April 16, 2017
Easter Sunrise Service at Wellspring
Text: Matthew 28: 1-10
When I was here at Wellspring three weeks ago for the Church of the Saviour discernment retreat, Cheryl Hellner led us in two sessions of “gathered silence.” She began by saying that, during Lent, she had “apprenticed herself” to the pair of eagles nesting at the National Arboretum. Cheryl’s description of watching them protect their two precious eggs through the icey windstorm earlier that month made a deep impression on me. I felt that we, too, were gathered here to protect and nourish the possibility of new life in Church of the Saviour.
Cheryl’s word, “apprenticed,” caught my attention, because it is another word for discipleship. An apprentice is someone who is learning from a master teacher, who commits time and attention to learn basic skills or behaviors of that field. The disciples had apprenticed themselves to Jesus during his lifetime, and now he was gone. What should they do next? That is the question that Mary Magdelene and “the other Mary” carried with them on that dark morning near Jerusalem. Now what?
I suspect they were terrified and traumatized by the events they had witnessed surrounding Jesus’ death. We Protestants don’t dwell on the gruesome details of Jesus’ death, but I know how quickly I pull away from a partially eaten carcass when I am walking around Dayspring. It’s unsettling, revolting, and it leaves me shaky inside. Even watching the eagles tear apart a fish for their two hatchling chicks makes me a little queasy.
Imagine how their terror must have deepened then, when the earth heaved under their feet and lightening rolled away the stone! The tomb guards literally passed out, but the women did not. The angel said what biblical angels always seem to say: Fear not!
This angelic greeting always points to the awesome presence of God, the timeless realm of Spirit. “Fear not!” sweeps away the fight-or-flight response we might be having, and says instead “Wake up! This is holy ground! Pay attention! Prepare to be changed!”
The angel shows them the empty space where Jesus was AND gives them the words to explain what has happened. They are grounded in the reality of the empty tomb and given only the next set of directions: “Go to Galilee. You will see him there.”
In Mark, the earliest Gospel, the women say nothing to anyone, because they are too terrified.
In Matthew, which is probably based on Mark’s Gospel, Jesus actually appears to the women and he himself tells them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the disciples what they had seen.
Luke, probably a later Gospel than Matthew, the women do NOT see Jesus, and the disciples dismiss their message as an “idle tale.”
And in John, written even later, Jesus and Mary Magdalene have their marvelous encounter in the garden, which is a more elaborate telling of Matthew’s account.
In all four Gospels, the disciples are directed to “return to Galilee.” For me, that means go back to the beginning. Remember your first encounter with me. Knowing what you know now, reconnect with your roots in this time between death and resurrection.
Let me turn to our story as a part of God’s story here and now, at this time in history. How can we “return to Galilee?”
Last January, Wes Granberg-Michaelson spoke at the Festival Center as part of the Parr Lecture Series. I remembered Wes as the secretary of the New Lands group here at Church of the Saviour in 1975, when he working for Senator Mark Hatfield. Wes “apprenticed himself” to Church of the Saviour and to political leaders like Mark Hatfield (who seemed more plentiful then than they are now). Wes was part of the decision to divide Church of the Saviour into six smaller congregations, and then he went on to become the General Secretary of the Reformed Church of America. In his talk, (you can read the text in the April issue of Sojourners), Wes gave us five principles which I want to share with you as guidance in this time of political upheaval, destruction of people and programs we hold dear.
First, remember who you are. Our religious story and experience gives us a basis for moral and ethical behavior no matter what the expedient decisions of our political leaders are. For me, that means continued attention to the biblical narrative and our tradition of inward/outward journey — continued emphasis on a school for Christian living, not just mission and outreach. We can continue to welcome the stranger—as Dayspring has, feed the hungry and clothe the naked because that is who we are.
Doing and teaching go together, so we do not fall into idealized wish dreams and numbing disappointments. The parents of those thriving eaglets at the Arboretum are doing AND teaching: hunting for their next meal while they teach their children how to eat and help them learn how to fly. They are native teachers we might not have expected.
Second, hold on to the truth. Seek out the facts. View politics from the standpoint of those who have been marginalized. Don’t be blinded by “fake news” or misled by propaganda. Seek out the views of indigenous people at Standing Rock, Muslims being detained at the airport, and renters displaced by developers in the city. When Pilot sneers at Jesus, saying “What is truth?” We must bear witness to what we know, whether it changes public policy or not. I think that is the reason why women were chosen as the first witnesses—because they were discounted as witnesses in their day, and this revelation was a sign that God’s realm includes the marginal, the outsider— those used and abused.
Beneath the Arboretum video of life in the eagle’s nest, there is a warning to viewers—that anything could happen and the forest service will not intervene to save the chicks. It’s a hard truth that most people don’t want to embrace, but it’s a basic fact for making moral judgments.
Third, deepen community. Learn how to love one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens. In our individualistic society, making a commitment to your community is counter-cultural—and yet we know that gifts flourish when we do not have to do it all ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew that a confessing community was essential to sustaining courage and commitment in the face of Nazi oppression, and we American nomads need to choose a family of faith to practice the harsh realities of love.
Fourth, acknowledge suffering. While we all experience pain, suffering comes from our inability to control devastating events in our lives. It’s a reality of this world AND it seems faintly unAmerican. Some events cannot be changed, and we must learn to BE WITH those who suffer. I see L’Arche as a powerful example of how to do that. If we can apprentice ourselves to those who suffer most from our political choices—homeless people cast out of mental facilities, young people jailed in private prisons, runaways caught up in prostitution, or simply elders who no longer have the capacity to drive—we will learn to walk in this world with freedom and compassion.
Finally, live in solidarity with all of creation, not just one group or one nation. In the biblical story, we are interconnected with all parts of God’s good creation. In this political climate of division and animosity, Wes reminded us that this mutual belonging to a common humanity is central the practice of Christian ethics. He also reminded us that care for the earth and its atmosphere is part of the stewardship we are called to. Since the discernment retreat, here at Wellspring, I too have “apprenticed myself” to the eagles at the Arboretum, thanks to the video-cam which uses light beyond the eagle’s spectrum. I’m grateful for modern science and technology, and know we have much to learn from native teachers whom God has provided.
And that brings me back to Dayspring as the anchor for our journey together as Church of the Saviour. This is the land we hold together. This is our spiritual home, where we have practiced silence and listened for God to undergird daring, even radical, missions. Many of us have come here “while it was still dark” in our own lives, afraid of what we would hear and yet hopeful at the same time, all because we dare to follow the footsteps of Mary Magdalene toward the tomb, not knowing what we would find.
Our culture offers entertainment—diversion and distraction from the tasks at hand. Our faith comes from experience which will change us from the inside out. We can watch the eagle’s nest at the Arboretum out of curiosity and go either way—entertainment or experience, distraction or spiritual growth. Which will it be?
According to Matthew, the angel appeared as lightening and proclaimed, “Fear not!” to the terrified women. It was an invitation to embrace the death of Jesus and be changed by his life.
“Fear not,” Jesus said, when he appeared to them on the road back to town. “But go and tell the disciples that I will be there, waiting, in Galilee.”
As light fills this room with a new day, let us renew our apprenticeship to Jesus’ way in the world, knowing we have been given this community of brothers and sisters in Christ, and many teachers from the margins of our knowing that we are just beginning to see.
May God grant us eyes to see and ears to hear.