It is Easter Sunday afternoon. The congregation I serve just finished the last of five worship services held over these past two and a half days in celebration of Holy Week. Later this evening, I will join people I love for Easter dinner. Right now I am cherishing this afternoon space after the last joyous notes of the organ, bells and choir have been offered. Now I sit here in my office in silence letting it all sink in.
For nearly 2000 years, each time our earth has returned to this approximate spot in our orbit around the sun, followers of Jesus have practiced telling this old, old story. For many centuries before that, Jesus’ own Jewish people celebrated Passover at approximately this same time. They continue to do so to this day. And for countless centuries before that, at right about this same place in earth’s orbit, human beings in the northern hemisphere celebrated the new life that inevitably emerged at the spring equinox. This confrontation with death and celebration of new life is embedded deeply into the human story, the earth story, and the divine story. Yet we humans are susceptible to creating and believing distorted stories… false stories.
Through the gift of ritual and spiritual practice, we return to the stories that engage us most fully in partnering with God on the journey through death to new life. We can even repent from the distortions in our own faith stories and reclaim the best of them for our time and place. Over these past three days I have found myself reflecting a great deal on the importance of reclaiming, recovering and rehearsing the most true and life-giving parts of these stories. Because so many of us have come to refer to this as simply “Practice #3,” that is exactly what kept floating through my mind during these Holy Week celebrations.
Although I did not preach this Sunday, my spouse, Janet Parker did. I was moved by her acknowledgement in her Easter sermon that “We all know how easy it can be to get stuck in grief or depression or shame.” Getting stuck in these stories does not serve us, our neighbors or God. She went onto ask:
Isn’t it true that much of how we experience reality is determined by the story we tell ourselves about it? And when our experience of reality is painful or disappointing, sometimes it’s just easier to expect life to be that way, because at least then, we’re prepared. At least then, we can exert a measure of control over our lives. The women who came to anoint Jesus’ body had a story—a deeply painful story, but one that made sense. Jesus had been betrayed, crucified and buried. They had seen it all. That was reality. As bad as it was, they knew what to do in that reality. They knew their roles, and they knew the script. But while they weren’t looking, the script had changed. The story that Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to prove, that might makes right and hate overpowers love, was suddenly and irreversibly turned upside down on Easter morning.
Of course this “good news” of God’s commitment to do a new thing through our stories was and is deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition. It is a part of other faith traditions, too. Janet’s sermon reminded me of an Easter Prayer called On Generosity written by Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann. It calls me back to the power of this long tradition of communal faith to reframe my story and the importance of being on this journey of spiritual practice with so many of you. Together we reframe and reclaim what it means to be faith-based leaders practicing a story that makes a real difference in the world. I will share that poem below in case these words might likewise be a gift to you in some quiet moment you have to let it all soak in:
…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus
And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.
We watch … and we take
food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.
It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…
all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.