River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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"CALLED BACK TO LIFE: An Easter Sermon"
Rev. Lynn Thomas Strauss Preaching
River Road Unitarian Church
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Reading Before the Sermon:

From Persian mystic, Rumi

I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as a mineral, And then I died and was reborn a plant.

I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as a plant, And then I died and was reborn as an animal.

I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as an animal, And then I died and was reborn as a human being.

What have I ever lost by dying?

Easter Sunday is a confusing day. Theologically speaking, Easter can be a very confusing day. It's a day which follows on death, and yet, celebrates the amazing, mysterious, eternal spirit of life. I was raised with a simple Methodist Easter message; "He is Risen!" That's how the greeters welcomed us to services on Easter. We had balloons and jazz music ---- a real celebration. It was still too cold in Chicago at Easter to attribute our joy to Spring flowers or green grass no, we celebrated the mysterious rising of life from death... with three simple words... "He is Risen!"

My own children, now in their 20s, were raised in Unitarian Universalist Sunday School and they told me this week that they don't like Easter at all. They have no mantra to cut through their confusion regarding stories of crucifixion and resurrection and empty tombs. They've always preferred Passover. A journey from slavery to freedom marked by a great meal with story and song; that they can understand, Freedom, they can believe in.

I thought at least my kids liked the Easter eggs I used to hide for them... but no, they said, the finding was never really fair, the littlest ones always got a head start, and somebody always sneaked into the living early... And they got tired of egg salad after the second day.

Yes, Easter is confusing... and yet here we all gather on this Easter Sunday on this Passover week, on this day in spring... and we bring all our myths, stories, hopes and doubts... all of our confusions together ---- we bring them here, where we affirm theological diversity, we bring them here as part of our UU search for truth and meaning.

Death is the starting point for all theology. Life and death and its meanings. That is what brings us to houses of worship, to common meals, to hymns of joy. Death, of the body and of the spirit, is embedded in the texts of the three traditions we consider today.

And out of death comes a binding theme in the stories of Easter, Passover and Spring... a shared question: "What do we do when faced with a terrible reality." What do we do when faced with the terrible reality of death?

The terrible reality for the disciples on that first Easter was the death by crucifixion of a revered prophet, teacher, and friend. The disciples of Jesus were so filled with fear, despair and helplessness that they ran away---- they fled from the sight of Jesus on the cross.. They didn't know what to do in the face of that terrible reality... that terrible reality of death.

The Israelites, the Jews living in Egypt centuries earlier, faced the terrible reality of slavery ---- the loss of personal freedoms and the repression of their religion and customs. And their revered leader, Moses, didn't know what to do in the face of this terrible reality.

And Persephone faced the terrors of the under--world, the darkness which stands as metaphor for the dark night or winter of the soul... .that dark night which we all face at times in our lives She faced separation from her mother, and she didn't know what to do.

What do we do when forced to face terrible realities in our lives, where do we turn, on what do we rely, how do we go forward?

Universal religious myths and stories offer an answer... they guide us through emblematic terrible moments, as lessons. The rich, passionate stories of Jesus' resurrection, of Moses bringing his people out of slavery, of Persephone's return to her mother, these stories which have survived for generation upon generation, tell us that in the face of terrible realities, we must transform them, the awful reality which seems so huge, so final, so immovable----we must find even in those awful hurtful realities the potential for something more.

There is something in life, even in the most terrible moments of life, there is, I believe, a divine seed of something more. That's how we get through the hard stuff--trusting that unseen something more, trusting that the spirit of life will show itself to us in new, unimagined ways. The stories we reflect on this morning teach that new life is always possible.

That's what the greeters in my Methodist church meant when on Easter morning they said, "He is risen!"... He is risen, "trust life". That's what is meant when at the end of the Seder meal, profound hope is expressed with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem"--"trust life". That's the deep message of spring, when out of the dark ground come beautiful flowers, and green grass, "trust life". Experience, religious belief, and myth, confirm that, even in the most terrible moments of our lives, we can trust Life itself.

Resurrection means to come back to life, to be revived after a terrible threat. Life and literature and religion are full of resurrection stories.

Haven't you experienced something like resurrection in your own life?

A couple tried for years to conceive a child, one day they adopt an infant, and after making a home for this first beautiful son, find that they are expecting a second child.

Haven't you experienced something like resurrection in your own life?

A man is held on death row for 14 years for a crime he says he didn't commit, one day DNA evidence proves his innocence and he is set free to begin his life anew.

Haven't you experienced something like resurrection in your own life?

After the second world war, a wall is built between east and west Germany, Families are separated from loved ones, a rich cultural history is split apart, People are killed trying to scale that wall, And then one day, in 1989, the wall comes down stone by stone and the possibility of repair and wholeness comes alive.

A woman diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer starts a support group for women with cancer, and more than a year after her death, the support group is still meeting providing help and hope to one another.

Haven't you experienced something like resurrection in your own life?

