4th Sunday of Easter

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Today marks the 4th Sunday of Easter.  It’s the springing season of New Life Rising … of new life hovering.  Easter’s Gospel stories tend to surprise us with images of curious visitations’ … connections often arriving in oddly shaped and unsettling moments. The blessing of course is that these moments can serve to en-courage our recovery from the bindings of hard times. It’s also helpful if we can remember that Easter Season is marked by a series of amazing ‘witnessing stories’ … stories which push and perplex our understanding … tales that call us to ‘disciplines of hard practice’.

A man, they say his name is Thomas, comes to Jesus at eventide. The cocoon of his tradition finds him deeply flummoxed. His grief and confusion have him tightly wrapped.  Amidst Thomas’ binding grief, in what certainly is a most astonishing moment, three times Jesus greets him and his friends with the welcoming prayer … “Peace be with you.”  Indeed, in moments like these, Thomas, his companions, why even all of us, have some tough work to do.        My own feeling is that Jesus’ “Peace be with you”  is perhaps NOT the first, or only, time Jesus greets his people with this warming welcome. Could it even be that this was his signature greeting?  

Curious! How can this be? All the healing, change, challenge, and need to adjust will take some time. It probably won’t be before Thomas practices for hours, days, even months before he and the disciples can even begin to find/fashion any semblance of peace.  Making sense of Jesus’ death will take them all (and even all of us for that matter) a lifetime of considerable practice

The Random House dictionary defines ‘resurrection’ as: “the act of rising again from the dead; the state of those risen from the dead; rising again – as from decay & disuse.  While these technical definitions can serve our wonderments, a thesaurus pushes these images of resurrection even a bit further with the words: renaissance, renewal reawakening, rebirth, rekindling, resurgence, and resuscitation

        (aside:  with several friends ‘practicing’ working to consider retiring as ‘re-firing.’)

Sometimes, perhaps even before we’re aware of it, there’s a tendency for us to become too wrapped up in life events.  It’s as if some sort of a curious cocoon wraps itself around us so that our lives become most limited and tightly bound.  It would be neat if we could easily break through these constrictions … but most often it’s not so easy.  Seems that times of being constricted,’ ‘hemmed in,’ ‘tightly bound-up’ are really a primary part and parcel of our life process.  Often, even as we realize we’re in tough shape things don’t flow too smoothly. Fact is, there’s hard work to do. Even as we desperately want to believe, to keep the faith, there’s that most uncomfortable time of hard waiting for the Spirit of God to penetrate our defense systems and move us toward new life.

Robert Morris, an Episcopal priest speaks about the common-place, but frequently unnoticed, ways that people work to break out from their cocoons as ‘tough stuff.’ He calls these efforts to rise above experiences of loneliness, confusion, and fear as ‘ordinary resurrections.’ Morris shares the word ‘resurrection’ as derivative from the Greek word “anastasis,” … which means ‘standing up again.  Morris puts it: “We all lie down. We all rise up. We do this every day.” The same word “anastasisis used in scripture: “I am the resurrection and the life.”   “Funny thing … Morris argues that ‘resurrection does not always wait for Easter. ‘No’, he says ‘it’s more occasional than that.”   ‘Little resurrections,’ little ‘standings up,’ are basic to our daily Life.

More and more these dayze, I’m coming to believe that ‘Spirit and heart driveLittle Resurrections first come thru the graces of God’s Spirit … God’s Energies of Re-Creation serving to open our hearts.  Maybe it’s as ‘simple’ as our being able to breathe freshly again in a new way … but! more likely it’s as mysterious/complex as God’s own Spirit-within-all-life gifting us with grace-filled power … the means of ‘rising up,’ and ‘standing up’ aga

Think of it. You’re down, flummoxed. You’re wrapped in an encapsulating cocoon. You want desperately to break out from the situation you’re in. But its only after some significant time of struggle, when a ‘sense of Spirit’ breaks in to help you break out from the struggles you are experiencing.  

Aside:  Now from an old personal journal re-discovery! Hard pastor’s time!

