Today we continue the Easter story in the Gospel of John telling the magical, mysterious, most important events of Easter night, so we begin as we did last week:
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.
Last week we began in the light but this week we begin in darkness. The disciples are huddled together hiding in their safehouse with the doors locked because it was only three days ago that the authorities arrested Jesus and tortured and killed him, and they know the same things could happen to them.
They are afraid to hear a knock on the door or the sound of soldiers or a crowd outside. The air is full of the smoke of the oil lamps and the smell of anxious bodies and the hiss of passionate whispers arguing and the heaving breaths of stifled weeping. The disciples are full of confused fear and hope because Peter and John saw the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene says that she saw Jesus alive.
This year we can easily identify with those disciples. We are isolated in our safehouses, we are uncertain, confused, afraid of the unseen approach of an agent of death, afraid of what the government and corporate empires are doing to the country and earth we love, afraid of what will happen to the most vulnerable, to our children and elders and the 99 percent of workers and small businesses who are not gaining from the tax breaks and corporate giveaways that Jesus would condemn. We are uncertain where this is leading and what our lives will be when this time is over.
Our feelings are mixed up, though, because the earth that in the past year has spoken so clearly of its convulsive pain, the earth of superstorms and wildfires and floods and droughts and species extinction and global pandemic, that earth is now coming back to life after winter, the crocuses and spring beauties and hepatica and coltsfoot are blooming even in cold April wind, we are getting outside into the beauty, we are putting our hands into the soil, we are calling happily to our neighbors as spring birds call happily over our heads. But then we go back inside our isolated homes and look at the news, and the uncertainty and fear return.
The lesson of this Sunday is that it is right here, right in the midst of our confused hope and fear, that Jesus appears. He comes through the locked door of our tight stomach and guarded heart and he looks at us with compassion and love and says, Peace. Be at peace, dear ones. And then he breathes the Spirit into us so that our hearts and minds may become his heart and mind.
The Spirit offers us a vision of the realm of God on earth and the sacred way through this time, the Spirit offers us gifts and powers like Christ’s to do the kinds of works Jesus did, the Spirit offers us the peace that passes understanding that tells us all shall be well and all shall be well because the force that created the universe and gave birth to life on earth and brought it through major extinctions before this one, that force of love and light wants to keep going, the force of life wants the earth to live, and it will save us if we work with it, if we give our lives entirely to serve it right now.
The Easter night story tells us that Jesus comes to us exactly in our moment of crisis, he comes to us precisely where we are most lost and confused by mixed fear and hope, and he sends us out to create the realm of God on earth around us as he did, using whatever gifts and resources we have, trusting that as small and weak as we are, if we work with the Holy Spirit we will be more powerful than all the mad emperors and all the corrupt corporate wealth of Rome.
Today we are observing the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. We will sing again the songs of Easter morning, only now they are songs of hopeful defiance of the locked doors we need to pass through, defiance against the fear and uncertainty that hold us back, defiance against all that makes earth and our society less than it could be. They are songs of the vision of a new world, God’s realm on earth, a place of fairness and justice and oneness and health for all the species on which our human health depends, health for all this beautiful, glorious earth.
As I said last week, it takes poetry to do Easter justice. Mel Goertz has given us a perfect haiku for this Sunday:
The water is splashing
into the brook
and the pebbles are singing.
And here is an adaptation of a poem of David, Psalm 16, from today’s lectionary:
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
You are my God; I have no good apart from you.
As for the holy ones in the land,
the ones who love God
and love their neighbor as themselves,
the ones who care for all the vulnerable of earth,
they are the noble, they are a light to me.
Those who choose the god of selfishness and greed
multiply their sorrows and fill their cup with poison
and bring darkness and death upon the face of the earth.
But God is my chosen portion and my cup.
The realm of God on earth is my address,
the goodness of nature is my heritage,
so the boundary lines have fallen for me
around this beautiful place I call home.
I bless God, for the Spirit of God gives me counsel;
in the darkness and confusion of the night
it instructs my heart, it shows me the way.
As long as I keep the Spirit of God before me,
at my right hand, I shall not be led astray.
Therefore, my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to the hell,
the pit of despair that those who serve greed
and violence create for themselves on earth.
You show me the path of oneness and life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your loving hand is goodness forevermore.
Now I invite you to sing in that spirit the great Easter hymn, “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain.”