Reading – from Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Desert
Sermon – Re-Creation and Reconciliation – Easter Sunday 2017
Perhaps it is predictable that my favorite part of the Jesus story is the moment that many orthodox preachers would call his “moment of temptation.”
It’s near the end of his life, when Jesus begins to realize that things are not going to end well.
He’s in the garden of Gethsemane, with his friends all around him, though they are sleeping. He is angry, and afraid, so he starts praying – a prayer of Help. He prays that something else – anything else – could happen instead of what he realized was going to happen. He prays that he won’t have to die, that there could be a different ending.
After all, he had plans, and he loved his friends, and he still had more to do to make the world right, to make right the human heart. It was too soon – please, he prayed, let my story be different.
Anyone who is attached to Jesus as God, and God as all-knowing and all-powerful would find this moment problematic, to say the least….that Jesus is praying and pleading, and
and yet is unable to effect his requested change – that’s a problem, theologically….But for those of us who focus on Jesus as a human being – then this moment simply feels right – and familiar.
After all, most of us know all too well this experience where the story we thought we were living in, or the family, or career we thought we were building, or the nation we thought we were a part of – when our sense of any of these, or of life on the whole -reveals itself as faulty, or fragile – as if our whole world has been built on a house of cards, about to come tumbling down – we all know the instinct to fall to our knees begging that everything can just BE.OK.
This is what Jesus was doing in the garden. Realizing that it wasn’t – that it wouldn’t ever BE OK. He wouldn’t survive to experience the glory he’d been fighting for, the overturning of the powers of injustice. In his helplessness, he cried out in shock and despair, and gave voice to a broken-heartedness that we all can we relate to –
expressing grief for what was, and for what never would be. And he cried out as a plea –
that somehow his brain, and his heart could catch up to this new dawning reality he was facing, before he missed the few moments he had left.
For most of us, this reconciling and re-creating work of letting go of one way we thought life was headed, and then accepting a new reality – is slow, difficult, and often painful work. It requires the help of friends and therapists – a determined attention, and a great discipline of time and effort, and ideally a routine spiritual practice that can connect in with a greater sense of Truth (capital T) even as our personal truth (small t) has been shaken.
This process takes this kind of time, and effort, because actual brain-re-wiring must happen – new synapses and nodes must be built in order for the brain to truly make sense of this “new world.”
I find it a relentlessly reassuring to know that this neuro-biological process can take up to three years. Three years after a big loss, or other major life change – even when it’s something we think of as positive – like the addition of a new baby or a new marriage –
it can take three years for the brain to reconcile life as it previously thought it was,
with how it actually is, and will be.
By which I mean to say, be patient with yourself. You’re not just being stubborn. It’s biological. It’s ok not to have it all figured out yet. It’s ok to still feel turned upside down, inside out, still having moments where you forget that everything has changed – even though you know….It’s ok. Three years.
Of course, try telling that to the 24 Hour News Cycle, or your social media feed, I know.
In our world today it can feel like a new reality is placed in front of us to try to integrate and make sense of multiple times every day. Stuff that more readily requires multiple years to come to terms with, instead we are given multiple….hours. This is one of the reasons back in January, and as a part of our practice circles ever since, we have talked about taking up the practice of Sabbath – because in the midst of all these new stories and changed worlds, we need time to just let things process, to try to come to terms with it all, to sort everything, and ourselves out – without the constant additional input.
This Sabbath practice was exactly what Jesus’ closest friends were attempting the day after his death. After he died, there was a long night, and then a long day,
and then another night – I imagine them all in their homes, trying to take in what had just happened – trying to reconcile their experience of the past – their teacher, his promises, their dreams – with the future that was now in front of them – all while still trying to come fully into the present.
After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene goes first to the tomb – some accounts say she went by herself, others make her one of a few. While it was still dark she, or they, came bearing spices, that they might perform the ritual tasks – these motions of tender care
that we say are for the dead, but actually do their work on the living, helping us to accept, to create this new reality, to build these new connectors in our brains.
Mary Magdalene had loved him, her life had been changed by him; he was gone.
