Sermon for Easter SunDay
A sermon preached on Easter Sunday by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock
on the occasion of the Baptism of Hugh Anderson Sieger,
at St. Philip’s Church, Easthampton, Massachusetts: 17 April 2022
[Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31]
My dear grandson, Hugh – my little Owl:
When I was in college, I learned something about the life we all share that has made a lasting impression on me. What I was told then was that by the time a child is six years old, he or she will have learned about 90% of what that youngster will ever learn. I am not sure about the accuracy of that figure (90%); but I don’t think the arithmetic is the real issue. Yes, the reality of that remaining 10% matters a great deal. Clearly, a seven-year-old is not ready to be a surgeon or President of the United States. Additional and hard-won maturity and the skills to express that kind of knowledge and ability are clearly needed; but the underlying point is this: The 90% of what we learn by the time we are six is foundational. In a crucial aspect, it is constitutional, which by comparison makes everything else a matter of detail. And from this I have come to realize that the most significant thing we are to learn day-by-day at such a tender age is that life is the ability and willingness to trust. Of course, “trust” is another word for “faith”.
When we look at you, Hugh, we see the wonder of you learning: learning about the world around you; learning about the importance of the people in your life; learning about your place with all of this. But mostly, underneath it all, you are learning to trust, to have faith. And we are amazed at what we see in you. Like the little owl you are, you are taking it all in; and when you look at us and give that gentle smile of yours, all hearts melt, as if you are saying: “ It’s working”.
Of course, not all that you will learn about trusting, about having faith will be easy or fun or for that matter welcomed. For instance, taking your first steps – a transformational threshold that is closer for you than any of us can imagine – learning to walk is both liberating and frightening. Going on your own is exciting and necessary; but it also runs the risk of falling down and going boom. I doubt, however, that the bumps and bruises you will experience in your walking and exploring will slow you down for long, but this pattern of moving forward with its risks and rewards never goes away. That’s where faith comes in. Faith allows us to take another step. Some of those steps not only won’t work out; they will be overwhelming. and even threatening Yet, faith calls us on toward more than we can make for ourselves. This is to say that faith reminds us that our lives are not just what we make of them. There is always more to our lives.
So it is that on this Easter Sunday, when you are baptized into life on God’s terms, I want to tell you what I believe is the most important thing you will need to learn and always have faith in. Here it is: Love is stronger than death. This is the entire point of this resurrection day. It is what Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection are all about. That what we fear is most certainly real; but fear and death are not the defining end. So it is in baptism, we say “yes” to the “Yes” God says to us. And God’s “Yes” is the life we need and cannot provide for ourselves, given in love – no matter what.
There comes a time in every parent’s life when our magical powers evaporate. Specifically, there are those telling times when a parent can no longer “kiss it and make it all better”. Unavoidably, the hurt remains, and all we can do is hold onto each other. Some people treat God as if the Holy One is supposed to “kiss it and make our lives all better”, but that is not how love works. You see, the thing about love is that it is stronger than death; and to be stronger than death, love must endure being rejected and broken-hearted in order to emerge anew to make its proclamation. Even the Creator of heaven and earth, the only one whose love is unconditional – even God suffers from his love’s rejection; but God’s love is stronger than death, stronger than our stubborn attempts to be in control, to do our own thing.
Easter, Christ’s resurrection, is the gift of this love and the demonstration of what our lives are meant to be when we allow God to be at the center of our lives. Your baptism, Hugh, connects you to this God-life. The gift means that we are to grow to be what we see in the risen Jesus and to be most truly alive.
Love is stronger than death, my little Owl. The love that your Mom and Dad and your brother Birch have shown you since the moment you were born has taught you to trust – to trust in their care and also to follow their leads. Your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins, and all your friends are there to join you in learning that there is more to our lives than our fear, our failures, and our foibles. And even now, just being with you in this time between your crawling and your walking, between your infant’s words and your clear speaking. – even now, please know that we need you – we need you to remind us about the strength of love, of God’s love that changes everything, even death.
We love you, Hugh. That’s the reason we are bringing you to the waters of baptism. Once you know that you belong to God – no matter what -- everything else can fall into place. So, happy Easter, Hugh. Christ is risen! And together with him, so are we. Alleluia! Amen.