I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Easter Wrap-Up and Sermon

Well, Easter Sunday has come and gone and I am still recovering! The church was packed with adults and children. We had, in addition to our regular attenders, a good many visitors and family from out of town. The kids had their Easter Egg hunt after church. It was in the sanctuary thanks to the snow and the construction debris from the steeple project. Our nieghbors from Sacred Heart Church had a special outdoor service in the park next to Eliot. It was nice to have them. Sacred Heart was closed by Bishop O'Malley right after Christmas and this was the first time since then that they had services. Their future is still in doubt, but it was great to see all the people walking about (theirs and ours) on such a nice spring day.

Speaking of the steeple project, we have removed the plastic from the back of the church (thank you to Dave Dimmick and Michael Dyer for their work on this). There isn't any plaster up, but the imagination has an easier job of filling in the missing pieces...

Here are my notes for Easter Sunday. Also, I would suggest checking out Rev. Peacebang's sermon selections. They can be found at her sight...

Cracking the Mystery
Easter Sunday 2005
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

So...happy Easter

For many Americans, Easter begins
In Pretty much the same way:
At church
There are people here who come every Sunday
And those who come occasionally
There are people who have a church home
And those who are visitors for the very first time
Welcome to you all

But after church
After we are done this morning, our paths diverge
As we depart to attend to our various family rituals
Each one unique to the family that made it
When I was growing up--for example--my grandfather
Used to make us all go down to the creek
To race plastic ducks!
There are Easter baskets for most
Easter bonnets for some
And usually a big meal (often involving ham)
That, as with Thanksgiving
Can last all day

But the one ritual that everyone
Seems to like to work in
Is the Easter Egg hunt
We are having one here at church, of course
And for many among us this is just one
Of a variety of opportunities to look for candy
And, yes, actual eggs too

The Easter Egg and its decorated shell
Has a history longer than the holiday, itself
Before the Christian era--
Back when the people looked up at the moon
And didn’t see a man’s face but that of a rabbit—
Before Easter, people would exchange colored eggs
As symbols of fertility, of birth and of spring
As a recognition of all the signs that were around them
That life was returning to the world

Then, as now, the decorations reflected the joy
And, no doubt, the relief felt at the lengthening of days
And the improving weather
But, also, tradition focused on what was inside that shell

We human beings think we know what is inside the egg
We have the faith to believe that, when we open it
There will be a small package of protein
That goes well with a little salt
And I have yet to be disappointed
However, in reality we suspect,
We do not know
We cannot peek inside
Without breaking the egg first

The Ukrainians would tell us that the Easter egg
Carries blessings for its owner
All sealed up in its tiny package
Waiting to be released
At the first crack of the shell

It is the release of blessings
That the women in our story this morning
Encountered when they found another
Formerly sealed container broken open
And discovered something they didn’t expect
Jesus is not here but has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where Jesus lay.
And they went and they saw and then
They departed from the tomb in fear and great joy

It was quite a surprise for them
Like if we opened our plastic eggs after church
And in place of jelly beans
Found a live chicken!
A shock
One that had a profound effect upon them
One that altered them forever

Now, let us stop here for a moment
Because many of us have come here to celebrate
This cracking open of a shell
This miraculous story of the resurrection
And are not so sure why we have
There is a mystery here
Whose explanation we may not entirely agree with
But the key to cracking the mystery
Is an open mind

Of course, doubt is OK here, too
We are a Christian Church, yes
But we are inheritors
Of a tradition and a belief that revelation
Is not sealed/that, in the words of the United Church of Christ
God is Still Speaking
We are a non-creedal, covenanted congregation
Agreeing to seek and serve in the
spirit of Jesus
Agreeing to disagree in love and respect as we journey together
We are a Universalist church, believing in the goodness of God
And the guaranteed salvation of all

And, at least in part, we are a Unitarian Christian Church
Many of us wrestle with the place Christ
Has in our own personal faith
Or have chosen a place for him that is different
From the dominant view of Jesus at this moment in history

We hold this view
Even as we sit with our friends and co-religionists
Who are secure in the knowledge
Of a true and literal resurrection
And a Trinitarian understanding of God

We are a congregation of diverse perspectives
A diversity that we feel more than ever on this day
Well, rest assured that
There is no requirement that we have to agree
Even on Easter morning!
(At least on this point)
For we are a free church founded upon the belief
That everyone is free to search for their own truth and meaning
And that everyone is required to do so
Responsibly and respectfully
After all, we experience the world
Through our own eyes and hands

The Rev. Arthur Severance points out
That our task in this time is to translate the ancient
Stories and traditions into beliefs and rituals
That have meaning for us, in our time
As we discussed in our workshop
On the 23rd psalm last week
This can be a hard thing to do

Severance writes:
Some words or phrases are tricky to translate from one language to another. The advertising slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi,” lost something when one Slavic country [to] “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” So (he says) let us rejoice in our own interpretation.

