Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

March 27, 2016: “The [Real] Miracle of Easter”

Reflection “Letting Go,” Rev Denis Paul

When I was little, my siblings and I didn’t get candy for Easter.

Oh, we got an Easter basket, complete with plastic grass and even some dyed hardboiled eggs, but no candy. The basket was mostly filled with little toys, things like Silly Putty, yo-yos, magnetic board games for long car rides, that kind of thing. My favorite was always the Slinky.

I loved these things so much that once upon a time, I could do all kinds of tricks with them. I could make them walk from one hand to the next, and that kind of thing. Now, not so much.

But one thing I discovered when I was learning to do tricks with these things is that in order for them to really do their thing, the thing they do best, which is walking down stairs, “alone or in pairs,” you have to let them go.

[Demonstrate the Slinky walking down a stack of books.]

There’s one thing that they are meant to do, and if you hold on to them, they just don’t work. In fact, they are quite boring.

To celebrate Easter this morning, in addition to having the Easter Egg Hunt after the service, we also have about 10 Slinkys in the red wagon in the back of the sanctuary, so please, everyone, take one on your way out!

Homily “The [Real] Miracle of Easter” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Today, Christians all over the world celebrate the Easter, the resurrection – the death, rebirth, and ascension into heaven, of Jesus.

Before he ever became known as the Christ, the messiah, the savior, or the anointed one, he was just Yeshua, a Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth.

He spoke Aramaic, the common local language, and was – in most ways, a regular guy. Except he was very popular, and very controversial. He spoke a lot about how the Romans, the people who were occupying the land of the Jews, were abusing their military power. He told his people that they had to stop following the old laws about what to wear and what to eat and how to produce food, and start following new law.

His new law was simple: Do to others as you would have them to do you. In other words, treat people the way you want to be treated. Love your neighbors, your enemies, and most importantly yourself. Love everyone enough to change the whole world.

Well, all this talk got him into trouble. With the Romans and with the Jews, who declared him a criminal, an enemy of the state and an enemy of the faith. Then, on a Friday, in the most gruesome way you could ever imagine, they killed him. They put Jesus’s body in a cave, rolled a huge stone in front of the opening, and posted guards to keep watch over his body.

There are a lot of different stories about Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell four slightly different stories, but I want to tell it the way John tells it.

Mary of Magdal was one of the many people who had been following Jesus in the last days of his life. Most people just call her Mary Magdalene. On Sunday morning, after Jesus had been crucified, went to his tomb early, just before light. The other gospels say that she wanted to anoint him, by cleaning his body and rubbing perfumed oils into his skin. When she got there, the stone had been rolled away, and the cave was empty.

She was shocked, and didn’t know what to do, so she got two of the other disciples, the other students of Jesus. One was named Simon Peter, and the other John only calls “the one whom Jesus loved.”

The three of them got to the cave, poked their heads in, and saw nothing there but the linen cloths Jesus had been wrapped in on Friday night. The men, probably feeling very defeated, just went home.

Mary Magdalene stayed. She stood there, weeping bitterly. First the man she loved, Jesus of Nazareth had been killed. Now, when she wanted to prepare his body to be respectfully buried, it was gone.

She stooped to look into the cave, and saw two angels, men dressed in brilliant, glowing white robes who asked her why she was crying.

Mary Magdalene said “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t where they’ve laid him.”

She stood up, and turned around, and there was Jesus. She didn’t recognize him – why should she? She thought he was dead – and he asked, “why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

She figured he was the groundskeeper, so she said “if you’ve taken his body away, tell me where it is!”

Jesus just looked at her said quietly, “Mary.”

She screamed, “Teacher!” and threw her arms around him.

He hugged her for a moment, then pushed her away, gently, saying “Don’t cling to me. Let me go. Remember how I told you that after I die I will go to heaven to return to my father? It’s time for me to go.”

And Mary Magdalene let him go.

And that, I think, is the real miracle of Easter. You see, I don’t think miracles are big amazing events, like magic tricks. I think miracles are little events. Events that seem inconsecquential at first, yet they change people’s hearts.

You see, Mary of Magdal loved Jesus of Nazareth. All of his followers loved him. None could imagine life without him as their leader. But with Mary, things were different. She loved him.

You see, Jesus was a Rabbi, or Jewish teacher. Just a regular Rabbi.

Simcha Jacobovici, a writer, journalist and filmmaker who happens to be Jewish, always thought Jesus was a pretty cool Rabbi. Mr Jacobovici also thought it was kind of odd that people thought Jesus was never married because one thing he knows about Rabbis: They’ve always been married.

So, Mr Jacobovich set out to investigate, as many archeologists and scientists have done, whether or not Jesus was married. There have been a lot of theories for a long time that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. She loved him deeply, and her relationship with him was intimate enough that she had the job of cleaning his body.

The Bible tells the story of how they met. She was disreputable, and he invited her to join him and the rest of the disciples, giving her a new kind of respectability she had never known.

In some ways, Je saved her life, and taught her how to love herself so that she could love others. She was living the new law Jesus taught.

The miracle, the real miracle of Easter as far as I am concerned, is that Mary Magdalene was able to let Jesus go. Despite the fierceness of the love she had for him, when he stood there, alive, she had him back.

I’ll tell you: if that were me, and somebody I love that much were suddenly not dead, and standing there in front of me, I would never let go. Ever.

But Mary let Jesus go. She let him go to do the job that he needed to do. To fulfill his destiny. Even if she didn’t know it at the time, Jesus knew that in order to live into the promise of the life ahead of him, he had to let go of the life he had before. And Mary Magdalene had to do the same thing.

