Dying to Live
Episcopal Church at Yale
Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D.
April 12, 2020
Isaiah 25: 6-9; 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8; Luke 24: 13-49
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
A poem from Erika Takasc
They say there will be no Easter this year.
No lilies to fill a bright room
with a fanfare of pollen.
No garden, no angel,
They say that our journey
born in sackcloth and ashes
will lead us at last
And so we sit worried
that the tomb, this year,
will be found, for once,
That Mary and the others
will leave with their spices
and come back home with nothing.
That this year the women will finally end their work –
anoint and then
Ssh. Be still.
Do you not hear her?
Clucking close by like an old mother hen,
brooding and sighing and
stretching her wings?
Fear not, she says,
for I did it before –
in the silence
in the dark
in a closed and locked room
in a world that had known
Did I not once prove
once for all
that there is nothing you can do,
no decision you can make
(for good or for ill)
that can stop me rising?
What does it take to actually believe in resurrection – in that deep, visceral way reflected in the poet’s words? In the isolation of our homes, watching the world unravel, millions filing for unemployment, mass graves springing up in New York, death exceeding all the limits we normally contain, the Surgeon General described this Easter as “the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”
Closer to home, my beloved Cherise begins work tomorrow on a palliative care ward for adults dying from COVID-19, as we all ask, “Where will this end?”
Maybe it takes times like the one we’re living in to appreciate the agonizingly slow and uncertain process filled with excruciating pain, devastated dreams, and terror-filled despair, that Jesus’ closest friends experienced. For most of them, actually believing in resurrection took many more than three days.
Maybe all we can trust in now, to gain just a glimpse of the resurrection, is to remember that God’s grace does not usually come with a roll of thunder. It’s more a small, growing, steady light that arrives as the dawn comes, revealing the companionship of God’s merciful, healing love through this wasteland. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, if home for us is the resurrection, “Only a suffering God can show us the way.”
In each version of scripture, Jesus broke the news of his resurrection slowly – in the burial garden, on the road to Emmaus, standing on a beach, coming through a locked door in the Upper Room – always respecting the broken place his friends had descended into. As if to say, “No matter how far you run, I’ll keep pursuing you, however long it takes for you to recognize me, until you’re through just enough grief, past just enough fear, that you’ll start to yield, gradually remembering my promise, ‘I am with you always.’”
So be kind to yourself if you’re just not feeling it, as in so many Easters past. You’re not alone.
What does it take to actually believe in resurrection? In my Holy Week letter, I suggested that to believe in resurrection you must first trust in death, especially in days when the world looks much more like an endless Good Friday than a beautiful Easter morn.
I don’t know about you, but my own spiritual journey has taught me two profound truths. First, that God’s life – changing lessons have mostly occurred in my darkest hours; And second? That God never seems to do this business of transformation alone, but through the kindness of family, friends, and my faith community.
What does it take to actually believe in the resurrection? Today, many of us long for a Jesus not unlike the Messiah many of his contemporaries prayed for, a kind of EMS savior who swoops in with bells and sirens and makes everything normal again, who heals all the sick, brings the dead back to life, guarantees full employment, maybe even free tuition and Medicare for All – Bernie with a beard.
To be honest, that’s not the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know is the one who will change me, so I can live through impossible challenges, and still insist on doing my bit to heal this world with loving kindness; who remembers that somewhere in the world, every Easter, millions will experience life in the horrendous way Americans do today.
The Jesus I know is less interested in my happiness, and more in those who have so much less than I do.
This is the Jesus who wants us to share the Good News that God is hard at work in this hardest of all weeks, helping to transform each of us, if we simply consent, from passive observers of death, to agents of resurrection.
And it is in knowing this Jesus, the Jesus who forgives all, heals all, and loves without limit, it’s with this Jesus that I find unbounded gratitude, and yes, the abundant joy experienced in giving at least part of my life over to God’s priorities, instead of just my own. That, dear friends, is as close to a definition of resurrection as I can find.
Archbishop Rowan Williams once said that the purpose of church is “to form us into the kind of people who can receive the gifts that God wants to give.”
What are the gifts that God is trying to resurrect in your heart this Easter? Maybe it’s a new appreciation of the solitude all around us, an invitation to listen for that small still voice whose counsel is so life-saving; to be reminded in the stillness of the difference between who we are, and who God is, and to finally understand the difference.
Maybe it’s the courage to ask what within ourselves yearns to die – the preoccupation with self-preservation, the fear about the impact of this time on our future prospects, the grasping onto the losses we have all experienced – and instead to examine our own interior geography with a new curiosity. What needs to die to make room for something new? Who am I called to be, and for whom? How might I develop a new way to walk through life not quite as alone as I have before?
Because, my beloveds, resurrection was never intended as a singular moment in history. It’s always been a progressive revelation of the Holy Spirit, through all the centuries, and right down to this week; informing, if we dare, every one of our day to day choices.
Believing in resurrection starts with the understanding that, in every moment, God is always yearning to create something new.
And it ends with the courage to ask, “Is it me?”
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen today, Alleluia!