Service and Sermon Text, Easter, April 12, 2020

Call to Worship

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
In him was life, and the life was the light of the world.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness does not overcome it.
Hallelujah!

“LENT IS OVER!”

We have emerged from the wilderness into a day of celebration.  It is a day to put resurrection and new life above all else.  This year we are all facing severe trials, of course, but today we hand everything over to God because Easter proclaims that God’s power to renew and restore is greater than any earthly power, including death itself.

So do not worry about anything!  Forget confessing your sins today—you are forgiven!  The resurrection has released a force of cosmic light into the world that nothing can overcome.  If you do not feel joy today, try acting joyful anyway, in the hope that with God’s help your behavior will change your attitude.  Let us join in worship together with reckless abandon and loud jubilation!

It takes poetry to do this day justice.  We begin with the words of ee cummings.  Let us pray…

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Amen!

And another poem, this week’s haiku by Mel Goertz:

The apple trees are so old
and wintry—you’d be surprised
how they bloom.

We really need apple blossom time.  We really need Easter this year.  We really need to believe in the possibility of resurrection and new life.  But how can we sing a joyous song in such a strange, sad and uncertain time?

The original disciples knew that they could be arrested and crucified like Jesus, but there he was among them, filling them with his spirit of love, and how could they not rejoice?

Easter joy came through the Roman persecutions, Easter joy came through the Black Death, Easter joy came through war after war, Easter joy came through the Great Depression, and Easter has come again in these days of pandemic and economic crash and environmental crisis, when our world has been tossed on rogue waves of fear and grief in the uncertainty of every day, when we worry with good reason about our family and neighbors and nation, Easter has come reminding us that the greatest power in the universe flowed through the empty tomb of Jesus.  That power is still flowing through the earth and through all who open wide to it.

Our job today is to believe it and be among those who give their lives entirely to the resurrection force so that we may bring resurrection to our world.

So can we believe it?

Can you?

The women at the tomb asked themselves,
could it be true?  The disciples
asked themselves, could it really be true?
Now we ask, is the resurrection true?
Find a windowsill where garden seeds
have been planted in soil blocks.
Ask the seeds.
You will find them down in the dark soil
cracking open, sending up green shoots,
dying as one thing and living anew as another.

Is the resurrection true?
Ask someone who was severely sick this winter
who now is well.
Is the resurrection true?
Ask someone who has died
and then come back to tell
of a meeting a being of light.

Is it not the nature of God’s creation
to rise again from the dead?
Ask the grass coming up through cracks
in Walmart parking lots.
Ask potato and squash plants
leaping up in the compost heap.

Think about this.  If a man
were the force of nature incarnate,
if the Creator of the universe,
pure life force, flowed into human flesh
so that God was as present
in that person as possible,
what would happen?
He would do much more than a compost pile,
would he not?
He would raise more than potatoes,
would he not?
Wouldn’t a life force flow through him
powerful enough to raise the sick to health,
to raise the sad to gladness,
to raise the bad to goodness,
to raise the lost to the light,
to raise the greedy to compassion,
to raise the violent to nonviolence?
Wouldn’t so much life flow through such a man
that he could touch a deadened heart
and it would beat again?
Wouldn’t a person full of that force
rise and rise and rise again,
with the resilience of all nature?

Jesus Christ was that force in the flesh.
Now he is that force in the Spirit.
If we are in that Spirit, and that Spirit is in us,
then we, too, can expect newness of life,
we can expect the power of resurrection
to flow into us and through us into the world.

Is the resurrection true?

Of course it is true!
We are proof of its truth,
our rising from everything that conspires
to keep us down in darkness proves it is true.
Our seeking Easter light even this dark year
proves it is true.
Resurrection beats in our hearts,
always emptying and refilling with new life.
Our every cell knows resurrection is true.

So on this glad day, let every cell and
soul of us sing with all creation,
the same song the birds and peepers sing,
the same song each spring flower sings,
the same song the morning stars have sung
from the dawn of time!  Let us sing
so the whole world can hear
we still have joy!

Scripture and Sermon

Our second scripture reading is from Jeremiah 31:31, 33b-34a:

31The days are surely coming, says our God, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Learn to know God,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

The title of this service is, “They Shall All Know Me in Their Hearts,” inspired by that passage. 

Because we want to know.

Did he really rise from the dead?

We want to know.

Our species is called homo sapiens, after all.  Homo means human and sapiens wise or discerning.

We are creatures who want to know, but calling ourselves wise proves us to be fools.  Jesus was wise, preaching oneness and love of neighbor and the Golden Rule, but human civilization has failed to discern the wisdom in that and the proof of our foolishness is written across the earth.

We understood so little about the universe back in 1758 when we first took the name homo sapiens.  Einstein did not give the world his theory of general relativity until 1905.  Even then, were we wise and discerning?  According to Einstein’s theory stars could collapse and matter condense to create what we call black holes whose gravity is so intense even light cannot escape, yet Einstein did not believe his own theory could possibly be right.  He wrote a paper in 1939 saying that black holes could not exist.

It was not until last year that we finally saw proof that even Einstein would have to accept, an image of a black hole compiled from data collected by a network of telescopes all over the world.  But just last week another discovery emerged: it turns out that the image shows not just the black hole—it shows the entire universe.

