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A sermon by Rev. James Ishmael Ford and DRE Cathy Seggel delivered at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, April 8, 2012

SECOND CHANCES
An Easter Song in Two Voices


Text
Now, when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark 16: 1-8

CATHY

I wonder if you recognize the flowers that I brought with me this morning? If you guessed Pansy, from the viola/johnny jump-up family, you are right. They are one of my very favorites, one of the first flowers to bloom in the late winter/spring. Their name is from a French word meaning thought or remembrance. They are called a plant for all seasons.

I keep them in pots on my deck from late winter until late, late fall, then plant them in the yard and dream of their return. Some make it, after a winter of roots buried in the frozen earth. When the blooms burst open, they look like they have faces. Because these beautiful flowers seem to be gone but actually pop up again once blankets of snow are melted, they have come to symbolize new beginnings and hope. Kids, think for a minute about things that have happened to you, that seemed hard and ended up okay; Like losing baby teeth, falling while learning to ride a bike, beginning middle school or high school.

Today is Easter, the most holy of Christian holidays in the midst of Passover, one of the most important Jewish festivals. These celebrations and the sacred stories attached share a common message, one of hope, redemption, freedom.

When I was a little girl, Passover was one of my favorite holidays. I think it was because it was a family time with predictable traditions. And, the adults told a story, an ancient story that was always the same. Probably a combination of history and fiction, told and retold by families over the years, to teach each generation what it means to be part of an old tradition.

The Hebrew Bible asks folks to retell the tale of the ancient people’s need to leave a land where they were slaves, forced to do hard labor, for no pay at all, to a place of freedom- physical redemption

For us, freedom in 2012 U.S.A. might mean defining family in a way that works, standing on the side of love for marriage equality and immigration reform. It might mean freedom to practice the religion of our choice, or none at all. The privilege of voting for things that are important to us. Or, freedom from bullying and having safety to walk through neighborhoods to and from home.

For me, as a Unitarian Universalist, the most valuable message from my Passover tradition is that true freedom for any one of us is connected to liberty for women and men of all ages, cultures and abilities. I might add all creatures, all life, The Earth.

Spiritual redemption has to do with remembering the precious message of our interconnected freedoms all year long. We redeem or free ourselves from self-centered lives in order to notice ordinary miracles, each spring. That awareness just might bring us more love and joy along the way.

Today, I share my deep hope that we will lead caring and fair lives, at home, school, work and beyond, so that when we gather next year in the same season, the world will have been made better by our efforts. It is all about Redemption, Rebirth & Hope.

JAMES

This is the time of second chances.

Reflecting a little on my life, I find I’m all about second chances.

And, I think in this season, of Easter, of Passover, of a time of rebirth like that amazing amazing Magnolia outside the Meeting House. A little worse for the confusions of weather this year, it is, nonetheless in full bloom.

It is a testimony, a witness to the world, of new life, and for us as people, for you and for me, to the miracle of second chances.

In the Easter story as we get it in the Gospel According to Mark, the oldest of the texts, and the least embellished, after all the things that happen during holy week, after Jesus is arrested, tortured, tried, crucified, and buried, the Mary’s and Salome go to the tomb only to find it empty and instead a young man sitting there who tells them Jesus is not dead. The oldest versions of the text end with a description of the women fleeing “from the tomb trembling and filled with wonder, saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

I think about afraid, and trembling and all those confusions of our hearts that arise when all of a sudden things do not go as we expect they would. It is a moment when the world can change. I think of the Passover, it was, after all, a Passover Seder with which the Easter story begins, with Jesus and his friends recalling that already ancient story. As we know Passover has its own versions of the same plight of our human condition, which haunts all of us. It tells of the oppressions that we’ve had no hand in that throw us into bondage. And it tells us of our personal failures to do what we know in our hearts we should or our doing those things, which we never should have.

It sings to us the sorrowful song of how those chains of slavery have been put on us, or, how we put the chains of slavery on our own wrists. And, then, like a miracle, the unsettling possibility of freedom. Same thing in the Easter story, how when hope has been taken from us, or, even, when it is we who turn our backs on hope, find that miracle, which calls us to freedom.