Isn't it even possible that the terrible realities we face today--of war in Iraq, of war in Israel and Palestine, of AIDS in Africa, of poverty in America, of child slavery in many parts of the world, isn't it possible that someday these realities will also be transformed?

Transformation, resurrection is possible. All religion shares this truth. For all religions share a profound trust in life renewed.

When we Unitarian Universalists face death in its many forms, what is the source of our trust in life, where is the power of resurrection in our lives? In the examples of Easter, Passover and Persephone, the story moves forward because of divine intervention. God or the gods act on human events. Miracles are performed from the outside in.

But, liberal interpretations put more responsibility in human hands. In his book, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, Episcopal Bishop John Spong, builds on Christian Biblical scholarship to show that much in the gospel accounts of what happened at the tomb and the visions of the risen Christ was embellishment, added late, to explain the inexplicable. To show divine intervention where perhaps there was only human despair... a small seed of human hope.

Does the transforming power of resurrection and new life come to us from outside, or from the inside?

Unitarian Universalist minister and poet Lynn Ungar poses the question of location of transforming power in her poem titled "Easter."

What I want to know is simply this:
Who rolled away the stone?
Did Jesus, reviving from the touch of Judas' kiss
turn miracle to muscle on his own?

Or did some savior of the Savior move the rock
To let life enter from outside--
Resurrection as a sort of picking of the lock
That separates the bridegroom from his waiting bride?

Perhaps the stone itself got bored
With waiting for a happy ending to the story,
And rolled itself away, to set the body it had stored
Upon the royal road to new life and eternal glory.

You might say it does not matter,
But when you are waiting in the dark
A person wants to know if Life is company or caller,
The friend you trust to seek you, or the waiting spark.

* *

Is Life "company" (on the inside) or is it "caller" (on the outside)? Is transforming power something to wait for, or is it already a spark within?

Our good news, we are so lucky, we don't have to chose just one source of hope! UUs can and do seek God, Love, the transforming power in our lives in many places. Some of us find our soul resurrected in experiences of nature, some seek transformation of our spirit in prayer or meditation, some of us faithfully wait for a divine sign, some of us search our own hearts. When we are waiting in the dark, in the time of terrible reality, Life might come to us either as company or caller, or as both... as divine intervention and as a spark already within.

But it does come... .new life comes. We see it when we must face death, when we face our terrible realities and realize our essential and abiding connection to others. We see it in our social justice work, when we truly share our blessings with others, we see it in the ways we love our children, in the friendships that we build with one another. We see it here in our congregation , in the many celebrations of Life and prayers to life that we utter here in this sanctuary. We rational, compassionate, spirit--filled Unitarian Universalists trust Life. We may think we're not religious, but we trust Life... we keep our minds and hearts open to the possibility of transformation. There are days when we believe anything is possible and then we work to make it happen. We don't have to limit God or the holy in our lives... we can encounter the power of new life anywhere.

Ours is a theologically expansive, and inclusive faith.

We trust that light and flowers will come out of winter dark.
We trust that people will continue to struggle for freedom from oppression.
We trust that out of death, new life will come... that spirit will outlive the body and it will be enough.

As poet Lynn Unger tells us, "All we have to do is remain faithful to all the impossible, unbelievable resurrections yet to come". All we have to do is keep our boundaries wide and our questions open. All we have to do is refuse to limit the holy possibilities in life and of life...

Let me share one last resurrection story.

It's a story of a young boy, age 8 or 9, his sister is sick with leukemia, very sick. The boy is told that she needs an operation and to get through it, she needs a blood transfusion. The boy is told that his sister needs his blood to survive, that his blood is a match for hers. And so the parents and the doctors ask the boy if he will give his sister his blood. The boy asks if he can take a couple of days to think about it. And of course they do. Two days later, the boy tells his parents, Yes, he will give his blood to his sister. And soon the boy and sister are lying in beds pulled close so they can talk together and the blood transfusion is almost complete. The boy calls the doctor over and whispers a question. "How soon, before I start to die, he asks ... .you see, the boy thought that if he gave all of his blood to his sister, that he would then die, that's why he needed a couple of days to think it over."

There are many ways in which we give of our lives for others. Not as a sacrifice, but as a gift.

And when we have trouble trusting life, on those days when your faith in life is shaken and unsure, remember that is better to feed someone than not... remember that bread is a sacrament, a shared meal a holy act. And on those days when you have lost faith in possibility invite someone for coffee or tea or lunch, make a loaf of bread or pot of soup and take it to a friend, or go and serve food at the shelter, in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, in all world religions, the sharing of a meal is a sign of trust in life, a sign of faith in tomorrow.

On those days when hope is hard to find, remember it is better to feed someone than not, it is also good to be fed. Share a common meal and give thanks for the sacrament you are about to receive.

This is the essence of resurrection, to open to possibility, to give all that you have, all that is most precious and to trust that new life will flourish from that gift.

On this Easter morning, during this Passover season, in these days of spring... remain faithful to all the impossible necessary resurrections yet to come, for though terrible realities confront us , the glorious, everlasting spirit of life can be trusted. Go in peace. Go with trust in life renewed.