Harold Babcock's Sermons

March 31, 2013

Practicing Resurrection

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 2:11 pm

March 31, 2013 

“Practice Resurrection.”
– Wendell Berry, from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

“Life springs eternal.”  Those words of an early ministerial mentor of mine, Tracy Pullman, always return to me at Easter time.  Tracy wrote, “No matter how encrusted our lives may become, no matter how beaten into conventional molds and practices, no matter how indifferent to the spiritual demands of life at its best, yet within everyone, we have faith to believe, there dwells the spirit and the power to lay hold on new energies, to define new visions and to exhibit greater strength.”

We are surrounded by resurrection.  And I’m not just speaking about the annual rite of spring’s rebirth which is about to unfold in all of its green splendor.  We are surrounded by resurrection!  All around us we see examples of it.  New life out of old.  Pain and sorrow overcome.  Failure surmounted.  Health restored.  Hope renewed.  Love reborn.

And all of this in spite of death.  We know about death.  We have all experienced loss, or will.  No one is exempt.  But the miracle is that even in the face of death, our spirit rises to overcome it, even as St. Paul affirmed, “Where, O death, is your victory?   Where, O death, is your sting?”

Somehow, even in the face of our deepest grief, we find the strength to go on.  “I thought I was wounded to the core,” wrote poet Denise Levertov, “but I was only bruised.”  We go on, because we are only bruised, not wounded to the core.  We go on, because new life always beckons, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts open to understand.

Death, it turns out, is part of life.  It is a necessary part of nature’s yearly round.  My colleague Philip Hewitt writes,

The conventional Easter parable points to the life resurgent in nature, the “annual resurrection.”  Yet this triumph of life does not banish death.  It embraces death.  Much of last year’s carnival of green, which celebrated the triumph of spring, now lies in death and decay as the sustenance of the new and vigorous life which repeats the cycle.  Nature is immortal, but her individual members are not.  And it is only when we lose our craving for self-sufficiency, for an individual existence in isolation from, or even in opposition to, the great whole of which we are a part, that we have really absorbed the lesson of the parable.  Then we cease to live for ourselves alone, and begin to understand what it can mean to die and come again to life.

We are surrounded by resurrection!  Another colleague, Earl Holt, writes, 

The possibility of transformation and renewal exists; it is in all of us.  All around us are people whose lives, in ways large and small, have been transformed and renewed; those who have overcome the loss of what was most precious to them in the world, those who have won a battle with alcohol or other drugs, those who have transcended the temptation to despair when life was at its darkest.  Resurrection is not a long ago, unique, unlikely event, but is potentially present in all human life. . . .  Easter is the promise that we can be reborn; it is the promise of new life.

Belief in this kind of resurrection provides the possibility of living a different kind of life.  It is a belief in a resurrection within life.  It is a way of reorienting ourselves toward life and possibility, rather than toward fear, toward hope and joy, instead of despair.

But, you say, death is real.  Death is final.  And what of an afterlife?

“The idea has been a common antidote to death,” writes BostonGlobe columnist and former Catholic priest, James Carroll. 

You know that human beings have invoked the notion of “God” here, Carroll writes, as if the only way to make sense of death is to imagine being magically plucked from it.  No loss.  No grief.  “God” solves the human problem just by removing it.  But what if the human triumph over death consists simply in the knowledge of it?  What if the “other world” for which you long exists already in the contemplation of mortality, an interior world out of which this train of thought is coming?

This is heady stuff, but, you say, it lacks the assurance for which we long.  Is there life after death?  What would it look like if there were?  I personally can’t imagine it.  It’s this life that I want, and I want it more abundantly, in spite of all its trials and tribulation, in spite even of death.

For of one thing I am certain: this life offers moments of surpassing beauty, moments when “the triumph song of life” sings in our hearts.  I have experienced those moments, and they are real, as real as anything has ever been.  This life contains all that we love.  Would we, even in the face of the inevitability of loss, even in the face of life’s inescapable sadness and tragedy, even in the face of death itself, wish that it had never been?  And is it not this ecstasy and agony of life which binds us together as human beings?  We can’t have one without the other.  Whatever comes after this life, we have had these moments.  We have known something of love or we would not be here.

I am a realist.  I know that for some, the picture I am painting is not enough.  Not everyone is able to overcome despair and sadness, loss and grief.  Far be it from me to stand in judgment about that.  To me that reality is a call to try to be more kind, to try to help ease the way of those who travel “the dark journey” with us, to try to offer more hope and courage along the way.

Practicing resurrection is not easy.  Like anything valuable, it must become a discipline.  We have to work at it.  There will be days when we fail.  But as my late colleague ForrestChurch once wrote, “As long as we have the power to give others hope, confidence, and faith, we will surely live again and again.  This too is a way to practice resurrection.”

The psychologist Eric Fromm once wrote, 

Let us proclaim the reality of resurrection—not the resurrection which is a creation of another reality beyond this life—but a resurrection which is the transformation of this reality in the direction of greater aliveness.  People and society are resurrected every moment in the act of hope and of faith in the here and now—every act of love, of awareness, of compassion is resurrection—every act of sloth, of greed, of selfishness is death of the spirit.  Every moment life confronts us with the alternatives of death or resurrection—to live is to choose, and in choosing we give our answer.  Our answer lies not in what we say or think, but in what we are and how we act.  Let us proclaim, let us choose, let us live the reality of resurrection!

We need repeatedly to be brought to new life.  “I thought I was wounded to the core, but I was only bruised,” wrote Levertov.  Let us live in the possibility of that knowledge, and not only in the possibility of an afterlife of which we can know nothing.

In the ancient Christian church, it was standard to greet fellow Christians with the salutation, “He is risen; he is risen indeed!”  Personally, I prefer to imagine a day when all of us can proclaim, “We are risen; we are risen indeed!”  If we practice resurrection, I believe that day will eventually come, for each and every one of us.

In closing, a prayer by the late Unitarian minister, Vivian Pomeroy: 

Oh God of Life, you renew the face of the earth and quicken all things; we bless you for this lovely time; we praise you for all the beauty it brings to our eyes and for all the cheer it gives to our hearts.  Forbid that we be sullen when the trees break forth into singing; forbid that we be unmoved when the great tide is flowing again.  Make us eager not only to be good but also happier, knowing that joy is one of the fruits of the spirit.  May we not defraud ourselves of the fleeting day, but drink here and now of the sweetness of life.

So may it be.  Amen.

 – The Rev. Harold E. Babcock

                  

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