Easter Day 2016
Speaker: The Rev. Deborah Meister
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Two days ago, during the Good Friday service, I was moving from one place to another when something on the ground caught my eye. It was a piece of the bread we distribute for Communion most Sundays, and by the time I picked it up, it had become hardened, shriveled, more like baked clay than like anything you’d want to put in your mouth. I put it in my pocket and then, later, took it outside and threw it on the grass: perhaps there was something it could still nourish — a bird, a mouse, a bug. If you were to tell me that that bread could rise again, that it could become fragrant and soft and whole, I would not believe you, any more than I would believe that what is most hardened in us — bitter and dry and fragile and unforgiving — could become tender and new and alive. But that is what we are celebrating today: that by the mercy of God, we and all this creation are given a second chance to live.
The poet George Herbert asks, “Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart could have recover’d greenness?” Certainly not the women who went to the tomb, or the disciples who sat dejected in Jerusalem, or Peter, alone with his shame after denying his friend three times. For them, it must have been clear: the time of blessing was over.
Perhaps that’s why none of them believed the resurrection when they saw it. We like to think that folks back then were credulous, unlike us with our sophisticated scientific understanding of the world, but the truth is, dead bodies stayed dead in the first century, too. And so, when the women found the body gone, the tomb empty except for its linen wrappings, they did not know what to make of it. They were perplexed, and the male disciples did no better: when the women came bearing the tidings the angels had given them, the women’s “words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11) The two men traveling to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus, even when he walked and talked with them, and even after all these visions had been reported back to Jerusalem, when Jesus himself appeared to the eleven disciples at the end of the day, “they were startled and terrified.” (Luke 24:37) New life is hard to trust, like when you’ve broken your leg and the cast is cut off and you’re afraid to put your weight on it.
But after all the loss and pain and confusion, something happened. Something happened, because suddenly they began to understand. First one believed and then another, then a small group, and then the word was running like wildfire through the city: He is risen! The one who was dead lives again; the horizon of heaven has been broken open; if this is possible, God only knows what else God can do. With God, all things must be possible.
Listen! I once heard a story about an eminent naturalist who had been commissioned by a zoo to collect a couple hundred species of birds and animals. He was out in a field when he came upon the ruins of an old stone cabin, which held a nesting pair of falcons. When he flashed on his light, one of birds plunged to his hand, sinking his beak savagely into the naturalist’s thumb, refusing to let go, buying time for his mate to escape. By the time the naturalist had his bearings, the female bird was long gone. The naturalist grudgingly put the male into a box and waited out the night, nursing his mangled hand.
When morning came, he built a cage, then took the bird outside to confine it. The bird lay limp in his hand, all the fight of the day before vanished. It was no longer wild and free, just broken. It might as well have been dead.
Without thinking, the naturalist relented. He stretched out his hand and laid the bird on the grass. For a long moment, it did not move, then without any clear transition, he was gone — vanished up into the crystalline blue sky. The naturalist could not even see him; the light was too intense. And then, against all odds, he heard a ringing cry, and straight out of the eye of the sun, the bird’s mate came soaring down, down out of the realm of light, down into the clear blue of the visible sky, down to where her mate was straining to rise. “And from far up” he said, ”ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of … unutterable and ecstatic joy…He was rising fast to meet her [now, and] they met in a great soaring gyre that turned into a whirling circle and a dance of wings.” They cried out once more, and then they were gone, “somewhere up into those upper regions beyond the eyes of men.”
So it is with us. When we were broken, weak, enslaved to sin and to death, God plummeted from on high to save us. Because Christ died and rose again, we do not enter death without hope. Rather, we enter it with trust: trust that the One we have known and served all our lives will not desert us now. In our time of helpless need, we go, not to darkness, not to just to a box laid in the earth, but to a light too bright to see, and we do not go there alone, but we will be met by the Savior who loved us even through the iron gates of death, who loved us in the dust of the tomb, who loves us and leads us beyond the eyes of women and men.
And beyond, my friends, is where we shall find him. O, we are so tempted, we who love this earth, we who love our lives and our people and our things and our bodies, we are sorely temped to walk through life looking behind us, seeking the places where Christ once was. And that is no sin; it is an act of deep faithfulness to love the places where we have found God, to cling to the memories of the people who have given us love. We seek the living among the dead because it is a way of honoring Christ’s gift.
But Christ walks always before us, and those hallowed groves of memory, which once gave us life, are so many empty tombs — places where Jesus once lay. And so, if you are looking for a blessing today, do not look into them, but into the world which is all around us. Look into the faces of the men, women, and children around you — those for whom Christ rose from the dead. Look into the sky, the trees, the ocean; look at the hope in the heart of the child in poverty, and in the love of the face of the man who dwells in the bombed-out ruins of his city. Look at the refugees seeking a new life, at the sick who seek a holy death, and the child drawing his first breath even as we gather here today.
For in the resurrection, Christ’s Incarnation is made complete. God’s life came down from heaven into a frail body on Christmas, but now it rises from the room of the earth, rises imperishable, to make all things in its image again. Blessing us, healing us, raising us toward the light, one day, one minute, one gesture at a time. And so, as, the poet Jan Richardson urges us:
If it is
that you seek,
open your own
Fill your lungs
with the air
that this new
with a cry.
Hear how the blessing
in your own voice
how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
See how the blessing
circles back again
wanting you to
how it draws you
its only word:
 “The Flower.”
 John Claypool, “The Communion of Saints,” God is an Amateur, 1994.
 Beatrice Bruteau, The Easter Mysteries.
 Jan Richardson, “Easter Blessing.”