In the Easter story, two dazzling angels greet the women at Jesus’ grave and ask “why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They are saying, what you are seeking is to be found among the living, that our expectation of renewal, of resurrection, of rebirth never leaves us even during the dark nights of our soul. This hope when shared in community is powerful enough to break new light into our lives sometimes when we least expect it. Join Ashley Silva and I as we celebrate together this Easter promise of renewal.
How many of you know the song “Glory Glory Halleluiah? Most of you probably know “This Little Light of Mine? We are going to sing both at the same time; this half of the congregation sing the first, and this half sing the second. (Sing) Can you feel the energy in the room, how the rhythms came together? What’s this energy feel like to you? Joy, Boldness, Courage, Exuberance?
The word on the street is that halleluiah is a dangerous word for it comes with an exclamation point of people claiming and proclaiming what is sacred in this world. According to the dictionary, halleluiah means to shine, to emit light like lamps and celestial bodies, and to praise, to let go of restraints and inhibitions, to release energy. Dancer Martha Graham says, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. She says, “It is not your job to determine how good it is or how it compares to anyone else. It is only your job to keep the channel open.” Turn to someone next to you and say “you are a life unique in all the world”. Make sure someone repeats that back to you. Take a moment and let this truth sink in.
What if the Easter experience is all about living your vitality, removing the blocks, keeping your channel open?
When we sing halleluiah we give breath to, life to, a quality of spirit that alters our hearts and perhaps even the world. This is the Easter experience I invite you to breath into this morning. This was the Easter experience of the apostles. An experience that gave them courage and a conviction that no pain or pressure of life could diminish. They were transformed. Before Easter they forsook Jesus and fled. Afterwards they claimed him and were fearless. An experience that Paul, the first Christian to write of the Easter experience described as “a life giving spirit.” A spirit he described long before the supernatural stories of angels moving boulders, a risen Jesus walking, talking and eating were added to the gospel. All Paul said then was that Jesus was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and appeared to the disciples.” What did he mean by this? What is real about Paul’s experience?
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, after a lifetime of studying the scriptures, tells Jesus’s story this way: “what we know is that a Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth had lived. He had a unique capacity to be. His gift was to be whole, free and giving, which in turn seemed to cause those around him to live more fully and more completely. He seemed to have an infinite capacity to love, to forgive, and to accept others. He appeared to enhance the personhood of every human being who touched his life. He broke every barrier that human beings erected to protect themselves inside their insecure world. Women, Samaritans, gentiles, lepers, those judged to be unclean felt his touch and were called into new dignity. He had the capacity to drink from each moment all its wonder, to scale its heights and to plum its depths, to share that moment with eternity. People felt their lives were made whole when they touched him. They were nourished and healed. The blind saw, the deaf heard, the prisoners were freed. All of these were signs among his Jewish followers that the kingdom of God was breaking into human history. Spong goes on, “Then he was crucified and darkness descended and his followers lived in darkness for some time, reconciling the God they believed they met in Jesus and his violent death, and the God that did not intervene, they searched the ancient scripture. At some point the darkness of their mind lifted, the scales fell from their eyes, and they were able to stare into the reality of God and Jesus was included-that death could not contain him.”
As I tell you this story, it occurs to me this is the essence of the human experience, that we are all touched by love and light, loss and darkness, and that in turn we may know or may still hope for a love that endures beyond death. A rhythm redacted in Christian liturgy to one holy week every year so that we are reminded where ever we are in the rhythm of life and death, there lives a promise of hope, joy and an enduring love that transforms us.
Jesus was good at telling stories that showed how closely this transformation relates to the reality of every day life. My favorite is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the young man who took his inheritance and fled off into the desert, into Egypt, and there squandered his fortune, falling into humiliation, and poverty and servitude. It was as though he were dead. The young man eventually returned home full of shame and was greeted by his father. “Bring the fatted calf and kill it, we are going to have a feast because this son of mine was lost and is found, he was dead and has come back to life.” So the young man was restored to his home, his family, his country, and to his God. He was nourished and healed, signs of the divine breaking open, unblocking, restoring, releasing renewing. The open-hearted love of the father is my aspiration and inspiration as a minister, a mother, as a human being.
We are going to take a minute to practice this open hearted receptivity and how it can change us. Turn towards your neighbor. The person with the longest hair will begin by offering a word, and then your partner will offer another, and you will keep adding words until a sentence comes to a natural end. Then let the other person start, keep doing for a few minutes. Start with the word “courage,” then offer “hope,” then “shine.” What was that like? Did you find yourself going in an unexpected direction; that you had to let go of some preconceptions, did you feel yourself expand a bit, maybe find new connection and meaning?
But there is more to the Easter story than individual transformation. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Passover, he entered through the Eastern gate as a counterpoint to the imperial Roman forces entering through the western gate. Days later, the Roman crucifixion of Jesus made visible the pervasive evil oppression of empire, so much so that even the Roman guard at the foot of the cross said “surely this man is innocent.” When Paul said “Jesus has risen according to the scriptures” he meant that Jesus makes visible the prophet Isaiah’s eternal declaration that all of Israel shall be a light to the nations, that prophetic receptivity, and justice making is shared by all. That within each of us, incarnate is this abiding light, the breath of all life, that guides all truth, and enables us to live for others into new dimensions, to live a life transformed, whole, open, risky, and vulnerable. To give witness to the death of innocent people and beings dying on the cross of empire today and claim a life that seeks to delivers all from the sources of oppression. A life that gives witness and draws power from a love that stretches us to alter our engagement with the world.
The question Easter asks is, are you willing to let the hope open you, and allow the world to alter you so that in your unique way you bring justice and peace? Are you willing to sit and listening to the halleluiah next to you? To animate those who are barely breathing? To bring life to life? Here is such a story. Some years ago a schoolteacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call that she visit a particular child. She took the boy’s name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, “Were studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn’t fall behind the others.” It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got outside the boy’s room that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. But she felt that she couldn’t just turn around and walk out so she awkwardly stammered. “I’m the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.” The boy was in such pain he barely responded. She stumbled through his English lesson, ashamed at putting him through such a senseless exercise. The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “what did you do that boy?” Before she could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand, we’ve been very worried about him. But ever since you were here yesterday his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment, it’s as though he decided to live.” The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
May you this Easter experience a courageous and joyous faith that empowers you to become your finest and truest self. May we together pray for all that is still possible but not yet fulfilled, that the people of the world may live safely, that nations and regions find stability and democracy their daily bread. May the spirit of life flow and pulse empowering you and us to participate in the creation of a new time of life in which love, justice, beauty, and peace are abundantly available to all. You are the keepers of the divine language, of life itself, let your life sing, halleluiah.
Sources: Liberating the Gospels, John Shelby Spong