"Give them not Hell, but

Hope and Courage."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Everything Which Is Yes (Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011)

            I really have no idea if there is a South Park program about Easter. But I have heard that there is a Christmas episode which features a wrestling match between Jesus and Santa Claus. (I don’t believe I have seen it; or, if I have, I have repressed the memory.) Yes, Jesus and Santa Claus in a wrestling match, to determine who is going to get control over Christmas: Jesus or Santa? The sacred or the secular? The birth of a great New Love among us, or the continued madcap accumulation of toys, and presents, and stuff?
            Now, in spite of the fact that it is a rather irreverent image (you may have just heard one of the very few allusions to the program South Park in an Easter sermon anywhere in the world this morning), it does have its truth about it. The way some of us, people of faith, see it, it’s still a raging battle: not so much between the sacred and the secular, as between the spiritual and the commercial, and whether any deeper values will ever be allowed to supersede those of the market place. Some of us would say that this is, indeed, the titanic struggle of our times.
            I don’t know if there is a South Park Easter show. But I suppose there could be. Jesus wrestling with the Easter Bunny, perhaps. Or with a giant Peeps chick. Though neither of these really, is enemy of many (if any) of us, let alone of Jesus.  I would think that even those of us of a more Christian persuasion have reconciled our human race’s ancient impulse for a spring celebration (with its accompanying bunnies and chicks and colored eggs—and, of course, chocolate)—with our deep understanding of the Resurrection of Jesus.  The peaceful coexistence between these two strains goes way back. Indeed, even the word “Easter” itself comes from the name of the Germanic goddess of spring, fertility, and renewal. Who can but celebrate at a season like this, when the air finally grows warm, and the days grow longer, and the buds appear on the trees and the first spring flowers come crashing through the earth? Who can help celebrating the arrival, at long last, of spring?
            The coming of spring calls forth the poetry in our souls. As Archibald Macleish wrote:
Why, it was wonderful! Why all at once there were leaves,
Leaves at the end of a dry stick, small, alive
You can’t imagine. They came by the wood path
And the earth loosened, the earth relaxed, there were flowers,
Out of the earth! Think of it! And oak trees
Oozing new green at the tips of them and flowers
Squeezed out of clay, soft flowers, limp
Stalks flowering. Well, it was like a dream,
It happened so quickly, all of a sudden it happened—
            No, there is no struggle in our souls at Easter time between the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the spring.
            But if we take the grace of Easter on the cheap—if we revel in its simple, primal glories and see it as a simple spring festival, without taking up the deeper challenge it represents, then it seems to me that we will miss out on its deeper meanings. For there is a cosmic wrestling match which Easter represents. It is related to that great struggle of good and evil which is always with us (you know, the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other). At the height of the Mexican War (which he bitterly opposed), the great Unitarian poet James Russell Lowell wrote:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side.
Lowell was right, of course; but he was only partially right. The conflict of good and evil—in our souls; in our society; in the life of the world—is never a once in a lifetime event. No, it’s a constant struggle that we face all of our lives, in each and every decision we make, really. We are always being called upon to choose, between the best that is within us, and the worst. Trying to be a decent human being is a lifelong process, and it can be exhausting work sometimes.
            That’s where the particular challenge of Easter comes in. Very simply, Easter is a cosmic struggle (a cosmic wrestling match, if you will) between the Spirit of Life and the forces of Death. It is our spirits’ choice between a life which is abundant and even eternal; and life which is mired in the same old tomb of the ways of this fallen world.
            Easter challenges us to turn our backs on the forces of “No” in this world, and to fearlessly face the wide horizon’s grander view, and embrace wholeheartedly everything which is “Yes”.
            “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
            What does Jesus mean here, when he says that we need to hate our lives in this world, in order to gain some sense of the life eternal?
            I think he means that we need to let go of those forces which tie us down—which isolate us—which make us cling to our wealth; our power; our ethnic group or religion or nation; our need to be right—let go of those forces which keep us as radically individual single grains of wheat—which would have us see ourselves as single strands of being and not part of a Great Web, interdependent with all other living creatures-- single, selfish, self-absorbed men and women, watching over our own narrow self interest, getting what we can for ourselves and the commonwealth be damned.
Easter commands that we turn our backs on the forces of “No”—no peace, no justice, no equity, no compassion, no empathy, no faith, no love, no hope.
            Easter is that “most amazing day” when “No” is banished: whether it is the no that says that life will never return to this barren ground and this meadow will never flower again. Or the no that says that that crazy rebel carpenter from Nazareth is dead and gone at last—nailed to a cross—good riddance. Or, the no in our own souls that tells us we will never love again, or never hope again, or never taste the sweetness of life again.
            Easter tells us that, with the help and grace of God, and through the wondrous healing ministrations of Nature, it need not be that way; and it will not be that way if we open our hearts, and open our arms, and embrace God’s Yes—Life’s Yes— in its full wonder and its full possibility.

Hallelujah! Overcome, overcome
 the Lord has the power of doom!
Death has not kept him bound
in the dark night of the tomb!
Sing to his glory the holy psalms!
 Spread before him the victory palms!
Arisen has the Lord!
 Praise him joyfully, heavens!
 Sing to the victor, earth!
 Hallelujah to you,
 who has risen from death to birth!

            And may we, too, thank God for this—and every—most amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and all blue true dreams of skies above; may we thank God for everything—for all the infinite possibilities of Yes which lie, ever eastering, in our souls, every blessed moment of our lives.

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