3 Easter, B: Coming to Life within Life

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For a video version scroll to the bottom of the following text

Texts: Luke 24:36-48 and “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe

In that poem we heard,
Marie Howe is talking to her deceased brother, Johnny.
It’s the voice of ordinary grief
that has taken up residence
and become…well, ordinary.

When grief starts out
it is anything but ordinary.
It is a trauma
with the force of a horse
sitting down
on its rider.

But eventually
it works its way into the ordinary –
that old grief.

We start talking to the dead person we miss
as if he or she is standing next to us
and as if it is not weird
that we are talking out loud
to someone who has died.
We just do it
because, well, because
it has become ordinary for us to do it.

Here is Marie Howe again:

”…This is the everyday we spoke of…

…For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in
the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday,
hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee
down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:
This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you
called that yearning.

What you finally gave up…

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped
by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned
coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.”

Oh, and there it is:
I am living
and I remember you.

As you’ve heard me say
so many times,
the Gospel of Mark
has no such stories –
it ends at the empty tomb.
It ends by grief arriving with a thud.

Luke’s gospel
tries to bridge the distance
”I am living
and I remember you.”

Luke has stories of Jesus,
having died on the cross
then doing what the living do –
ordinary stuff,
like eating
and drinking.

The distance between living
and being remembered
is halted by Luke,
just for a moment,
just for a chapter,
at the end of his story.

In fact,
in a kind of reversal
of the Marie Howe poem,
Jesus, the dead man,
says he is going to remember us, the living.

There is no making any sense of it,
any more than
we can make sense out of talking to the dead –
it is something we do
but not something we can explain
and not something
we even want to explain.

Do you know
when grief goes from being trauma
to becoming ordinary?
It probably isn’t an exact moment
but sometimes it feels like it
because it is often a single moment
when we suddenly become aware
that a shift has happened.

It happens
when our hearts
find their place
in gratitude.

It’s when the gratitude
becomes big enough
or deep enough
or just plain solid enough
to hold the grief
rather than the other way around.

When it is grief
holding everything else,
including our sense of gratitude,
then it isn’t ordinary yet.
It is still the dragon
guarding the entrance to our heart and mind
and letting nothing pass
without first being singed
or outright scorched.

But one day
the dragon goes missing
and other things in the cave of our heart
and mind
start interacting with the grief,
and the grief becomes conversational.
And then, if we allow it,
our sense of gratitude
for the person who has left us
grows and grows and grows
and starts to collect the grief in its arms.
The grief is still there
but now it is held by gratitude
and then it becomes
more ordinary.

Then one day,
without warning
and without planning,
we are living again.
If feels odd at first
but then, once and awhile,
we are thrilled to be living again.

Can you imagine
what it would be like
if we all got to do what Luke says Jesus did?
You know, die
but then walk around living –
not being remembered yet
but living.

Well, if we did that,
then we would all write poetry
with as much poignancy and depth of gratitude
as Mary Oliver.

We would walk around
savoring every small thing
we had rarely noticed while alive,
and just touch it
or kiss it
or hold it.

A single blade of grass would be so marvelous
it would make us cry.
A snow flake would take our breath away.
A toad hoping in the grass
or a worm writhing in the soil
or the diamonds the sun scatters
on the morning waves
would make us swoon.

We would walk around savoring
every small, delicious
molecule of life
and just drip with gratitude.

Honestly, I think that is a spiritual exercise
that would change
a whole lot of things for the better
if more of us practiced it.

Heck, we might like ourselves
a lot better too.

So we are deep into the Easter season now
and the stories we tell each week
are a strange kind of ghost story.
On their face, I find them difficult to relate to –
which may sound strange
coming from a preacher.

But when it comes to Jesus
I am all about what the living do –
and what the living Jesus did.
But even so,
there are all kinds of ways
to enter into these stories,
because on some level they are human stories.

Thinking about Jesus being like Mary Oliver,
and walking around looking
and touching
and oohing and aahing
every small and delicate thing
that never begged a notice before,
makes for a pleasing and startling image.

What if we practiced it?
What if, on some regular basis,
maybe only on Monday mornings at first,
we ogled and savored?
What if we slowly ate the sunrise?
What if we very slowly breathed in
the scent of love?

What if we ran our fingers
along a smooth wood finish
and noticed the beauty of every grain?
What if we peeled an apple
and cried from its clean, simple lines
and stunning colors?

You get the idea.

Five minutes.
Only for five minutes.
For five minutes once a week
savor the world around us
as if we were the dead
given one last chance
to encounter the world
through gratitude.

I can only imagine
how that might change me
so I think it is worth the risk for you too.

The risk being
that we could fail
and fall back into
our poor, self-interested perspective
that takes everything for granted
or simply doesn’t notice
what we are not consuming at the moment.
That is really not much of a risk, is it?

On the possibilities side though,
we might enter into a whole new realm of pleasure –
because gratitude is pleasurable.

So give it a try sometime:
Be Jesus back from the dead
savoring every small thing life has to offer
and get blown away
by the beauty
even in the midst of grief.
Maybe that is what resurrection is:
to come to life in the midst of life
and fall head over heels into gratitude?