5 Easter: “From Blossoms” to Bread and Wine

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Sermon Text: “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee


From blossoms –
those wafer-thin pedals of color
now adorning trees all around us –
comes a brown paper bag
full of late summer
dusty skinned,
succulent peaches.

Oh, mamma,
the round jubilance of peach,
as the poet says,
can make it seem as if death
were nowhere in the background.
Just life full of blossoms.

If I may,
I want to wax a little bit theological.
Not in an overly academic
or rationalistic way,
but more in the way of blossoms.

The opposite of sacred is not “profane.”
The opposite of sacred is not bad or evil or nasty.

The world, the Creation,
is not divided into sectors
in which the sacred is a dimension we enter
only if we are able to travel
through the ugly profane like a Teflon pan,
and collect no debris.
That is a Medieval world-view
and in it the Church
becomes the gate-keeper of the sacred
as well as the arbiter
of all things sacramental.

We all know how that story ends,
and how corrupt religion becomes
when it assumes that role
and people allow it to.

The opposite of sacred,
the boundary on that other territory
that gives the sacred its definition, is
It is not that the sacred is good
and the common is bad;
or that the sacred is pure
and the ordinary corrupt.
We need to get rid of such false distinctions
and moral judgments
if we are to catch a view of the sacred
from our perch in the ordinary.

We live in the ordinary
but we are fortunate
in that we regularly
brush up against the sacred,
and like those blossoming trees
with fragrant scents wafting in the air
around us this spring,
we are reminded of the presence of
the extraordinary in life
and the magnificence of Creation.

Oh, how truly blessed we are –
living from “joy to joy
to joy to joy,
from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.”

Even the common,
even the ordinary,
is almost too gorgeous to behold –
hearty with goodness
and succulent with joy.

But the sacred,
the sacred when we glimpse it,
will bring tears to our eyes
and reduce our heartbeat to a quiet pulse.
The sacred will hush
even the rowdiest, most monkey of minds.

But we also know
that while the sacred is not fragile
our hold on it
is astonishingly delicate.

Like rice paper,
or those wafer-thin petals,
the veil
between the sacred
and the ordinary
will simply dissolve
into nothingness
if we are too rough with it
or hold it too long.

It is that very thin veil
that actually allows us to glimpse God.

It is the veil
through which we sniff the holy
and feel God’s warm breath
upon the back of our neck.

It is that thing between us
we may wish to get rid of
that actually allows any near contact at all.

Remember the story
about when Moses gets a glimpse of God?
It turns his face into a brilliant light
and from then on
he must wear a veil over his face.
No one can look on Moses’ face anymore
after that.

Elsewhere, the Bible warns
that to look upon God
is sure and certain death.

It is not death and destruction
as in crime and punishment –
it is more like Icarus flying too close to the sun.
His wings melt.
Well, we just can’t get that close to God
without being obliterated.

We need the veil in order to glimpse the sacred,
just as we need special sunglasses
to look upon a solar eclipse.

That can be maddening to creatures like us.
We do not like limits to begin with,
but to be told that we don’t get a choice
in this scheme
can rub us the wrong way.
But alas, we are limited.

But think about some of the veils
we have available to us.

and other such exquisite works of nature,
can become a veil for us.
They seem like ordinary old flowering trees
we see every spring
until they aren’t –
until we suddenly see them
in their burst of sweet, delicate beauty
and we gasp: “Uuh!”

But we also make veils
through which we catch a glimpse –
randomly perhaps,
but with a kind of regularity.

We have veils
that work a bit like a favored fishing spot –
someplace we’ve caught fish before
but not always.
Veils that catch the light
and form rainbows sometimes
but not always.
They are a little mysterious
and can even be frustrating
because they let us down as often,
if not more, than they reveal the holy.

I am talking about veils like bread,
and wine,
and even water.

We might rightly ask,
with our most rational mind,
how such things can work –
how ritual can take something at one moment
quite ordinary
and turn it into something,
at the very next moment,

How does a blossom turn
from an ordinary tree in flower
into the spectacular presence of the holy
in our midst?
That is precisely how fragile a veil can be.

How can bread,
at one moment common flour and yeast
baked into a crumbly whole,
at the very next moment
become a sacred food
through which time and space is collapsed
and heaven and earth are joined?

How can water,
the most common substance on earth
and the most elemental substance for life itself,
be that clear, wet, thirst-slaking liquid one moment
and the very next appear as a veil upon the sacred?

Well, you know the answer of course?
It is you.
It is us.
Like the shutter on a camera
opening to regulate the light entering through the lens,
we open our minds, or not.
We open our hearts, or not.
We open ourselves to one another, or not.

On one level, the rational level,
these veils
are all human creations.
We construct them.
We make them what they are.
They are not magic.

On the other hand, together — and
it’s always together;
historically and communally, together —
we allow certain things
to open us up.

We allow certain things
to help us see and hear
and feel
what normally we are insensitive to.

We imbue certain moments;
we imbue certain elements;
we imbue certain people;
we imbue certain texts;
we imbue certain relationships —
with the power
to reveal the presence of God
even in the ordinary.

And here is the thing:
If we do not imbue such things with power
we simply do not see,
we simply do not know.
That is why there is a difference
between receiving the communion
as a symbol of something that happened
sometime a long time ago,
and participating in Communion
as a transformative event.

They look the same
but the are worlds apart.
We cannot count on the transformation
taking place every time we receive Communion;
but we can count on something happening
as a result of returning again and again and again
and being present with others in community
as we share those moments.

Something some of us learned
during the pandemic
is that it can even happen
when we are together while apart.

Whether blossoms or bread,
the iris in the eyes of a friend
or an iris growing unexpectedly among weeds,
there are ordinary things
that become veils
through which we glimpse the extraordinary —
the holy in our midst.

It is that simple act of posing
with our hands opened in vulnerability,
waiting in anticipation,
even somewhat awkwardly
while someone mumbles their way toward us
and places in our open, exposed hands
a tiny piece of bread
and a tiny sip of wine.

Week after week after week after week
we do it, and the effect accumulates
and it eats away at our arrogance.

Week after week
the effect accumulates
and eats away at our pretense of self-sufficiency.

Week after week
the effect accumulates
and slowly the veil moves into place
and then one week,
suddenly, without warning,
we see what was standing there all the time:
Love –
love so deep,
so pervasive,
so abundant
and so completely without condition
and impossible to earn or lose.


Present here in the field around us,
within us,
among us,
so completely surrounding and imbuing us.
And then the veil reveals it
and we are taken up
in that “joy to joy
to joy to joy,
from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.”

How is it that we can sit in the ordinary
and see the sacred?
Only because we allow ourselves
to become so open.

That’s all, just us allowing
the veil to appear —
the one that is there all along.

How great is that?