All are Welcome

Our welcome isn’t just bricks and glass on Sunday.

As a community that cares for each other all the time, not just now and again in a separate space, we invite you to our weekly sermon and prayer so we might share a moment here and now…


19 Church Street, Verona, NJ

973-239-3212 / webmaster@firstcongverona.org

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton, 0 comments

Sermon – June 16: 3×1 = 1

Some find it easy – especially on Fathers’ Day –  to think of God as monolithic, as father, as all-powerful. It surely was easier in ancient times. People imagined a god on every hill and under every tree. The Greek and Roman gods lived in the heavens. The Semitic gods went along with their people when they travelled. Everyone determined truth based on their own experiences and because ancient times were controlled by monolithic all-powerful male rulers, images of God blended comfortably with images of men.

Later we began to understand life as more complex. A scientist of our century named Julian Jaynes documents the ancient evolution in a book called The Origin of Consciousness that argues for a change in the structure of the human brain between 900 and 300 BCE. He believes that the change resulted in humanity becoming able to tell the difference between the voices of their own heads and the voice of God.

The Bible tells us that this time span in Israel corresponds to people’s growing certainty that there is one God whose name is YHWH. One of the certainties of ancient Israel and their central prayer is pronounced as: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God; the LORD is one.”

The people of Jesus’ time said “Yes, this is so.. the LORD is God, the LORD is one…But – big but. Because in this man some discovered a new understanding of their God. It was as if God’s own Son had come to bring them a new way of knowing the Holy One.

And then their world fell apart. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” said the traveleron the road to Emmaus, “but he was handed over and crucified…”

Yet, as we’ve been hearing these last few weeks, they sensed that God’s spirit was still with them, granting them courage to shout out the good news to anyone who would listen. They developedmultifaceted ways of speaking the truth of the one God and some people began to tell their truth with different stories. If we were to forget the stories of Jesus, then we would lose something of the richness of his story and the healing power of his life. As a result, God would be the same, but we would not be.

And if we forget the stories of the Spirit, God would not be lessened, but we would be diminished. So what do these Christian stories say collectively and what new understanding do they add to the nature of the one God?

Well, they all say something slightly different – the letters of Paul’s and the gospel stories point to Christ the redeemer. What we learn from John isdifferent – mystical, otherworldly, love centered. But all the stories point away from the notion of a monolithic, distant creator/warrior god. Instead, they point towards to a growing conviction that God exists in relationship. Name God any way you like – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, – there are many words you can use, but there’s no way to describe God that is simply monolithic if we stay true to Christian experience.

Let’s take a breath here and remember what we know about the nature of relationships. Psychology tells us that – from the moment of birth – creaturesfind their identity only in one another. An infant’s first truth is the total bond in which he lives with his mother. An infant’s first task is discovering his father, a separate person from the mommy-and-me dyad. None of us can ever know ourselves except as we relate to another. I am pastor, sister, mother, friend. And in none of these ways of being can I name myself without naming another.

So we live in relationship, created, the Bible says, in the image of God. What being made in the image of God means is that the relational energy within God spills over into human life, opening us to the truth that – within the being of God and the being of us– the One and the Other are of equal value and are equally loved.

Whatever threatens this balance of loving and being loved is unhealthy in the vocabulary of the psychologist and sinful in the vocabulary of the theologian. Despite differences in kind or power or culture, everyone is to be equally cherished and comforted for no less a reason than that it is God’s own nature to do so.

So what we are saying is this: Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Hear this: whoever has seen the Christ has seen the Creator. Hear this: God will not leave you orphaned; the Spirit will guide you into truth; the truth of the One God.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, June 2: But…

Elisha, says our first reading, was willing to take on Elijah’s mantle and his role as God’s prophet to Israel, but he wanted to say good-bye to his parents first. “Go ahead,” Elijah said, “I’ll wait.”

Centuries later, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my folks.” “No way,” said Jesus. What changed? What happened in the meantime to make this complete difference in responses?

It’s worth noting that this week – the one between the commemoration of the ascension and the celebration of Pentecost, the story looks back to a moment before, a moment when Jesus made his extraordinary choice.

Up till the time he felt this choice was necessary, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee had made him incredibly popular. When he had healed a man with leprosy, he began to draw even greater crowds; and then, when he healed a paralyzed man, the people were filled with awe. By the time he gave his famous Sermon on the Mount, he was drawing crowds from all over the empire.

