Resurrection and Freedom

North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jamesport Meeting House
March 31, 2013 Easter Sunday
The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

We need the sense of deity to crack our own hard, brown December husks
and push life out of inner tombs and outer pain.
Unless we move the seasons of the self, and Spring can come for us,
the Winter will go on and on. And Easter will remain a myth,
and life will never come again, Despite the fact of Spring. (Max Coots)

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude

Lighting the Chalice and Opening Words (by Wendell Berry)
I was walking in a dark valley
And above me the tops of the hills
had caught the morning light.
I heard the light singing as it went out
among the grass blades and the leaves.
I waded upward through the shadow
until my head emerged.
My shoulders were mantled with the light,
and my whole body came up. . .
. . . and stood on the shore of the day.

Hymn #61 Lo, the Earth Awakes Again

Not for Children Only — Daffodils

Sharing of Joys and Sorrows
Spirit of Life Hymn #123

Sermon, Part 1: Resurrection The Rev Dr Linda Anderson
In spring we stand on the shore of day. The holy days of spring: Passover and Easter, are times of standing on the shore of day. We stand on the shore and everything begins, seemingly, anew. Resurrection. The sun rises, the light lasts, the temperature warms, the plants grow, we walk to freedom, we are reborn to a new life. Don’t you sense a change now that there is color in the brown of the trees? Now that the crocuses have bloomed, the forsythia wakes up and the daffodils break ground? Don’t you sense a newness? A twitch of energy? A desire to spring-clean?

“As soon as April pierces to the root the drought of March, and bathes each bud and shoot through every vein of sap with gentle showers from whose engendering liquor spring the flowers. . . Life stirs their hearts and tingles in them so, on pilgrimages people long to go. . .” (Chaucer)

Spring sets the stage as it offers us rebirth and asks why are we hidden in the earth when it’s time to break out and greet the light? Why do we keep our gaze so deeply inward when the hope of the season would turn us to look outward? Passover and Easter ask: What keeps us down, entombed, and what holds us back, enslaved? What must happen before we can lace up our boots and make the changes we need in order to become more free, more strong, more powerful, more loving, more happy? What is holding up our own resurrection? Daffodils come and show us the way. Moses came and showed us the way. Jesus came and showed us the way. The way to freedom, the way to life, the way to love.

What is resurrection in this context? Listen to the ancient story of the exodus. “Refugees run for their lives, carrying heavy toddlers, fleeing to who knows what kind of a life. When the time came for the ancient Hebrews to leave Egypt, they couldn’t think twice and wait for the bread to rise. They just went. The journey was no spiritual metaphor for them, it was the harshest of concrete realities. . . . This escape from bondage to freedom is, of course, the story told . . . (at) Passover. For 400 years the ancient Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt. Moses was told by God in the form of a burning bush to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses paid Pharaoh a little visit, commanding ‘Let my people go.’ Pharaoh didn’t take kindly to the idea. So God sent plagues: frogs and locusts and all the rest, and finally, the horrific killing of the Egyptian firstborn babies, while the Hebrew babies were passed over. At this point Pharaoh finally set the Israelites free, and they fled in haste, before he changed his mind. But of course he did change his mind, and his troops chased the Israelites in chariots and on horses, and when the Israelites were tempted to give in, Moses, (through the help of God), parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites walked to freedom.” (Jane Rzepka) This is resurrection.

The courage to let go of the door,
the handle;
The courage to shed the familiar
walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as
the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall
a feast,
a child’s naughtiness, a loud
blattering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring
through.

The courage to abandon the graves
dug in to the hill,
the small bones of children and the
brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger
had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree
planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where
promises were shaped;
the street where their empty pots
were broken.
. . . .
We honor those who let go of
everything but freedom,
who ran, who revolted,
who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.
Marge Piercy, Maggid

This is resurrection. Letting go of the old, the familiar, in order to grasp something new. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sake of life. Leaving the old behind because the status quo was killing us. In Hebrew the word for Egypt is mitzrayim, which means the narrow place, the place that confines us, constricts us, that is too tight. That which holds us in slavery.

