2022 EASTER SERMON
By the Rev. Justin R. Cannon
“I thank You God” by e.e. cummings
I thank You God for most this amazing day
For the leaping greenly spirits of trees
And a blue true dream of sky
And for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes
I who have died am alive again today
And this is the sun’s birthday
This is the birth day of life and of love and wings
And of the gay great happening illimitably earth
How should tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, breathing any
Lifted from the no of all nothing
Human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
Now the ears of my ears awake
And now the eyes of my eyes are opened
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Throughout his writing, Saint Paul speaks of a mystery. He speaks of a mystery concealed since the beginning of time. A mystery made known to us in Christ. And in his writing he reveals this mystery to be of cosmic proportions. In part, the mystery he reveals is that Christ is Lord of all. Not just Jews, not just some, but all. But, in his letters he also reveals that this mystery involves the restoration of all things in Christ; that Christ is Lord not just of people but the One through whom all of creation came into being. For he says that all of creation was waiting for the revelation of the Son of God. And Saint Paul reveals to us than in this mystery of God’s relationship with Creation: God is above all, but also in all, and through all. Everything is knit together in God, being restored by God, in relationship with God and one another.
Everything is entangled in this divine relationship. Everything. And the Good News of Easter, I believe, is that restored, transfigured, healed relationship is accessible to us and there is no barrier—no permanent barrier— to the work of restoration, not even death.
Let’s talk about Resurrection for a moment. And I want to use today’s Isaiah reading to do so. In the Isaiah reading we heard today, God through the voice of the prophet declares, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” And this new creation is described as one of rich health, of true justice and equity, and of deep and abiding peace. There’s a big difference between Resurrection and resuscitation. Resuscitation is what happened to Lazarus—he died and was brought back to life. Resurrection isn’t just a restoration, but rather in Resurrection what was fallen is raised to an even better, transformed state. Resurrection— in the relationship of humanity, God, creation, and this cosmic mystery of restoration— is God’s plan to bring about a transfigured creation, a deepened relationship between all of life.
This is what is meant in the Psalm we heard today by righteousness. Three times the psalmist speaks of righteousness and each time is at a threshold. “There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous” – “Open for me the gates of righteousness” – “This is the gate of the Lord; he who is righteous may enter.” This righteousness is most accurately understood as right-relationship. This notion of ‘right relationship’ is spoken of in many spiritualities through time and across the globe and is rooted in an understanding of the interconnectedness between all of life, all generations, even between the living and the dead. Right relationship encompasses our relationship with God, relationship with our neighbor, our enemy, the earth and all the creates, and even encompasses right relationship with oneself. As one source explains, “Many spiritual traditions speak of a reality where all things come ‘into right relationship’ with one another — where there is universal acknowledgment of our oneness. Some examples include: the Jewish notion of Shalom, First Nations “All my Relations,” the Lakota phrase Mitakuye Oyasin…, etc. While these are not equivalent concepts, there is a commonality to them that speaks to how we are to be in relationship with one another, and even farther, a mandate to transform relationships to be more just.”
For the Psalmist, this is grounded in deep gratitude. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever” – “I will offer thanks to the Lord” – “I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.” In part, this is why I began with the e.e. cummings poem, a favorite of mine. Along these lines, there is an Eastertide discipline I want to invite you to consider joining me in. Each day, list your gratitudes. Fr. Michael Barham, a local priest, used to every day post a Facebook listing of what he was grateful for that day. You might do this, or consider a gratitude journal. Righteousness, right relationship, is deeply rooted in gratitude.
It is also rooted in deep listening. According to one source, “Deep listening is a way of positioning ourselves in a place of non-judgment and compassion — both to others, and to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Buddhist monk, talks about deep listening as a tool for transformation, where we can help relieve the suffering of another person by letting them empty their heart of whatever he or she may be experiencing.” So often, in our culture, when people are listening, they are listening while thinking of a response, a retort, and listening to understand so they can respond, react. Deep listening is a listening oriented towards understanding the other, regardless of whether or not we agree. It is postured towards knowing the other, for deepening relationship.
This brings us to the Gospel encounter. Mary comes to the tomb. Seeing the stone rolled aside, she runs and gets Peter and John. Peter and John come quick—John makes sure that we know he got there first (he mentions it twice). O, John! When they come into the tomb, they see the burial clothes. And then they returned home. But Mary stayed. She stayed in contemplation. Her heart broken that someone has taken Jesus’ body. But she doesn’t run away. She stays.
Outside the tomb she weeps, and then she musters the courage to peek in and behold she sees two angels in white. Not white robes. In Greek that literally means in light, in brightness. Now, in Greek the word angel comes from the word messenger. Did these messengers choose to appear to Mary, or perhaps they were there the whole time and Mary had the eyes to see her? “Now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” Where Peter and John only saw linens, Mary’s eyes were opened to the message that might have been there all along. It makes me think of the many messengers God sends us each day.
In indigenous cultures, animals can be messengers from the Great Spirit. A hawk flying right above you in circles could surely be a message, but how often does brother hawk come with a message and the recipient does not see him? Are our eyes open to seeking the messages and guidance God is providing in our lives, especially when things are amiss? It’s especially when things are amiss and not going as planning when it might behoove us to stop running to and fro—ah hem, Peter and John—and sit for a while in the garden.
For, it was there, as she waited that Mary opened her heart to deep listening. It was there she spoke with the angels. It was there she encountered the risen Christ and became the first witness of the Resurrected Christ. The word apostle means witness—and here Mary, in her waiting and seeking becomes the apostle to the apostles.
Last Easter I gave an entire sermon on Jesus the gardener. I wrote of this encounter, “While the scripture says that Mary supposed him to be the gardener, I think there’s a profound reason for that. Resurrection is revelatory. Resurrection unveils the deepest truth, like the magnificent glimpse of light radiating from Christ on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration. The deepest truth of who Christ is, is our companion gardener-teacher-friend-master-Lord.” From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemani to the Garden of the Tomb to the transfigured Garden of the New Earth in Revelation, Gardener Jesus is there. Because the Gardener knows that everything in the garden, everything in this world, is in relationship.
So, this Easter, in this invitation to right relationship with God, earth, self, others, and the fullness of the Garden….in this invitation into gratitude and deep listening, I invite you to consider the garden of your life. Where in the garden of your own life is God inviting you to accept resurrection and open yourself to new life? Where does your garden need amendment, weeding, and tending? Where does your garden invite admiration, gratitude, and celebration?
The Good News is that whoever you are, no matter what’s going on, no matter the hardship, your garden will flower. The garden will bear fruit. And the Gardener will be with you. Even in the death of one plant, or even one whole section of the garden, there is already the emergence of another and the promise of new life. Keep tending, keep resting. Keep sowing love into the soil. Gardener Jesus will forever be beside you. And the garden will grow.