Easter Day 2020

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A Video of this sermon is available on the Trinity Geneva FaceBook page.

On June 21, 1981, I was ordained a priest.
The man I asked to preach that day
was The Rev. Jonathan Sams,
a priest I had known for about ten years
and with whom I had bonded
in the strange and profound ways
that men sometimes do.
He taught me how to up my fishing game,
and he introduced me to people and places
I might never have known otherwise.
When I first met him
he was living with a junkie in Chicago
and part of an organization
that would come to get me
in the right kind of trouble
with the Military Intelligence Agency.
In other words, he was a colorful person
especially for an Episcopal preacher.
He was also a colorful preacher.
In his sermon that day,
he said he had a dystopian vision of the future
with me hiding in the hills of southern Indiana
after a nuclear holocaust or something,
and I was trying keeping church going.
He said he knew I wouldn’t be able
to figure out the complicated formula
for finding the date of Easter
that appears in the back of the Book of Common Prayer,
and requires the use of the Golden Number.
But not being precise about when Easter fell,
he speculated,
would not be of particular concern to me.

Well, here we are in pandemic.
Not quite the same,
a much better situation by comparison,
even though it is painful and hazardous
and it is not nearly done inflicting its harm yet.
But I have thought frequently of that sermon
and the humous image he provoked
way back when, as I have type away in quiet
trying to keep worship and community alive
in this time of social isolation
and internal exile.

When is it Easter?

That is not a question about
when the full moon rises
or the Golden Number is in play.

When is it Easter?
Easter is when we can dream again.

I know, I know,
pandemic is not the stuff dreams are made of.
Who dreamed on September 12, 2001?
Who dreamed when their pink slip arrived?
Who dreamed when their child died?
Who dreamed when the stock market sank like a stone?
Who dreamed when their spouse or partner left?
Who dreamed when that fearful diagnosis came?
Who dreamed when the soldiers marched into their village?
Who dreamed when the bombs fell?
Who dreamed when the cops stopped them
because of their skin color?
Who dreamed when the orders came
to stay at home?

You see dreaming, if it is vision and not denial,
is not natural in the shadow of death
or standing on the parched earth of drought.

It may be my contrary nature,
but I push against the popular belief
that resurrection is about life after death.
For one thing, the hope
of a life after death
did not begin with Jesus
standing outside the empty tomb.
It was around long before him
and is held one way or another
by all sorts of people
who never heard of him.
Life beyond the grave
has been envisioned by religions
ancient and modern
from the beginning of time.
And that is just one of the reasons
I want to make the case for resurrection and eternal life
as two different things.

Whether it is Elijah taken up in a tornado;
Lazarus stumbling out of a cave wrapped like a mummy
and rubbing his eyes in the piercing sun;
or Jesus bubbling in giddy delight
with the two Mary’s
as they touch each other in disbelief;
resurrection is a shaft of light
and a passage of air
in what we thought was a sealed tomb.

Resurrection is an awakened dream
when others are asleep in grief and fear.
When is it Easter?
When we can dream again.

And when we do dream again,
when we have awakened from our grief
and can breathe again,
when we are a little crocus pointing our head
through the semi-frozen soil above,
when we see the light of resurrection
we are induced to dream again – to envision.

We are compelled to dream,
not lazily daydreaming
as in a late afternoon geometry class –
but compelled
to dream.

It is no easy feat, I realize.
Especially now.
But it is always hard, always a struggle,
always the challenge we meet or not.

We are locked between the challenge
of two griefs we know all too well.
On the one hand, we are confronted
by all the wrongs of the world lined up
like Napoleon’s army
armed with the powerful forces of self-centeredness
that push and squeeze and coerce
us to enrich ourselves.
With generals named power,
and conquer,
they seek to prevail at all costs.

On the other side, pushing us so close
to that other grief we can hardly move,
are the fatalities of the bottom-line,
the victims of the victorious,
and the vanquished of the conquerors.