For many of us are enslaved, constricted. Probably we were not enslaved all at once; probably we lost our independence gradually, in increments. That to which we are enslaved seemed good at first, pleasurable, safe. Some of us have become slaves to money, ever in a state of “not enough;” some to the approval of others, ever in need of validation and applause; some to power, ever wanting to be in charge; some to security, ever trying to erase all uncertainty. Love enslaves some of us, as does hatred, as does self-absorption. Fear enslaves us in a vise of paralysis. We can become slaves to alcohol, drugs, food, you name it. Maybe our jobs are the narrow places and squeeze us into work that is too small for our spirits. Maybe the patterns of our relationships confine us and do not nurture our best, loving selves. Maybe our beliefs, assumptions, and values, like boa constrictors, are strangling us to death. What is your Egypt, your mitzrayim?

And can you, will you, free yourself from that which traps you? Sometimes this means a change in perspective, sometimes it means making peace with some person or some situation, sometimes it means leaving, sometimes it means staying, but with a different outlook. It always takes courage. What is your Egypt, your mitzrayim? Breaking out of such confinement is experienced as freedom. It is also resurrection, rebirth to a new life, standing on the shore of a new day.

I have several mitzrayim and one of the largest is fear for my health. After having developed pulmonary emboli, (blood clots in the lungs), a little more than a year ago, seemingly out of the blue, I just never know what my body might do and it scares me. This is a big deal for me. I had an opportunity to go to Peru this month and simply getting up the nerve to take the risk of doing it was an exodus from Egypt. I stepped away from the fear that threatened to paralyze me. I chose to take the risk, not knowing what might happen. I also took precautions, consulting doctors, buying medical insurance in case anything went wrong there. I went and I had a great time. In doing so, I feel more free, less fearful about my health. I stood on the shore of a new day in Peru. And I encountered several more narrow places in the course of the trip. More on that in a moment.

Offering/Offertory

Sermon, Part 2: Resurrection The Rev Dr Linda Anderson
Easter also asks us to let go of the door and shed the familiar. To walk out of our Egypts and into new life. Jesus, in the midst of a controversial ministry, in which he threatened religious leaders with his radical teachings and behavior, was drawn to Jerusalem. A lion’s den, as it were, where the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to kill him. His disciples were afraid, but followed him there. On the road into Jerusalem he received a tumultuous welcome from the crowds, who waved branches before him. In the city, he knew the danger he was in, but ate the Passover meal anyway. He brought some of his disciples to a garden to wait with him while he prayed, but they fell asleep. As he exited the garden the disciple who betrayed him led an armed crowd from the chief priests to arrest him. His disciples ran away and when confronted by strangers regarding their association with Jesus, publicly denied him. The chief priests questioned him and eventually turned him over to the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, who asked the crowd whether they wanted him to free Jesus or crucify him, and they cried out to crucify him. So he was killed in this painful manner and buried. As it was the Sabbath, time needed to pass before some women followers returned to the grave, which they found empty. They were afraid. The male disciples did not believe at first that Jesus was resurrected, but when he visited with them and some of them actually asked him for proof, they came around. And the rest, so to speak, is history.

Easter reminds us how much courage we need because those who admire us will show themselves fickle while our friends will not understand and will desert us and betray us. Nevertheless we must persist because our path is the way to life, even when it seems to cross the valley of the shadow of death. As Howard Thurman says, “To love life is to be whole in all ones parts, and to be whole in all one’s parts is to be free and unafraid.”

And that is the point. Sometimes we have to take a journey even though abandoned by everyone else, in order to find our lives. This is the exodus to freedom. This is the journey toward hope and rejuvenation and love that goes beyond the self. This is resurrection. Jesus’ personal resurrection helped to create a resurrection for his community of followers. Even when our enslavement and resurrection seems ours alone, our movements toward freedom and rebirth touch the other people in our lives and can inspire their own resurrections.

