Easter Sunday Service — The Spring Inspired Word

Easter is a difficult holiday for Unitarian Universalists, probably the most difficult of all that recur in our liturgical calendar. It has mixed resonations, some pleasant, some troubling. That other Christian holiday that UU’s like to visit, Christmas, also has deep resonations, but almost all of them are pleasant. The soft glow of candles in a darkened church, familiar and comforting music, colored lights in the winter night–what’s not to like, especially in a sanctuary as blessed as ours?
Easter, like Christmas, is a compound of different practices, some pagan in origin and some from different strands of Christian tradition; however, Christmas is much easier for us to enjoy. Giving birth is a non-miraculous human experience to which we can all relate. We can easily separate the associations we like from the myths that we do not accept–virgin birth, miraculous stars, heavenly hosts and all of that. UU’s of all persuasions seem to be able to do so; I’ve never heard of a UU congregation that does not look forward to Christmas celebrations every year.
Easter is another matter. It is rooted in the same soil as the Passover, which our Jewish friends began observing last Wednesday. Neither of these is a lightweight story. While in the end, they both become stories about redemption, joy and new life, the dawn of that new life is reached only after a passage of hardship and grief.
Christmas is much easier to take. Once you dismiss all of the mythic elements—the virgin birth, the star, the angels, all of that—what you’re left with is pretty commonplace. A baby is born—happens every day, every hour. And what parents aren’t convinced that their baby is the most special baby ever born, destined to change the world?
Easter? That’s another matter. If you explain away the empty tomb as a publicity stunt by his followers, then you really have nothing factual left. The Easter story, unlike the Christmas story, is not a commonplace event shrouded in myth–it’s all myth. If one is to take it literally, it has to be a matter of faith and that is certainly a choice that one can make; many do. However, for we Unitarian Universalists, a community that places science and learning on the same level as faith and intuition, this is a choice that not many of us will make.
But there are associations of the Easter season that do resonate for many of us, even if we have no use for literal resurrection claims. Jesus is regarded as one of the great teachers and prophets of humankind. His short ministry of perhaps three years changed the world and not just by his teaching. Jesus lived out a witness to a God of love, a powerful love that was not restricted to one special group, but extended to all people, and not just to men, but to women and children, who were practically non-persons in his world. He lived out a witness that non-Jews, tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes were not beyond the love of God, that the desperately poor, the physically deformed and the mentally ill also had worth and dignity and were loved by God. His followers came to believe that he lived out a witness to this transcendent spirit of love so powerful and all-encompassing that it survived even death.
And so in the springtime of the year, when the sun that has been so cold and far away seems once again to draw close; when the earth that has seemed dead for months begins to warm and blossom; when our eyes that have been starved for color begin to see pastel blooms pushing through brown, dead grass; it is easy for us to associate the burgeoning of the season with the ministry of one who lived out a witness that the most powerful force in the universe, the Spirit of Creative Love, is not narrow and frozen. It is instead ever renewing and alive, creating a circle of love that can call us to participate in making it even larger and even more inclusive.
It is in the nature of love to be to be unpredictable, unpredictable in what it asks of us, unpredictable in what it brings to us. Sometimes, that unpredictability can be frightening. Because of love, the future can be unknown, even mysterious, but that can be good.
What might you know in your life about resurrection, about a stone rolling back, about the surprise of new life? Along with happiness and exhilaration, was there some anxiety too? Perhaps it was the end of a destructive, deadening relationship and the beginning of a new life, but at the cost, at least for a time, of singleness. It can be lonely to practice resurrection. Perhaps that stone rolling back was putting down the bottle. Perhaps that stone rolling back was a closet door and the new life was that of a gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered person claiming whole personhood for the first time. I can only imagine, as I have heard GBLT friends talk of this, the exhilaration but also the anxiety that this new life must entail. It can hard, risky work, to practice resurrection.
Resurrection, new life, anything that seems a miracle of any kind, is not an unmixed blessing. It may be hoped for and at the same time, be feared. Sometimes the temptation to stay in that familiar tomb is very strong. It may be dark and silent, but at least we know what to expect.
But let us not stay there; we have more courage than that. Let us embrace surprise, let us step forth, blinking in the light, joyful in the warmth and color, happy that the future, even though uncertain, can be ours to help shape. Let us be glad to be alive, sharing this day and the future together.
May it be so.