Monday, July 21, 2014
Good Shepherd, Berkeley 4/20/14 Easter
At the first light of dawn, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary- very possibly Jesus’ mother- went to see Jesus’ tomb. Suddenly, the very earth and the heavens seem to violently respond to something miraculous that has occurred. The Earth quakes. A bolt of lightening, in the form of an angel descends. The angel rolls away the stone from the tomb, that the two Marys might see the miracle first hand. There is only black emptiness. Jesus is not there, for he has risen. The angel, flooded with light is a herald of the light of Jesus’ resurrection- blinding light emanating from the darkest of places.
We have had much need of that Light in the past year. We have been mourning and recovering from the loss of our beloved church home. We have had to accept that great loss, and learn to with it and to worship with it. Last year, on Good Friday, we actually worshipped in the burned-out shell of the old church. A more tomb-like place could hardly be imagined. We desperately needed light to shine from that tomb.
We have pondered our baptism of fire for over a year now, and the readings during Lent, readings surprisingly filled with light, seemed to me to be helping us along our way, leading us to some kind of Easter revelation.
We read the story of the man born blind. A man born without light. Jesus happens upon him, walking down the road, and his disciples ask him, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his sins, or the sins of his family?”
Jesus surprises them: he says, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” The tragedy of his blindness was a portal for the glory of God.
The following week we had the story of Lazarus. When the anxious disciples, knowing how dear Lazarus was to their teacher, told Jesus that Lazarus was sick unto death, Jesus surprised them as well: "This sickness,” he said, “will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." It seems that Jesus offers us the possibility that all our wounds, all our tragedies are portals for God’s glory- portals for the light- Light coming into us and light shining out of us. Jesus’ own wounds, and Jesus own death are the ultimate manifestation of the glory that shines through desolation.
Why did our beloved church burn so tragically? Was it because of our sins, or the sins of the diocese at large? For a very long time I wasn’t ready to consider that, but now I can honestly say that it must have happened to show forth the glory of God. We have received grace upon grace from our community, from our neighbors, from within our own congregation, discovering resilience and resources we never could have imagined. We began to experience resurrection long before the beautiful building that will be our new church began to take shape. We have been like Jeremiah’s people, who survived the sword and found grace in the wilderness. As the angel and as Jesus told the the two Marys, we had nothing to be afraid of. Resurrection greeted us even as the sight of the tomb was still in our eyes.
During Holy Week the old cross that stood as the pinnacle at the top of the steeple for 137 years had to be taken down for repair. When I saw it on the workbench in the church, I told our contractor that I wanted to use it for our Good Friday service. Those of you who joined me on Good Friday will know this story. I was told that the center of the old cross was so corroded that it had hollowed out, and that it actually fell apart when they removed it. The contractor was skeptical that I would want such a wounded thing to worship with. On Good Friday, I told the story of another thing I learned about the cross. Inside the hollow of that cross, in the very heart of it, was a swallow’s nest. And that there was even still the remnant of an eggshell from the last inhabitant. Long ago, the baby bird apparently hatched himself from that dark place, left the nest and ascended unto heaven.
Every Friday, we feed a big hot lunch to anyone who is hungry in the neighborhood. This often includes me, so I have sat and lunched with and gotten to know many of our guests. But on Good Friday, we had to cancel the lunch, because our service was right at 12:00. In spite of getting the word out ahead of time, in spite of several signs in English and Spanish, several people came, expecting to be fed.
They stayed for the service anyway.
These guests of ours know something about brokenness, about dark places. After the service, I opened up the broken cross, and we all saw the nest, right in the heart of the cross, and we saw the fragments of eggshell. Our unexpected guests came for food, for physical sustenance, but what they were fed, what we all were fed with, was the vision of new life rising out of damage, out of brokenness, out of woundedness.
This is the message of the resurrection. New life, abundant life, abundant light coming from the darkest place imaginable. Coming from brokenness, coming from pain, coming even from death.
The beautiful words we heard from Jeremiah today predict a time of sacred reconciliation between God and mankind. A time when, as God says, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel.” This was Jeremiah’s sacred New Covenant between God and God’s people that Jesus spoke of at the last supper. God would know our sins no more, we would be utterly forgiven, and we would be God’s people. Jesus used his own death to seal that covenant. Christ’s death is the ultimate expression of blinding light emanating from the tomb- darkness and wounding acting as a conduit for the glory of God. Love, life, light, forgiveness emanating from desolation.
The resurrection of Jesus brings the possibility of resurrection for us all. Resurrection out of our death-like places, our darkness, our brokenness. Resurrection out of our own tombs.
The possibility can arise that we find ourselves resurrected indeed, ready and able to truly come alive and take wing. Alleluia!
Alleluia, Christ is risen!