There we stand,
resurrection blowing our mind
and an awakened dream enflaming our heart,
and staring down a winner’s gauntlet
that dares us to bring our dream into their world.
We turn and look the other way,
and all we see are the martyrs and the defeated
staring back at us wide-eyed
and wondering about our trepidation,
urging us to follow their example.

Pontius Pilate on one side
laughs at our silly dream,
Jesus on the other, standing in front of the cave,
wonders what our hesitation is all about.

So, stumbling in the dark,
wandering on the parched earth of drought,
maybe even shrouded by a pall of grief,
when we begin to dream again
is when we will know it is Easter.

By dream, I mean an envisioning
that has concrete direction,
not denial that protects us from truth.
When we can envision
and begin walking toward what has been dreamt,
then we will know it is Easter.

Crisis and tragedy, awful things like pandemic,
keep us from dreaming.
But then, over time, we often get used to dreamlessness.
We succumb to a prolonged drought.
When that happens, death sets in.
Death is a state of dreamlessness
while resurrection draws us out
into the presence of dreams.

If you are 85 years old
and more of your friends are dead than alive,
it is time to make new friends,
it is time to dream again.
It is time to gird your loins
and start something new
and not just hang on.
If you are sixty and the horizon
looks a lot smaller than you’ve been used to,
and you wonder how you will make the years ahead
golden instead of gray,
it is time to dream again.
It is time to envision a new dream
instead of trying to squeeze a little more life
out of the old one.
It is time to open your arms wide
in an embrace of possibility
instead of a fretful tapping against objects in your way.

If you are 40
and you have that gnawing sense
that you have lived under the tyranny
of the wrong dream
but are so far into it now
that you can’t possibly change,
it is time to dream again.
It is time to understand yourself
and your dream
and know that God’s best hope for you
has nothing to do with how you make money.
It is time to be brave
and recover the dream you lost somewhere long ago
because someone told you it wasn’t possible.
It is time to recover your energy
and be honest about your dream.

If you are twenty-something,
and nosing your way along a path
that has been rutted by millions of people before you,
stop following the herd.
Dream again.
Break out and dream again
like you used to when you were a kid.
Being an adult has nothing to do with being boring.

Being an adult has to do with the exploration,
wisdom, encounter,
and vigorous dreaming.
It is not time to settle for less
it is time to dream and insist on more.
Again, I am not talking about how you make money
but about who you are
and what you do
and how well you love
and allow others to love you.

If you are a teen
your probably not listening,
but I’ll say it anyway.
If you’re a teen I know you’ve got dreams.
I know that you keep them secret
because you don’t want anyone to laugh at you.
That’s okay, but don’t give them up.

Listen for God’s dream for you,
not just those glossy dreams of cool
and wealth
and fame
that the clever hawkers of dreams
tell you to dream.
Those marketers of clothing,
and love
are a burning flame they hope
you will fly into like a mindless moth.
Don’t swallow the dreams they want you to dream.
Instead, deep inside
there is a quieter flame
that burns inside you
even though it does not consume you.
It is God’s best hope for you.
Seek that dream, listen for it.

There is not an adult
or friend in the whole world
that has another dream like yours
or who can tell you what yours is.
It is your dream, dream it.

When is it Easter?
When we can dream again.
Are you cynical?
Then it’s not Easter yet.
Are you bound up in what has been lost?
Then the stone has not been rolled way.
Are you living for yesterday?
Then he’s still on the cross.
Are you full of regret
for what might have been
or what was
and shouldn’t have been?
Then Palm Sunday is yet to come.

If you are ready to dream again –
and by that I do not mean deny your pain
or pretend you haven’t been hurt
or dismiss the your grief
or repress the suffering –
but are you ready to turn around
and take another, unknown step?
Can you willfully decide
it is time to turn around
and dream again
in spite of all that you’ve experienced?
If so, welcome to Easter.