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Easter Innocence – Br. Curtis Almquist

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John 20:1-18

We have this old phrase, “misery loves company.” Peter and the Beloved Disciple were keeping company in their misery, but not for the same reasons. The Beloved Disciple was grief stricken over the horrendous crucifixion of his dearest friend, Jesus, with whom he had stayed until it was finished. Peter, on the other hand, was frightened and appalled by his own betrayal of Jesus, whom he had denied and abandoned from the bitter outset. The two disciples were together but in very different places when they hear the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus’ body is gone. They run towards the tomb independently, no surprise. The Beloved Disciple would be ecstatic, remembering Jesus’ promise that if he were killed, he would come back to life; he would be resurrected. Peter, on the other hand, would be in agony. He, too, had heard Jesus’ prediction about his resurrection. But Jesus’ resurrection for Peter would be so very, very difficult because of his having to face Jesus. Peter would need to ask Jesus’ forgiveness… again. Not that Jesus would not forgive Peter, but that he would, as Jesus had undoubtedly forgiven him so many times before. How many times had Jesus forgiven Peter already? More than Peter could imagine.[i] You may recall Jesus had renamed Peter “his rock,” not just because he was so strong, but because he was so hard-headed.[ii] Peter here is running in very familiar territory as he races to Jesus’ tomb, only this time it’s much worse. This time, Peter has crossed a line; he now is more a follower of Judas and than Jesus.

And it happens. We know in the days following, Peter is reconciled to Jesus. Jesus had long predicted that Peter, whom he knew well and loved greatly, would betray him, which he does, three times. Peter is now asked by Jesus, three times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter says, “Yes, I do.” “Yes, I do.” “You know, I do,” and the reconciliation happens. What’s so amazing and so humbling for Peter is that, eventually, it’s Peter (not the Beloved Disciple) but Peter on whom Jesus decides to build his church.[iii] Peter is the least innocent of all the living disciples, which seems to be Jesus’ point.[iv]

In this ancient prayer, the Exsultet, which Br. Geoffrey has just sung from the Paschal Candle, we hear the word innocence: “How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed way. It restores innocence to the fallen….” Innocence. Christ’s offering us not just forgiveness, not just reconciliation, but innocence. If Jesus, knowing you even better than you know yourself, were to say to you, “You are innocent,” could you take it in? “You are innocent.” This is not the adjudication of our innocence but rather the restoration of our innocence. Our being made innocent again by Christ.

Our English word “innocence” is borrowed from the Latin, and at its core means “not guilty, simple, pure, blameless,” words that are hard to come by for me and, I suspect, for many of you here. What would this “restoration of innocence” Christ promises us look like for you? Innocence: to be not guilty, simple, pure, blameless. Several things come to mind.

For one, “innocence” is related to what Paul Riccoeur, the French theologian, calls “a second naiveté.” Here’s an example. You have probably had the experience having a very negative impression of someone. Then there may have come the occa­sion when you learn something more about them. Maybe someone tells you something new about them; maybe you observe them or have the opportunity to listen to them as they tell you about their life, or as they tell you about your life. And you come to see them differently. It’s as if your vision is given a corrective lens, not to see less but to see into them, to see more of them, more deeply. What first appeared to your eyes as a stain on this person is, in actuality, a scar that they probably bear well, bear miraculously well, given all the givens they’ve been handed in their life. This an experience of the “innocence” that Christ promises: an interior experi­ence of being cleansed and enlightened. Often times the truth we know about another person has to be washed. Not washed away but washed clean before it can be fully received. If there is a hard person in your life, pray the cleansing of the eyes of your heart to see them as Christ sees them.[v] Beneath their scars, their surface layer of soil is this most beautiful person.

The baptismal water in the great basin here in the center of the chapel represents Christ’s invitation for the cleansing of the truth, as we renew our baptismal promises.[vi] Many of us here may need to pray this way almost endlessly in our relationships with others: for the cleansing of the truth. Seeing people with new eyes is a restoration of innocence that Christ promises: a kind of “second naiveté” in how we see other people, especially people whom we may otherwise find irritating, or offensive, or disappointing. They are a child of God, whom God adores and whom God shares with you. That will dawn on you.

