A few years ago I was sitting in the conference room of Macedonia Baptist Church on the Northern Neck waiting for a board meeting to begin. It was an excellent board with really lovely, inspiring people; people whom I thought of as my friends as much as anything else. The work we did together helped create programs through a community development organization that was making lives better in real ways. And it was also the only board I sat on that had Black people and white people sitting around the table making decisions together for our community. So it was a deeply gratifying and joyous group to be a part of.
But in the chit chat and checking in conversations going on before the meeting started, I felt sort of disconnected and not so joyous. My mind was working on some things that it had been working on for weeks but just couldn’t seem to figure out. It was like…well…have you ever tried to untangle a wad of tangled fishing line where the harder you try the worse it gets? I think that is sort of where I was with these things my mind has been working on: just ruminating and ruminating and getting nowhere. I was mostly the poster child for proverbial cat chasing its tail, truth be told.
Then a member of the board swept into the room full of enthusiasm and energy. “Someone get me something to eat before I perish!” she said. Her name was Carolyn Hines and she has since gone to glory. Caroline was a Black woman, a Ph.D., and a consultant who travelled up and down the east coast doing strategic planning for corporations and universities. But mostly what she was was a daughter of the Kingdom of God, a disciple of Jesus, who acted that way with every breath.
She came to the seat next to me to sit but first hugged my neck and said, “I love that you’re here and I love you!” I whispered, “I love you too.” She said, “well, of course you do!”
When my sons were little, we used to go on walks in our neighborhood that took us beside an old, abandoned rock quarry that over the years had filled with water and become a little lake. Mostly, the surface of the water sparkled in the sunshine; if you looked, it was like a mirror reflecting the sky and clouds above and our faces when we peered over the edge. But as you went along the path, we’d pass beneath great oaks whose branches hung over the water and shaded the surface. We always stopped in those places because something magical happened. We’d get down on our haunches and stare into the water. But instead of just seeing our faces reflected on the surface, you could suddenly see, really see what was there through the clear water. All the way to the bottom. At one of our favorite spots, my sons would scream and point, ‘a fish! look! do you see it? a fish!’
The life we live even now in the resurrection of Jesus is something like that. It’s what we just prayed for in the Collect of the Day: give us eyes of faith to see Jesus in all his redeeming work. All the resurrection stories point towards that and have that quality – of not being able to see what is right in front of your eyes (usually Jesus!) and then suddenly seeing what is there, him, and what he is doing for us. Like Mary Magdalene when Jesus calls her by name, and she can see him. Or Thomas when Jesus shows him his wounded body, and he sees him. Like the disciples in Emmaus when Jesus takes bread and blesses and breaks it and they suddenly see that it is Jesus. Or today when Jesus calls out from the beach, ‘cast your nets on the other side’ and the water boils with thrashing fish as they pull the net to the surface where all night there had been nothing.
In fact, if we get down on our haunches and stare into this sacred story of resurrection, so much comes into view – our whole life with Jesus, all of life really, all the way down to the bottom. Take a look.
After the utterly mind-blowing, totally incomprehensible, life-changing, world-changing, creation-changing experiences of the first Easter morning, after seeing all the way to the depths of God’s very life, I just love what Peter decides he’s going to do. He says, ‘I’m going fishing’. And the others say, ‘we’ll go with you’. What else do you do when everything you thought was settled gets turned inside out and outside in? I think there are lots of ways that we too decide, ‘I’m going fishing’. I need a moment. I need to just stand on solid ground and get my bearings.
And so they do. And catch nothing all night long. Oh well. That’s what fishermen do too.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Last night, the liturgy for the Great Vigil of Easter began in the parking lot. The service began by lighting the Christmas tree that had stood here in the church at Christmas time. At Christmas, that tree had been adorned with ornaments the children of the parish had made representing God’s Story: creation, the fall, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Sarah hoping against hope for a baby, and Moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. We burned that tree last night that exploded into a roaring pillar of fire to kindle the first light of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and to light the new Paschal Candle burning right there.
It used to be odd, a novel thing to have church in the parking lot. But after the two plus years we’ve been through, it felt pretty normal. Remember, we celebrated Easter morning last year in that same parking lot with pods of people in lawn chairs inside squares we’d painted on the gravel so we could be spaced out safely.
At the Vigil service last we night, we were back in the parking lot again. But then we travelled behind the light of the new Paschal candle like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, like our own wanderings in the wilderness these past two plus years, along the sidewalk and beneath the bell tower and up the stairs into the dark narthex and travelling on into the dim nave and came together in this church in our pews, gathered around this Holy Table beneath that mighty Cross for Easter; like we are now.
Maybe we haven’t arrived at the actual Promised Land, but it’s pretty close – we’re finally home together on this Easter morning!
So before anything else – to be together like this for the first Easter morning in this church in three years, having travelled so far together to be here now, I want to say, ‘Thank You, God!’ You can say it too or you could just give this preacher and Amen!
This time last year, my husband, Tenny, and I were in the middle of a project that took the rest of the year to complete. It was called downsizing! We were moving from a house that we had lived in for 20 years; and the fact that we were downsizing meant that there was no way we could bring all of our stuff with us into our new house (although my husband tried his best to do so!). We had to decide what to keep, what to give away, pack away or sell. It wasn’t easy because we had accumulated things from our own marriage but things that our parents and even grandparents didn’t know what to do with and ended up passing on to us.
Figuring out what to do with the pictures was the biggest challenge. It was easy to keep the ones of us and our children, but then there were some faded pictures of people who had lived so long ago that we had no idea who they were. Why were we still holding on to them? If we couldn’t answer that question, how could we expect our children to know what to do with them? Then we both thought: how many generations would it take before someone would look at faded pictures of us and wonder who we were?
What we just heard from John’s gospel this morning was part of what is known as Jesus’ farewell address or prayer during his last meal with his disciples. The timing is a little out of order since we’ve already celebrated Easter but the message is timeless. After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating their Passover meal together, I can imagine that there might have been an uneasy lull in the conversation giving the disciples time to wonder what was going to happen next.
What happened was that Jesus looked to heaven and prayed one last time with and for them. And from what we heard of the prayer, it sounds like Jesus was wondering who would remember him generations after he was gone. His disciples were the closest to Jesus; they were his eyewitnesses, and the survival of his memory and message would depend on them – which may be why Jesus was understandably concerned.