"Everyone's Day," Easter Sermon 04.24.11

"Everyone's Day," Easter Sermon 04.24.11

Colossians 3:1-4; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18.

“Everybody has one day – just one diamond day – against which they are apt to judge many of the days of their lives. There will be other great days— warmer days, richer times, moments of love or of grief, but NONE of them will match the movement of life as lived on that one day.

A time when you felt most part of the world. A day when somehow you knew you were in the company of all known things. Angels high and the vermin below. All watching, all glory. Alive. Every bit alive. And the great Scottish bridges making perfect sense in a shower of rain. The seasons once reflected in your skin; the sky, in your eyes; the noise through the trees like some sound in the groves inside you.

Most days are lost in the decorum of trying, lost in the lanes of the almost known.

And there you have it on that one day. You are in it. And with the slow-going afternoon the world all at once can make perfect sense. It will never last; you know that too. But you had it that time.”

I have always loved this passage from Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Our Fathers.

It reminds me of the scene from the end of the movie “The Way We Were.”
Two old friends, Hubbell, the movie’s Golden Boy who couldn’t quite grow up, and his best friend, J.J., reminiscing about times and places gone by.
They’d been in college together, through World War II together, and shared
overlapping careers, marriages, divorces. Now, on a beautiful sunny day,
skating on the wind across a flawless deep blue ocean in a perfect white sailboat, J.J. asks Hubbell:

“Best Saturday afternoon?”

Hubbell answers with confidence: “1933, when Brute Holland was out with a bad knee.”

“Best month?”

“April.”

When J.J. asks, “Best year?”, Hubbell pauses… Tentatively, he offers, “1944.”
Then quietly, he amends his answer, “1945.” His voice trails off and the scene fades away, as he tries one more time, “1946.”

Beloved, I’m asking this morning, “Can you bring to mind your best day?
…That time when it all came together – you and God, earth and sky?
The day that can serve as your measure of how good life can get.

If we can identify and remember those times in our lives, we begin to get an emotional appreciation for, a better understanding of THIS day.

One might say that Easter, by definition, was “that day” for Jesus. And also for Mary Magdalene. And, I imagine, also for those other first disciples to whom the resurrected Christ appeared.

But will you let me suggest… it’s also a day for all the rest of us too. More, I think, than we mostly realize.

Our diamond day. How good all days can be. Rich movement of life lived.
…Every bit alive. “In it.” All watching. All glory.

Too often, Easter, rather than the day against which we measure all our days, is an emotional and intellectual incomprensibility for most people. Not a mystery in the good sense; not profound and limitless like God; not “how could God promise– much less provide– this much.” Instead, more like a puzzle. Or simply unbelievable. How often we hear people scoff at the church, or dismiss Christian faith with the simple complaint, “People just don’t come back from the dead.”

Of Christian holidays, Christmas is easier to get some feeling for. All of us have known, at one time or another, the feeling of having a new baby gently laid in our arms. That miracle. The incredible new bundle of life in such a small package. Arms and legs and little teeny fingers moving. The pondering, deep-well of eyes looking up at us. A mouth making little sucking motions and gurgling noises. The warmth coming through from so little weight. The promise.

It’s not that hard for experience and imaginations to do something with Christmas. But Easter? Even those of us who know the story well… By definition, most of us, have had less experience with resurrection than birth. I mean, none of us have suffered lasting physical death, though perhaps, as I will speak about in a minute, a few of us have died or been dead, and, somehow, have had the experience of having been brought back to life.

But death holds a pretty tight grasp on our world. And on our lives much of the time.

And the loved ones who we know who have died: well, no one needs to remind us of the separation, of having had to say goodbye, and making the best peace we can with the inviolable fact, and then doing our best to go one without them. Even if your faith is one that promises you may see them again sometime, somehow, you know that death is, in this life, final and complete.

And so, the Easter story, its tales of death not having the final word… well, it’s harder to accept, to get our minds, our imaginations around. Maybe that’s why we need to listen more carefully, with greater intent?

Jesus, the story says, was really, really dead. Not just unconscious. Nor asleep. But lifeless. As different from the living self he had been in his mortal life as every person you’ve ever seen in a casket. Dead as the nails used to crucify him.

But then, later, the story, suggests, somehow — never really explaining how– he was alive again. Not just alive in our fond memories. Not just “spiritually still with us.” But really ALIVE— flesh and blood living; heart pumping, lungs breathing, blood coursing alive; walking around, talking, eating, touch-him, being loved by him living…

Huh?

