A reading from Matthew 28: “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.”
“And Jesus came to them and said,” ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always.’”
i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings :and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Sermon: Easter 2011 – This is the Sun’s Birthday
Ah, to be thankful…to be thankful for this day – what Cummings called ‘the sun’s birthday;’ to be thankful for being alive…for ‘everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!’
What a wonderful image – to be lifted from the no of all nothing…from no-thing to something; to be here, now.
That’s an Easter poem – and an Easter sermon, really.
The Christian story talks about miracles – healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, walking on water, bringing the dead back to life.
We live in the midst of the miracle, which is life on earth, existence itself and the wonder of it all.
Who can stand outside on a clear, star-studded night and not feel a sense of awe. No wonder the religions speculate about it’s beginning and end, suggesting some sort of divine plan.
No wonder the poets, like E. E. Cummings, compose poems that attempt to express that sense of wonder, that sense of awe: ‘how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any—lifted from the no of all nothing—human merely being doubt unimaginable You?’
In these lines Cummings ties the two sides of the human mind together – on the one hand (left brain) we are conscious, rational, intelligent creatures with senses that involve tasting, touching, hearing and seeing…we maintain our lives by breathing, eating and sleeping.
On the other hand we have this thing we call intuition – we have, as it were, another sense…it comes from the right side of the brain and is associated with music, poetry, and all the arts. We are both created beings and creators, involved or engaged in the process of our personal lives; engaged in this process of connecting our lives, of sharing our stories.
We sense something at the heart of creation, but it is not within our capacity to understand it, or as Cummings says, to imagine it…to have an image…unimaginable You, he says to the God he’s been addressing in his poem/prayer; the God to whom he’s addressing thanks.
So we have these two sides, literally two sides of the human brain, with separate ways of looking at the world, different ways of seeing the world.
We’re here to affirm both sides, and to reconcile their apparent differences or contradictions.
Scientists tell us that with the help of radiometric dating, the earth is 4.5 billion years old.
After about a billion lifeless years simple cells appeared – life! – and life on earth has been gradually evolving ever since. Our earliest human ancestors arrived about 2.5 million years ago.
Life on earth is dependent on one of the stars in a universe with billions of stars.
Religious teachings include creation stories – in the case of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – life on earth is the work of a Creator God who made the heavens and the earth, who made the stars and planets, who created the variety of plant and animal life and who made humans in His own image.
Religious teachings satisfy something in us – the something that our minds cannot grasp – what Cummings called ‘unimaginable You.’
Easter got its name from the Eostre, the goddess of spring, or goddess of the dawn, a variant of East, from where the sun rises. The goddess Eostre was born in April.
The left side of the brain demands that we look into the origin of words, the origin of religions. It wants proof, represented in the Christian Easter story by Thomas – doubting Thomas, who demanded to touch the actual wound in the side of the risen Christ.
The right side of the brain embraces Christ as that aspect of us we call ‘compassion,’ or caring, or empathy. The proof is in the feeling.
We know that to be human is to suffer; to share our suffering moves us from being isolated, separated individuals to the realization that we are part of humanity, not merely separate persons, but, part of eternity, if you will. (This realization is not necessarily a conscious kind of awareness – it comes from the depths of the unconscious mind.)
To share our suffering is to move from feeling alone to sensing a new realization of our connectedness to all of humanity, and to a deeper sympathy for the suffering of all persons, all life, even.
That new level of sympathetic understanding is what the Easter story is about; it’s what the teaching of Jesus is all about, it’s what the essential teaching of all the great religious and philosophical teaching is all about.
That’s why we Unitarian Universalists can celebrate Easter with the Christians, Passover with the Jews, and Spring with the Pagans.
With Secular Humanists we celebrate our human potential and our commitment to ethical living.
With our Buddhist friends we celebrate the ability to roll the stone away from our minds and to be awake, to be aware and to be compassionate, like the Buddha…to achieve a degree of enlightenment, beginning with self-understanding.
With the Taoists we celebrate the natural order of the universe and the creative life force which must ever remain nameless.
Each of the religions of the world has its own way of expressing the universal truths – one of which is this thing we recognize as compassion, the literal meaning of which is ‘to suffer together with.’ Compassion is considered as high on the list of virtues.
In his simple and sensitive book, The Wounded Healer, the highly-regarded Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, says, “To enter into solidarity with a suffering person does not mean that we have to talk with that person about our own suffering. Speaking about our own pain is seldom helpful to someone who is in pain.”
“A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience.”
Buddha is referred to as ‘the compassionate one.’ Jesus is referred to as ‘the compassionate one – the Christ,’ the anointed one…the healer.
Our Christ nature, if you will, is our sense of compassion, and the recognition of that characteristic – the best of our human nature, is, I believe, what we celebrate at Easter.
The image at Christmas of the babe in the manger helps us to focus on the potential of each child to be a ‘savior.’
Compassion, celebrated at Easter, is a way of illustrating the actualization of that potential,and it is expressed in a simple-but-profound way in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
Closing reading: The Tire Iron and the Tamale – Justin Horner
During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.
Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.
But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.
One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.
He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.
I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.
No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.
The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.
After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.
This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.
But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”
Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.
In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.
I thank You God…for human compassion; for the appreciation for the gift of life. The life of the human spirit has its foundation in thankfulness. It doesn’t matter what you think about God – it matters how you feel – about Life or God…the Natural World in which we live, and move, and grow, and have our Being. It matters, too, that we give expression to that sense of gratitude that ‘lifts us from the no of all nothing. Every expression of thanks is a deposit in the bank of the Spirit.