Two Variations on the Easter Sermon

The Right Rev. Mark S. Sisk, Episcopal Bishop of New York and Pastor David Crosby of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans talk about the messages of their Easter Sunday sermons. In a word: Hope.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Easter Sunday is considered the most important day in the Christian faith. Churches are redolent with the smell of lilies, and congregants dressed in their finest clothes attend worship services to hear the message from the pulpit.

At the cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Right Reverend Mark Sisk is giving the sermon as he does every Easter. He's the Episcopal bishop of the New York diocese. Welcome to the program.

Reverend MARK SISK (15th Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of New York): Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be here.

HANSEN: What is your message this year?

Rev. SISK: Well, my message this year is, in one sense, the same old message, and that is that Jesus has risen from the dead, and we celebrate that as it gives us new life. And it's a story we tell from generation to generation.

HANSEN: And how will you elaborate on that? What is the message? What is the truth of that message?

Rev. SISK: Well, there are a number of central truths, I think. One is that life has purpose, it has meaning; that the foundation of creation itself is love, a love that is stronger than hate, and a significant expression of that is in the ability that we have to both ask for forgiveness and to offer forgiveness.

And I attempt to build on that by pointing out that this really is the truth of lived experience. We all have had the experience ourselves or known people that have not been able to offer forgiveness or to ask for it, and they get themselves tangled up in hate and retribution and are, in fact, not free.

I would say - and I do, in fact, say - that that same message is true not only personally and individually, but it's true for nations as well. And we look at the problems around the world and how often would they be resolved if the peoples involved could turn to one another and say, you know, we have made grievous errors and we are sorry for them. And you have made grievous errors and we are prepared to offer you forgiveness. And it's because even on the nation - on the national level, we seem unwilling or unable to offer that confession, if you will, and also offer that forgiveness.

HANSEN: For many people, this is the one day a year they attend church. And, of course, St. John the Divine, the cathedral in Upper Manhattan, also a lot of people visit that are tourists or visitors to the city. So given that this might be the one chance they have to hear what you have to say, what's the most important thing you want them to take home from your sermon?

Rev. SISK: I would hope that they would take home from the sermon the notion that their lives matter and that they are loved by God. And that they have hope in their lives, even if at the moment they feel themselves to be in a point of desperation, which may, in fact, be why they have come to church on Easter Day itself. And I would want people to know that even the most devastating parts - things in their life, they can come back from, because, you know, love is stronger than hate and life does triumph over death, ultimately.

And that's a message that I would hope that they would take away and that this is something that they can meditate on, reflect on in their own thinking in their own lives in the, you know, weeks, months, years ahead.

HANSEN: The Right Reverend Mark Sisk is the Episcopal bishop of the New York diocese. He is delivering the Easter sermon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Thank you for your time and happy Easter.

Rev. SISK: Thank you. It's been wonderful to be with you.

HANSEN: Joining us now is Senior Pastor David Crosby of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans. Welcome to the program.

Pastor DAVID CROSBY (First Baptist Church, New Orleans): Thank you, Liane. Glad to be here.

HANSEN: What is the message of your sermon this Easter Sunday?

Pastor CROSBY: I'm preaching about hope for New Orleans this Easter.

HANSEN: How do you elaborate on the word "hope"?

Pastor CROSBY: Well, I'm going to talk about the expectation we can have of the dawning of a new day, even in the aftermath of trouble and disaster.

HANSEN: Tell us a little bit about your congregants and how this message of hope will resonate with them.

Pastor CROSBY: My congregation is located in the flood zone in New Orleans. We still have about half our people displaced. The other half that - those of us who are still here - are in various stages of either recovering our homes or helping others do so. And the hardest thing I do is driving through the flood zone day after day and having to look at the continued disrepair of homes and just the difficulty our community's in.

HANSEN: I imagine many in your congregation are also dealing with grief and bereavement.

Pastor CROSBY: Absolutely. I talked to a man yesterday and he was telling me - he lost not only his home and his vehicles, but he also lost his friends. He lost the place where he went to buy groceries and the place where he got a haircut. He lost the social group, the people that he exercised with. And so all of us are in the process of trying to rebuild not only homes but a life.

HANSEN: So you use the reality of hope as well as the metaphor of hope in a religious sense?

Pastor CROSBY: Yes. I'm going to talk about how the morning brings all kind of possibilities. You know, the Scriptures talk about how joy comes in the morning - weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning - and how just the physical dawning of a new day brings to us a new hope, new expectation.

And maybe during the night, we've had nightmares like my wife did just a couple nights ago, where she woke up and she dreamed about being in a flooding building and trying to evacuate and couldn't get out. I mean, that is 18 months after the storm, but it's still something that troubles our sleep. And I myself, I'm a - you know, find that in the darkness of the night, sometimes you have these darkest thoughts that come and you wonder if you're going to make it and - or are you going to be equal to the challenge?

But when the morning comes, there's a fresh perspective: The dew covers the blossoms, and it is a picture of the new grace of God for a new day of living.

HANSEN: David Crosby is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans. Thank you for your time, and happy Easter.

Pastor CROSBY: Oh, thank you, Liane.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy")

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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