I suspect that for a few of us here today this is less hard to imagine as for others. Because some of us have known, or suffered a lot of death already in this life.

I’m thinking of those so harmed they had little choice but to shut down.
Those who were abused physically or sexually. Often by someone who was supposed to care for them. And, therefore, thereafter, the victims have been left wondering, fearing, doubting they’d ever experience life on the other side of that injury.

I’m thinking those who’ve witnessed war and atrocity that, thank God, most of us cannot even fathom. People among us who have come up face to face with brutality and violence that has robbed life of hope, meaning, sense. Brothers and sisters forced from their homes and their normalcy and the lives they’d known, when suddenly everywhere they turned there was only danger and death.

I’m thinking of those who’ve lost themselves to their addictions, found themselves without self-knowledge to recognize or admit the harm they were doing themselves. And without the self-control to stop themselves— from hurting themselves and harming others. Sisters and brothers who’ve done what they couldn’t imagine for the next drink, or hit or high.

I’m thinking of those who have faced mortal illness and thought they were at the end of their earthly days. Prepared themselves to be finished with this life. Ordered their affairs. Said their goodbyes. Shared their wishes for their funerals and the disposition of what would be left of their earthly existence. Readied themselves to lay down their lives. Thought there would be no more days, no next season.

I’m thinking of those who’ve suffered such depressions that they’ve felt as if they were no longer among the living. The deep, lasting ache of sadness, the absence of any energy or motivation, the inability to act, paralysis, such that their life was more a living hell.

I’m thinking of those have faced such disappointment or loss or grief… And those those who’ve felt trapped in their lives. Entombed in fear, self-hatred, guilt, sorrow, prejudice, their pasts.

Some of us who have already known such death, and have survived those shadowed valleys, to emerge, to see a transformation, to rise and meet a new day… For those saints among us, this Easter Gospel of total death and regained life might not be such a stretch.

Maybe the rest of us need to ask these brothers and sisters, “Could you bless us by sharing your resurrection stories, your risen lives, your witness more? That we might hear, learn, understand, believe of your experience. …

That even when death holds sway, when there’s no longer hope, any other possibility, nothing before us but more, endless death… Some of us have already found out what it means to have life given back to us.

Church, Christianity is not the promise of uninterrupted immortality. There will be death in the midst of our lives. God’s promise, instead, is the promise of resurrection. Immortality could be said to be natural if we had imperishable souls— like digestion is for food after a meal. But resurrection is completely unnatural.

Neither Jesus, nor our loved ones that have gone before us, nor you, nor I…
none of us goes on living uninterrupted, without graves of various sorts and conditions. There is no immortality inherent in what it means to be human.

Rather, to be human is to be mortal, limited, finite. To suffer hurt and loss and disappointment and failure. Jesus and all the rest of us stumble and fall and even go to the grave as dead and lifeless, as I said already, as the nails used to crucify him.

Resurrection, on the other hand, is the preposterous promise that even when we are completely dead, God can give us back life! …Just as sure as we were given life by God in the first place. Not because it’s inherent in being human, but because it’s the nature of God to desire to save us. We’re too precious to God for God to lose us!

Resurrection, unbelievable as it may often feel in our Good Friday world, can only be intuited from our experience of God’s unspeakable love. This love, revealed finally, fully realized on Easter morning. God won’t let anything separate us from Divine love; God won’t even let us effect such a separation ourselves.

When humans had finished crucifying the Christ, when he had been laid in the tomb, dead and buried, when the 3 days had passed, when it was all over, ALL said and done, God gave Jesus life back (as sure and true as God gave him and each us life in the first place). God, being God, still has the final, or perhaps better commencing word!

And that, beloved, means for him, and for you and for me, and for all the rest of us, existence has never been the same. Ever since, it’s been a completely different world.

The earth shook. Rocks split. Tombs and any place that death reigns groaned and fell open to the light. The world was inexorably and forever changed. Death, which so often has such an unshakable hold on us,
so far-reaching a grasp, so much to say about who we are and how we live… That death is not our final reality. It does not get the last word.

I know, it’s hard to imagine. Even harder to believe.

But remember YOUR day. When you felt most part of the world. When somehow you knew you were in the company of all known things. Angels high and the vermin below. All watching, all glory. Alive. Every bit alive. The bridges and the rain and resurrection made perfect sense. The season shown on your skin. Heaven in your eyes. The wind made a sound inside of you.

Every Sunday, EVERY day in our Easter-filled faith is to tell these stories, to live and to share this resurrection in a world where still everyone dies. Why? Because God wants to give us our lives back. Amen.