I have a dream

Bishop Franklin’s Easter Sermon 2014
Delivered at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo NY

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed!

What a glorious Easter morning this is. The Cathedral is gorgeously decorated. Thank you to the Flower Guild. The music is celestial. Thank you to the choirs; thank you to the organists Jonathan and Abbie. I love the Entrada Festiva with which they began—one of my favorites of all music. I feel as though I have been magically transported to the heavenly places.

And has there ever been an Easter morning when sunshine and mild weather have been more greatly appreciated than this year, after that punishing winter—which we all pray today is over…“For lo, the winter is past, the SNOWS are over and gone.”

At least we hope the snows are over and gone. But you never know. When my wife Carmela and I first started out in life, we taught for 17 years in Minnesota. Easter after Easter our poor dear children had to hunt for their Easter eggs by digging through the piles of Easter snow. By contrast Buffalo seemed to us a balmy Easter paradise.

And of course Easter is our paradise, the ultimate celebration of what it means to be a Christian. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have been just another prophet from first-century Palestine. Aas a scholar actually once said to me, “Just a performer of cheap theatrical tricks.”

It was Jesus’ resurrection—His dying and rising—that means for us that God does triumph over evil, that life does triumph over death, that the Kingdom of God does prevail over the kingdoms of this world. The Lord is risen indeed.

We have just heard Deacon Jason tell us the amazing story of Mary standing in the dark, in a garden, outside the tomb, weeping. Then she turns, and who is there but Jesus—whom she does not recognize. She assumes he is the gardener. When the gardener calls her by name, she suddenly knows who he is. Then she goes and tells the disciples the five words that change the world: “I have seen the Lord.”

It’s a wonderful story. It reminds us of another story in another garden. In Genesis, it is dark at the beginning of creation: “darkness was upon the face of the deep there was chaos and the earth was without form.” Then God creates a beautiful garden, Eden, and God is present in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Just so here in the story that Jason has told us. Mary recognizes Jesus as the gardener who is bringing a new world, a new life and a new creation into being. And rather than being driven out of the garden in shame and sin, like Adam and Eve, Mary is sent rushing forth to rejoice and share the five great words: “I have seen the Lord.”

So we are hearing a story of making all things new: literally a new world, new possibilities, new life, a new way of doing things. What is happening here has never happened before in the history of the world. Imagine if you were Mary? What are you feeling? Crazy joy, fear, amazement? If this is possible, anything is possible.

It is a perfect story for us here on Easter Sunday 2014. One week from today, your dean for eight years, Deliza Spangler, will preach her last sermon and celebrate her last Solemn Eucharist with you before she retires to begin her own new life in a new place, Cape Code, which itself is something of a new Eden. Our Pilgrim forebears thought it was. Dean DeLiza has been a pilgrim who has brought us on a journey that makes a new beginning possible.

Soon your vestry will call an interim dean to spend the next two years working with you to help you to re-envision who you are and who you wish to become. That offers us the opportunity to say, “We have seen the Lord”—in different ways, in different places at St. Paul’s and in the community that surrounds us, and we are going to engage in new ministry, new mission, and new opportunities here.

Buffalo,_New_York_from_I-190_North_entering_downtown

Meanwhile, all around us the city of Buffalo is being reborn, enjoying economic prosperity for the first time in 60 years. The city is changing from the heavy-industry center we once knew to a city of knowledge and technology and a medical capital. A thought leader of Buffalo said to me this week: “Bill, Buffalo is undergoing a resurrection, a whole new generation is moving back downtown. What is the Episcopal Church going to do about this, about its civic responsibility at this moment of such great opportunity?”

What a great opportunity for us to carry this same message out these doors: “We have seen the Lord,” and we want to insure that the message of Justice, Peace, and Love is included when this city’s story is being retold.

But no one in the White House, no one in Albany, no one over there at City Hall is sitting by the phone waiting for the Episcopal Church to call and weigh in with an opinion.

CathedralNevertheless, I have a dream. This morning I dream with you of a Cathedral that is not just “in” downtown but is “of” downtown…a player, a regular figure at the table as –together we dream new dreams for St. Paul’s and for Buffalo.

BfloButton2I have a couple of buttons here that tell this story. In the early 1980s you used to be able to buy this button around here. It says, “Buffalo, City of No Illusions.” That was certainly true in the 1980s.

BfloButton1The next one was issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the late 80s. It says, “We’re talkin’ proud.” You cannot take away from a people pride, pride in a city that will not die.

BfloButton3The third button is one you can still buy today: It’s a drawing of a rainbow Buffalo. It says we have survived the tough economy since the crash of 2008. I am happy to be caught in a traffic jam because construction cranes are closing the streets. We’ve survived. We are a resurrected city.

So what might our role be?

Like all great cathedrals, St. Paul’s has always been a home for excellent music and for the beauty of art and architecture. We are integral to our city’s thriving historic-preservation community. Just before Christmas we hosted one of our Discover Sundays right here—offering tours of this beautiful place, then we moved across the 320px-Prudential_Building_(formerly_Guaranty_Building)street to the masterpiece of the Guaranty Building for a reception—this was a symbolic way of inviting the community into the beauty of our space, and then joining the community in the beauty of their secular space just across the street—a symbolic acting out of our mission—inviting people in, moving out. And you know what? A lot of people responded to us and joined in this.

I can picture this great cathedral as a town square, a place where the community gathers for discussion and debate on our civic purpose, on our moral values as a city, on the key issues of the day.

When President Kennedy was shot, where did people gather? In this cathedral. On 9/11, where did people gather? In this cathedral.

Soon we will have ample ground-level space at 4 Cathedral Place to welcome people in who might be afraid to step into this grand church but might be willing to take a chance on a less intimidating space… and find a food pantry, or a clothing closet, or after-school music, or tutoring for children. Not the retail palaces that were once here like Berger’s on main street—but places for fellowship, a cup of tea, a friendly conversation—a sharing of our civic responsibility.

God has made St. Paul’s unusually blessed to be able to fulfill this mission. Already the Cathedral is a Red Cross refuge. Last week, 75 people came here after a fire on Elmwood Avenue.

As a faith community that embraces, with love, the full richness of an Episcopal worship, I hope those of us who echo Mary’s amazed cry, “I have seen the Lord!” will share that vision with others in NEW ways, share it with those who are still looking and listening, those who might be spiritual but not religious, those who are hungry to in some way find God here.

Just last night in this cathedral we baptized three people, confirmed two, and received many more new members from other traditions. We are one of only 31 dioceses out of 110 in the whole Episcopal Church last year that grew. I am the envy of some of my fellow bishops who wonder what we are doing that they are not.

And so I look around this cathedral, this city, and our Diocese of Western New York, and I think that—just like the beautiful garden on the first Easter so many centuries ago—we are ripe with possibilities, ripe with new opportunities, ripe with a chance to make all things new. “The way things used to be” no longer rules or limits us. We have seen the Lord, and there is nothing we cannot do.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”

© R. William Franklin 2014

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