And so it went, in the golden days in Galilee, until ordinary stories of grace filled encounters morphed into extraordinary tales meant to convey a sense of Jesus as other, with mastery over storms and demons, even life and death itself.

But through all this, the disciples had been mystified. Again and again, Jesus pleaded with them: “If anyone has ears, let them hear.” He wanted his friends to understand that his new consciousness – what he called the Kingdom of God was worth dying for.

But it seems that Jesus’ new understanding was often too much for human minds to cope with, and so the disciples tried to protected themselves by arguing about human priorities, such as who might be the greatest among them – much like we still do today.

Then we come to this odd twist in the story. As Jesus and the others continued their journey, they met people who wanted to join them. Jesus said to one of them, “Follow me.” He answered, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead…”

Some people read this story and what they hear is a warning – not only to the early disciples – but also to us. It goes something like this: “If you want to follow Jesus you must do so absolutely wholeheartedly. There is no middle ground. You cannot proclaim the good news unless you’ve left everyone and everything else behind.”

These are the people who insist on a celibate clergy or a strict adherence to keeping all the laws of kosher or any other fanatical allegiance to denominational purity. If Jesus’ message depended on extraordinary people practicing flawless non-attachment, then I wonder if anyone but Jesus ever proclaimed it.

Jesus’ way of seeing reality is so different from ordinary perception that it turns ordinary common sense self-interest upside down. But ordinary common sense activities are what ordinary people know, so they were what the disciples – then and now – keep trying to do. But is it what the gospel stories are saying?

Maybe the people who understand these words to mean “you’re not good enough to follow Jesus, don’t even try,” don’t have it right. Maybe what they need to consider is that Jesus was about living out the extravagant love of God wherever it took him, whether he understood it or not.

If we could touch the holy without considering our ties to this world, we might be living examples of the kingdom of heaven here and now. But it matters more, I think, that we throw our hearts into the way we choose to be church today, even if we would perhaps prefer our community to be different somehow – bigger, maybe, or more traditional or more progressive or more single-minded. It’s not the size or the doctrine of a church that matters most, I think. It’s the heart. It’s the willingness to go on with Jesus on the journey no matter where it leads. It’s the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, May 26: Footprints

Separation starts in deepest pain. The ripping apart of a loving relationship leaves the ones left behind with a singular focus and it is on their loss. And their loss is so large that it turns all their living into grief.
Surely that’s how Jesus’ friends felt in those long difficult days. They comforted each other with stories of Mary’s conversation with the mysterious gardener and Thomas’s meeting with the One who encouraged him to touch his wounded body so he might believe. And then one day – the bible says 40 days which means a time of completion – Jesus was not there any longer. The separation had become a way of living. Yet – as clear as it was that he was gone from them – they also sensed just as strongly that they had not been abandoned. That there still was a link between them and that link could be trusted.
How to share the essence of this new and crucial sense was spoken among them as story. If we think about the post-Easter stories, one thing we’ll notice is that Jesus didn’t ever seem to be where he used to be. He was not in the tomb when the women went to leave their flowers, but risen and gone ahead of them to Galilee. He was not on his way to Galilee, but walking and talking on the road to Emmaus. And now he was no longer with them in Bethany, was no longer even on earth, but risen beyond human comprehension.
He had become the one no longer subject to the pull of mortal constraints, the one who – even against the laws of nature – has been pulled straight into the heart of God, bringing his human identity along too: No longer the friend who walked along the road or the teller of parables, but the risen Savior, even the one who “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”
And so, the men in dazzling white robes turn to us with their question. “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?” How are we to understand Jesus saying that “the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”?
How on earth might we be witness? Where’s the connection to be found, if Jesus is gone from sight? Well, one image I have loved for a long time is a woodcut of the ascension scene. It’s an image of Jesus rising up and the disciples watching him disappear into the clouds. But you can also look down and see precise footprints, clearly etched in the earth. Perhaps the artist is asking us that same odd question that the men in dazzling white asked the first disciples so long ago – “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?”.
Where might we look, if we were to look for Jesus’ footprints on the earth, today? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the one who first said “The body of Christ takes up space on the earth.” The body of Christ makes footprints, you might say. He goes on to add that “a truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities, that is all. But the incarnate Christ needs living people who will follow him.”
Needs, Bonhoeffer said. Christ needs us, you and me, because we are the only hands and hearts and voices God has in our time. Needs, he said, another way of saying that – at the heart of all life – is an unending, mutual longing for connection.
This longing for connection is what is targeted by separation. Most of us have experienced, as the poet Jan Richardson suggests, that separation evolves. The movement will be slow but certain – until finally all that exists between the parted ones is blessing and all that beats between them is grace. Perhaps a primary motivator for that evolving is Holy Spirit, the One whom Jesus promised you recognize because God’s spirit dwells in you, and your spirit dwells in God.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Our Donations to the Bethany Children’s Home

Our church, in the interests of justice and reaching out to those in need, has been donating to the Bethany Children’s Home. They will be taking in refugee children who have come to the United States in need, and been separated from their parents.

