When I was a kid, Growing up non Christian, as a child Easter…well I’ll just say it. Easter seemed like a strange holiday to an outsider. I knew it was one of the two big Christian Holidays. Christmas being the first one with Santa Claus and then Easter with the Bunny Rabbit. Santa I thought at least resembled a human being. But a bunny, how does that figure into religion. I would ask my friends who were Christian and they had no idea. To them it was a big celebration with special foods and gifts. Over the years as I kept asking questions, I came to understand simplistically that the holidays celebrated the birth and death of Jesus. (although that didn’t really explain Santa and the Bunny Rabbit) As I grew older and started to study religion, I actually read the Christian Scriptures and tried to put some context to the story. Of course the concept of a physical resurrection of the dead (no matter how many zombie movies I watch), just didn’t make sense to me based on my experiences in the world. But as I pointed out in a sermon a couple of years ago, the end of the Gospel of Mark which we heard earlier which is considered by scholars to be the oldest of the written gospels. If you notice, in this gospel Jesus is not physically resurrected. His body is just missing from the tomb. That point seems to get lost in the edited versions of the gospels and in our wider culture. Due to that we seem to reject the whole story because others have defined it as such. I was talking to someone recently who was decrying the movie “Noah” because it just could not possibly be literally true. They could never have fit all those animals on the boat. And I asked them why can they could enjoy watching and make meaning out of movies like Star Wars, and superhero movies. A story doesn’t have to be literally true to have meaning.
I think because we are often inundated with people trying to make literal sense out of Biblical Stories, that we lose track of their deeper meaning. This was again brought to my attention, when I was watching the movie Cloud Atlas. It was a very complex movie that tells multiple story lines over multiple millenniums of years. (A good movie, 8 out of 10 on the Jay Wolin movie rating scale – check my blog for more on that) in one scene, two people from different cultures, one a more tribal culture and one from a more technologically advanced culture meet and they see a statue of the tribal culture’s God who is named Somni. And the person from the technologically advanced culture tells him “Sonmi weren't no god. she died hundreds of years ago. Her life was sad and she died tryin' to change the Old-Uns thinkin” And that is sometimes how I think of Jesus. Someone whose life was short, whose life even by the stories we tell about him was a struggle, and he died trying to change the society he lived in. Somni when asked why she fought for justice, even knowing her plan would fail, said “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have stayed hidden. I couldn't allow that.”
I think in his own way, Jesus was trying to teach people the truth about his vision of how to live in the world. And over 2,000 years later, Jesus story still permeates throughout our culture. I believe it permeates not just because of the previous power of the Roman Empire or the slick marketing of mega churches. It permeates because it touches people deep down in the core of our understanding of our human experience. We live in a world and society that is unjust and we often feel powerless to change it or know that to change it will cause us to upset what little certainty we do have in our lives. We all struggle with change. We all face obstacles in life. Some more than others. Deep down we know something has to change but often we try to ignore it because we know change will cause uncertainty. Each time we ignore that deep calling, that obstacle grows a little more. But then something or someone sparks something within us that makes us question who we are.
Sometimes, it can be a sorrow, such as the world trade center attacks, or the loss of a loved one or an illness. Other times, we are inspired by something or someone, that drives us to explore who we are and what we are capable of. Maybe our previous circumstances did not allow for this or encourage change. Maybe we have been told we are not good enough once too often. Maybe we were just unaware. Maybe it just seems too darn hard. But struggle, and overcoming struggle is what leads to growth and leads to change and leads to self awareness. And sometimes, you have to let go of the things that are holding you back. Sometimes you have to let your past die so you can start a new future. Maybe it’s a relationship that you know is just not good for you but you remain in out of misguided loyalty or a savior complex. Maybe it’s a grudge that you have been holding way too long, that is closing your heart, maybe it’s a way of doing things out of habit that just don’t work anymore. In my previous profession when I would go into a new company I would ask employees why they were doing things a certain way and I told them the one answer they could not give is, “because that’s the way we always did it”. Sometimes I would find they were creating reports that no one was looking at anymore. “The way we always did it might still be the right way”, but if we don’t consistently ask the question, if we don’t go explore deeply we will never know.
