Remember

Posted by secondchurch on April - 28 - 2019

I remember one particular Easter, I think I was maybe 10 or 11, my family decided at the last minute to go to our family cabin for the Easter weekend.  We were living in northern Wisconsin and we were active in a Presbyterian Church that was not a good theological or political fit for my parents.  I remember my mother saying she wanted to go somewhere – anywhere! to hear a liberal Easter sermon.  And they knew just where to go.  There was a sweet little Congregational church close to our summer cabin where an old, funny, wise, liberal troll of a prophet still preached every Sunday.  Friends as he and his family were, we called to say we were coming and made plans to have Easter dinner together.  My mother made a bunny cake – you know the kind where you cut the cake into pieces and stick them together with frosting and tooth picks so it’s shaped like a bunny rabbit with jelly beans for nose and eyes?  On Easter morning, my mother wanted to carry the cake on her lap but my father said no – he was sure it would be fine in the trunk of the car.  There were seven of us in the car – not much room for carrying a rabbit cake.  It was a good thirty miles to church and my mother stewed and fussed the entire way about the fate of the bunny cake – what terrible shape it would be in when we arrived, why did she ever listen to my father, she didn’t know why she couldn’t have carried it anyway, now we would have a trunk full of crumbs to bring to Easter dinner, and on and on.  I imagine you’re familiar with the kind of monologue I’m describing.

Well, when we arrived at church, all us kids were quiet as could be – not wanting to make the bunny cake battle any worse.  My father jumped out of the car, opened the trunk, gasped in horror and slammed the trunk down again. When my mother got back to the trunk and opened it again and saw that the cake was in perfect shape – we all started to laugh, and laugh, and laugh.  We couldn’t stop laughing.  All through that Easter service, we laughed.  My father died suddenly and unexpectedly not many years later.  As we gathered, telling stories about my dad, someone remembered the bunny cake in the trunk, and once again, this time through our tears, we laughed.

I spoke to a friend of mine not long ago whose father recently died.  My friend was there at just the moment of his father’s death.  In our conversation, he told me many wonderful things about their relationship – memories that had been flooding back to him. But, he went on to say, “I’ll never get that memory of his dying out of my mind – the image of his lifeless body”.  I knew exactly what my friend was describing.  To witness a death is a remarkable experience.  It is so clear that the life of the one you knew and loved is just gone.

Today we are celebrating the resurrection of One whose life was gone.  All four gospels tell the story leading up to this morning’s mysterious news, emphasizing particular dimensions of the tale, adding some details here, eliminating others there.  In one of the accounts, the betrayal and grief of Judas is emphasized, in another, fear is all over the story leading to the cross and the tomb.  We read Luke’s version of the story this year – last Sunday Luke’s version of the entry into Jerusalem when Jesus told the Pharisees that even the stones would shout hosanna, and this past Thursday, Luke’s version of the Last Supper.  It’s Luke that tells of the strange friendship that developed between Herod and Pilate, and Luke who introduced us to the two criminals crucified with Jesus. 

Unfortunately, none of the gospels actually describe the resurrection itself.  There is only mystery, a good man named Joseph who laid Jesus’ body in his own family’s tomb, a large stone, somehow rolled away, a few remaining cloths, a curious conversation with two men in dazzling clothes of white, and women who were there to anoint the body and who were the first to encounter the mystery.  And what was it the mysterious men said? “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how he told you…”

One of my favorite books about the meaning of the resurrection was written by Rowan Williams.  It’s called, simply,  Resurrection (Pilgrim Press, 1984).  In it, Williams claims there are two significant themes in the Easter stories.  One is that when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his death, it was always as a stranger, as one the disciples don’t immediately recognize.  We’re going to look at that theme in the next few weeks when we read more of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples.

The second theme, according to Williams, is this thing – memory.  It was necessary for the disciples to remember the ways in which they failed Jesus while he was still with them.  It was necessary for them to remember what he taught them.  It was necessary for them to remember everything about Jesus so they could experience him in a healed way, a life-giving way, an eternal way, after this death.  In this resurrection theme, forgiveness was the key experience.  Memory and forgiveness are all wrapped up together in the crucifixion and the resurrection.  Williams writes, “To know Jesus, is to know that he accepts, forgives, bears and absorbs the hurt done: to hear his invitation is to know oneself forgiven”.

The healing of memory, transforming the memory of sin, of rage, sorrow, grief, violence, and betrayal, into hope and joy, does not erase those memories or their lasting impact on our lives.  The resurrection does not remove suffering.  It does not make it go away, or diminish its anguish or its pain.  The resurrection does not take the place of death.  In fact, that there is no specific resurrection description keeps us from sanitizing the reality of suffering, of sin, of anguish and death.  The resurrection does not deny sorrow and grief.  It transcends sorrow and grief, encapsulates the entire experience of love and loss, of human experience and the experience of the divine.  The resurrection, quite simply, is the momentum that keeps us alive when death takes pieces of us away.

This past week was the twentieth anniversary of the mass murder of Columbine, which was really the first time mass shootings committed by young, disenfranchised, disturbed boys came fully into our nation’s consciousness.  I remember where I was when I heard about Columbine.  I made a quiet commitment to God – a promise, actually — to work to prevent gun violence for the rest of my life, in whatever ways I can.  Gun violence, specifically mass shootings, has only become worse in our nation. I will never pretend to have made much of an impact in this work.  But I will remember the shootings at Columbine, and all the mass shootings since then as a commitment to a resurrection faith.

Also this past week, we saw photos of flames towering up and through the steeple of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.  If you have ever visited Notre Dame, as I have, I bet the fire photos loosened memories of visits to that remarkable place – times when you stared at the rose window, or leaned over the sides of the Seine River bridge to admire the flying buttresses, or climbed, step by step into the steeple, or tried to decipher the mass, spoken in Latin and French. Your memories, like mine, have been of awe at the grandeur of that sacred place.  But there are more memories of church fires – arson of small black churches across the south, and just this morning, this Easter day, explosions in Catholic churches in Sri Lanka, killing and wounding hundreds of worshipers.  Memory of these destroyed sacred spaces form the foundation for our resurrection faith.

Memories are burned into our minds by death – memories of failures and sorrows and lost loves.  Rowan Williams wrote “On the far side of the resurrection, vocation and forgiveness occur together, always and inseparably.  Simply to be given back the past of wrong and hurt is not of itself a transaction of grace: we know how the bare, context-less recovery of memory can be something regarded only with terror and despair.  What happens in the resurrection is that this memory is given back in a particular kind of context – in the presence of Jesus.” And that is resurrection.

Remember, dear hearts, how Jesus changed lives, how he forgave, taught, and guided us into the very heart of God.  Remember, and Rejoice.  Amen.

Luke 24:1-12

April 21, 2019

Rev. Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor

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