And that is just what we do here at Eliot
We interpret for ourselves
Understanding that the language of symbols
Is different for each of us
And we rejoice in it
Open to the mystery and the miracle
To inspiration and to each other

For when we roll away the stone
Or crack that shell
We must all be prepared
For the possibility that we are wrong
To be surprised, shocked and awed
By what we find
Not just on Easter, but on every day
We are blessed to inhabit this world

We can experience a moment of breaking through
A little enlightenment at any time
And when we do, we are expected to share
What we have seen felt and heard

Mary and Mary are told
Do not be afraid, go and tell my followers to go to Galilee and there they will see me
Go and tell,
This resurrection is for more than its witnesses
It is for the world
Like the Marys and the disciples, we, too, are charged
Charged to spread our own broad and inclusive understanding
Of the faith of Jesus

And what does this inclusive understanding
This religious liberalism entail
During Easter-time, in the spring of 2005?
The same thing that it requires every day of the year
We need to be alert, to look for the wondrous and the Divine
Not just in the dry texts of theology
But in a wet world,
Right now filled with melting snow
And the buds of small plants and flowers

Our journey, our “Easter charge” is not one
To be taken on with grim joyless determination
But with simplicity of heart
The wonderfully named Elton Trueblood
Once wrote that
Anyone who reads the synoptic gospels with relative freedom from presumptions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and that he expected others to laugh.

This Good Friday, my son spent some time
Floating cork boats down the stream at his friend Kurt’s house
Which, not surprisingly reminded me of the springtime game
Of Pooh Sticks, where Pooh, Piglet
And the other denizens of A.A. Milne’s classic children’s stories
Drop sticks on the upstream side of a bridge
Watch them disappear
And then run over to the other side
To see which one comes out
Which reappears first

Why do they do this? (these kids and toy bears?)
Because it is a natural thing for us to do
This time of year we are meant to pay a visit to our
Inner child, to our natural selves
That part of us that knows how to experience the created world
And, yes, the divine presence
Without the hard shell of our adult requirements
Without the cynicism that requires an explanation
(Secular or sacred)
Of miracles large and small

The philosopher of Taoism, Benjamin Hoff
In his book the Tao of Pooh
Translates a story written
By the ancient Chinese philosopher Chuan-Tzu
About Confucius

Chuan-Tzu writes:
At the gorge of Lu the great waterfall plunges for thousands of feet…in the churning waters below, no living creatures can be seen

One day Confucius and his disciples
Saw an old man apparently trapped
In the great waterfall at the gorge
Bobbing around and sliding through the waves
They ran down to the bank to help him
Only to find the man walking out of the river apparently fine
It looked like a miracle to Confucius
So he asked the man: What secret power do you have
[That can make you survive that]?

And the old man replied: I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself. I survive because I don’t struggle against the water’s superior power.
So there was an explanation
One as amazing as if it had, truly been magic
He forgets himself

I bring this story up because so much of what we think of
As our religious or spiritual lives seems to require
A great deal of effort
Those of you who have been to church in the winter
Can attest to the added time it takes
To get the kids ready and clear the driveway
But there is mental effort, too

So often we think that we must worry about
The various subtleties of this or that theological concept
Or the exact meaning of a ritual or an idea
We worry about either being orthodox
Or unorthodox in a way that everyone can recognize

These are legitimate concerns
But really we must also remember
To connect to the self-forgetting good
This season is an opportunity to witness without trying to explain
It is a chance to move where the divine
In nature takes us

In our psalms discussion one idea kept coming up
The idea that true theology is experienced
That it comes not from a higher power
(And here I mean a human power
With theoretically greater knowledge)
But from our own lives
In this great and miraculous world
As the kids sang today
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

The Easter story
Of Christ’s resurrection
Lets us see the little lights
The simple rebirths
Small ones that make the whole
As we go about the day let us all
Make a real and faithful effort
To be reborn ourselves

Now, let us take a moment of silent prayer
To listen to the spirit and the earth…