Fear and courage: Easter Sunday

Readings

 

Feeling Sorry for Myself, Charles Harper Webb

I start with a groan, swelling to a moan,
rising to a keen, ascending to a shriek that tapers off in a thin wail.
I hug myself and, whimpering, rock back and forth on my heels.
No one has ever known such sadness.
No one can grasp how I feel.
I smash an egg over each eye.
I smear my face with coal and pepper.
I wear a paper bag soaked through with spoiled watermelon and pork grease.
I shred my happy past - my books, pictures, and poems, published or not.
I'll never fly fish again.
I'll never make love again.
I'll never sit outside and watch night stretch its starry tent over the sky.
There will be no more metaphors.
I am more sorrowful than a sorrowing man.
Life has no more meaning to me than a life without meaning.
My heart slows. My blood congeals to brown, vein-clogging mush.
My stomach goes on strike; my colon bars its door. 
People assume I'm terminal. 
They imagine what would make them feel the way I look, and project their paltry problems onto me.
As if they could fathom my misery by waterwinging over its abyss!
My pain is too heavy to lift, too vast to measure, too ineffable to name, and incalculably too precious to share.
I dig my grave in a landfill, and topple in.
I rub dirt and dog droppings in my hair.
I've sunk so low it's funny; so I start to giggle.
Then to chortle. Then to roar. 
Mothers clutch their bleating kids, and rush away.
Gangbangers dash to the far side of the street.
I crawl out of my grave, strip, and shower witha gunk-filled water hose.
I shake and shiver, grinning, in the filthy air.

 

Easter is Breaking, Kathleen Rolenz

Somewhere across the world,
Easter is breaking.
Not the Easter we may think of,
with arms upraised and ‘He is risen’ echoing from canyons,
but a much quieter, less dramatic Easter.
 
Somewhere in the world – perhaps not this day, but some day soon,
a woman and a man rise from their beds,
shaking the sleep from their eyes,
and find their children already awake and
preparing for their morning prayers.
There has been no gunfire, no drug wars, no yelling or shouting or screaming,
only the quiet of the night and the peace of silence around them.
 
And somewhere in the world, perhaps not this morning, but soon, very soon,
a soldier is packing his duffle bag,
has emptied out all his bullets,
is changing into civilian clothes,
and is coming home, for peace has long been established
and there is no need for his presence.
 
And somewhere in the world, Easter dawn breaks over the earth,
not only on this day, but every day,
and the familiar pulse in our veins throbs of ‘peace, peace, peace.’


Message by Andy Pakula

‘He is risen.’ That is the message of Easter for the Christian world.

‘He’ was, of course, Jesus of Nazareth. And the joyful proclamation of ‘he is risen’ came only after desolation gave way to great hope, and then down to despair, until finally hope came again.

Jesus’ followers had dreamed of freedom from Roman rule. The were filled with hope and with faith that a more compassionate and just way of life was just around the corner. I imagine them like someone who has been in prison for years - suffering - near hopeless - and one day, the prisoner is told that they would be freed. Freedom was so close… Walking toward the door, the fresh breezes were perfume to their senses. Sunshine drew them forward. 

And then, with cruel laughter, the bars were slammed shut again. With the ignominious and cruel death of Jesus, hopes and dreams were crushed. A people became despondent. Their visions of a better tomorrow were put to rest in the tomb with Jesus. They might have been better off if they had not experienced the possibility of freedom at all. Perhaps they felt that they too belonged in a grave - buried in their hopelessness - unable to go on.

And then, when all was at its worst, a group of women went to Jesus’ tomb two days after his execution and discovered that his body was gone. The news of the empty tomb spread. We can only imagine the mixed reactions. Was this a desecration - had the lowest low become unimaginably worse?

But, as the story spread, it became one of miracle - a story of hope reborn - a story that promised freedom and a better world to come.

‘Jesus is risen’ they proclaimed. 

I love miracles. I love when wonderful things happen in our lives and I’m happy to call them Unitarian miracles, although my tongue is usually firmly in my cheek as I do. 

If anything qualifies for a miracle though, it is the wonderful reversals that sometimes take place in our lives - times when we turn from defeat to victory, from sorrow to celebration, from slavery to freedom.

In my forties, my successful career in biotechnology started to come undone. There was a patent lawsuit that made me feel like a fraud. I was filled with fear. It was a time of overwhelming anxiety and deep depression. It is hard for me to describe the depths to which I fell. I was entering the tomb. I stopped functioning. I couldn’t work. I could barely take care of myself. 

And gradually I recovered and hope again appeared when a friend and former colleague hired me for a wonderful role in a new company he was starting. But that hope was short-lived. A woman in the company took a dislike to me and, before I knew it, I had been fired with no warning whatsoever. I only found out later that this woman and my friend were having an affair.
Everything I had worked for was suddenly gone. Who was I? What was I worth? Did I have any purpose at all? 

These painful blows to my confidence knocked me down but that wasn’t all. The grave was not where I remained. The shock forced me to reconsider my life and what I was doing. It helped to push me off of what had seemed secure territory and into the terrifying unknown - into the path that led me to ministry and led me here.

I would like to say it happened on the third day after being put in the tomb, but the time in the tomb of transition was long and it was painful. There were many more times of deep-doubt and even a sense of hopelessness. 

But eventually, I rose from the despair. I rose from my depression. I rose from my lack of purpose. I rose with joy. And that was my miracle.

This is a miracle we have probably all experienced - the miracle of return from despair and desolation and pain and torment. It is, for most of us, a miracle we will need to find again and again in our lives.

It is a miracle when we are restored from suffering or illness or depression.

It is a miracle when we release the heavy burden of guilt or shame that we have been carrying.

It is a miracle when the oppressed are freed from their downtrodden positions.

It is a miracle when peace is made among enemies.

These are the many miracles of our lives. They are not miracles in the sense that some supernatural power carries them out for us. We accomplish miracles together for one another.
Whether or not we believe that ‘he is risen’, we must know and believe that ‘we are risen.’ We have fallen and risen time and time again. We must know that we will fall again and - through our own power and the power of relationship - we will rise. 

We will rise to restore our hope. 

We will rise to move forward again. 

We will rise to believe in love after being hurt. 

We will rise to help others rise from their pain. 

We will rise to bring justice to the oppressed. 

We will rise to bring love where there is hate. 

We will rise to make peace where there is war.

We are risen. We will rise again and again. 

This is a miracle we can believe in.

May it be so.