Sermon preached Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Texts: Luke 24:1-12
“Love Is All Around” Sonny Curtis (Mary Tyler Moore Theme song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zfti7b31rs
So this may have caught you a bit off-guard, particularly on Easter Sunday morning, maybe striking you as a little inappropriate. Take some comfort in knowing that at least I did not use the Husker Du version of the song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFyy3XB_3Y4).
The Mary Tyler Moore show was set in Minneapolis. It was about a young woman from a small Minnesota town taking a job as an associate producer for a television news station in the Twin Cities. Though a sit-com, it was ground-breaking in many ways, particularly in depicting a strong, single career woman. But life is not always easy for Mary.
In one episode of the program, Mary is feeling discouraged about her life. Things seem to have become dull and routine. Mary is desperate enough to take advice from Ted, the self-involved, less than Einstein, news anchor at her station. Ted: “You want to change your life, Mary, I’ll tell you how to change your life. I’ve known you for six years now, and I know exactly what’s wrong with your life. You wake up. You eat breakfast. You drive to work. You say hello to your friends. You work at your job. You go to lunch. You work some more. You say goodbye to your friends. You drive home. You have dinner. You sit down. You watch television. You read a magazine and you go to sleep. Am I right?” Mary nods. “You want to change your life completely this is what you’ve got to do, starting tomorrow. Wake up! Eat your breakfast! Drive to work! Say hello to your friends! Work at your job! Go to lunch! Work some more! Say goodbye to your friends! Drive home! Have dinner! Sit down. Watch some television. Read a magazine and go to sleep. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KsxMdR2Uf0)
This morning’s sermon title, “Rise, Shine, Wake Up” may lead you to think that Easter is all about positive thinking, about waking up, eating your breakfast, driving to work…. Is that all there is to Easter? Is today about nothing more than positive thinking? Is it just about turning the world on with a smile? And all because of a past event?
I don’t think so, and frankly, we need more than that. Positive thinking matters and has its place. It may be all that we need if our only problems are feeling that our lives are a little dull and routine, though it is often the case that such feelings are but the tip of an iceberg of a deeper existential depression. Existential depression, distinct from clinical depression, is a penetrating feeling that we are not quite alive, that our lives have little meaning, little joy. It is something more than can be resolved in a thirty-minute sit-com.
Positive thinking may be adequate if we are just feeling a little blue, that our lives are a little dull. If our despair sinks deeper we need more. When we look at our world we know we need more than positive thinking.
Just this week, Brussels joined Paris and San Bernardino in lists of places that remind us of the depth of violence in our world. Our daughter Beth was flying into Kosovo the same morning we heard about Brussels. We are so grateful that she is fine, but our hearts ache for those whose children or family members were killed or maimed. For the past number of years, I have on Good Friday listened to a piece of music composed in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001 – John Adams, “On the Transmigration of Souls.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jCdOjOaJsU) It reminds me of how complex and difficult and sometimes violent our world is.
Friday, UNICEF released a report saying that nearly 87 million children age 7 and younger have known nothing in their lives but conflict. Children living in such situations are often exposed to extreme trauma, putting them at risk of living in a state of toxic stress, a thus inhibiting brain cell connections -- with significant life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development.
We could say so much more. There is a persistence of poverty in our nation and in our world. Racial and tribal divisions still plague humankind. Addictions imprison too many, with heroin addiction tragically on the rise here in the U.S.
In such a world, positive thinking is not enough. We need more. We need the more of Easter. In Easter, death, despair, injustice, oppression are not brushed aside with the advice to simply accentuate the positive. Easter acknowledges a difficult, complicated world, acknowledges death, despair, injustice, oppression, but all are overcome. Life, joy, hope, healing, reconciliation, repair and love, seemingly buried, burst forth into life, burst forth in ways that can almost seem to be an idle tale. Why look for the living among the dead? God is a God of life, and the way of God is the way of life, joy, hope, healing, reconciliation, repair and love overcoming the very real death, despair, injustice and oppression of our world.
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes well about this in his recent book The Living God and the Fullness of Life. Easter is a festival of freedom (193). But the festival of freedom has another effect as well…. When freedom is near, the chains begin to chafe. When the Spirit of the risen Christ lays hold of men and women at the center of what oppresses them, they become aware of their loneliness. When they become aware of their diminished life, then the celebrated life awakens the hunger for real life, and the celebrated freedom awakens the cry for true liberation. Then a remembrance of this festival emanates into everyday life…. It acts as a counter-image to the lonely and reduced life, awakens the will for an uprising against the oppressions, and gives courage to the hope for change. (195)
Underlying this dynamic of the energy of Easter emanating out is another idea Moltmann puts well. Joy is the meaning of human life. Human beings were created in order to have joy in God (195). Life in joy is already an anticipation of eternal life; the goodly life here is already the beginning of the glorious life there; fulfilled life here points beyond itself to the fullness of life there. In joy over the hoped-for-future, we live here and now, completely and wholly, weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice…. Life in hope… is a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life. (190)
Positive thinking tends to wither under the real pressures of a difficult world. It wilts under the barrage of bad news. It retreats when the pain and hurt become too intense. Easter, and the God of the risen Christ, releases an energy into the world that strengthens us, that gives us the hope and courage to live with joy – a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life.
The novel, The Shipping News is about a man named Quoyle. Deeply hurt in a first marriage, Quoyle seeks to escape all of that by moving with his two daughters from New York State to a small town on the Newfoundland coast. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go. (1) Quoyle gets a job with a local newspaper, and tries as best he can to be a good worker, a good person and, most of all, a good father. But he does not want his life opened up much – too much hurt and pain there, better to live narrowly.
The novel tells his story wonderfully, and it ends beautifully. Eventually, Quoyle’s life opens in fits and starts, a relationship develops, and the ending is an Easter moment. Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do…. It may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery. (337)
This is more than positive thinking. The God of Easter, the God of the risen Christ, through Easter, releases energy into our lives and into our world. We can hope and work courageously for love and justice and reconciliation and repair, trusting that none of our work is in vain, for this is the very work of God in the world, and God is with us in the risen Christ. We can know joy as the meaning of life, even as we see all the pain and hurt in the world. We will weep, but we will also dance, and God weeps and dances with us. Because of Easter, we can live a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life. Because of the energy, the Spirit let loose in Easter we can experience moments in all colors, utter brilliancies, pay attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, laugh and weep, notice sunsets, hear music in rain.
So rise! So shine! So wake up! Christ is risen. And because Christ is risen, we might just turn the world around with our smiles, smiles radiating the joy of a love that is indeed all around, a love more powerful than any grim, bleak stuff life can throw our way (Anne Lamott), a love which raised Jesus. Amen.