Easter

April 16, 2017
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen

Easter invites imagination. It wants us to see ahead to a new day, to a time yet to be, that we can now anticipate because the stone is rolled away. Our task on Easter – indeed, on every day, as people of faith – is to “remember the future,” in the words of physicist Stephen Hawking, and then live toward it in hope.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God says through the prophet. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

We spoil Easter if we try to pick it apart. If we’ve come today to cast our doubts or grumble about the veracity of resurrection or argue about afterlife, then we will miss the point. This day is not meant to provide a prosaic response to death, but, rather, a poetic paean to life! Easter urges us to experience the fullness of love, the depth of hope, the sweep of joy – and it insists we trust in the goodness of life.

“Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating,” God says through Isaiah…”No more shall the sound of weeping be heard, or the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:18-19)

We live in the midst of a widespread failure of imagination, on all sides. We’re consumed by the unfettered turmoil that encases our lives. We’re seduced by the fleeting satisfaction of tribalism and tempted by the pride of self-righteous indignation. We can’t seem to escape our culture’s algorithm of fear. Violence has become the go-to option.

But Easter? Easter will have none of that.

Easter walks the valley of shadows and fears no evil. It invites us into the church, into a conspiracy of hope undeterred by death. There’s a relentless quality to it. We see it every spring; regardless of how chaotic the world has become or how far off track things have gotten, the creation itself joins the resistance.

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,” Isaiah says.

“The lion shall eat straw like the ox… Like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be… They shall not…bear children for calamity… They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” (Isaiah 65:25, 21, 23)

In the prophet’s imagination, gardening is an act of rebellion. A friend recently pointed me in the direction of E. B. White’s description of his wife Katharine in her garden in the fall:

“Armed with a diagram and a clipboard, Katherine would get into a shabby old…raincoat much too long for her, put on a little round wool hat, pull on a pair of overshoes, and proceed to the director’s chair – a folding canvas thing – that had been placed for her at the edge of the plot. There she would sit, hour after hour, in the wind and the weather, while Henry Allen produced dozens of brown paper packages of new bulbs and a basketful of old ones, ready for the intricate interment. As the years went by and age over took her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion – the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”

(From the Introduction to Onward and Upward In the Garden; See https://lisaschweitzer.com/2015/08/19/e-b-white-planning-and-plotting-the-resurrection/. My thanks to Jim Gertmenian for the reference.)

Calmly plotting the resurrection. Defiant. Resistant. Resilient. That’s why on this day the tears don’t seem right. “Why are you weeping?” They are the first words of the angels when they see Mary peering into the empty tomb. They’re genuinely confused. Jesus says the same thing to her. This was not to be a weeping day. The Lord of Life has risen from the grave, opening the tomb, breaking free of death. This is no time for tears.

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

The angels and Jesus are thrown off by the tears.  It’s not what they expect on Easter morn. Winter has finally conceded; this is the moment the bulbs push their first green shoots up through the earth, sometimes even through snow. The defiance of daffodils.

Life cannot be stopped.

Have we no imagination?

The old spiritual, Soon I Will Be Done, was sung by enslaved Africans for strength through their long  days of suffering. The refrain went like this: No more weeping and a-wailin’, no more weeping and a-wailin’, no more weeping and a-wailin’, I’m goin’ to be with God. It was a resurrection song that defied the power of oppression, and even of death.

When they were little our children learned that song. They attended a holdover hippie co-operative pre-school in San Francisco many years ago. The refrain from the spiritual was heard every day at the school. I volunteered there one day a week and marveled at the collaborative resilience of the children. When one of the preschoolers was upset everyone would stop what they were doing to comfort that child and sing away the tears. No more weepin’ and a-wailin’.

One three-year old named Julia was hyper-sensitive to everything and prone to anxiety. She had a hard time at preschool. When she first started her mom came with her for a few days, but eventually she had to go back to work and Julia was on her own. By then, though, she had learned the song. When she felt panic or tears coming on, or was getting upset about something, wherever she was – standing at an easel, paintbrush in hand, or at the cornmeal sandbox, or building with cardboard blocks – if she was getting upset she would quietly start singing to herself…no more weepin’ and a-wailin’

She was pushing back as the shadows closed in. There are times, maybe even now, when we all should be singing that song.

The pre-school had planted a little resurrection in Julia’s heart. She would go to the place where the light is never extinguished, and then, using that light, she would find her way back to the courage she needed to keep going. We can all go to that place.

Calmly plotting the resurrection. Planning for the promised day. That’s our work, yours and mine. The work of the church, with people of other faiths, as well, and those of good will. Together we will remember the future, full of hope.

Westminster has been engaged in that Easter work the last five years in growing the vision we call Open Doors Open Futures. Whether in the affordable housing we’re building downtown or our educational partnerships in north Minneapolis or our support of emerging young leaders in the community, we’ve been calmly plotting resurrection. The new wing we’re constructing will house an early intervention program of St. David’s Center for traumatized children and Somali kids on the autism spectrum. The program will be an act of resistance against the way things are, pointing to a better future. The two levels of underground parking and the green roof and the new spaces and technology for worship and music and ministry are not simply conveniences; they are part of the long-term Easter vision of a “new heaven and a new earth.”

As people of faith, as Americans, as global neighbors we need to muster our collective imagination to see our way to a changed world. We cannot stay in the same place, hobbled by distrust and animosity. We cannot any longer accept racial and economic injustice as the norm. We cannot continue to mistreat the earth. We cannot let fear dominate our politics and culture. A frightened world is an unsafe world.

The realities of our time, pressing in all around us, could easily lead to tears of frustration or anxiety or helplessness. But then our resurrection faith would ask, “Why are you weeping?”

Instead, our role as followers of Jesus is to plot resurrection, calmly, like Katherine in her garden, every chance we get. You and I are co-conspirators with the risen Jesus, drawing on an Easter imagination against the forces of darkness and death – wherever we can, whenever we can, however we can.

It’s a joy to be engaged in that work as an Easter people.

And it’s a joy to welcome three little children today into that same conspiracy, into this community called Christian, here at the font. We will baptize them into the hope of resurrection, marking them as Christ’s own forever – even as we have been marked ourselves.

Together we will work toward that time when no more weeping will be heard, and no more cry of distress, for Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Amen.

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