to make life better for people around him. The water where he lived was terrible. People died from drinking it. To avoid getting sick lots of folks brewed alcohol at home, but that brought on other problems. Mr. Guinness and other Christians brewed beer, which was one of the few things that was safe to drink and had a lower alcohol content than other beverages available. He built a brewery and expanded his business and reinvested his profits in the lives of his workers. He promised every worker two pints a day, which gave many the liquid and calories they needed to survive. He started some of the first public schools in Dublin. He built a hospital for those who could not afford health care. He gave generously. His children continued his legacy. They built clean and safe housing for their workers and provided health care for them. This spirit continued until the family sold the company a few years ago, but the Guinness foundation continues much of their work.
There was almost no mention of this in any of the stories told about Mr. Guinness. Tour guides did say that he was a good employer and gave employees a good life. But no one on the tours or at the storehouse made the link between Mr. Guinness’s actions and his faith.
Arthur Guinness and his children after him were Easter people. They brought resurrection and new life to sad and dying places. One dedicated Christian used his one gift of a life to bless thousands of people.
What might happen if the 220 folks inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day, including me, turned our attention and focus to the thousands outside? What might happen if the more than 220 of us here sought to bless others like Arthur Guinness did? What might happen if everyone who is inside a church on this holy day so opened ourselves to the power that raised Jesus from the dead that we joined with him in making all things new? Imagine what the world would be like? It would be like the Garden of Eden, like the new creation God promises.
I am really happy to see all of you here today. I hope you all come back next week! But the point of following the risen Jesus is not a packed church. It’s a changed world. The women came to the tomb expecting to find Jesus there, but the angel said he was already on the move. Go – Tell his disciples and Peter that he has gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him – just as he told you. The risen Christ is not just here with us. He is with the 487,000 outside – bringing life where there is death, hope where there is despair, community instead of isolation, generosity instead of selfishness, love instead of suspicion. He invites us to go where he is.
All of this is possible for us through baptism. In baptism we commit to be world changers. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work even now through us.
That is why we do what we do here – not just on Easter Day but every Sunday and throughout the week. Our worship is always beautiful like this because the goal is to inspire us to bring the beauty of God to the difficult places, like Arthur Guinness did. Like Alice Selway and her parents will. Like the resurrection of Jesus, our worship is a glimpse of the world as God intends it.
So let us gather at the waters of our new birth and commit ourselves again to following Jesus and changing the world.
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© 2015 The Rev’d Grace Burton-Edwards
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
2100 Hilton Ave.
Columbus, GA 31906
Photo by User Morrison1917 on en.wikipedia (mechanical reproduction of 2D image) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons