Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
Easter, April 15, 2001- Pastor Diane Schmitz

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb."

While it was still dark . . . for the past three days darkness had swallowed the hopes of the people who loved and followed Jesus. For days before that darkness had come upon Jesus in the form of betrayal, rejection and abandonment.

Darkness is familiar to all of us: the loved one who dies, the relationship that ends, the illness that cripples, the violence that maims and kills, the children who go hungry and homeless, the loneliness in the midst of a crowd, the self hatred arising from not feeling loved.

In the midst of such darkness we despair that life may never look good again, love may never again fill our hearts. The end of Jesus' life gives us some wisdom about the journey towards love rising again in our lives.

We read in the scripture that Jesus was betrayed; the Greek translation instead of betrayed says, "to be handed over." Judas handed Jesus over. Jesus had had an active life teaching and healing others. Now that stops and he instead becomes the one to whom things are being done. He's arrested; he's led to the high priest; he's taken before Pilate; he's being crowned with thorns; he's being nailed on a cross. Things are being done to him; he gives up control and lets the people choose whether they will be his disciples or his executioners. He had to wait; he gave up control to God. His agony was not only the agony of approaching death but also the agony of having to wait.

This agony of waiting for a response not knowing what will come next is a part of the human condition. In the midst of our trials there comes a point where we have to give up our hope of controlling every outcome and simply wait. Wait for the response from medical tests, wait for our friend to be ready for reconciliation, wait to see if our work for justice will make a difference, wait to see how life will be with new health limitations, wait for an answer about which new direction to take in our lives.

But in that waiting and relinquishing of control the mystery of God acts upon us in surprising ways and through unexpected people and situations. New life comes not only through actions we take but also in how we receive the actions of others acted upon us.

So often we have framed our lives in terms of what we do, what actions we take. Then if life changes our ability to act in that way we become lost and spend an enormous amount of energy trying to recreate what was. Meanwhile the possibility of what could be gets missed because of our insistence at controlling the outcome based on what we have known life to be.

God knows the fields of our hearts better than we do and sees the possibilities for new life to grow in ways we cannot imagine; we see only the dead and bare fields. God sees soil ready to grow new things. God does not fear endings and death as we do for God knows God's love always comes, always rises again. This is what Jesus believed; this is what enabled him to go to the cross.

It was that confidence in God's love for him that also allowed Jesus to hold on to the integrity of who he was as he was questioned in those last days.

When Judas led the soldiers and police to Jesus in the garden he came towards them asking, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." When he said to them `I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, `Whom do you seek?" And they said, `Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus answered, `I told you that I am he; so; if you seek me, let these men go'".

Jesus did not deny, he did not elaborate, he did not make excuses or try to rationalize who he was. He named and claimed who he was even though he knew it would cost him his life. The power of that naming caused the people to draw back and fall to the ground.

Holding on to the integrity of who we truly are can be a difficult step for us to take but a necessary one if we seek to be a full and honest expression of God's love in the world. This asks us to look truthfully at who we say we are and to examine how consistent our behavior is with the image we hold of ourselves. We often compromise who we are in order to stay safe in the midst of cultural expectations, family assumptions, and church community judgments.

Take a moment now to say silently to your self "I am ______(your name)." Sit quietly for a moment with what that evokes.

For most of us a myriad of responses come to naming who we are. That is the beauty of God's expression but the danger is in the midst of the nuances we lose the key to who we really are.

Say with me, "I am God's love rising": " I am God's love rising."

Sing with me: "I am God's love rising; I am God's love rising." (chant is sung)

God's love arises not out of perfect lives; not out of perfect actions. God's love arises from the dark chaos of our lives, from deep grief and sadness, from betrayal and cruelty; from the parts of our lives we want no one to see. God sees and God loves every part of us.

I invite you now to experience a meditation of God's love for you. Close your eyes and let God take you on a journey with these words. Open yourself to God's voice speaking to your heart on this sacred day.

(From: Whole Earth Meditation: Ecology for the Spirit by Joan Sauro, C.S.J.)

You . . . are a traveler through this earth, sharing with everyone else not only an outer world that needs your care, but also a precious inner earth that is its reflection.

Like the earth, you are layer upon layer, laid over and under, thick and thin, even and irregular. You are sturdy in some places, crumbling in others. At rest. And restless.

In some layers you are soaked with water, green with life, and nurturing.

In other layers you are hard, like marble, slate, a rolling avalanche.

In your inner self there are layers of collapse where violent upheavals have gone on, leaving you weak, unrestored, and vulnerable.

This is your inner earth: jagged and smooth to touch, filled with light and shadow, heaps and hollows.

. . . The more you touch your deepest self, the more you will find that God has been there before you, writing in every layer the name only you can read.

God lives in the wide sweep of your inner geography and in the smallest molecule of your history.

God is in the clear water that rushes over you, soaking every layer, and washing. God surprises you in hidden springs that you never imagined were there.

God is also in every dried up, lifeless place inside you. Just where you do not think to look.

God is in the fierce wind, the season of struggle. The time of loss.

And God is in joyous times when your earth splits its seams, and life, goodness, fertility abound.

In every season of your life, God is with you in every layer.

Most of all, God is in the worn, embattled, broken-down layers because God has a long history of loving the poor and the weak. This is where to look for God most in yourself - where you are broken and vulnerable. Where you are scarred and need God's healing.

Look for God where your defense is weakest. At the break in the wall, the crack in the earth, the ground shifting out of control.

Go to the place called barren. Stand in the place called empty. And you will find God there.

. . . The Spirit of God breathes everywhere within you, just as in the beginning, filling light place and dark . . . green earth and dry.

Thus does God renew the face of the earth. God always breaks through at your weakest point, where you least resist.

God's love grows, fullness upon fullness, where you crumble enough to give what is most dear. Your earth.

Jesus gave his life and God's love continued to grow. As we give up the earth, the life dear to us for the renewal and promise of new life, God's love will continue to rise.

This is a day of celebration because we are reminded that in the desperate darkness, in the trial of waiting, the anxiety of relinquishing control, the vulnerability of being acted upon and in the risk of claiming our integrity, love does come again. God does not abandon us. Christ's warm touch can call us back to life again.

This is the glory of the message of Easter: love lives again. Amen.