Spring Song by Lucille Clifton.
the green of Jesus
is breaking the ground
and the sweet
smell of delicious Jesus
is opening the house and
the dance of Jesus music
has hold of the air and
the world is turning
in the body of Jesus and
the future is possible

The future becomes possible for everyone. Therefore the resurrection offered by the Easter story is not an individual matter. Resurrections, even when they occur primarily for the individual, inspire rebirths for others. In turn, the rebirths of others inspire our own rebirths. Resurrections have the strongest possibility of positive outcomes when they have the participation of others. We play a greater role in each other’s lives than perhaps we know, or take notice of. Know it. You matter. Your help, your friendship, your presence, matter to me, as mine does to you.

Also, although miracles exist in both the Passover and Easter stories, the resurrections are not miraculous in that they come solely from an outside transcendant being. The Jews laid the foundation for their rebirth and they took it when it appeared. They prayed for freedom. They identified their enslaver and they asked for a change. If they didn’t want their freedom, why risk their lives to follow Moses into the unknown? Once away from Egypt, they spent forever in the desert, where they had to learn, together and for themselves, what it meant to be a people in relationship with their God. Jesus’ resurrection, in the Gospels, is a miracle from God, but if his followers had not believed him and experienced their own resurrections of conviction, continuing to promote his teachings and tell the stories of his life, Jesus’ resurrection itself would have little meaning for humans.

We can choose to experience exodus, movements toward freedom, toward resurrection, and away from that which binds and restricts us. Even when we seem to make this journey alone, other people are influenced by our resurrections, just as we are by theirs. As I was saying earlier, I found other health mitzrayim in Peru, besides my hesitation to go there in the first place. We were up in high altitude, between 12-13,000 feet above sea level. I was having a reaction to it: light headed, heart pounding, fatigued, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping. So the day when our guide told us we would have to take a hike, steep in places, to get to the island people who were making lunch for us, my heart sank. I was so dizzy I could barely walk on a flat surface, much less climb. But the guide, a native to that area of Peru, was kind. He said try it. He would walk ahead of me and I could steady myself by putting my hand on his shoulder. We would go slowly. And so we did. Soon my partner Margie took over and gave me her arm. Step by step I climbed up the uneven stone path, into the mud, over the streams, up the last hill to the village. I was rewarded by the freshest, most delicious grilled trout I have ever had. What I learned was that my body is capable of more than I imagine. Without the help of Eliseo and Margie, my fear of what I cannot do physically would have kept me enslaved. With their help and acceptance of me I experienced a rebirth of confidence in myself, a loosening of fear. I stood on the shore of a new day. And my experience helped to cheer on others, who were also having difficulties getting around in the altitude.

The message I draw today from Easter and Passover is that resurrection is not a miracle. Nor has it only happened in the past. Resurrection can happen for us, right here and right now. And not just once. The possibility exists for us to turn to each other for help in freeing ourselves from what binds us, keeps us in too tight places. The journey toward freedom is our own particular work, yet at the same time we do not do it alone. When we taste that freedom, even if only briefly, even if in small doses, we experience resurrection. When we can identify to what we are enslaved and when we make a choice for exodus, we put ourselves on the path to resurrection. I believe that we help each other to find the resurrections we need. I believe that this does not come from outside of us, rather it comes from inside of us. It comes from our human longing to be free, to be whole.

What Egypts would you wish to make an exodus from? What holds you as a slave? What would a rebirth look like? What do you need in order to make changes? Whose help can make your resurrection happen? Believe it. It can happen. Maybe it comes at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, this gift. But it does come.

We have been created to be free.
We have been created to know joy.
We have been created to love.
We were not meant to be exiles. (David Blanchard)

Happy Easter. Happy Passover.

Hymn #270 O Day of Light and Gladness

Closing words (W.E.B. DuBois) and Extinguishing the Chalice
In these first beginnings of the new life of the world, renew in us the resolution to persist in the good work we have begun. Give us strength of body and strength of mind and the unfaltering determination to carry out that which we know to be good and right. Forgive all wavering in the past service . . . and make us strong to go forward in spite of the doubts of our friends and our enemies and in spite of our own distrust in ourselves. Out of the death of winter comes ever and again the resurrection of spring; so out of evil bring good, . . . out of doubt determination, out of sadness joy, and out of our hearts hope and peace.

Postlude

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