Easter Sunday 2016
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
Readings: John 20:1-18, Luke 24:1-12
By Wendell Berry, (excerpts)
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Christ is risen, he has risen indeed!
Practice resurrection. Practice resurrection. These words from author, activist, and farmer Wendell Berry woke me up the other morning. They woke me up as I’ve been pondering and turning over and over in my mind, what to preach on Easter Sunday? Easter Sunday, this glorious celebration, this Sunday of all Sundays, this pinnacle of the Christian church calendar, the conclusion of the rich experiences of Holy Week. What is there to say on a morning like this? When signs of new life and joy and beauty and hope surround us, when it’s easy to see and believe in new life and re-birth and hope for new beginnings.
We say, “Christ has risen, he has risen indeed!” Our voices ring out, and maybe that’s the only message we need. In one way yes, it is the only message. But I long for a little more, or more texture and nuance to this proclamation. I long not for an isolated snapshot, just a moment of happiness in time, as genuine as it may be, and as essential as it is to notice and appreciate these moments. I long for something more than just one morning a year to celebrate new life and to remember that that which is dead can be renewed. I long for something that’s awakened with these words, “practice, practice resurrection.”
Because a practice, rather than an isolated snapshot, is something that is lasting—it’s transformative. Engaging a practice permeates what we do and how we act; it changes our engagement with the world around us. A practice is something that lives within a bigger cycle, a larger narrative, a life that is alive and aware of love and possibility.
I believe the same is true for these stories of Easter. They are more powerful when they are in the context of the larger narrative, when we take in the entire arch of the story. It’s tempting to think that Easter morning is the only story; it’s just all about the hope and new life of Christ rising. Yet, without the broader story, Easter is just a blip in on our calendar, a day of egg hunts and big hats (which are absolutely lovely!). But Easter within the context of the larger narrative, practicing resurrection in our lives, and engaging and noticing the way the Divine love is always working for good in the world, now that is one powerful story!
Because when we look at the arch of the stories leading up to and following Easter, we see hope, yes. But not hope tied up neatly in a fancy ribbon kind of way. No, in this larger story of Easter, we see a promise. A promise that God is always practicing resurrection and calling us to a life of the same. We see the promise as the seasons keep changing, we see the promise when that seed inside the husk pushes to burst forth into a plant, we see it when love comes after pain, and when that stone is removed from the tomb—the promise of resurrection, the promise that new beginnings are always possible.
The stories of Holy Week, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection come as a whole, not to be parsed out into single claims or divisive moral or theological codes. The story of Jesus tells us the way of love. We see this throughout Jesus’ life, from his birth in a lowly manger on the outskirts of town, to the way he reached out across boundaries, healed and taught and ate with all sorts of people. His ministry—his life—was not one of power and control or trying to impress or be in line with the forces of the day; his life was about service and compassion. About being in and amongst the messy, reality of people’s lives, being in human skin and encountering the reality of humanity.
Even to the end. Jesus was relentless in his loving, and the stories of this Holy Week show that so starkly. From the love he showed as he mourned over the state of Jerusalem and then rode into the city on a donkey, with the crowds of peasants and disciples calling out to him and laying down palm branches to prepare a way. To the devotion he showed on that last supper, that Passover meal that he shared with his closest friends and companions, where he took bread, broke it, and said “this is my body given to you, do this in remembrance of me…” And then later after the dinner, he took a basin of water, bent down, as a servant would have, and washed his disciples feet setting an example, calling us to love one another as he loved.
And then, when that very next day, being abandoned, abused, and ultimately crucified and left to die on the cross, in the deepest moments of abandonment and while subject to the depths of human violence he voices love as he calls out, “forgive them, they know not what they do.” And breathes his last. But with Divine love, the last, the death is never the final word.
In this larger story of love, love always is born anew, love persists through struggle, love overcomes pain, love is resurrected, transformed into life, and that is what we celebrate this morning. This whole story is the story of Divine Love embodied, showing us how to practice resurrection.
Now practicing resurrection, following the story of love, doesn’t mean that we understand it all, or that we suddenly don’t worry or doubt or wonder. Practicing resurrection is not devoid of the hard parts, and doesn’t avoid the messy and vulnerable places. Just as we washed each other’s feet and hands on Thursday, and allowed ourselves to be present both to the vulnerability and the power of love, practicing resurrection means opening ourselves up to God’s constant movement of making all things new, whether we understand it or not.
I mean, the disciples certainly didn’t get it. At the tomb, they are perplexed, unbelieving, terrified. They just don’t get it. They look around in the tomb for Jesus’ body. They ask each other what had happened—they don’t see how the empty tomb is the promise of new life. Yet, even in their state of wonder, of disbelief, they actually encounter this promise of resurrection.
