Easter Day, April 16, 2017
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Two weeks ago, I had retreated from the city of Boston to Emery House in West Newburyport, in order to meet with my spiritual companion, Brother Curtis, who is a monk with the Society of St. John the Evangelist. When I first arrived, I ran into Brother Geoffrey in the kitchen. “Congratulations, Nancy, on your appointment as Acting Dean of the Cathedral.” he said. “It’s a big job.” Looking him straight in the face, and with my eyes widening, I replied, “Yes, the job is huge,” and then we both started laughing. “Well,” he said, “the Lord has called you to it, and He will provide what you need.” Pouring myself a cup of herbal tea, I laughed again, and said, “That’s why I’m here.”
I wear a collar around my neck because I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. My collar is sometimes visible, and represents the vows that I’ve made to proclaim the good news of God’s Love, which is an unbroken circle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. But let me be clear, the first call is ours together, and those of us who have been baptized into the life of Christ. We are all part of a great community of faith that St. Paul calls the priesthood of all believers. God has planted the seed of resurrection into our souls, and has put a new song on our lips. As the psalmist sings, “The Lord is my strength and my song.”
My husband Paul and I love to watch movies, although sometimes we disagree about which ones to watch. Let’s just say that I like romantic comedies, and he likes dramatic war stories. Recently, we went to see the Shack, a movie based upon a book that came out many years ago. And then just two weeks ago, we sat down to watch Patriot’s Day, a movie about a real life event, the violence that occurred on Marathon Monday four years ago. Easter, The Shack, and Patriot’s Day all have three things in common: they are stories about murder, love, and new life.
Bishop Jim Curry, a retired bishop suffragan in the diocese of Connecticut, often visited the Anglican church in Africa. After one trip to Mozambique, Bishop Curry came back with a tableau, showing peasants bringing their guns to a table, where they had been transformed into tools for farming. Around his neck, he wore a pectoral cross that had been created from gun metal. He also had received an iron sculpture of a trombone player, which had been crafted from the same materials.
One time Bishop Curry visited Mozambique during Holy Week. On Good Friday, he joined thousands of people who had gathered for worship, where a casket had been placed in front of the altar. The preacher invited everyone to come forward and look into the tomb where Jesus had been laid.
When it was his turn to go to the altar, Bishop Curry walked down the aisle with fear and trembling. When he arrived at the casket and looked in, he didn’t see Jesus. Rather, he saw the face of a living man. He saw the face of himself; for a mirror had been placed at the bottom of the casket. “You have been raised with Christ,” said the author of the letter to the Colossians. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is (now) hidden with Christ in God.”
This past Good Friday, Jim Woodworth, the facilities manager at our Cathedral, was telling me about his favorite pond in Canton, where he goes for peace and quiet. In the 1960’s the Environmental Protection Agency passed legislation prohibiting the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals in our water. Jim tells me that 15 years later he saw a great blue heron and other wildlife return to the pond. One day he expects to see a bald eagle. We get hope here at our Cathedral.
In the burial office for the dead, we proclaim that “the liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy; for it finds all its meaning in the resurrection.” As St. Paul proclaimed, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too shall we be raised. This burial liturgy therefore is characterized by joy, in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Therefore, like the psalmist, we too can sing a song of joy, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
The Shack is a movie about a family torn apart by the murder of their 5 year old child. Feeling burdened by grief, by sorrow, and even by guilt, each family member struggled to recover from their devastating loss. When the father returned to the Shack, the place of his daughter’s violent death, he met God; and then he returned home, a free man.
The essence of Easter is that Jesus is the victor over evil and death. He is the man or woman who has lost a leg, and still returns to run on Marathon Monday. He is the man or woman, who has recently lost a loved one, and can still sing a song of Easter joy. The good news of today is that life beyond death is not just a human hope, or a lovely metaphor for Spring flowers, but it is a godly promise.
The resurrection from the dead is not just an old biblical story, nor a new evangelical movie. Karl Barth asserts that “when we deny the resurrection, alter it, or minimize it, we make it into something human, rather than an eternal, ever-living, and ever loving act of God.” God’s resurrection Love transcends all time, all people, all places, and all of creation.God’s resurrection Love is here. And it is our hope right now and for the future.
Robert Raines tells the story of an anthropologist named Loren Eiseley. (Quote) “One day he leaned against a stump at the edge of a small glade and fell asleep.” He recalls, “When I awoke, I became dimly aware of some commotion in the clearing. The light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lighted like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a squirming (baby) nestling in its beak.”
“The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling’s parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch and sat still. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade, fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.”
“No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried (together) in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the un-bereaved; and then suddenly the crying ceased. It was (then) that I saw judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never again see it so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of their protest, they forgot the violence.”
“There in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, and the song passed from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were slowly being forgotten. Until suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats, joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight is beautiful. They (even) sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth, they had forgotten the raven, for they were singers of life, and not death.” (End quote) (pp 173-175)
“Mary,” Jesus said, and she heard the voice of the one she loved, and the One who loved her. She heard the voice of the one who had been crucified, and whose death no one had protested. She heard the voice of her Teacher. “Go tell my brothers and sisters that you have seen me,” said Jesus. At first she was a single sparrow; then Mary shared her song with Peter, and John, and all the other disciples. Suddenly they “all took heart and sang from many throats. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight is beautiful.” They sang because Jesus was raised from the dead.
Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. So run your race with perseverance, and do not give up. You can find hope here at our Cathedral. Rejoice always, I say rejoice, for on this day the Lord has acted, and we are glad indeed. Full throated, we songbirds can sing with joy; for Christ has killed the Raven, and the victory is ours, now and forever.