April 5, 2015 _- Easter Sunday – 10:00 service
Text: Jeremiah 31: 1 – 6 & Mark 16: 1 – 8 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Don’t you just love Cris Hudson’s great picture of our very own Easter elves, dyeing eggs at Bonnie’s house last week!? Do you know that just over one billion real eggs are dipped and dyed every Easter in America. The Dudley egg dye company sells over 10 million egg dying kits every year. Amazing! It is one of my fondest memories with children and youth over the years…..dyeing, decorating, hiding and finding….and eating Easter eggs! And I just heard on the news that this year Americans have spent 2 and half BILLION dollars on chocolate bunnies and eggs!! Incredible!
A few years back, Jay Leno was interviewing people on the street on his Jay Walking segment? Recall it?
He started out asking people about Easter…. He asked why we have egg hunts on Easter. And one person responded that Jesus had hidden eggs in the desert so that all his followers would have food if they were lost in the wilderness. Hmmmm……I wonder if he dyed and decorated them!!!!!
A minister in Darby, Pennsylvania, told this story:
The four-year-old son of an undertaker was puzzled one Easter morning when he heard about the Resurrection. “Do you mean,” he asked, “that Jesus really rose up from the dead?”
“Oh, yes,” the teacher said.
The boy shook his head. “I know my daddy didn’t take care of Him after He died,” the boy said. “He’d never get up again!”
Easter begins with fear. At least that’s the way Mark tells it. It’s not that Easter begins with wild panic–no, not that. Easter begins with the kind of fear that feels a lot like heart-break. It begins with the twist in your stomach that comes when the phone rings and you hear the voice of your sister or brother; “Are you sitting down?” ….. that kind of fear.
Early in the morning, three women approach the tomb bearing precious herbs and oils to wash the body of their friend and teacher, Jesus. They have come to massage precious myrrh into his skin…. engaging in the ritual act (of care that is traditionally done before sealing a body in the tomb. Yet, even as they discuss how they will gain access to the cave , they find that the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty–vacant, except for some young guy who is definitely not Jesus; and suddenly, they are afraid. They fear that their last chance to pour a little compassion on the broken body of Jesus has escaped. They fear that they are witnessing the final insult of this whole horrible affair. First, Jesus’ life is stolen from them, and now, even his body has been taken. And, perhaps, they also fear that death has won. Death, the ever-ravenous monster, has finally, and utterly, swallowed up their beloved friend.
We have all experienced deep grief at some time in our lives….loss of loved ones that wounds and shatters the very core of our being. Devastating loss can be debilitating for a time. I am certain that the families of those victims of the recent crash of the German aircraft and the relatives & friends of the 147 victims of the terrorist attack this week in Kenya are feeling the devastation…. which frequently moves from extreme sorrow to vengeful anger to deep despair before the work of healing begins. It is not difficult to imagine how Jesus’ disciples felt…how their hopes had been dashed. Not only did they lose a beloved friend and brilliant teacher….but they lost hope that their promised liberation would ever happen.
Most every mainline congregation is comprised of ….at least three kinds of worshippers on Easter Sunday….. out and out doubters….firm believers….and in-betweeners. I could ask for a show of hands…..but will spare you that embarrassment!
A Sign in a San Francisco wholesale florist shop reads: “ If you don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, you ought to be here five minutes before quitting time!”
I know you can relate to that! I’ve seen whole congregations suddenly come to life when the word AMEN is sounded at the end of the service! Why, in this church, I try hard not to have the service go much over an hour…..watching in fear that your eyes will start glazing over…..but then you all stand around and chit chat for an hour after church with renewed vigor!! It’s a miracle! The benediction inspires resurrection! Children who are looking exhausted at their desks…..burst forth from the school doors at the end of the day with renewed energy! We’re free at last!! You can all relate! Breaking free is the sermon title for today and it really does describe for me…. an Easter feeling…..the reality of resurrection!
To embrace the resurrection of Jesus Christ…. we have to think outside the box…..!