We don’t always get it. Maybe rarely do we notice where God is bringing new things out of the dead and dying places in our lives. We don’t pay attention to how something that a few months or years ago seemed like the end of all things, has actually given birth to something new. We, like the disciples, often only see what is right in front of us, the empty tomb. And it’s only in retrospect that we can turn and see where the new life has come. Whether we understand it or not, God keeps practicing resurrection.
New life is not something that comes independently of the death or the struggle, the rejection or the pain. New life comes as the stone is rolled away, after three days in the depths of the tomb. New life comes when that part of ourselves we constantly struggle with finally lets go and dies, allowing something new to grow. It requires time in the tomb. It requires that time when the seed is in the dark womb under the dirt, looking withered and dead, before the plant is born.
Just as these seeds I’m holding are withered and hardened, and then have to be placed in the ground. And just as they have to stay there a while in the dark, in the seclusion, before they break out and become plants that will then bear fruit and become food, so is our process of life, death, and resurrection. As God gently stirs those parts of us we think have died, the place in you that you fear will never be able to breathe again, where there is no hope.
God is practicing resurrection, as relationships are reconciled that we thought were lost, when families and communities are transformed into places of hope. God is practicing resurrection right here in the garden, certainly in our lives and in our community.
Take this space for example. A year ago, it was a barren lot, an empty space, an empty hole in the middle of the block. Save Dino of course.
Now, we have all cultivated it together, practiced resurrection together, and here we are in a place that’s a little more like heaven here on earth. It’s a place where new life and possibility and hope are found as we’re honest with each other and share the struggles and the hard places, where we pray to have the stones removed from the tombs in our lives. Where we’re growing our own food and eating it together, resisting disconnection and division as we come together with all kinds of people, around this table to feed and be fed.
We come around this table today, each with our own stories. And we each have various expectations of what Easter is about and what we need on this day of new beginnings, of new life.
My word for you, and I believe God’s word for all of us on this day is not just the hope of hope, but it’s the promise of new life, not only in some far off time and ethereal place, but the promise—the practice—of resurrection right here and right now.
Yes, things die. Things crumble. Things fall apart. In our lives, and in the world around us. Parts of ourselves that are no longer serving us have to die. Plants die. Seeds fall. There is the darkness under the earth, the time in the tomb. Because this is part of the story.
But the story is always, always larger than that. In the overarching narrative is God’s constant promise: the promise of the cycles, of the seasons, the promise of new life, drawing new life forth from that which is broken, abandoned, abused, discarded. Taking that which is dead and raising it again, showing us that love always, always, is being reborn among us.
Spring comes after winter.
Old wounds are forgiven and new relationships forged.
Flowers grow out of the cracks in the sidewalks.
People change their minds and see the light in each other.
Things that end give life to new beginnings.
Dreams we never thought were actually possible, begin to blossom.
The sun comes up each morning.
We can choose the way of love each day.
Resurrection is happening everywhere, all around us, all the time.
God is always urging and pressing to be received, to renew, to reconcile, to bring new life.
The stone is rolled away.
And it’s our job to pay attention. To pay attention to where God is making all things new in the world, to see God alive and working outside of the tomb, and to respond, as Mary did, when we are called.
On that very first Easter morning, Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. Her Lord had died and been taken away. “Why are you weeping?” Jesus said. Supposing him to be the gardener, she told him of her grief. Jesus then said to her “Mary!” and when she heard her name called, she exclaimed “Rabboni, teacher” and she recognized him and went out proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord.”
Friends, the loving expansive God of the universe is always reaching out to us, calling our name. Notice that he was not in the tomb, but outside of the tomb, calling us out of the darkness, the places of hopelessness, showing us the promises of new life, calling us to engage in the practice of resurrection.
Because here’s the thing about this practice, here’s the thing about the way that God works, nature works: the stories of scripture remind us, you can’t tell just one part of the story—wherever you are here, today is not the end. If you are here today and you feel stuck or in bondage, if you have a dream that you barely dare to dream, if you’re here today basking in the beauty and joy, if today is a bright snapshot, all of this is part of your bigger story.
The hope comes in the whole of the narrative, that your life story matters—it matters to God and it matters to the world. Your willingness to keep showing up, to keep getting up, to walk through the dark places, to reach out to others, your ability to engage joy and beauty, to cultivate goodness and peace, your story matters, as we show up and notice and engage the love and life, we are practicing resurrection.
So, friends, (in the words of Wendell Berry)
Every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.