PAUSE (from my Journal entry … “”Too much death and sorrow and too little time to honor the process of healing. Talk of exhaustion!  Getting short and grumpy.  Inability to concentrate.  Wanting to be most anywhere other than where it’s necessary to be.  I’ve been working hard but accomplishing too little while experiencing a serious spinning of wheels … like pushing against the walls of a bitter and encapsulating cocoon.  Going nowhere … too quickly. Even worse … is having to face the fact that I must not be doing very well if so many people are asking how I am.

Time to go to church, preacher person.  Time to receive. Time to give up. Time to surrender.  Time to seek new life and set out for at least some temporary respite so that the valley of the dry bones, the shadow of death, may find some healing in some perhaps greener pasture hard by some still waters.  Come on!  Buck up! It’s Time to let go!””

Does it seem true to you that quite often, given enough time, support, and practice that ‘a little resurrection’ which will allow us to ‘stand up’ once again may be found right in front of us when/where we least expect it?  It’s there right before us even when it’s hard for us to see very clearly at all.  HO! I thought it would be good to listen, to take some of my own pastoral advice and fashion some time out.   It was time to go to church … not so much as a giver but as a receiver. It was time for me to surrender.

RIFF on this … So, (that week) I went to Boston.  The first day of Spring.  The light on The Charles. The visit to St. John the Evangelist for worship time.  The long walk through the Boston Common, on up through the Commonwealth promenade, on to Old South Church (UCC) in Copley Square to sit in the great & expansive most beautiful sanctuary to watch the late afternoon light sifting about and setting up the stained-glass windows with an ever-shifting beauty.

The organist.  His Practice!  Not going well.  Kept on trying to get through a passage but finding it rough indeed.  Kept on trying. Suddenly, in the middle of the brightly lit afternoon, in the sanctuary’s very heart, he let go a huge, frustrated moan. He took his music, threw it into the air. Then he let loose an eerie ‘howl of despair.’ Most all of us here today know this one, we’ve all heard such a howl somewhere/ sometime, erupting out from our own dry spaces.

He came down from his organ bench.  Thankfully, he didn’t appear to see me. First, in a most agitated fashion, he walked three complete circuits around the outside aisles of the sanctuary.  Then, he walked right on down the center aisle to place a directly below the organ and sat down in a front pew along the center aisle’s edge.  He sat there quietly for a long time.  Could it be that I heard him crying?

When he finally turned back, trekking back on up the center aisle, he spotted me tucked over in a back corner. His eyes were red and damp.   He looked at me, stopped stark still and said: “I hope you didn’t see all of that.” Said I, trained Yankee that I am… “Nope! Didn’t see a thing.” “Good,” he said. “Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes a sense of smooth doesn’t come to me too easily. Practice can be painful.”

He circled back around, picked up his music, put in back on the organ, and rested for a moment in the stillness of the afternoon. Above him, the dust motes, bright and alive, danced before the colored windows.  He started to play again.  Same passage. Once softly, then a mite louder.  Then he picked up his speed and the sound began to flow with the kind of grandeur that great sanctuary spaces can engender.  The sound which previously had been so jaggedly pain-filled now became transformed into a flowing and lyrical beauty.  He had risen from that place where his confusion had melted down his ability to play cleanly and powerfully.  He took some rest from his pain, and then he went back to find his gifts had (been) returned to him.

Hard times. Spirit time. Spirited time. New life. Witnesses!  I thought of how Old South Church would be filled on that coming Sunday. I thought how no one present in church that Sunday would ever know what pain he had experienced as a part of his faithful practice.

In the practice of your life,

when your dry time comes,

when you’re feeling bound for unglory,

when your life practice becomes too heavy

           and you’re feeling all tied up….

                   That’s the time to practice believing

                             Practice … Practice … Practice ….

It’s Easter season … it’s the season of risings. Time perhaps to practice a bit more patience. Time to pay attention to the gifts and graces living right close within our lives. Time to give thanks for the healings of Grace when once again the moment comes when we experience again Jesus as our companion.      Indeed! Peace be with you … Amen!