Another experience of the restoration of innocence Christ promises is our experience of identification with another person. One of the earliest things we learn in life is how we are different from others. We are younger or older; taller or shorter; left handed or right handed; male or female. We are more or less beautiful, or charming, or eloquent, or successful, or wealthy, or educated, or devout, or whatever. And it is true. We are very different from one another. But how much the same we are also. Jesus preaches one gospel and opens his arms very wide, for all. An experience of the restoration of innocence that Christ promises us is the move­ment away from separation from others, to compassion for others, to identification with others. The founder of our community, Richard Meux Benson, spoke not just of living around another per­son but living in another person. This person whom you may be quick to discount or disown or reject: you are this person. This person who gets under your skin belongs there. This is the “grace of identification,” the healing of our judgmental faculties to see ourselves in the face and form of the other, to come to love them as we love ourselves: a manifestation of the restoration of our innocence.

Lastly, whatever has compromised your own innocence, God knows you before that, and God knows you in that, and God will see you through that. That’s why we call Jesus our Savior. Jesus says to his disciples, to us, “I go to prepare a place for you,” that is, a place for us to dwell with God beyond the grave, forever.[vii] In the meantime Jesus is unbinding the knots in your soul, healing your broken heart. Jesus wants to whisper in your ear, “I know you. I love you. You are why I came to this earth. You belong to me.” A century ago, Father Benson, asks this wonderful, passionate question: What will it be like for you, for your body, in the day of the Resurrection, to feel yourself really belonging to Jesus, to be enclosed in His embrace, and be locked in [his] heart of love? Father Benson says, we are being prepared for the particular glory that awaits each of us in the day of our resurrection.[viii] Jesus recovers us, redeems us, restores us as we were intended to be in God’s eyes. It starts in this life; it will take an eternity to complete which is why we call it “the hope of heaven.” It includes the likes of Mary, mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the likes of the Beloved Disciple and of Peter. It includes you.

The restoration of innocence is not about forgetting. It’s about remembering, remembering who, in God’s eyes, we were created to be and become, and taking Jesus at his word in his promise to give us new, abundant life, beginning now and for all eternity.[ix]


[i] Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’”

[ii] The name “Peter” comes from the Greek, Πέτρος, Pétros, “stone, rock.”

[iii] Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

[iv] The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, writes that “the secret of the Christian is not that he is always in the right and puts other people in the right, but that he is a forgiven [person]. That is the secret of a Christian’s humility, and his liberation to love God and his fellows with a new impulse. So the strength of the Church is not the strength of its members, but the strength of Christ who forgives them, humbles them, and can do something with them. So no one is excluded who is ready to say, ‘I am sorry. God help me, a sinner.’ In the final crisis all that St. Peter could say was, “I am sorry,” and Christ made him the rock man of the Church.”

[v] Ephesians 1:17-19 “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

[vi] The Baptismal Covenant is found in the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305.

[vii] John 14:2-3.

[viii] Richard Meux Benson in Instructions on the Religious Life, p. 31.

[ix] John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Text will follow later today.

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27 Comments

  1. a city monk on April 15, 2016 at 16:02

    ” An experience of the restoration of innocence that Christ promises us is the move­ment away from separation from others, to compassion for others, to identification with others.”

    Jesus prayed the Psalms… Emmanuel, God with prays the Psalms. Living Psalmody!

    Just holding that thought, listening with the ear of the heart…Living Psalmody.