So now have we earned the bragging rights to call ourselves homo sapiens?  Have we finally arrived at the highest evolution of wisdom and discerned all truth?  Of course not.  We still fail to see that all creation is one, we still do not guide civilization by the Golden Rule, and we still do not know what happens after we die.

What we do know is that many people who die and come back to life say that they entered a realm of light where they met a being of light, and time after time the being of light explains to people of all different religions and cultures that the purpose of life is to love, and—get this—to become wise!

Wisdom is not just about the mind.  It is even more about the heart.  Jeremiah foresaw a day when all humanity would finally evolve to know God, when we all would look within and find the laws of the universe written in our hearts.

E. B. White wrote at the start of World War II about such hearts: “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society.” (from his essay “Intimations” written just after the attack on Pearl Harbor)

Homo sapiens may be a good name if we take it as a reminder that our calling is to grow in wisdom and love.  One of the most helpful pieces of wisdom that humans have discerned is that we progress through developmental stages from the simplicity of earliest childhood to the greater wisdom of midlife when we can embrace the complexity of the world.

The most mature level of human consciousness is called the Universalizing stage.  It is characterized by seeing all creation as one, and extending love and compassion unconditionally to all.  People at that stage have the heart and mind of Christ.  They have become big enough to love the whole planet.

The way we get that wise is by entering the spiritual equivalent of a black hole.  Jesus said we had to lose our life to gain life.  The Apostle Paul said we had to empty ourselves as Christ did.  Self-emptying, letting go of our ego and self-concern, is like diving into a black hole.  What is left when we empty our self of our self?  Thomas Merton put it this way,

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness…a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God…. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

Black holes are some of the most brilliant sources of light in the universe.  This may seem odd because no light can escape a black hole, but its gravitational force gathers stars and planets and dust around it, and as they begin their journey into nothingness, they give off a massive amount of light.  Quasars shooting from the edge of black holes can be more brilliant than our entire Milky Way galaxy of a hundred billion stars put together.  Now we know that the light of the whole universe is united there.

Most people do not self-empty enough to reach the Universalizing stage of greatest wisdom until they draw near the black hole of death.  I have watched people be pulled into gravitational darkness after a terminal diagnosis, but then I come to visit one day to find them suddenly full of the most brilliant light and love, shining those gifts to everyone who comes near them for the rest of their time.  That light of wisdom is what is left when we empty ourselves of our self and open to what is.

Thea Bowman was a granddaughter of slaves, a Franciscan nun, a college professor with a doctorate in English Literature, and an acclaimed speaker and singer of spirituals who practiced contemplative prayer and worked for racial justice and world peace.  She was absolutely beautiful in every way.  Thea said in an interview on 60 Minutes, “Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change, but if each one of us would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”

Thea Bowman was diagnosed with cancer when she was in her 40s and lived only another six years.  Toward the end she said, “I have tried to make a day-by-day decision that I want to live joyfully.  I want to be good news to other people…. I’m going home like a shooting star.”

Thea was more like a quasar than a shooting star—shooting stars go dark, but her light is still increasing thirty years after her death.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?  The intelligence of the mind may never know, but the wisdom of the heart says, look at the light that can shine from a person during and even after their death.  Look at the quasar of light coming out of that black hole of Christ’s empty tomb.  Look at what Christ’s light has done through people like Thea Bowman and Thomas Merton, look at all the saints in whose dying faces we have seen some of that same glowing light, and look at how their light continues to move us.

I am here today in an empty sanctuary.  At first I found it sad and lonely, thinking of last Easter’s joyous crowd, but then the thought came over me of all the departed saints I knew here over the past forty years and I suddenly felt their presence, as real and alive as could be.  I felt their warmth, their love, their encouragement in this hardest of hard times.  They are here with me now.

Does Jesus live?  His light lives.  His love lives.  His way lives, and it will lead us to universal compassion and oneness if we follow it all the way to his universalizing level of consciousness.  Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)  In other words, ‘I have entered the black hole of self-emptying, and it is no longer my light that shines, but the light of the universe that shines through me.’

We do not have to wait until we are on our deathbed to gain Christ-like wisdom and love.  We can do it now, and it is urgent that we do, because what E. B. White said at the start of World War II has become a matter of life and death for all species of the earth: “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet?  We must find such people for the next society.”

Where will we find such people to create a new human civilization of justice and peace that heals and nurtures the earth?  Well, we are it.  We have to be.  There will be no other generation to come along, there are no other people we can look to, Earth and humanity have to be saved now, and we are all we’ve got.  So how do we do it?

Jeremiah saw that the path to the next society of God’s realm on earth begins with us seeking that realm with all our heart.  Then we will find its laws written in our hearts and we will create the realm of God on earth around us.

There is a mysterious black hole at the heart of every galaxy and the same mystery is at the heart of every human.  It is the mystery that we are here to celebrate today, the mystery of death and resurrection, of entering into the darkness of self-emptying and rising transformed into a powerful creative light, which is the one power that can accomplish the miracle we now need.

What matters about Easter is not whether Jesus really rose from the dead, but whether we will really follow his way with our whole heart so that our life and death will join his in saving this world.  Ultimately we, the living body of Christ, are what Easter is all about.  Together, we are its hope.  More than that, we are its joy!

Let us pray in silence, sinking into the black hole within us and rising with the light…

One Comment on “Service and Sermon Text, Easter, April 12, 2020

  1. Pingback: On Line Worship Service, Easter, April 12, 2020 | United Church of Strafford, Vermont

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