I look at that magnolia, beaten by the weather, on the thin side this year, but, nonetheless in full bloom. And among the flowers we’ve brought here today, I think of Cathy’s pansies. I think of miracles, of how we don’t have to continue the way we’ve been, but how that fact itself is unsettling, can be frightening. It is easier to not notice, to remain enslaved.

But the stories of Passover and Easter proclaim a possibility of change. We witness that magnolia, and we see it, and we know in our own hearts, we can change.

Change.

Second chances.

Redemption.

Glorious.

And, so, I think of today. Easter.

I think of rejoicing, of chains broken, of new possibilities.

And joy bursting forth, unbidden.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE: YMe & Choir

CATHY


That beautiful music is worship to me. Being a Jew-nitarian church lady, I also collect stories and readings that feed and inspire me to find connection, like this one by Theresa Novack

Come into this place,
There are healing waters here
and hands with soothing balm
to ease your troubled days.
Bring your wounds and aching hearts,
your scars too numb to feel.
Your questions and complaints
are all welcome here.
Rest awhile.
Let the warmth of this community
surround you,
hold you,
heal you.

When you feel stronger,
just a bit,
notice those who need you too.
They are here.
They are everywhere.
Weep with them.
Smile with them.
Work with them.
Laugh along the way.
Pass the cup.
Drink the holy fire.
Take it with you
into the world.

We are saved
and we save each other
again, again,
and yet again.


On this Easter/Passover/Spring morning, I am comforted by the presence of baby Clover and her family, by our 7th graders serving with adults as worship associates, by the bouncing pansy faces and the glorious sounds of the music. This year, when our lives seem to be all about embracing change, I know that what will help will be each other. My friend, Rev. Meg Barnhouse, describes some UU services on this occasion as “a nice mash-up of Passover, Easter, flowers, love, diversity, and new life, actually, power of love to create new life.”

That works for me.

So, regardless of which story resonates for you, the one about Jesus or the one about the ancient Jews’ escape to freedom or the one about the awakening of the earth, or some combination of those tales and others, let them inspire you.

Today, as I recall the ancient story of escape to freedom, that is all of ours, I am determined to remember that we are all redeemed and we redeem each other again and again. This season is when I need to free myself to find opportunities for second chances, and third ones, and fourth ones and so on.

JAMES

So, what is the nut of it? What is the kernel of truth that nourishes and transforms and allows us to be better? What is it that allows us to throw off the shackles, whether put on us by someone else or by our own actions?

And why the anxiety?

And, why this joy, why this song bursting forth from our bodies, from our hearts?

The Easter song in our liberal tradition is really simple. We’ve heard it. But, we also forget. So, listen just one more time.

We are saved
and we save each other
again, again,
and yet again.


Our Easter is no turning a blind eye to the bad things of life. Nor is it thinking it is all resolved in one telling of a story. Rather, it is a constant turning toward the world, a p persistent turning into the world, and seeing it as it is, and seeing our part in it.

Which can be a great sadness. No doubt, there is much to be sad about.

And, and.

Here we are, many of us knocked about, bruised, wounded. It’s been a hard year for a lot of us. And those who’re not had it that hard, well, we were lucky, and I hope, we know that, too.

And, and.

This time of year we’re invited to notice these things. The things we’ve done to ourselves, and the things that were done to us.

And.

And, out of that, out of opening ourselves up, something lovely waltzes in, takes us up, and carries us away.

Like remember the stories our ancestors sing to us of possibility, of new hope, of second chances. It’s like just noticing the magnolia in full bloom.

In that moment, in this moment, in the beating of a heart, maybe your heart; where a second before we saw a wall a door opens, and we find a second chance.

And with that the possibility of redemption, of change.

Perhaps it is scary to think we can put down our burdens, and begin a new. I’ve felt that. I feel that.

But remember the stories. Passover. Easter. Spring. And, look at that magnolia. Then, unbidden, the world can sing into our hearts.

Some people will tell you this isn’t enough. That you have to believe something you don’t. Let me tell you a truth, good news, healing news, just open your heart and let the world sing into you.

A magnolia showing forth in full bloom.

Another chance. Take it.

‘Tis Easter, once again.

Another chance. It’s all yours.

Take it.

A gift, a free gift from the world, from the secret place in your own heart.

Hallelujah,

Hallelujah!