Marianne Williamson wrote in her book Everyday Grace : “Isn’t it time to leave behind us the limitations of a mortal perspective and embrace instead the spiritual freedom that emanates from the mind of God?” It’s definitely a mind blaster!! As Peter Gomes puts it: “ The resurrection is God’s way of getting our attention! Easter is not a morning for artful arguments, subtle distinctions, the stuff of seminars. Easter is confrontational. You are hit in the face with it!” The message is: Jesus Christ is alive! Easter is a time to embrace the possibilities of miracles… and to allow that possibility to awaken our dead spiritual lives and open a window to our soul!
In her book Escape from the Tomb, best selling author Barbara Brown Taylor tells this story: When I was a girl, I spent a lot of time in the woods, which were full of treasures for me. At night I lined them up on my bed: fat flakes of mica, buckeyes bigger than shooter marbles, blue jay feathers, bird bones and — if I was lucky — a cicada shell, one of those dry brown bug bodies you can find on tree trunks when the 17-year locusts come out of the ground. I liked them for at least two reasons. First, because they were horrible looking, with their huge empty eye sockets and their six sharp little claws. By hanging them on my sweater or — better yet — in my hair, I could usually get the prettier, more popular girls at school to run screaming away from me, which somehow evened the score. I also liked them because they were evidence that a miracle had occurred. They looked dead bugs, but were just shells. Every one of them had a neat slit down its back, where the living creature inside of it had escaped, pulling new legs, new eyes, new wings out of that dry brown body and taking flight.
At night I could hear them singing their high song in the trees. If you had asked them, I’ll bet none of them could have told you where they left their old clothes. That is all the disciples saw when they got to the tomb on that first morning –two piles of old clothes.
The creatures that Barbara collected had broken free from what confined them….when it was time for them evolve and transform into a new way of being and seeing.
Our entire life journey is about breaking free, isn’t it!? We start our life by breaking free from the womb that has nurtured us for 9 months. Our education from the time we are toddlers to teen agers is about developing insight and wisdom…and independence….. until we break free from the nest that has protected and nourished us to go out on our own in the big, wide world. Throughout our lives, we strive to break free from outdated, ineffective ways of doing things, archaic ways of thinking…to break out of the ruts that have held us captive… to discover new ways of being and doing. And certainly, if our religious beliefs, and spiritual practices are not liberating, then we have some serious spiritual work to do!
Jesus’s ministry was and IS about breaking free of oppressive laws and rituals that no longer have meaning….that were in fact, inhumane and insensitive to the needs of the people…. and, as some of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus put it, irrelevant to God!
In one of the women’s Bible studies I led in a previous church, there was a young woman who had been a part of a very conservative religious community…strict and controlling. We were discussing Peter Gomes, then new book Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind….about the power…..and truth of metaphors…. and she said…. very seriously “ Are we allowed to think like that!?” To which I responded: “ Allowed by whom? Your thoughts are yours….you are free to think!” Do you know what she did? She cried. Seriously…tears of release….permission granted to think! Our wonderful little study group had helped her break free from doctrine that was limiting her vision and making her downright unhappy.
Maureen White’s daughter Geralyn is an award winning film maker…..one of our speakers this summer in fact. She produced a beautiful film called “Alive inside” which some of us have seen. ALIVE INSIDE is a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. The film beautifully chronicles the incredible awakenings that occur with a visit to the music of our youth. Windows are opened …and those locked in darkness break free into the light and joy of memories revisited. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. Surely…..a message of resurrection! It’s a story of love…. of music that restores our memories of what we have loved and those who have loved us. The film depicts people dancing with pure joy and freedom! Set free! Marvelous!
I love the passage from the book of Jeremiah which Joe read this morning: The LORD appeared to us in the past saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. 4 I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful. 5 Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.
It is a beautiful picture of the restoration of a broken people… an expression of the faithful, everlasting love ….and yes, kindness of God…..that invites us to dance with glee and confidence….. to believe that the Divine Spirit will set us free from the burdens that impede and imprison us and set us free. Alleluia!
