A Sunday Gathering message by Andy Pakula
Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved By Gregory Orr (Excerpt)
It's not magic; it isn't a trick.
Every breath is a resurrection.
And when we hear the poem
Which is the world [...]
We're reborn in all the sacred parts
Of our own bodies:
Contracts, the brain
Releases its shower
and the tear
Embarks on its pilgrimage
Down the cheek to meet
The smiling mouth.
From High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver
Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.
In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.
...We hold fast to the old passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. -- Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson
Message - 5 April 2015 (Easter and Passover)
Today marks the most holy day of the year for Christians around the world - Easter - the day that Jesus of Nazareth - a man who came to be called the Christ - was said to have risen from death. He was killed two days earlier by crucifixion - the ignoble death reserved for criminals and - when they went to his tomb they found it empty. The story tells of life overcoming death.
Today is also the second day of Passover - one of the most sacred of the year’s Jewish celebrations. Passover recounts the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt. Passover is a story of new life - a life of freedom after generations without freedom.
And - not coincidentally - spring began two weeks ago with the vernal equinox - a time that marks the end of winter’s lifelessness and the rebirth of living things upon the earth.
Here we are on a weekend filled with bunnies, chocolate eggs, a few bank holidays, and some amazingly powerful stories and symbols going on in the background.
I think that it is probably safe to say that if you took the resurrection story literally or if you believed that God actually sent a series of plagues to afflict the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites and divided the waters of the red sea so the fleeing people could escape and closed them again to drown the pursuing soldiers, you would be somewhere else this morning.
But that doesn't change the impact of the stories that surround us today.
After many centuries, Jews continue to tell the story of liberation every year on Passover. They are reminded again and that the horrors that befall human beings need not be the end - that there is the potential for something new to happen. There is the potential for liberation and a new life in freedom.
The Christian story is also one of hope emerging from hopelessness.
We know that Jesus was thought by his followers to be the messiah - the one who was to bring his people freedom from oppression at a time when they were occupied and downtrodden. We know that Jesus was put to death. We know that he was executed in the most painful and degrading way available at the time.
What was supposed to happen next was that the reputation and message of this man Jesus would be abandoned entirely. Like many others whose movements and messages have been brutally suppressed by powerful authorities, Jesus could have - and by all rights - should have disappeared from memory.
Instead - from the heart-breaking disappointment experienced by all of those who had put their hope in this man - something not only survived but actually flourished.
The people who suffered the worst disappointment of their lives found themselves once again inspired and alive. Something had returned to life after a seemingly final death. People continued to talk about Jesus and then write about him and his message and his words and wisdom spread.
I am not suggesting that Christianity has been all good; its impact has been very mixed. In all too human ways, the message of a man who stood for inclusion and love has often been used to support exclusion and hate. Nonetheless, the loving, inclusive, egalitarian message of a disgraced and 1st century Jew are still known to and inspire many of us today.
Spring has officially begun, and whilst it has not been as warm and sunny as we might hope, we can see the changes all around us. The world is becoming green once again and beginning to blossom. The young of all kinds will be born and life will once again vanquish death.
Resurrection means returning to life and it is much more relevant and more personal than the stories of 2000 years ago, the legend of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, or even of the coming of spring.
Our world is a tough place. Even in springtime, we can't deny that there is pain and illness and suffering - and eventually death for all of us. But this world is also a place where death and disappointment can be followed by life in enormous abundance. That is the paradox that we have to live with and it is in finding the joy amid the sorrow that we can live well.
Each of us has - at one point or another - experienced a time in our lives that was seemingly the end - the end of our lives as we knew them. For most of us, it has happened many times. For some of us, it is happening right now - this year - this month - today.
The end comes in many ways. It comes with the loss of someone dear. It comes with a betrayal. It comes with a failure to achieve something that felt essential. It comes with broken relationships, lost jobs, physical trauma or illness.
And when the end has come, and we feel that we are all but dead - we can't imagine there is any way to go on or that there could ever be light in our lives again. Some of us may feel this way today. Or perhaps, we feel that a part of us has remained dead even as we resumed the appearance of life.
Today, let us know that - as Gregory Orr put it - every breath is a resurrection. With each breath out, we give up what is precious and life sustaining. Each time we put one foot in front of another, we are falling forward. But we take that next breath and we catch our fall to take another step forward. Every moment brings small resurrections. Resurrection is not magic. It is not a trick. It is the way of this world. From death can come life.
Barbara Kingsolver’s words remind us that death in life is part of the pattern of things:
“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home”
It is this common everyday miracle of change and rebirth – of resurrection – that we encounter in our own lives. Resurrection is no easy feat. It is exhausting work that doesn’t happen quickly or with a bang. Like a chick emerging from its egg, resurrection is a struggle that may require a hard beak and a lot of patience.
The Easter resurrection story does not move directly from death to life nor does the dying off of the autumn proceed directly to the vitality of spring.
In the story of Passover, freedom comes only after generations of hard slavery, plagues, a death-defying run through a miraculously parted sea and then 40 years wandering in the deserted. And in the Jesus story, death was followed by the cold and dark of the tomb. When we are prisoners of spiritual and emotional death, it is in the tomb that we feel trapped.
It is easy to get stuck, hopeless, in the darkness of the tomb or the prison of slavery. In the shadow of despair, hope is the light that guides us to move forward. The hope that says that tomorrow can be better – the hope that says that resurrection is possible.
We come to this place for many reasons, but especially – we come for hope. Today – we come to share the Easter and Passover stories of hope. stories that speak of how the most devastating of losses and most hopeless captivity can lead to new life.
At the end of his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”, Wendell Berry put together two words in a new way. Practice and Resurrection. Practice Resurrection. Resurrection is not something that happens to us – it is something we can do. We practice resurrection when we endure the agony of leaving an old life behind – to have the hope and faith that something will be there waiting to catch us when we take that giant step off into the unknown. We practice resurrection when – despite the fear, despite the pain, despite the loss, we gather up our strength and roll aside the stone to leave the tomb of our surrender.
And most importantly, we practice resurrection when we give another person the chance to come back to life. Each of us has the potential to give of our own life to another – to bring life and joy where there is only sorrow.
Author Megan McKenna told of a class in which she shared her view that we are called to “live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.”
She was interrupted then by a sarcastic question: “have you ever brought anyone back to life?”
She replied: “Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.”
The power of resurrection lies in our practice of acceptance. It lies in our practice of forgiveness. It lies in our practice of compassion. It lies in our efforts to get beyond the exteriors that keep us apart and to understand and appreciate the beauty that lies beneath.
The power of resurrection lies truly in the depth of the love we show for one another.
Friends. Practice resurrection. As simple and flawed as we may be, the power of resurrection rests in our hands. We have the power to haul ourselves and others out of the shadows of the tomb. We have the power to be reborn and to help others to find their own way to a new life.
May it be so