This important task allows the children to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and taken care of until their parents can be found and the families be restored.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Works, 0 comments

Sermon, May 19: Unknown Apostles

What does it mean to be a holy people today, when life has become so different? That’s an enormous question, but not just for us. It had troubled Luke as well. The Book of Acts was probably written towards the end of the first century and there had been plenty of time for conversation between Christians and Jews and their becoming-separated holy books. Conflicts were emerging – was Christianity the fulfillment of Judaism so Mosaic law must be obeyed? Or was God doing a new thing, so that the law might be re-interpreted?
While the story of Jesus is how we understand this new kind of thinking, it’s a story with a beginning and an end. God’s own spirit who is emerging as the primary motivating force in early Christianity. As we’ve been hearing in these weeks since Easter, because of the Holy Spirit, Peter found the courage to speak, and the ability to heal.
The twelve apostles felt compelled to devote their time to prayer and preaching and chose seven people to be deacons – among them, a man named Philip. But conflict with the religious authorities escalated, persecution broke out and the fledgling church was scattered. Philip went to Samaria.
And this story of the events on a wilderness road in Samaria is where we find him. All we know about Philip is his willingness to say yes to whatever he feels is a call from God. What we know about Philip is that when he was asked to be a deacon, to wait on tables and feed the poor, he said yes. When he was asked to leave his home and family and go to heal the hated Samaritans, he said yes. When the angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to that wilderness road” he went – and met the Ethiopian.
Now, the Ethiopian had quite a story. He was the treasurer of the sovereign state of Ethiopia – today’s Sudan – and he had just travelled hundreds of miles to worship the God of Israel in Jerusalem.
He might have been attracted to Judaism because of its moral and ethical teachings. He might even have been someone who’d call himself, “spiritual, but not religious.” In any event, he reached out to a religious institution that would have rejected him simply because of his sexuality. And now he was heading home, reading Isaiah’s poem about the Holy One who was humiliated and deprived of justice in this world. The Ethiopian eunuch would have known a lot about humiliation and being deprived of justice.
“Tell me, please,” he asked Philip, “who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Or – translated – “Is this a story about some outcast in Isaiah’s time or is this a word from God to me?”
So, Philip told him about Jesus – told him that not only does God know and understand humiliation, but that Jesus had taken that pain on himself.
“What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” the Ethiopian eunuch asked. Asked it when he surely knew that there were many answers to that question and they were all negative – he belonged to the wrong nation, held the wrong job, had the wrong sexuality.
What can stand in the way? “Nothing, nothing at all, “ whispered the Holy Spirit. And so water miraculously appeared in the desert and he was baptized. Can we even begin to imagine what this baptism meant to him? A few years later Paul would say it this way: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise.”
Heirs, according to the promise – the promise as Philip heard it in Isaiah’s poem, in the Ethiopian’s questions, in the whispers of God’s Spirit. It was enough to send the Ethiopian on his way rejoicing – to share his faith with the people at home. There are unlikely apostles everywhere, known only to the Spirit – perhaps even here, even now.
Because the Spirit is still whispering, even – maybe especially – in places and situations that seem most God-forsaken. So listen, really listen when you sense that God is telling you to go to that unlikely place, to pay attention to those unlikely people, to share the goodness of God as you yourself have known it.
You will know God’s voice when you hear it, be it ever so faint and far-away because it will be saying over and over “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are my holy people, welcome here, welcome now.” Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, May 12: Love is a Verb