In a cemetery in Hanover, Germany, is a grave on which were placed huge slabs of granite and marble cemented together and fastened with heavy steel clasps. It belongs to a woman who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Yet strangely, she directed in her will that her grave be made so secure that if there were a resurrection, it could not reach her. On the marker were inscribed these words: “This burial place must never be opened.” In time, a seed, covered over by the stones, began to grow. Slowly it pushed its way through the soil and out from beneath them. As the trunk enlarged, the great slabs were gradually shifted so that the steel clasps were wrenched from their sockets. A tiny seed had become a tree that had pushed aside the stones. Great metaphor! Resurrection happens all around and within us!
What needs to break free in us….. what seeds are waiting in winter’s soil to blossom this Spring?
In his book, Teaching Your Children about God, Rabbi David Wolpe, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, recalls an ancient Jewish parable about twin unborn children lying together in the womb. One believes that there is a world beyond the womb “where people walk upright, where there are mountains and oceans, a sky filled with stars.” The other unborn twin can barely contain his contempt for such foolish ideas. Suddenly the “believer” of the twins is forced through the birth canal leaving behind the only way of life he has known. The remaining unborn twin is saddened, convinced that a great catastrophe has befallen his companion. Outside the womb, however, the parents are rejoicing. For what the remaining brother, left behind, has just witnessed is not death but birth. This, Wolpe reminds us, is a classic view of the life beyond the grave–a birth into a world that we on Earth can only try to imagine.
The Easter message is that we have an older brother who HAS traveled beyond the tomb, down the birth canal of eternity to assure us that God is love, and that there is a spiritual dwelling place within the eternal energy of the Divine Creator…..a place for us….whether our name is John or Mary or Peter or even Judas.
I imagine most of you have heard of Tony Campolo, the dynamic evangelist….. who actually comes and preaches at the Temple in OP every summer.. Some of you may even be familiar with Campolo’s famous sermon, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming,” based on a sermon he once experienced in his home church, a black church in West Philadelphia. Campolo grew up in that church. He was the only white member of the 2,500 member congregation. African-American congregations and pastors have their own unique and wondrous approach to the Gospel message, notes Campolo. And Campolo himself has been deeply affected by that unique approach.
He says he remembers when he went to his first black funeral. He was seventeen years old. A friend of his named Clarence had died. The minister was magnificent. Campolo described that preacher like this: “He preached about the Resurrection and he talked about life after death in such glowing terms that I have to tell you, even at seventeen I wished I were dead just listening to him! He came down from the pulpit. Then he went over to the family and spoke words of comfort to them. Last of all, he went over to the open casket and for the last twenty minutes, he preached to the corpse. Can you imagine that? He just yelled at the corpse. ‘Clarence! Clarence!’ he yelled. He said it with such authority,” says Campolo, “I would not have been surprised had there been an answer.”
“‘Well,” this preacher said, “Clarence, you died too fast. You got away without us thanking you.” He went down this litany of beautiful, wonderful things that Clarence had done for people. Then he said, “That’s it, Clarence. When there’s nothin’ more to say, there’s only one thing to say, good night!”
“Now this is drama,” says Campolo. “White preachers can’t do this! . . . He then grabbed the lid of the casket and he slammed it shut and he yelled, ‘Good night, Clarence! Good night, Clarence!’ As he slammed that lid shut he pointed to the casket and he said, ‘Good night, Clarence, ‘cause I know, yes, I know that God is going to give you a good morning!’ Then the choir stood and started singing ‘On that great gettin’ up Morning we shall rise, we shall rise.’ People were up on their feet and they were in the aisles hugging and kissing each other and dancing. I was up dancing and hugging people,” says Tony Campolo. “I knew I was in the right church, the kind of church that can take a funeral and turn it into a celebration. That’s what the faith is about. It’s about the promise of eternal life . . . death doesn’t threaten us any more.”
While it may not be OUR tradition to jump up and down, shout alleluia, and dance in the aisles…. I hope it is our tradition to experience the JOY of resurrection…. faith in a Divine power that can move us BEYOND what can be scientifically proven to spiritual freedom and new life. I hope and pray that we all have a faith that can help us to break free of whatever it is that burdens and imprisons us. I hope we are in a church that can inspire us to dance for joy and celebrate our freedom!
Hit it, Michelle!