  2. Christina on April 15, 2016 at 10:21

    Now, more than six years have passed since you wrote these words. Thank you Br. Curtis.
    Your words are timeless and I am so grateful for all that you are other Brothers give to us every day.
    Blessings to all of you. Christina

  3. anders on April 15, 2016 at 10:07

    Another powerful sermon spanning misery to the restoration of innocence which leaves me unsure of where to go. I don’t want to dwell on the past, how the church stole my innocence in shaming and abuse, leaving me a survivor whereby three of my childhood church friends met tragic early deaths from numbed lives. Nor do I want to look forward to healing and resurrection beyond the grave, for Yeshua is here for our healing in this time and place, perhaps even in the Church. Right now I feel homeless in my encounters with what seem like circuses of mixed messages rather than houses of love. I am sad how people miss His message, sometimes most of all in Christianity. I will keep on showing up as an instrument of peace, understanding and vitality, for that is why I am here. In doing so I lay my burdens down in faith that all shall be well.

  4. Norman S "Sam" Steward Jr, DDS on April 15, 2016 at 09:25

    A beautiful reaffirmation that God already knows us. Also that Jesus loved us before we loved him. Each day I feel closer and closer to my Savior, our Savior. As I continue to grow in my new discipline of contemplative prayer, it is just that closeness that I long to experience. I know it is coming as during these contemplative “sits” in silence with the Gospel, I feel the peace all around me. I am inviting it to enter. Thank you for your beautiful words.

  5. Jane Buttery on April 25, 2015 at 23:02

    Knowing one is forgiven is so helpful but I annot get the point through to our daughter. She is embittered about life and does not seek God’s forgiveness. I have told her I am sorry if she has misunderstood me but she still does not accept it. She is so lonely and I hurt for her. She is bi-polar and hates being like that but refuses medication. I am trying to pray for her more positively asking for ‘the light of Christ to come into her heart.” But she has to accept Jesus again. She used to believe and is confirmed so I have hope she will come back to God. He knows her through and through and I have to bring this burden to the cross. Her illness makes her confused.Inside is a beautiful daughter.

  6. Evan Lassen on April 25, 2015 at 12:02

    WOW, How Powerful !

    Thank you, We need more of this. And guess what ?
    We just got it from this sermon ! Now it’s out turn to
    pass it forward as we have our marching orders and
    we are bathed in this light to gift others with his for-
    giving love.

  7. John Gishe on April 25, 2015 at 11:38

    “… we hear the word innocence: “How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed way. It restores innocence to the fallen.” A five year old sermon that speaks to me today in 2015 a message I needed to hear. Thanks you.

  8. Pam on April 25, 2015 at 09:37

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this particular sermon. I have been on an amazing healing journey for more than a decade, eventually coming to a place of forgiving my abusive mother and then praying to improve my relationship with my husband. Somehow the forgiveness that I now feel (and expressed to my mother before she died–with 2 hours to spare) has been transferred to my husband, but it happened suddenly and I been wondering how that could be. What you wrote provided an explanation for me. I am absolutely amazed at the timing (God’s, obviously), and so grateful. It makes me cry just thinking about it–tears of joy and gratefulness. Thank you so much, Br. Curtis, and thank you, God.

  9. Willam Coats on April 25, 2015 at 09:30

    Great sermon. But you may have Riccoeur wrong. The second naivete means coming again to a person after learning something not so good, bracketing it, so as to see them again in spite of that which you know. Still thanks.

  10. Marta e. on April 25, 2015 at 06:54

    Reading this meditation is a life-changing event, like opening the door and letting Christ come in. It gives me hope that there is a way that I can walk a better road with help, and that I can forgive more, and ultimately know that I am forgiven. Thank you.

  11. Elspeth on April 25, 2015 at 06:47

    Thank you for this gift this morning. There are some divisions in our church and I realize my job is to see each person, and myself, like Peter- not perfect and making lots of mistakes and yet a child of God. Help me to remember the gift of innocence for me and for others. Thank you.

  12. Michael on April 25, 2015 at 06:25

    God knew us before and loves us in spite of. It’s a lot to t understand and try to accept. It’s about faith at this point

  13. Margo on April 29, 2014 at 06:28

    On about my 5th or 6th reading of this sermon. I think it is one of the best. Making the improbable possible. It sets up such yearning, such expectation of life and brings such joy – a resurrection experience in itself. If only I can write it permanently on my heart. Thank you.
    Margo

  14. Carole Gilman on April 28, 2014 at 11:22

    This sermon helped me on so many different levels. I need to work more on understanding those who hurt me or/and mine and really work harder on forgiving myself and remembering that God did !! Thanks again for another terrific, I call it lesson in life rather than a sermon. I like having you all in my life!!