Purple is a mystical color, some would say – born of the union of fiery red and icy blue. Back in the first century, it was the color of empire – only Caesar himself wore robes of glowing purple. If this woman named Lydia was a seller of purple, she was a wealthy, confident business woman, used to dealing with people who understood all kinds of control.
Before we look a little more at Lydia’s story, let’s backtrack and trace how Paul arrived in Philippi. It had started so well. Paul and Barnabas had been travelling through Asia, converting many and planting new churches.
When Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem, instead of asking how them might help them, what church leaders wanted to know was why were they welcoming and baptizing Gentiles(!) Where did they ever get the notion that they could welcome just anybody? Nothing really changes, does it?
Partly to escape perhaps, Paul left Jerusalem and set off on his next journey. When he got to Macedonia, he found that there was no synagogue where he could preach. So he went down to the river, looking for ten Jewish men to make up a minyan, and found – Lydia, the seller of purple.
The Lord opened her heart, Paul tells us, and she became a Christian. And the first thing she did was simple and obvious and different from what the leaders in Jerusalem had done. She invited Paul and his companions to her home. Lydia could see they needed a warm meal, a roof over their heads and what we all know that leads to – a word or two of comfort. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said simply, “come and stay at my house.”
Let’s look a little closer at the kind of love Lydia shared with her new friends that day. It was an immediate response to the unspoken needs of the other. Just as Paul looked at this self-confident seller of purple, and saw someone who would respond to his words, so she looked at the intense, gifted preacher and saw someone who needed simple human care. Both felt and showed the kind of love that we call mothering love today.
Mothering love will do whatever is necessary to create a nurturing space: a separate peace, not a peace as the world gives peace. Mothering love is as close as we can get to what the language of the fourth gospel is trying to express when Jesus says that “the Father and I will come to those who love me and make our home with them.”
The biblical equivalent of mothering love can be found in the story of life in the garden of Eden. Eden is the ultimate image of a snug safe place: untroubled peace with no need to plan, to think, to work. No boundaries or limitations. No separations.
But eventually, we all need to grow up and so, the lush passivity of Eden needs to end just as childhood needs to end. Love, in an adult world needs to be a verb, a word of action, that gives and functions on both sides of the relationship.
And that is what the whole message of the gospel of John is about, isn’t it? As John tells it, Jesus’ new understanding was precisely this: Don’t just say you love one another: Show it. Love each other as I have loved you. And you will know peace – peace that passes human understanding.
It’s about more than words. It’s about how Jesus loved the ones he called “little children.” Mother-like, he healed the sick. Fed the hungry. Comforted the confused. Hugged the children.
When all else failed, he went to the cross and grave. The Apostles’ Creed goes so far as to say that he “descended into hell.” Can you imagine the depth of love such language tries to convey? What the creed is saying is that there is no place, no pain that we’ll ever have to face alone, because Jesus – God-with-us – was there first.
And so, Christians are called to love each other with a love that knows no boundaries, no end. To love each other as a mother loves her child. To love each other with the same understanding that Lydia did when she knew that to make a home for God’s people is to make a home for God here on earth.
Paul’s hunger to share Jesus’ story with the Philippians and Lydia’s willingness to nurture Paul and his companions is a human image of God’s own hunger to make a home with us. It is how Jesus said we are to live – as I have loved you, he told his disciples, you also must love one another. Not just by talking, but by living the very love that is prompted by heaven, but grounded in earth – even, you could say – motherly. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, May 5: Going Home

