I begin with a plethora of thank-yous. First, I would like to thank Joan Keane, chair of the May Breakfast, and Joanna Paulsen and Carlene Merrill, for organizing another successful May Breakfast. I had a great time and I hope that all of you who volunteered or attended did too! Many thanks also to Ellen Mellen, and all the May Basket makers. These are truly works of art, as well as a wonderful tradition. And of course, thanks to the fudge makers, who make the baskets sweet.
Second, I would like to thank everyone who volunteers in our Religious Education program, at every level. I was impressed by the service on Sunday, and by all our children and youth. One of the joys of my ministry is seeing everyone grow up. Watching the sixth graders receive their milestone gifts, I reflected that I had know most of these young people since preschool. And I was amazed by the combined Carol and Junior choirs' singing of "Inch by Inch." It was so beautifully sung, and I know it was not easy, with all the harmonies involved.
Third, my deepest thanks to Bonnie Rankin, Johan MacKenzie, Tom Coffey, Paul Windt, Bob Morse, Chris Sweetnam and anyone I might have missed for all their work and dedication in seeing the CPC grant for the steeple repair come before a vote at town meeting. I am thankful too that a significant majority of the town meeting representatives supported our request, despite the lack of support by both the town Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen. I was reminded that in politics, whether national, town or even church, that small minority voices, if they are vociferous and angry, seem to cast a shadow of fear making it is easy to assume that opposition is much greater than it truly is. I am relieved and glad that the town did the right thing. We now have some work ahead of us to do the right thing on our end, and raise the money to pay our half for the repairs.
Beyond our congregation and our town, it was an eventful week as U.S. Navy Seals attacked a compound in Pakistan, housing Osama bin Laden, and killed him in the ensuing fight. I sent out this message on our church email list in response to this news:
On September 11, 2001, I remember I was driving down Rte 2 when I heard about the first plane crash. By the time I got to work, it was apparent that something both horrifying and deliberate was happening: a terrorist attack on us, as Americans, in our own country. Having recently moved from the Washington, D.C. area, I knew people who had been killed there, and I knew people who were on the ground, responding to the crash at the Pentagon. I knew the exact path the plane there had taken and where it hit. What came to my mind was this passage about Elijah in First Kings:19: "And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."
Today, as I heard President Obama announce the success of the operation against Osama bin Laden and his death, I found myself full of mixed emotions. I cannot be jubilant about any death or killing, even if it offers a sense of justice for people I know. I do believe that evil is real, and also very human. Osama bin Laden masterminded acts of terror that killed many people, here and abroad. But he is not the first, nor the last. I take my cue from President Obama, who announced this in a solemn fashion and with the comment that this is not the end of terrorism. I also know the dedication of those who serve our country, and I am grateful for their willingness to do what many of us could never have the courage to face. I was moved most deeply by the picture of the New York Firefighters, their heads bowed in prayer, at the site of 9/11. They know first hand the horrifying realities of September 11th, and saw things too terrible for words.
And so, the passage from 1 Kings returns to me again, as I strive to hear that still, small voice of God or the holy, whispering beneath the sounds of fire, wind, and earthquake. I pray for those who have lost loved ones, here and around the world, in acts of terror and the crossfire of war. I pray for healing, I pray for peace. For our country. For our world.
On a more spiritual note, here is the reflection I shared for the Easter Sunday service.
Easter is not a one-day holiday. It is week long remembering of Jesus' last days. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is greeted as a hero and King by the ordinary Jewish people. The fear of the Roman rulers and the cooperating Jewish priests of Jesus' potential to foment revolution, and their decision to arrest Jesus and condemn him to death. Tenebrae remembers Jesus' last words through the darkness of his last hours, as he suffers death by crucifixion in the desert sun. Then comes Easter, the third day after Jesus died: From the Gospel of Luke 24:
1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
So here's the moment of mystery, of awe, and of eventual joy when the women and men who love Jesus discover that their world has not come to an end, that somehow, in some way, Jesus' love for them, for God, and for the world had transcended his death.
