SAN MARINO CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
Reflections by Pastor Donald Shenk
(Delivered on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019)
(Please note: Our first scripture reading was done as a dramatic proclamation as indicated.)
Text: Luke 24:1-12 (Common English Bible)
Pastor: Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared.
Voice: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this.
Pastor: Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing.
Voice: The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them,
Voice: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.
Voice: Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
Pastor: Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.
Voice: Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.
Voice: But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant
that lives but a few days,
or an old person
who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years
will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree
shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Exploring with Pastor Donald Shenk: “Maybe Something New”
As each Easter rolls around and the stone is rolled away, I find myself wondering what God will roll into our lives to help us roll along the way. For just like Christ’s resurrection, it is always surprising and uplifting and, in terms of what the lectionary has given us for this glorious day, a bit shocking as well.
For here, along with the miraculous story of Christ’s new life emerging from the darkness of the tomb as recounted in the Gospel of Luke this year, we also have a very ancient text from the Hebrew Bible which not only bursts forth with joy and life as Christ did, but bursts forth with new hope and thrilling expectations as the prophet Isaiah proclaims God’s message of new heavens and a new earth and exhorts us to “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
This year has already provided more than its share of tragedies. As the cares and woes of each day weigh upon us, I wonder what your prayer is as you turn in for the night. Is it an exhausted sigh and a wearying mumble, or do you thank God for bringing you through another day and offer gratitude that joy will indeed come in the morning?
sing: “Morning by morning, new mercies, I see.”
For each morning does bring about a new day, you know. A new creation. A new way that God has provided for us and urges us to, “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating” – which is you! A new you, a new possibility, a new idea that can change the world, bring healing to bodies and souls and lift spirits to soar with Christ in creating a new environment and a new song to sing with it.
I truly believe that our attitudes as well as our actions affect not only our experience in this world but have the power to co-create with God a new world, a world where love and kindness and joy abound, a place where we’re each eager to share with one another not only our pain in this world but our enthusiasm for this life. Yes, there will be pain, yes there will be sorrow and yes there will be challenges that beset us, but God reminds us at Easter and with the dawning of each new day that we are made anew and that where our treasure is – not only in material terms, but especially in spiritual terms – there will our hearts be also.
Think about it! If we hold onto each hurt, each slight, each snub and each pain, we fill our treasure box with that which will never fulfill. And so God invites us to acknowledge all of these things and to do the work of forgiveness and understanding around them, but also invites us to dump them out each night so they may receive the treasure created anew each day, reminding us that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…[and to, again,] be glad and rejoice in what I am creating!”
Cause if there’s no room in that treasure chest or ours for anything new, we’re going to be lugging around a heavy piece of furniture that doesn’t do anybody any good – least of all ourselves!
“The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.” wrote the wonderful English novelist Arnold Bennett.
This is the ultimate meaning of the resurrection and the rebirth into new life offered to us each day as we crawl out of the tombs we often fashion for ourselves as each day progresses.
“We keep ourselves in the tomb when we hold on to the various reasons we SHOULD stay there,” writes the wonderful commentator AnneShirey. “We tried to be faithful before and we felt misunderstood or persecuted. We had high hopes that a particular life plan would work out a certain way and we were crushed with disappointment. We have this set of limitations, this set of heartbreaks, this set of failed relationships, all telling us that it is pointless for us to reenter the world with hope and energy. These “life lessons” have taught us that our best path is to just play it safe, to keep our noses down, not to dream too big or hope too much or love too deeply…
“But the purpose of resurrection…is new life. We’re not moving backward to the “good old days”; we are doing something entirely new… The old things are forgotten because remembering them will either weigh us down with all our old experience of pain and failure; or they will slow us down because we remember how wonderful things were and long for them. In either case we are being pulled backward, our attention drawn to a past which is dead and needs to be entombed. It is only when we allow it to remain there in the tomb – as we step away – that we can begin to find out what God has in store for us.”
What new thing will you create this day? Will it be a revision in your thinking? Will it be a decision to make that glass half full instead of half empty? Will it be a choice to step out of your ancient and comfortable tomb and risk shedding light on a new way of living and being in this world?
Make it new not just for yourself but for this whole wide world, mired in the past and believing the good days are behind us. Sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Let God and anyone that can hear you know that you are ready to co-create something new and have everybody rejoicing in it.
I’ll leave you with this short sweet poem by the amazing and too-soon-gone Mary Oliver. It’s called,
“Mornings at Blackwater”
For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.
What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.