We don’t often think of it this way, but without the light of resurrection morning, Jesus would be long forgotten. The two sad travelers on the road to Emmaus would have gotten it right. Once it had looked to them like Jesus was the one who had been spoken of by the prophets. Once Peter has said he was the Christ. But he had died and, as far as these two could see, it was time to move on.
So Cleopas and his friend got out of town. While they were walking, Luke says “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them but they were kept from recognizing him.” When it began to get dark, they asked him to stay and share their supper. When he was at the table with them, “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.” And, in the doing, their past tragic history and hope of an unimaginable future were joined together.
We said last week that Easter is the single most sacred moment in the Christian story. That sacred is a way of thinking that points to hope when everything around us is shrouded in anxiety and incoherence. In the face of mortal realities, Easter says that there’s far more to life than existence, even if you can’t taste, touch or feel it.
And so the next question is how does Easter continue to say this. You know, of course, that this is not just a story about two people on a back road a couple of thousand years ago. Whatever it was that kept the travelers from recognizing Jesus, when they reached home –something made them say “Stay with us. Please – whoever you are – stay a little longer,”
Luke says it was like their eyes were opened and they wondered about their hearts burning within them, even before – out there on the road. Whatever it had been that kept them from recognizing Jesus: when he blessed and broke and shared the bread, it was gone.
Hiding out in Emmaus is never a solution for anything – it never was and it never will be. But Jesus had been prepared to go with them wherever it was that they were going so he could be with them when they got there. He shared their bread, but before that, he’d shared their journey.
And so they knew that they were not alone as they thought. And they knew with startling certainty that he would share their lives no matter how many more misunderstandings and failures there were along the way.
The brief encounter between Jesus and his friends on the road to Emmaus is a reminder that Easter isn’t so brief after all. It certainly doesn’t end at sundown on Easter Sunday. To encounter Christ on our journeys today and to see him in the breaking of the bread is to have the courage to live our own resurrected life.
Because to live resurrection means nothing less than to trust that God will renew life even in the most ordinary, difficult and painful moments of our living – even in the moment when Jesus disappears the very moment our conscious minds begin to recognize him.
Because that’s how spiritual life is, isn’t it? Breath and words and a feeling – no more, but surely no less. We need to be gentle with ourselves when we question our own experiences of Jesus in our midst. They are real and yet not quite real, they are touchable and not quite, they are something we understand, but only almost. No wonder Thomas doubted. Maybe it’s natural to doubt, but it’s also important to remember that – while the intense sense of presence goes so quickly, the fear from before goes with it too. In its place is peace – the peace that passes understanding.
And joy – the joy of knowing that through all the changes and chances of living and dying, there is a wholeness to reality – one that binds all of life together, and together with God.
And that’s what sent the disciples running back up that road to Jerusalem – to shout the news from the holy city to the ends of the earth – hope and trust in God, whose love is written not only in ancient promises, but also in our own hearts all these years later. Christ is risen. Alleluia. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, April 28: The Only Way

Easter is the single most sacred moment in the Christian story. I say this because sacred is a way of looking at reality that points toward meaning at a time when everything seems to be shrouded in fog and incoherence. In the face of mortal realities, Easter says that there’s far more to life than existence, even if you can’t taste, touch or feel what that “far more” is.
But then, Easter made itself known to those first disciples through their senses, not their thinking. For Mary, it was hearing her name. Early on that first Easter morning, she went to the tomb ready to learn what had happened to Jesus’ body and she found nothing. A little later, she sensed Jesus in the garden, he spoke her name and she ran back to the others calling out “I have seen the Lord!”
Later that day, the disciples on the Emmaus Road said that sight was what had confused them. Their sense of Christ’s presence came through the sharing of food – it’s aroma, its taste, the way it looked in his hand.
For Thomas, the confirming sense was touch. Thomas was the only one able to touch Jesus after he died. John says that Jesus had pulled away even from Mary whom he loved. So who was this Thomas and what about him was so different?
The first we heard of Thomas was in John’s account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus and the disciples had left Bethany for a while so they might avoid the increasing hostility of the authorities. When the news came that Lazarus had died, and Jesus said he’d go back to Bethany, most of the disciples objected. “What sense does it make to go back into that kind of danger?,” they asked.
But Thomas argued against the caution of the others. “Let’s go,” he said, “that we may die with Jesus.” It’s a curious response, don’t you think – the words of an all-or-nothing sort of person. But it tells us something about how important it was for Thomas to be with Jesus. Wherever Jesus needed to be, Thomas needed to be with him. Even death could be faced, as long as Jesus was beside him. This is great, great faithfulness.
The next we hear from Thomas is during the Last Supper. Speaking to his best friends about leaving them, Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He was going to get things ready for them, he added, and there was no mystery about it. They knew the way to where he was going. Except this time, Thomas has the chutzpah to break into the poetry and say “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And by asking it, Thomas gave Jesus one more chance to get his truth through to his friends.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he said, telling Thomas and all the others – then and now – that there was no map he could give them. Telling them that his truth is not to be found in intellectual abstraction. That it has to be sensed moment by moment, experience by experience – by reaching out and touching.
Perhaps at the end, Thomas reached the point where it simply hurt too much to hope one more time. Even so – he reached out one more time. And, one more time, he waited. He waited in the darkness of his unbelief for Jesus to do the unimaginable. In the end, of course, he received the reassurance he had so desperately longed for.
But what about us? As Jesus pointed out, those who came later would also have to believe without seeing. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be us. And that’s what we need to do too, if we are going to receive the assurance this story is offering us.
Because, in retrospect, the resurrection stories tell more than the story of Jesus. They tell us how a group of terrified disciples became the ones so radically changed that, only one generation later, they had taken their message of the living Christ to Rome and to Antioch and India.
They found the courage to do that, they say, through God’s holy spirit – God’s same holy spirit who gets us through the times when all we know seems like a dead end. We describe our experiences differently today, but the essence stays the same: somehow, even in the depths of the pain, we know – really know – that we are not alone. Someone out there somewhere, cares. How you know this is between you and God. But you know deep inside yourself that Someone out there somewhere, really cares.
The Easter stories also say there’s more to life than existence. They tell how the risen Christ came to each person then and comes to each of us now – in the awareness of our separate senses and strengths and weakness. Some to whom Jesus came said they saw the Lord.
Thomas says this Lord is God. We too will find the Christ, he says, as we walk the path he walked – a path which may wound us as it wounded him, but which leads to abundant life. We find him, and share him as we live the life he lived. It’s not magic. It’s not easy. It’s what we so often fail at. But it is, for Christians, the only way. Amen

