Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Preparing for Easter

The Easter season is always a challenge for me. When I was a kid, it was kind of fun---we got new dresses, my sister and I, and often we got new patent leather maryjanes, if the family budget could manage it. As I got older and began to wonder about the meaning of Easter and whether or not it was mainly a story, not history, I got a bit blase about its meaning. When I became a Unitarian Universalist, it mostly revolved around springtime and the incredible garden created in the JUC sanctuary every year by a longtime member, Eunice Brock.

But when I went to seminary at a United Methodist school, I was challenged every year by the immense importance it seemed to have for my fellow scholars, at least those from mainline denominations. The whole season of Lent was meaningful to them and I had to stop and think about how I would respond to the Iliff scenario of Lenten sacrifices, meditations on redemption of sin, the whole Ash Wednesday ceremony, the re-enactment of certain events during Holy Week, and a Tenebrae service on Friday night of Holy Week. I rarely took part in any of it; I just wasn't comfortable doing something that seemed over-amped already.

Now that I've been in ministry for more than a decade and have designed Easter services for at least ten years, the challenge is somewhat muted but still there. I never know whether to revert to ignoring the Jesus story and focusing on springtime renewal or dealing with Passover instead or if I should just go ahead and see what I can find to say about Easter that will be meaningful to my flock, many of whom (maybe most) are come-outers from conservative traditions and who arbitrarily reject the supernaturalism of a physical resurrection.

This year, I'm just grabbing the bull by the horns and speaking on "What Easter Can Mean to Unitarian Universalists". We are going to sing "In the Garden" in harmony and we are going to hear the Easter morning story as it is portrayed in John 20: 1-18. And we're going to do one of those hymns with all the alleluias. We're going to have a bit of a mash-up of literal and metaphoric Easter message in the sermon. Because it seems to me that's what Easter is---a mash-up of a historical event that was written down years after the fact, dealt with from several different perspectives by several different authors, mysterious, poignant, joyful, and crazy.

It's crazy because it's both believable and unbelievable, this story. We often put ourselves in the place of the men and women who were nuts about this man Jesus and devastated by his death. We might want to believe that he was risen too and might imagine seeing him alongside us as we walk to Emmaus. We might, at last, come to understand that "He Lives" because he brought something into our lives that we will never lose. In the scriptures it's called the Kingdom of Heaven, but in our lives we call it a new way of living, a way we found when we discovered a new way of behaving, a new concern and compassion for others, a new resolve to do something to make the world a little better, a little more just.

So I've gotten a few pages into the sermon and am kind of getting warmed up now. I'm starting to see the trajectory of the message and where we might end up. Sermons often end up writing themselves, you know. Yeah, you can call it the Holy Spirit if you want to. I do.


DairyStateDad said...

John Dominic Crossan has some interesting thoughts about Easter in "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography," which has a chapter called "How many years was Easter Sunday?" Needless to say, he's skeptical on the supernatural account as well...

I look forward to reading your sermon, which of course assumes you'll post it here!

Joel said...

Given how many of your congregation feels about Christian orthodoxy, I think it's pretty brave of you to tackle it from that perspective.

ms. kitty said...

You might be surprised, actually, Joel. It's the injustice of much (not all) orthodoxy that they reject plus the supernatural stuff. There's a lot more to the stories of Easter and Jesus than that.

Lizard Eater said...

Yes, being in a Christian (evangelical!) seminary is affecting me, as well. At our Wed. chapel this week, there was a very moving candlelight service. The majority of students are already working for a church, many of them as the pastor. (The majority of students belong to African American churches, such as AME or National Baptist, where they put you to work as soon as you're "called by God.") This was a mostly meditative service that included anointing with oil. It was a way to prepare the pastors and churchworkers for carrying out Holy Week. (Wouldn't it be great to have something like that for us!)

I was moved, and touched. Tomorrow, many of my classmates will proclaim, "Christ is risen!" It is not my theology, but I now appreciate the genuine joy they will take in that.