The world around us is changing at an ever rapid pace. Its hard to keep up, but we need to change to meet the changing needs of our universe
And once we do know that we have to change, we have to be committed to it and keep trying, and be willing to let go of the way things always were. I think this is true for each of us individually, as a Congregation, as a religion, as a country, as a world. I believe we come together in religious community to explore that deep yearning and that deep uncertainty so we can be intentional about how we live in the world. It doesn’t mean everything will work out perfectly exactly how you think it will. I think of myself, when I left the Bronx for Manhattan in NYC, Then I left NY for Florida and lastly I left Florida for Iowa. Each time looking for a new way of life, a new way of being in the world. The truth is, I didn’t know for certain what would happen, whether I would be accepted, whether I would flourish, but each time, I believed deep in my soul what I was doing was necessary. Now we don’t need to travel somewhere else to change, we just have to travel the distance between here and here (point to head). The truth is we can change. We just have to have the belief that we can.
Of course It is easier to look back on my life and see the winding road I have travelled, what I have accomplished, the places I have gone, the people I have met. If you had told me these things early in my life, I would have been convinced it was a novel and would not have known how to make it happen. We never truly know what is still in front of us, so we can only live it out. The only question is how are we going to live.
Are we going to live with love or with indifference,
Are we going to live hurting others or healing them,
Are we going to live lives of deceit or lives of authenticity
Are we going to live lives of quiet desperation or lives of fullness
Are we going to live lives of separateness or lives of wholeness
Are we going to live our lives closed to change or open to hearing a new way
Are we going to blind ourselves to new realities or truly see our possibilities.
Are we going to live our lives with darkness or with light.
And that is the question I think that the story of Easter is trying to provoke. This story of Easter is not so much about the death of Jesus, but about the life of Jesus, and how that life renewed others, gave others purpose in life, inspired others to see and live in the world in a different way. To live in it with a light shining from within, and shining their inward light outward on the world towards those who are in need. Just the etymology of the word Easter itself gives us a hint of its meaning. Easter is derived from the German word Eostre, which means Dawn or even Shining. The Easter story is a reminder for us to renew the light within us. It is a reminder that there is a time to be in the darkness, to comfort and nurture and prepare ourselves, but there comes a time when we have to come out of our shelter (or maybe I should say out of our egg shell) and risk the pain of changing. We have to roll away the stone to realize our potential and our possibilities. By rolling away the rock, we are forced to engage with others in the world. We are forced to realize that we are not separate from others, and that any limitations we set on ourselves are often self imposed. But it is not easy,
Life comes at us hard, and when the difficulties of life come upon us, when things don’t go exactly as planned We need to remind ourselves of our light. It is one reason I start each service with our chalice lighting words, so those words can be instilled upon our hearts. In the light of truth, truth is what guides us, and in the warmth of love, for it is love that will endure, we gather, for only in gathering with others, only by engaging with others, only by coming together can we find wholeness, as in the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says “whoever is undivided will be full of light, but whoever is divided will be full of darkness” to seek, for only in seeking can we grow, to sustain, for we need each other to lift each other up, and to inspire each other.
I am inspired when I see the care you each give to each other, I am inspired when I see you struggle through difficult circumstances and stay in relationship and persevere, I am inspired when I see you seeking the answers to the deep questions. I am inspired when you reach out to welcome the stranger. Let us not be invisible, there is too much at stake. Let us, like Jesus and so many who followed him, speak the truth to power, share our power with others, love without judgment, and heal the broken. Ask yourselves, how are you inspiring others. How are you renewing the light in others. Now before we sing our closing hymn, I do want to get back to the Bunny. If you have ever seen the movie Rise of the Guardians (its animated so probably not many families at this service) I have to say that was a different vision of the Easter Bunny than I have ever seen – he was one tough bunny. Anyway, There are many theories and factoids about how the bunny and egg thing got started. You can google it if you like. For me though the its religious symbolism speaks to the need for life to keep moving forward, to not only survive, but to thrive, in many different colors, shapes, and designs, just like Unitarian Universalism. May you have a Happy and blessed Easter. May you keep your light burning bright.