“Easter & Resurrection – & Spring!”

“Easter & Resurrection – & Spring!” – and on YouTube
Rev. Paul Sprecher, First Parish Bridgewater, Easter Sunday March 27, 2016, 10:30 am
Thought for Contemplation: “Though love be crucified it shall rise
again in a thousand million hearts not yet born and in whose passion
the power of love goes on and on.” ~ Richard M. Fewkes
Homily “Easter & Resurrection – & Spring!” Rev. Paul Sprecher
Six years ago I suffered a very mild stroke on the Wednesday before Easter
Sunday. I had recovered enough to be part of the service at Second Parish, but I
asked my good friend Robbie Walsh – emeritus minister of First Parish in
Duxbury – to give the sermon. Robbie told the story of how he had been getting
his teeth cleaned not long before that Easter Sunday. The dental hygienist chose a
moment when his mouth was full of instruments to say, “You’re a Unitarian
Universalist, right? You don’t believe in the Resurrection, do you?” As often
happens when we are confronted with an unexpected question, Robbie was left
without the right words to say – not that he would have been able to speak while
she was scraping the tarter off his teeth! It took him a few days to remind himself
the many ways we Unitarian Universalists do believe in resurrection. We see it
all around us as life returns to the earth after the winter. We see it in the lives of
others and in our own lives when despair is replaced by hope, when mourning
gives way and we are comforted, when love overcomes hate.
I could have said on that morning that I had been reminded of how fragile my
own life is, and how I had returned from the hospital after a brush with my own
mortality. That certainly wasn’t a resurrection, but it was an occasion for
We Unitarian Universalists sometimes get nervous talking about Easter and
the Resurrection and try to change the subject. Last year on Easter I told you a
story by Meg Barnhouse about how the worship committee of the UU
congregation of Honey Springs got together to plan their Easter service: One
member said they should talk about how the name “Easter” is derived from
Ostara, the Saxon goddess of spring, and how egg hunts at dawn were celebrated
on the day of the Spring equinox– hence our Egg Tree – and how rabbits were
sacred to Ostara. Another objected, saying that Easter is about Jesus and it’s
about time the congregation allowed his name to used on occasions other than
when the minister stubs his toe. An anthropologist in the group offered to talk
about spring rituals of fertility among the Langari people whom she had studied.
Another said maybe they should all just bring nice flowers. Finally, the minister
suggested that really the resurrection is a story about Jesus and about how love
lives on after all seems lost – and he suggested they should do something about
love’s power to create new life. That would be wonderful, everyone agreed.1
I think it’s important to tell the story of Jesus at Easter because that’s the story
that’s being told all around us today – including at this morning’s lovely sunrise
service at Hanson’s Farm – and maybe we can learn something new from the
Our two biggest holidays of the year – Christmas and Easter – mark the
beginning and the end of the life of Jesus. This all happened two thousand years
ago. That’s a very long time for any stories to be remembered. Stories about
Jesus are still told partly because of how he died but – somehow – lived on. This
past week is known as Holy Week, because the last week of Jesus’ life was full of
excitement and then of despair. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, when many
churches celebrate the story of how Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a mule –
a symbol of kingship –and how the people greeted him as some sort of superhero
as they waved their palm branches. They expected that Jesus would defeat the
Romans who were occupying Israel, that he would somehow set them free that
very Passover, the holiday celebrating their liberation from slavery in Egypt more
than three thousand years ago. Things went pretty well during most of the week.
Large and enthusiastic crowds gathered each day to hear what Jesus had to say.
Then, on Thursday night, Jesus gathered his disciples for what is remembered as
the Last Supper. That night, he gave them a new commandment, that they should
love one another just as he had loved each of them. He wanted them to care for
each other, to care about each other, to be like brothers and sisters to each other –
the good kind, I mean, brothers and sisters on their best behavior!
Good Friday brought catastrophe. Jesus was sentenced to be crucified, the
most painful and humiliating form of execution possible, a method the Romans
used to suppress any revolts by their subjects. His disciples were devastated. We
all know how painful it is when someone or something dear to us dies, the
emptiness it leaves us, the sense of loss, the grief. So of course the followers of
Jesus were deeply shocked that he had left them so suddenly, so completely; that
he left them so alone.
So far, so good; we can identify with the people in this story: the excitement
of the crowds on Palm Sunday, the sorrow of the followers on Good Friday.
Then came Easter Sunday, and suddenly the stories have a different tone to them.
Jesus seemed not to be dead after all; he wasn’t in the tomb where he had been
buried on Good Friday. We can speculate about what really happened, we can
have debates about what is true and what is not true in these stories. What we do
know for sure is that the followers of Jesus told each other remarkable stories
about how Jesus was somehow not really dead and gone forever, how he
continued to touch their lives even after his painful death, how they had renewed
hope that compelled them to tell others the story of his life and his death.
The followers of Jesus began teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven that
Jesus had talked about as being present already among them even in the midst of
the oppression they were suffering under the Roman occupation. It seems that
they experienced a new way of living in the world—in fact, they called
themselves followers of The Way – a new way – in those early months after the
crucifixion. What Jesus had taught them did not end at the grave. Love did live
on. Love does have the power to create new life even after the darkest despair.
We’ll never know what really happened that first Easter morning and the days
that followed. The stories aren’t consistent with each other, and what is reported
doesn’t fit into familiar categories. What we do know is that something happened
to create hope, and courage, and new life for those who followed Jesus; we do
know that their faith has had an enormous impact on the world; and we do know
that none of this would have happened if they had not had some extraordinary
experience that Easter Sunday, and that it gave new meaning and purpose to their
Easter is our opportunity to remember that there is resurrection all around us.
We experience it as the earth awakens to new life each spring. We see it in the
faith that even the most brutal of tyrants cannot prevail forever, that hope for
liberation remains alive even in the midst of great oppression. We see it in our
own lives when despair gives way to hope, when grief for the loss of a loved one
begins to abate, when a brush with mortality reminds us how precious life is and
how we must use it wisely. Easter is a reminder that we, too, can make a
difference in the world, and that we, too, can help to heal the world when we feed
those who are hungry, visit those in prison, clothe those who have nothing, and
pass love on.
Sometimes we’re surprised by something that doesn’t seem credible.
Sometimes we have to trust our experience instead of our expectations.
And sometimes we just have to let mysteries be. As Mary Oliver puts it in her
poem “Mysteries, Yes”:
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
May our lives be blessed as we open our own eyes to new possibilities, as
we experience mysteries that confound and transcend our expectations, and as
we, too, live in hope as we do our part to help to heal the world.
AMEN, and may it be so.
1 Meg Barnhouse, “The Honey Springs worship committee plans its Easter service,” UU
World, 3/29/10, http://www.uuworld.org/spirit/articles/160453.shtml, accessed 4/24/2011.


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