2019 EASTER HOMILY – Rev. Michael F. Hall
Here we are now on Easter in the midst of a day that soon may be full to overflow with entertaining family, which may mean negotiating difficult people and sidestepping talk of divisive issues. It may mean laughter with parents and games played with children, keeping grandchildren from eating too many peeps or eating the foil wrapping along with the chocolate. It might mean recounting times gone past and people who are no longer with us, in story or through a heavy and unbearable silence. Most assuredly we will be sharing a dinner: what is at your feast? Will it be ham, or lamb, at your table? Perhaps your host will remember and serve a special vegan dish just for you. Or it could be left over pizza in front of the television or a new tradition of Chinese takeout with others who mourn the loss of a spouse or for whom this is simply another Sunday.
What does one say about Easter, when that word means various things especially to an eclectic bouquet such as is here this morning?
If you are feeling the same urgency to break through the cold covering of the earth and blossom, as Spring will eventually do, I want to celebrate that with you.
If you are joyful and feel your that life is as balanced as the night and day at this time of year, if your house is in order and your thoughts are clear, I want to celebrate that and you.
If you are tired of the clutter in your life and hope clear it away; if you want to wipe down the mirror and clean the places that no one else can see; if you are determined to repair the damage in your household; to want to clear away your cobwebs and get rid of what is not essential—I celebrate that with you.
If you are wondering why I should even use the word Easter, and whether any moment I will start spouting off about God and the cross—as if it meant something—I get it. If you wish I would pick some another fantastic story from off the mystic dustbin, or chose some other outdated, all-powerful, mythical deity to hold up as if it were a key to stopping the headlong hurtling of humanity toward destruction and solving the riddle of our incredibly complex world full of elaborate, intertwined processes operating, as would seem on, on diminishing and ultimately finite, resources—I understand that sentiment, and the skeptic in me bows to the cynic in you.
If you are just hoping that I will finish soon, because your twelve, and its April vacation and you are wondering when the fun will start, because you were already at church, last night; when your movement, and the number of desserts you could pile on your plate, was limited, and you just want to know when this church is going to hire a helicopter and drop chocolate eggs all over 69 Washington St. I hear you; I’ve been there; though it was many, many years ago.
Finally, if nothing I could say right now about anything important could soothe your heartbreak, relieve your loneliness or ease your pain, if nothing could cheer you up or bring forth hope or calm your fears or lesson your anxiety, if everything feels futile, predetermined and not in your favor, I understand something about the suffering of people and am humbled by it. Nonetheless, I want to stand in the darkness with you, ready to attend to your distress and bear witness to your struggle, as much as you will allow.
What do I want to say about Easter? I want to say that it is not a one off, to remind you that it is not the account of a single event, not a tale about a singular day in the life of Jesus the Nazarene. Easter is the culmination of quite a week. In the story we hear the echoes of his teaching, the stories of healing and the eclectic bouquet of followers. Is it a king or rustic philosopher riding a donkey in the festive parade that marks his arrival to the holy city? What should be made of the demonstration in the temple of angry accusations for and against this teacher? Throughout the week, the challenge to injustice and empire builds. Then there is that intimate, joy-filled gathering, the ceremonial foot washing, the dancing and drinking and breaking of bread. Jesus foresees the end, asks in prayer if there might be a different outcome, crying out to his absent God after being shuffled about among dictators and placators, beaten by soldiers and offered up to appease an angry crowd stirred up by provocateurs.
I also want to say that Easter is about carrying on after the teacher, the guru is gone. Easter is a new beginning, a deepening and a blooming. For some of Jesus’s disciples it was an opportunity to make up for past errors, times when they had fallen short of the mark. Remembering is at the center of the story: remembering what it meant to be in Jesus’s presence, to hear and learn his teachings, to share his ministry, to spread his good news. Because of this, there was the sense that he hadn’t really left at all, and that life, and the teaching, could go on. They could remember what it felt like to be loved for being exactly who they were; to be released from the hold of pain and guilt, poverty, shame, injustice and world-weariness brought new hope. Preserving these memories and reenacting his way of being was vital: seeing the worth of all people, embracing the joys of community, acting to ease the suffering of those around him, countering the divisiveness and violence of the world through compassionate living and a unified vision that addressed and embraced the kinship of all people. Embodying Love was the teaching and living in the spirit of Love the challenge.
That is a hopeful, helpful and inclusive vision for humanity that, it would seem, is shared by most Unitarian Universalists, whether theists or non-theists. It is a message harmonious with our traditions, principles and lived values. The Easter story is a reminder that our heritage and principles are not meant simply to make us comfortable, or preserve our inheritance—but to invest in with our lives, use to empower our neighbors and to repair the brokenness in our communities.
As we live our faith, grounding our beliefs in acts of kindness, ethical living, spiritual practices and service work, we will discover that Love is also at work and it is inexhaustible. With that knowledge, we may do more than just sitting through a church service or a ham dinner this Sunday, we might end up living an Easter life. Emboldened, we might put off our shrouds, push aside the stone that closes us off from one another, defer our deaths until they actually come and envision a world reborn and beloved.
So Let it Be as It Should Be.