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Happenings, April 26 – May 3

Doubt doesn't equal Unbelief

The turning of death into life
is past human comprehension –
just ask Doubting Thomas!

Please join us Sunday
April 28st at 10:00 am as we consider
holy doubt and trust.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Happenings, 0 comments

Easter Sermon: Holy Imagination

Holy Imagination

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

It seems appropriate that, each and every year, the timing of an event as mysterious as Easter depends on the cosmos itself. You need to look first for the vernal equinox, a sky-defined event, and then for the full moon, a dark-defined event. And the point of course – counter-intuitive as it might be – is that you need to look into the dark to find the light.  Dawn may be when weeping women and shaken men could not find the body of Jesus, but whatever happened to it, it happened in deepest darkness.

But t Jesus’ life had always been about rejoining darkness and light, hasn’t it? Twelve resurrection stories struggle to show us how this can be now.  No two are alike.  Some are about the absence of death.  Some are about seeing Jesus alive.  But the more there are, the more questions they raise.  Were these stories about actual events as we define actual? Were they visions?  Are visions delusions or are they our only way into some realities? Could all this be someone’s imagination? The church’s? Ours? Jesus’s?

What is imagination anyhow? The dictionary says it’s the ability to form new concepts or happenings not previously present to earthly senses. We’ve certainly noticed that Jesus always walked between the clarity of belief and the shadow world of imagination, pointing out that life is not defined by Caesar’s reign, Pilate’s grasp, or conventional pieties. What might we learn if we could know what his God-centered imagination taught him about life beyond life? What might he know about darkness that we can only guess? It takes a certain kind of imagination to look into the dark to find the light.

One thing we know about imagination is that it’s not available to senses of touch and feel, but it’s not delusion. Ask Walt Disney. Ask Jesus –  his scars are part of him now. So is his imagination, the only sign we have of his amazing ability to remain faithful even when his human life was ripped away. We’ve said over and over again this season that Jesus perceived God as radically alive and trusted his life and his hope to his perception of the overwhelming nature of that aliveness.

And now we come to see that’s the real focus of Easter: the coming together of completely different ways of being – God’s and ours. When Jesus chose to trust God to the end by choosing the wellbeing of others, he chose the way of the other, the path of ultimate commitment. Jesus’ way was God’s way. Jesus’ compassion was God’s compassion. Jesus’ life was taken into God’s eternal life.

But what of the rest of us? Luke says that the women who ran to the tomb saw what they saw and believed what they believed what they believed. But when they shared their conclusions with the apostles, the gospel says that Peter “ got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” What that means today is that the heart of the Christian story is a still place where the courage to go on is born of glimpses and yearnings and the need to see the linen strips for ourselves.

Luke did not try to speak the unspeakable. He did not tell us exactly how long ago or exactly how it was that Peter sensed the risen Christ. He told us instead, how to sense Christ for ourselves. Go, Luke tells of the angel saying, go to your own Galilee and try to live as Jesus did. There’s still more to life than our take on Caesar’s reign, Pilate’s grasp, or conventional pieties. Try for yourself and then you will know that the story has no end – for Christ has gone ahead of us. Christ is risen. Alleluia.

Let us pray: God of all creation, you are the one un-confined by our definitions. You are light from past the galaxies, love without a farther shore. We are so small and so very grateful for a glimpse into the mystery of our presence in our world – for our own sense of Christ’s compassion and integrity and resurrection.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments