041722 Easter Living Holy Week after Easter

The sermon begins at minute 23:40 of the video

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-11

      Last Friday a Muslim friend posted a memory on Facebook from five years ago when Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian holy days overlapped. Clergy of different faiths organized an action outside the Los Angeles Jail on Maundy Thursday to declare Los Angeles a sanctuary for all. We made lots of noise so the inmates could hear us and feel our support. Many of them were going to be deported. People washed the feet of some undocumented immigrants who were free to stand among us.

     That memory reinforced a point made in two devotional writings I read on Good Friday. I realize this year more than ever before how important it is to root the Easter story in the Holy Week story. That’s why I left the stations of the Cross hanging on the back windows. The first reading was by Diana Butler Bass. She shared an experience with the Stations of the Cross at her Episcopal church one year, where a guest artist had been invited to exhibit the [stations]. She tells us that the canvases were twelve feet high and eight feet wide. The artist was Jewish. The images portrayed Jesus as a Rabbi — and his executioners as Nazis. That was a quarter of a century ago. But those images come back to me every Good Friday since, those Nazis murdering Jesus in my church.

     The second reading was from the Rev. M. Shawn Copeland. It built on the image of Jesus as a Jew executed by Nazis. If we would follow Christ crucified, we would hear the echoes of bitter weeping in Gaza and in Rafah, Baghdad, Beirut and Kigali; we would press to our hearts the tears that flowed from the eyes of Cherokee, Seminole, and Choctaw children, women, and men who limped through the cold and hunger from Oklahoma to Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi; we would recover tears that fell on the floors of camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibór; we would recognize that the tears, blood and moans of the innocent have been absorbed into the air we breathe, and seeped into our streams and oceans, into the earth in which we plant and from which we harvest and eat.  

     These images of stations of the cross and following Christ crucified invite us to bring the realities of Holy Week into our Easter future. Resurrection empowers us to live our own holy week as we follow a resurrected Christ. This is a good year to remember that: Luke’s resurrection story is the only one that focuses on the past rather than the future. Nowhere do we hear the word go to Galilee as the other Gospels report. Rather the women are invited to remember what was said in Galilee – to dare to create their own future out of a perplexing present and a remembered past. They were perplexed by the empty tomb, perturbed by the two men, provoked by their memory of Jesus’ words.

     But they didn’t remain perplexed. The memory of what was said in Galilee catapulted them into a different future. They proclaimed what they had experienced. And despite the men considering the story an idle tale, they acted on what they heard at the tomb. They dared to walk towards a future that could barely be perceived based on the past or present. Remembering activates the power of recognition. After the resurrection even the male disciples remembered, understood and perceived a different future. The disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced Christ in the breaking of the bread and then remembered what Jesus had said on the road.

    Recognition that opens us to the future can shock and disrupt if we let it in. We won’t initially comprehend what we see. In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard quotes interviews of the first people to undergo successful cataract surgery. Blind from birth, they suddenly received their sight and then were interviewed about what they saw. One newly-sighted girl was shown a batch of photos. Why do they put those dark marks all over them? she asked. Those aren’t marks. They’re shadows, her mother explained. Shadows? the girl asked. Yes, that’s one way the eye knows things have shape. If it weren’t for shadows, things would look flat. That’s how things do look, her daughter answered. Everything looks flat with dark patches. Seeing for the first time opened the patients to a bigger and more complex world than they had known.

     We must dare to face the darkness of Holy Week and expose it to the light of Easter, so the past can catapult us to the future that lays before us. And we must be patient and persevering to overcome our resistance. Joan Chittister has helped us see this:

Like the women who went to the tomb expecting to find the grave blocked, we must move through our fear of resistance to silence our hearts and color our sense of possibility. When we realize that the stone has been rolled away, we must engage the struggle between fear of reprisal and faith in the truth of the gospel.

Like the apostles who could not imagine any truth outside themselves, we must learn to hear the Word of God from strange quarters, acknowledging how our lenses have been colored by racism, sexism, and prejudice.

Like Peter and John who run to the tomb “to see for themselves” because they will not believe the women, we must accept that to cut anyone off from proclaiming the word of God is to shrink our own experience of God.

     But the darkness is not only our own. As Rev. Copeland pointed out, there is also the darkness of those who have been oppressed and mistreated. We must awaken to that reality too. It strikes many in the world as strange to see clergy out on the streets. I remember one Holy Week when 100 clergy and union workers walked through Beverly Hills to support contracts for hotel workers. As we walked past a sidewalk café, a well-dressed man said, You didn’t leave the church unattended, did you, Father? It was a thinly disguised taunt, as if to say, “What are you doing out here in the real world? Get back and mind the store in your God boxes.”

     When Isaiah spoke to people in deep despair over whether life would ever be good again, he described the new heaven and earth that come after resurrection: They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity. That doesn’t sound very churchy to me. Neither does it sound very realistic. Yet those are the concerns that clergy marching in the streets are addressing. Resurrection happens in history. The new creation is coming.

     Creation tell us not to accept unsatisfactory agendas. God promises more. But, does highlighting promises make their fulfillment any more likely? Should we repeat promises that one day there will be no more construction workers who can’t afford to own their own homes, no more seasonal migrant workers who can’t afford to buy the fruit they pick, no more fear of birthing children into a world where a bullet might kill them before they graduate? By all means! Those promises are no more out of reach than promises that slavery would end, or that women would be priests, or that LGBTQ folks could live without fear of bullying.

     Promises give strength for the struggle. ML King wrote, I’ve stood in a meeting with hundreds of youngsters and joined in while they sang, Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round. That’s not just a song; it’s a resolve. A few minutes later, I have seen those same youngsters refuse to turn around from the onrush of police dogs, refuse to turn around before a pugnacious Bull Connor in command of men armed with power hoses. These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us to march together. (Essential Writings of King, p. 535-6)

     Friends, if we don’t apply the power of Easter to the struggles of Holy Week we reduce it to Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, and Easter ham. Many – perhaps most – have done that. Dare we try to live this power?