Easter Reflection 2016

Reverend Kent Hemmen Saleska
UU Church of Minnetonka
March 27, 2016

So this is Easter.  Most of us in the Western world know what this Sunday is about, but if you are a little hazy on the story, here’s a reminder. In the Christian faith, today is the culmination of the life story of Jesus of Nazareth. Recently Sean Gladding, a blogger, posted an obituary for Jesus with a modern turn, writing:

“Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem of Judea [and] His family fled to Egypt when he was two, seeking political asylum. They returned to Nazareth… after the death of Herod the Great. Jesus was apprenticed as a carpenter to Joseph, and worked in the family business until he turned 30. He was baptized in the Jordan River by the prophet John bar Zechariah, his cousin. He spent the next 3 years living as an itinerant rabbi, with a small school of 12 disciples. He received the patronage of Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward…and many others. [Jesus] devoted his life to serving the least, the last and the lost, wherever he found them. He proclaimed that the kingdom of God has drawn near, and bore witness to it through liberating people from the demonic, from disease and from the slow death of social exclusion. Despite our repeated warnings, his teaching, his work and especially those whom he chose to call friend inevitably drew the attention of the authorities. The family wishes to make it clear that his arrest and immediate trial took place without due process. The charges of blasphemy and of being a threat to national security were not corroborated by a single witness. He was humiliated and brutalized in custody before his execution by the State. He died as he lived: extending forgiveness to those responsible for his death. He will be greatly missed by his family, his friends – the ‘sinners’ – and by the poor.”

While I love this version of the story, it doesn’t account for the rise in Jesus’ popularity or the lasting power of his teachings centuries later. The great mid-20th Century Unitarian religious educator, Sophia Lyon Fahs, continues the story from a perspective that still resonates with many Unitarian Universalists today. She describes how the remaining male and female followers returned brokenhearted to Galilee after Jesus’ death, and in their grief they clung to one another for comfort. They gathered in each other’s homes to talk, to process all that happened, to both rage and weep over the death of their teacher, struggling to understand why their beloved teacher had to be killed.  It was as if the foundation on which these men and women built their beliefs had been blasted out from underneath them, or had been shaken by an earthquake. They had hoped and believed that Jesus would save their nation in some way. But now his voice was forever gone, and as they tried to look toward the future, they could see nothing but desolation. The Roman conquerors and occupiers were too powerful even for him.

Now friends, I don’t know about you, but this is where I’ve been for some time now: disheartened. I haven’t been much in the mood lately to create a traditional Easter sermon and service. I know governments are not perfect, but after so many years of progress, dating back at least to the Civil Rights period of the 1950s and 1960s, it seemed we were moving on, moving upward, moving forward on a progressive humanitarian direction where we continued to care for more and more people.

And then, after reaching the point of electing our first black president, it seemed that brought out some of the worst fears and reactivity and anger of a bunch of people in our country. Hate, hate crimes and threats against our friends and neighbors of color increased, against immigrants and our own citizens from Central America and South America to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. And now we have candidates running for president who fight and whine and call each other names in ways that, if my nine and seven year old kids did it, they’d be in time out for the next ten years. These candidates make running for president into a mockery of a reality TV show or “professional” wresting match that is focused on pure entertainment value as though it has no real consequences.

And I am tired of the gun deaths and terrorist attacks, and the feelings I get of lethargy and the despair I see in others, day after day sometimes, where I wonder just what is the point? Some of us work so hard to make justice more available to ever-widening groups of people, to include those who are disenfranchised and marginalized, and yet lately it seems that all we are doing is taking giant steps backward in how we treat the women of our nation, and people who are poor, and people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, and taking giant steps backward in our relationships between people of all colors, and going backward in education, voting, jobs, the environment and global warming. I tell you, with so many verbal, political and physical attacks against so many people of good will doing so much good work that this year I often find myself feeling more the despair of Good Friday than I do feeling the message of the joy and resurrection of Easter Sunday.

[Sigh]

But then again, this IS Easter Sunday. And the story of Easter is the story of spring, the story resurrection in the midst of death, of inspiration in the midst of despair. And as most of us know, despair and sadness doesn’t come only during Easter – or only during election season. Despair and sadness can come at any time of year for any reason, so the challenge is figure out what I’m going to do in response. So I often hear myself asking: “What are my choices?”

It’s true that I can choose to live in despair, but having been there I know that doesn’t change much except insulate me with a thick coat of paralyzation. I’m learning, too, that parts of despair actually come from a place of privilege, as when people say they will move to another country if they don’t like the outcome of this fall’s election. Moving takes a huge amount of resources, which disenfranchised people in our country don’t have. I’ve also lived in a Pollyanna world, where I pretend everything will work out fine without me lifting a finger. I want to live in a place that honors the pain, but also honors beauty in the world and then does something about it. So instead I hear and see and feel and hold beauty and creation in poetry, music, stories, art, dance, and the growth of new ideas like fragile emerging tulips through the snow. Like the words of our choir anthem today: “Oh war and power, you blind and blur…but music and singing shall be my light.”

I am also challenged and inspired by the words of Adrienne Rich when she says, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save: / so much has been destroyed / I have to cast my lot with those / who age after age, perversely, / with no extraordinary power / reconstitute the world.”

And you know, in our telling of the Jesus story, it is not difficult to imagine a slow and lovely thing beginning to happen among his followers after his death. Day after day, as they raged and wept over his loss, they began to do with Jesus what people often do regarding the dead person at funerals and memorial services: they began to recall the wonderful experiences they had had with Jesus. They told one another happenings they had almost forgotten. The very tone of Jesus’ voice and the look on his face would come back to them so vividly that it seemed as though Jesus were again right there with them.

Though death ends the physical interaction with another being, the teachings and joy and love endure. In our presence with one another, one option for us is to be bitter, cynical and full of despair, just like much of the world would have us be. Another choice is to stay connected and engaged as we are called to do by our faith, or as one minister [David Pyle] puts it, to be a people who encounter the two saving lines of grace at the beginning and end of our seven principles. The first principle, as you may recall, is that we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each individual, and the seventh principle is that we covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part.

Teaching each other and reminding each other about these saving lines of grace amid the despair of our world today is a revolutionary act. It is a way through for us, to feel and be known for our joy of life and love of one another. It is a way of living lives of enduring transformation, of changing fear and hate into joy and love. And when we teach each other and remind each other of these saving lines of grace, we discover, over and over again, in this often harsh and divisive world, that we are not alone. So… [from Jan Richardson’s “Blessing for the Brokenhearted”]

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if it trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

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