In that act of letting go, her heart was changed. And a new religion began. A religion that at its best puts love ahead of everything.

So that’s what the slinky and Easter have in common. The slinky is a reminder that if you just let go of something, it will do whatever it needs to do to fulfill its destiny, to use its creative energy. And you are changed in the process of letting go.

Third Grade Affirmation

Many faith traditions around the world take time during the spring to mark the rites of passage of children in various age groups. It makes sense to do this, as animals are born and find their feet. It’s a time of celebration of new life, new outlooks.

So this year on Easter, once again we will recognize our third graders by inviting them into the service and honoring them be acknowledging in them that which we value most: their tough questions about what matters most.

And we, Halcyon and I, will answer their questions as completely as we can, iin the hopes that they will ask many more, knowing they can trust as. And you, the rest of the adults in their church.

Adrian L. asks: “Does God control us in any way?”

Rev Denis responds: There are three major religions in the world that trace themselves back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Those three faiths account for a little over half of the people in the world, and one thing they all agree on is that God, in his infinite love for humanity, gave his human creation free will.

That means that each one of us, no matter how old or how young, whether we believe in God or not, has the ability to think and act for ourselves. We make decisions for ourselves about what we will do and what we won’t do. God doesn’t make us do anything.

But God does have the right, even the responsibility, according to these two traditions, to punish and reward us for our actions. These faiths say that if you do good, you will go to heaven when you die. And if you don’t do good, you will go somewhere else. And they believe that god has the ability to reward or punish entire communities of people.

Some will go so far as to say that if God doesn’t like what a city or cstate or country is doing together….like if they pass a law he doesn’t like….God will punish that community by sending to them something awful and destructive, like a hurricane or a tornado or a plague.

But don’t believe them. It’s not true. God doesn’t work like that.

Now other people, in traditions that originated in the East, traditions like Buddhism and Taoism, believe that we have complete free will, that there is no god controlling our behavior or rewarding or punishing us. They believe that we create our own future. If we do good, good comes to us in return. And if we do bad, bad things come to us. It might not happen right away, but ultimately, we reap what we so. If an individual or a community is generous, then abundance will be the norm for that community or individual. If greed and selfishness is the norm for an individual or a community, then scarcity will be their standard.

I believe something a little different. I believe that God is the sum total of all of our actions…that every little thing we do adds to the collective energy of the whole universe. So If I do something, it changes the universe in a tiny way. If a whole lot of us do the same thing, like extend hospitality to strangers, then we create an energy of hospitality….and that energy….that is God. We make God together, as we are all part of God.

So really, the way I see it, in a way, we have more control over God, than God has control over us.

Anna H. asks: “What is the color of everything?”

Director of Religious Education, Halcyon Domanski responds: Well the color of everything as we know it in our world is Electromagnetic spectrum. This is a very big word for everyone. It means the waves of light from the sun that make up the color spectrum. From what our human eyes can see to things that animals can see that we can’t and then beyond even an animal’s sights. We know that these colors exist because we use them to make the invisible visible in thing like x-rays. Through science we have discovered that colors range from here to here (use arms), but humans can only see from here to here (use fingers). The colors that humans see are actually the waves of light that are being bounce back to the eye. So for example if a shirt is blue and light lands on it the shirt it will absorb all the light wave except the blue ones which will then bounce back for our eyes to see. All colors come from light and how that light interacts with everything around us.

Yet as an artist I also know the magic of color in our world, and there is no real answer I can give you for that magic. It is something that you have to find for yourself, like I did. Oh, I could tell you how to mix paint to make any color you want but how to put all those colors together to make something beautiful is something each of us has to find on our own.

The best explanation of the magic of color for me is in one of my most favorite poems by Shel Silverstein:

My skin is kind of sort of brownish
Pinkish yellowish white.
My eyes are greyish blueish green.
But I’m told they look orange in the night
My hair is reddish blondish brown,
But it’s silver when it’s wet
And all the colors I am inside
Have not been invented yet.

Ethan G. asks: “What do you like about being the minister at East Shore?”

Rev Denis responds: Whenever I get asked this question, especially by a young person, it’s usually a pretty good indicator that the person asking is thinking about maybe becoming a minister some day. Is that the case for you Ethan? Do you think you might like to be a minister someday?

I thought so.

Well, this is kind of an easy question. The best part of being a minister – at East Shore or at any church – is that I get invited into the most intimate and important moments in people’s lives. In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten to marry a couple right here in the sanctuary, and say goodbye to someone else who had just died, officiating at her memorial service. I have gotten to visit people in the hospital, talk to people who were alone or scared, talk to people who were having difficulties in their marriages and other important relationships, bless children, invite people into our church, and represent this congregation in the community. I get to lead worship, and answer questions, and ask questions. I get to lead rituals and rites of passage like this one.

I get to be with children, and elders.

It’s an incredible honor to be asked into people’s lives like this, and it gives me a huge amount of joy.

Now the other question you might ask is “what’s the worst part of being the minister at East Shore?”

That question is just as easy to answer: the worst part about being the minister is that I get invited into the most intimate and important moments in people’s lives.

I say that because I can’t do it all. I know that for every person I get to visit, there are more people I can’t visit. For everyone I get to wish a happy birthday to, there are others I can’t wish a happy birthday to because I didn’t know it was their birthday. For everyone who asks me to see them in the hospital, there are others who never let me know they are in the hospital. And there are so many people here, and so few hours in a day, I just can’t do everything I want to do!

Don’t get me wrong. The good outweighs the disappointment. By a lot. I love this job, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.