  15. Michele on April 28, 2014 at 10:23

    Thank you Brother. Healing is a human understanding as we walk into our eternal home with Christ. I have been learning to heal by focusing upon identifying rather than comparing. It is through the process of identification, I am learning to understand my weaknesses, be reminded that I am not alone with my own miseries, and with the healing grace of Christ, I hope to become one with Christ.

  16. Betty Conley on April 28, 2014 at 09:38

    These are perhaps the most comforting words I have ever read in my more than eighty years, perfect at this particular time. Thank you for such a gift which I will keep and read many times.

  17. Lorna Harris on April 28, 2014 at 09:30

    What a wonderful sermon. Thanks for posting it.

  18. Diane on April 28, 2014 at 07:49

    Another valued insight. Deep thanks for your words of wisdom.

  19. Robert Shotton on October 1, 2013 at 01:15

    I love the way Br Curtis Almquist shews us how to think about a person which, perhaps we may not like, or see some fault in them. I am sure, that in washing the layers that obstruct our view of them, we would also be washing away some of our own faults.
    A beautiful sermon from which I am sure I will gain much. Thank you!

  20. Barb Yatsevitch on September 30, 2013 at 05:36

    This mornings is incredibly beautiful, MOST helpful and I’m very appreciative. Heartfelt thanks … and Love, Barb

  21. Bev Edminster on May 13, 2013 at 11:34

    What an enlightening take on the word ‘innocence’! It has restructured my feelings for self and certainly for others. Thanks for the reminder that God knows all — we just have to constantly keep the receiver open to His acceptance and do that for ourselves as well as others……then judgment goes out the window . Thank you

  22. barbara frazer lowe on May 13, 2013 at 10:39

    Dear Br.Almquist – Wordless thankyou’s.

  23. Anders on May 13, 2013 at 07:47

    Thanks for giving me consideration on how we are meant to love each other. We prepare a place for one another to dwell with God in the eternity of here and now and forever, to unbind the knots in our souls, to heal our broken hearts, to whisper in one another’s ear, “I live to know you. I love you. You are why we are on this earth together in the same time and space. We belong to each other.”

  24. Dee on January 14, 2013 at 09:16

    Beautiful! Healing! Enlightening! Thank you!

  25. Gini Walker on June 12, 2010 at 09:00

    I’m struggling with the word “innocence” because regardless of the work of my Lord Jesus, I can move from that restored innocence in the wink of the eye…thoughts, actions, etc. I seek to see myself and others as the most valued of His creation because He died for us to “restore our broken relationship”. Yet, even in His “I loved you before you loved me” statement, I am so humbled by His gracious and merciful love that was in place and never changes even with His knowledge that I will “blow it again and again”. My worthiness to be restored is only in the value HE placed on my worth. I can see myself as innocent only when this earthly life is ended and I am in His eternal presence. Would enjoy hearing from you as time allows. Peace, Gini

  26. Loukas on April 9, 2010 at 15:17

    Dear Brothers,

    during the Paschal Triddum we’ve been adding links to your last years sermons on our blog. In this way we could share the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection with you. Today we found this sermon by br Curtis and we would like to say a heartfelt thank you for this specimen of the monastic wisdom. Easter is about the restoration of our nature as it was dreamed by our Maker. It’s amazing to here that there is a way back to him, a way back to innocence. Not without reason, the next Sunday is called by the Church “Quasimodogeniti” (“like newborn babies”). We are hopeful that you won’t mind that we added a link to this sermon and this time also translated it into Polish.

    We wish all the brothers a blessed Easter time

  27. Julie Goodridge on April 5, 2010 at 13:40

    My first ever Easter celebration, bells and all, and a sermon that moved me to tears. What more could I ask for? Thank you Curtis, and thank you to all the brothers, who have made each day of my conversion a miracle.

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