He was different, he could fix things, fix people, overthrow the forces of injustice, instill the ways of peace; he was gone.
They had all of these plans, to do all of this together; he was gone.
I’ve been trying to imagine, when and how Mary Magdalene first realized what Jesus knew in the garden – that he was to die. Who told her, and how did she respond? Did she bargain, or deny, or did she – see it coming? Was she strangely serene, and accepting – after all, she knew about life not going according to plan.
The others, the men, they could go back to their fishing, their lives as they were before, but what would happen to her? For her, there could be no going back. There was no starting over. She was already a new person, no matter what.
And so, she came with her spices, to tend to her friend, to try to make sense of it all….but by the time she arrived, the tomb was empty. She thought his body had been stolen, another indignity. So she calls the male disciples to come and see, and they do come,
but they just run away after they confirm the tomb is empty.
Mary stays – still weeping, wondering what was going on – what reality her brain should start creating connections for….and then….Jesus himself appears.
“Mary,” he says. She goes to embrace him, but he pulls away.
Her brain must’ve been a wild mess- twisting and turning – and her heart…Filled with confusion, and joy, and disbelief, shock, fear….
Or at least, this is the way it goes in the gospel of John. According to another version,
the Gospel of Mark, when they arrive at the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene and two other women meet a young man who tells them Jesus is no longer there, he’s been raised. He tells them to go tell Peter and the other disciples. Mary and the others freak out,
run away, and say nothing to anyone. And that’s the end of the gospel of Mark.
Mark was the first gospel to be written, and even then it was about 70 years after Jesus had died. By then, lots of synapses had been formed, whole generations of them, so much so that the story has taken on a life of its own. And yet still it takes until the gospel of John, written 30 years later, to see an attempt at saying what all this might’ve meant….
I’ve heard people use the gospels’ late authorship – to dismiss these stories – saying that so much time means they must be fictional. But this suspicion misunderstands these stories and their intent.
The bible is not journalism, afterall, attempting to recall a literal truth. It’s better understood as what religious scholars call kerygma – or, proclamation. These stories, and their authors, hope to proclaim a core truth that was passed on, across generations.
So many years later, they, and we, don’t know for sure the literal facts of what happened,
but we can listen to these stories as they are being offered, knowing there is something within them that intends to proclaim a nugget of wisdom, this good news that survived through it all – this gem of truth passed age to age, now over 2000 years later.
Which brings me back to the moment in the garden, with his friends sleeping around him, and Jesus yearning for his life to somehow be different. Because, by the time we get to John, this moment doesn’t happen. 100 years out, those few days before he is going to die, Jesus doesn’t pray for a different story – instead he wonders if he should ask for something else, but then answers himself – no. This is the reason I have come.
I have come to love, to feel, it is the reason I am on this earth. To love, to taste all I can, to offer myself extravagantly.
In the middle of our mixed-up world today, where so often we don’t know which reality to believe, or to try to integrate, where too often we long for a different ending – the story of Easter offers us this dual affirmation.
That yes, life will break you – break us. For all the many ways this story gets retold,
no one ever tries to erase this. In all the versions, Good Friday comes every year,
asking us to live out this acknowledgment, this painful truth that everything can and will fall to pieces – not even Jesus could stop it – because this is what it means to be alive. And sometimes, for a while – we don’t know how long – three days, three hours, three years, three centuries – this is all we have.
And yet Easter doesn’t leave it there. Because what Easter also invites, is this possibility that this risk of living, this betrayal, need not take away life’s tender sweetness – that even after the worst has happened, the story can keep going, that although sometimes it’s too soon to make sense of all that has happened, to find reconciliation- it’s never too late. That even now, thousands of years and cultures away from that empty tomb there could be all of these still-struggling humans, still trying to put the pieces together, still trying to get to the Truth of it all, still longing to be a part of life’s re-creation, and even, resurrection.
So that even as we fall to our knees, wishing that we might be relieved of life’s pain, we will answer ourselves: no. I have come for this. To love, to feel, to risk my heart, to taste all the sweetness, to let none of it go to waste.
Amen, Blessed Be, and Happy Easter.