April 4, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Jeremy was born with what the world saw as a weak, limited body and a slow mind. Though he was 12 he was still in second grade, unable to grasp much. His teacher often became impatient with him and his classmates would get uncomfortable with his squirming. At times, though, he would suddenly speak clearly as if a spot of light had broken in to his mind. In exasperation, the teacher called in Jeremy’s parents one day for a consultation. Jeremy’s teacher spoke to them and said that their child really belonged in a special school. It wasn’t fair for him to distract the other children. Jeremy’s parents answered that there was no school like that nearby. It would be a terrible shock to Jeremy to make such a change and that they knew he liked the school.
After they left, Ms. Miller sat for a while staring out the window. The coldness of the snow outside seemed to penetrate her soul. She wanted to sympathize with Jeremy and his parents. He was their only child and he had a terminal illness, but still she felt it wasn’t right for him to remain in her class. He distracted her from teaching the 18 other students. He would never learn to read or write, so what was the point? As she followed her thoughts she become overwhelmed with guilt. Oh God, she thought, help me to be more patient with Jeremy and quit complaining. My problems are so small compared to theirs.
She did her best to live into her resolve, ignoring Jeremy’s blank looks. One day, he limped to her desk and said in a loud voice, “Ms. Miller, I love you.” She was surprised and stammered a thanks while the other children giggled and snickered.
Spring came, and the class was excited for the coming of Easter. Ms. Miller told them the story of Jesus and Easter, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. “I want you to take these home and bring them back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life,” she said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes!” the children chimed, all except Jeremy. He just listened intently, his eyes never leaving her face. Had he understood what she had asked, she wondered? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain it to them to be on the safe side. But that night her sink backed up so she had to call a plumber, she had to shop for groceries and iron a shirt and before she knew it it was too late.
The next morning as the class came in the students placed their eggs in a wicker basket on Ms. Miller’s desk. After the math lesson it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, she found a flower. “Oh yes, a flower! A flower is certainly a sign of new life.” Ms. Miller said. The next egg held a plastic butterfly. “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that is a new life, too.” Next there was a rock with moss, which too showed life. Then Ms. Miller opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty! It must be Jeremy’s egg. Obviously he hadn’t understood the assignment, just as she feared. She set the egg aside and reached for the next egg, not wanting to embarrass Jeremy or so she justified to herself.
Suddenly, Jeremy spoke up. “Ms. Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Flustered, she replied, “But Jeremy—your egg is empty! He looked up at her and said, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too!”
Time stopped. When she could speak again, Ms. Miller asked him, “Do you now why the tomb was empty?” “Oh yes!” he answered, “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then God raised him up!”
Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the service were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket…all of them empty.
This day is the culmination and reconciliation of all things, of all things into something new. Darkness weaves into light and light dances with darkness. Life and death are married into a divine union and seen as part of eternity. We, who seek and yearn to be part of this union, hear the story of Resurrection that tells us to put our trust in that union, not the separateness we experience in this mortal body. On Easter, we are asked to let go of fear. On Easter, we are meant to see joy and hope in an empty tomb. On Easter, we are asked to not cling to death. On Easter, we are asked to believe that eternal life beyond biological life is at the heart of God and at the heart of our being. On Easter, we are asked to let go of what we think is the end, the final abyss, and surrender to the great tide of life.
We find this morning an empty tomb. It is not that death has escaped. It is that death is not the end; it is part of life in ways large and small each and every day. Death can be where we stop, encased in tombs, and where we linger, what we try to avoid or paradoxically what we embrace because we are so afraid. But the angels, the messengers say, Why do you look for the living among the dead? The one who showed you life, who embodied the wholeness of life, died a mortal death but has been raised. His life is greater than that death and it has been drawn into eternal life. He has broken the barrier between our biological life and our spiritual life. We are to see that one resides within the other, with the life of our spirit called ever forward.
Epicurius and the angels spoke the same language. Epicurius wrote: “Why are you afraid of death? Where you are death is not. Where death is, you are not. What is it that you fear?” Perhaps what we fear is not death but life, eternal life, a life that invites us ever to dissolve the self to join the great tide of life. Life, like death, is something we try to cling to, but in doing so we turn it into death. We make it our own possession, we reduce it to our wants and needs and body and thoughts. We segregate it out as something we have. We use it to try to control our world and others. In our fear we grab and cling and take advantage of others and try to bend them to our will and desires, rather than creating space to free their souls and ours to be a part of this eternal tide of life. And in so doing life becomes the mirror of death. Jeremy was seen through this lens, but he could see through a different one—the lens of life.
We cannot claim life, we cannot own it, we cannot see it as ours. It is something we are invited into, given a moment to share in. We can open to it and ride its waves aware that it does not belong to us, but rather that we belong to it. This is what Jesus the Christ reveals. He is raised by God, by that eternal life. He does not raise himself. He does not beat death into non-existence. Instead, he surrenders so fully to the current of life that he absorbs and passes through death, unafraid of it for he knows it is part of life and not that life is part of death. His body’s death is but a key to revelation; he dies fully so that we can discover that eternal life encompasses and surpasses that bodily demise.
Death is but life waiting to emerge. The tomb is not a preserver of death; it is a womb that gives birth. The Easter egg is symbol of the womb, of new life. From early one, we understood this connection between the two. A womb holds for a while, nourishes, sustains and protects life and then lets it go, out into the world—from seamless life within greater life, to a new form a life that must seek it’s place in that great stream until it is called home again into another tomb and another womb. And yet this truth remains: we can not grasp it; we can only surrender and open up to the coursing of life through our veins, through our hearts, through the wind, through the water, through the music of the stars, through the dance of sunlight, through the faces of others seen as part of our life not another life separate from ours. Such emptiness is not death; it is the requisite for life.
For our life is part of that eternal life of Christ. Death is but a place along the journey that calls us forward into life. We can put death first; we can give it the power to be the final solution and the answer, but that is not the revelation of the Resurrected One. That revelation is life—the new heaven and the new earth—the victory of life as love, as part of the great Lover and the Beloved.
As those who believe in the resurrection and the eternal life it reveals, we are called to enter fully into that life and that light. We are to rejoice with our whole being! We are part of life, eternal and always. Whatever in our world kills bodies, kills souls, reduces people to categories or names or something to be acted on by us, whatever stifles the song and dance of another, that is where death is. But we, we are called to see that and bring in life, by surrendering our own life to this great rhythm, this great joy, this great truth of God revealed this day by Jesus’ triumph over death. He gives us the gift; he rejoices to share this glorious hope with us. And we, we are to sing in this life, pray in this life and to dance, dance with joy and abandon and love for this life and in this life. For when the deepest truth is a life-giving love that enfolds and embraces all, dancing is what our hearts and our feet must do, holding in our hands an empty egg cracked open to life. So dance, this day, and every day, in thanksgiving for the love of God that dies and rises for us, to free us, to hold us, to call us ever more into union with the divinity at the heart of all things. Amen.