In my experience, religious stories don't offer us literal, factual accounts. Rather, they describe powerful, transcending, and transforming experiences for which teach us eternal, human truths beyond words, beyond time, beyond space. Something happened that was beyond the experience and the words of Peter, the women, and the disciples.
When I listen to this story as I celebrate an Easter morning, I learn about what it means to be part of a community of resurrection. We all encounter times when we feel like the world that we know and trust has come to an end. We may lose a spouse, a parent, or a child. We might become ill or suffer a terrible accident. We might lose our job or watch a relationship we cherish come to an end. All of these moments feel like the end of the world. One of our responsibilities as a church is to be there, to walk with each other during these terrible times, to help one another reach the other side and see that indeed life is still possible. It will be different. It will require different things of us and we will need to develop new relationships, new skills, and new understandings to live there. As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we offer a sanctuary for resurrection for ourselves and each other.
We also bear witness to communities of resurrection in our larger world. They are everywhere. Something happens––an earthquake, a tsunami, a hurricane and flood, or worse, an apartheid, a war, a genocide. Everything that everyone has ever known is wiped away. Whole families, whole neighborhoods, whole communities and towns. Looking at the debris, the mess, and the loss, no one can imagine how it will ever be the same again. We have witnessed this in South Africa, Rwanda, Japan, and Haiti to name a few.
And yet from these resurrection does happen. Communities rebuild and people return. It is not the same. There has been too much death and destruction for it ever to be the same. Because resurrection is not about going back to what was. It is finding and affirming life in the face of death and despair. And what I have learned is that resurrection is grounded in a love for mercy, a commitment to justice, and a trust in the transforming power of love. I have also learned that resurrection is not a moment, but requires a long, steady commitment.
My greatest personal experience of the resurrection community is New Orleans. Perhaps that is why I find my time there so spiritually renewing and challenging. The rebuilding efforts are truly grounded a love of mercy and a longing for justice. Neighborhoods have organized to oppose city government attempts to take their land for its own purposes. Volunteers continue to come from all over the country to rebuild neighborhoods and communities literally one home at a time. Almost six years later, displaced citizens are still working to find ways to come home, battling bureaucracy and red tape working together to rebuild missing services like schools, public health and community centers that the government has not restarted, in hopes of keeping people away. Resurrection is not just rebuilding or reestablishing one's life or the life of one's community. Resurrection rises out of the love of mercy and the longing for justice which require us not to despair when our world seems to end but to come together in a way of right relationship, to create something new from the ashes. We are witnesses and participants both in transforming a community through the power of love.
My colleague, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein speaks of resurrection not as belief but as work––specifically our work. Jesus to us is not a God to be worshiped but a spiritual guide and teacher whose love is so great, whose impassioned work for justice is so profound that they transcend time and death and the space between the stars. Here is what Victoria wrote: "The stone has got to be rolled back from the tomb again and again every year. Roll up your sleeves. He is not coming back, you know. He is not coming back unless it is we who rise for him, we who lay healing hands on the reviled and rejected like he did on, his behalf--We who rage for righteousness in his insistent voice, we who forgive the sinner, even knowing that "the sinner" is no farther off than our own heartbeat.
He will not come back to join us at the table, to share God's extravagant banquet, God's love feast, all are invited, come as you are. And so it is you and I who must feast for him, must say the grace and break the bread and pass it to the left and dish up the broiled fish (or pour the wine) and pass it to the right. And treat each other so tenderly as though just this morning she or he made the personal effort to make it back from heaven, from hell but certainly from death to be by our side. Because of if by some miracle (and why not a miracle?), He did comeback, wouldn't he want to see us like this? Wouldn't it be a miracle to live for just one day so that, if he did, by some amazing feat come riding into town he could take a look around and say "This is what I meant!" And we could say it took us a long time... But we finally figured it out. Then, let us live to make it so. You are the resurrection and the life."