"Give them not Hell, but

Hope and Courage."

Monday, April 1, 2013

"To Awake with a Winged Heart" (Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013)

   I’m sure that many of you—or, at least, many of you of “a certain age”—remember a song that was made popular by Bette Midler back in the very late 1970’s:

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you its only seed.

It's the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
Who cannot seem to give,
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live.

            It dawned on me the other day that in my (almost) one-third of a century in the ministry now, I have probably delivered thirty Easter sermons, give or take a couple. It also dawned on me that that little song pretty much says all there is to say about Easter, from a Unitarian Universalist perspective, at least. I could just sing the song, and sit down (and you would be relieved to have me sit down, were I to sing the song). But I won’t, because it’s Easter; my last Easter sermon from this pulpit; my last Easter sermon ever, in all probability.

            So what have I been trying to say about Easter for the past thirty-plus years?

            It also dawned on me (light breaks on Marblehead yet again)--  it also dawned on me that few have said it as clearly as Kahlil Gibran did in his essay on “Love” from his book, The Prophet. And I understand that it is probably only those of us of “a certain age”, as well—we who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, really—who even remember Kahlil Gibran. (Though St. Wikipedia tells us that Gibran is the third best selling poet of all time, after Shakespeare and Lao Tzu.)  I remember that Elizabeth read (beautifully) Gibran’s meditation “On Love” at our wedding service back in 1978. (At that service, I read Gibran’s meditation “On Marriage”; other people could officiate at the service, but we didn’t trust anyone else to do the readings, I guess.)
            “When love beckons you, follow him,” Gibran wrote, “Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you, yield to him, though [his] sword… may wound you.

            “For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.”

“It's the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.”


“[It’s] the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live.”

None of us gets out of here alive, Jim Morrison once said. And none of us gets out of here uncrucified, either. Or unharmed, or unbroken.

We’re crucified by betrayal. By disappointment. By misunderstanding. By our own sins, and limitations, and addictions. We’re crucified by disease and depression and despair, by anxiety and hopelessness. For hundreds of thousands—probably millions—of people the world over, the images of being whipped and scourged and tortured (and, yes, even crucified) are not religious metaphors—they are all too physical realities, day in and day out. Their experience is a direct, physical reflection of the experience of Jesus in ancient Palestine two thousand years ago.

We all bear our crosses in this world, and sometimes we stumble and fall, time and again and again, under the weight of them. We are tired; we are weary; life sometimes feels like a winter that has gone on for just too long.

But the book of nature gives us hope here, a hope reflected clearly in the pages of holy scripture. Just as certainly as the spring follows winter, so there is planted within the human heart the capacity to transcend pain and despair, and the power to transform pain and despair into a spirit of new life and new hope.

That spirit, planted deep in the human heart, is love.

Life will wound us. The deeper we live—the deeper we love—the deeper our wounds may well be. The deeper the winter, the more majestic the spring that can follow.The deeper our wounds, the deeper the love that can flow from them.

For those of us who are Christian, we see that most clearly in the figure of Jesus on the Cross. But this is a universal human impulse, not just a Christian one. Every tradition knows this truth. There is a Yiddish proverb that says, “There is no heart so whole as a broken heart,” and the Buddhist writer Joanna  Rogers Macy has written, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”

Our pain and suffering can give rise to compassion. And compassion is the most heightened form that love takes.

Kahlil Gibran was from Lebanon originally, before coming to America, and settling in Boston, actually. His mother was Christian, and his father a Muslim, and he was heavily influenced by the Sufi mystics. The symbol of the Sufi movement is a heart cleft in two (as hearts will often be), but from which wings have sprung.

A broken heart, but a winged heart, too. An earth fallowed by winter, with a surge of new life already eastering forth.

A winged heart, by which we fly beyond the bonds of this life, toward the boundlessness of life eternal—not a life that lasts forever, but a life which lives to its fullest, and loves to its deepest, and sings ever a song of praise upon its lips.

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring becomes the rose.


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