Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Those are no small words today. Proclaiming and believing that God raises the dead. That God raised Jesus, and God will raise all the dead to new life. Even now, with so much death and threat and fear of more, God raises life out of death. Alleluia!
I’m tempted to start with a bit of a post sabbatical report since I just returned last Sunday from three months away. The simple report is, it was a good and fruitful time for which I am very grateful. And, I missed the community and so it also feels good to be back especially through this Holy Week!
As I reported before leaving, along with reading and more time for reflection and prayer, I hoped to spend time meeting with mentors, elders and colleagues who have been and are significant in my life and ministry. I was able to do that in February in Alberta and Saskatchewan, with eleven meetings, most of which included the chance to Commune together in their homes. This was an inkling or nudging of the Spirit to do this. I think it was partly a response to the pandemic, to be able to meet with people in their homes again. Sadly, in one instance, I was not able to meet with a much beloved mentor and elder because of a Covid-19 outbreak in their elder community. A clear reminder of what we lived and continue to live with. I also wanted to do this because some of my mentors are a good age given mine, but thankfully, many are well and active and welcomed the chance to meet together, in some instances, after a long time of not seeing each other.
It was good to catch up and talk about their lives, almost all with significant challenges, many complicated by the pandemic and the isolation, and the fears for themselves and families and others, and thoughts about the world, our nation and communities, and the church. We reminisced some, but mostly we talked about our lives now, thoughts and feelings about the present and faith and life all together. As I said, I was able to ask in most instances, if they would like to share in Holy Communion together. In every instance where it was possible, people responded with a heartfelt, yes! And it was a great and moving and forever treasured gift of God’s grace to do so. To be fed together. To share these gifts of Christ Jesus together. By the grace of God to commune together in word and sacrament again in the Spirit of Christ. A profound gift!
And there were many further connections to that simple act of communing together with elders and friends. In my sermon on the second Sunday of Christmas just before departing on my Sabbatical, I talked about the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I mentioned his daily practise of communion whenever possible, often in the chapel of his own home, but also anywhere and everywhere, and often with anyone who happen to be with him. This practice of home Communion is connected to the home Communion many have shared through the pandemic and online worship. And it is connected to the early origins of Holy Communion practised typically in the home with family and friends – the sacred meal connected to and in the context of a community meal. I also read almost everything I could by Richard Wagamese, the late Indigenous author, including his last book, unfinished, but now published, One Drum, on “the Seven Grandfather Teachings… what many Anishnawbe consider the seven fundamental truths of living a good and productive life.” Unfortunately, Wagamese was only able to complete his reflections on the first three teachings before his unexpected death. But in these there is great wisdom and learning, as I have found in all of his writing. And again, there are connections to a home and daily spiritual practise that includes a deep communing with creation and all its creatures and all our neighbours that may help guide our own de-colonizing of our worship and a new/renewed connection to our homes and with humility and courage, inviting others in.
One last connection. I shared these words in that last sermon before my sabbatical. I spoke about The Book of Joy that was mentioned at the funeral of Desmond Tutu, compiled by Douglas Abrams about a meeting of the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama at the Dalai Lama’s home in exile in Dharamsala, India, and their conversations about joy together. I said, “I wonder if The Book of Joy should be required reading for me and all of us in this pandemic time? Maybe it will be the first book I read on Sabbatical, of the many I have been piling up in anticipation of the time.” It wasn’t the first book I read, but it was the book I read when I spent a month in a small cabin on Saratoga Beach south of Campbell River, a time of retreat, reading, writing and renewal. Conversations between two beloved friends and spiritual giants, from different spiritual traditions.
The Book of Joy by two who suffered and continued to suffer especially with and for their own people in exile and under continuing oppression, and for the suffering of people everywhere. And yet, there’s was not only a conversation about joy borne of compassion and our common humanity, but an almost ever-present joy and delight in being together, in communing together and with others and this world despite, and in response to all the suffering and challenges they and it holds. The book included the account of Desmond Tutu sharing Holy Communion with the Dalai Lama. The church’s official position is that Communion is for those who are Baptized. And the Dalai Lama is sworn to not touch alcohol. But the Archbishop offered Communion to his dear friend and the Dalai Lama accepted it by dipping his small finger in the cup and taking the wine in this way to commune with his dear friend.
There is much more to say about all of these connections, but what I want to acknowledge today, on this Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Christ Jesus, is the gift of new life and hope and joy held and expressed in this simple practise of communing as one, and particularly for us in the sacred Communion meal that Jesus gifted to us. And how it is our homecoming, our being reconnected, re-membering as we talked about with the children and youth last week, no matter how diverse and seemingly divergent our paths may seem, how torn or disrupted or changed or challenged our individual lives are, or how broken, how devastated, how tragic, the world is for so many, the grace of communing, community brings new life.
Luke’s resurrection, with its unique perspective and story and characters (as the Tuesday group would have heard as part of the “Four Gospels, Many Resurrections” discussions), has a community of named women met at the empty tomb by two men in dazzling clothes, who question “Why are you looking for the living among the dead.” And they remind the women of what Jesus said about his suffering and death and being raised. The women “re-member” and believe. And as in every resurrection account, are the first to hear and see and share this good and glorious news, and in Luke’s account do so with “the eleven and all the rest.” Those eleven and the rest thought it to be an “idle tale” – the original words in Greek are more rude, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter goes himself to see and returns home amazed! And Jesus will appear to his followers, to the community and by their further witness and the work of the Spirit, the hope-filled, life-filled, joy-filled, resurrection of Christ and new life for all the world is shared as in Paul’s words to the Corinthians and Peter’s words from Acts right up to our gathering here this Easter morning.
To gather on this day in community with followers of Christ the world over and hear again, re-member again, believe again, trust again in these words of resurrection hope and joy, and to commune together as God’s people in word and sacrament of water and Jesus’ simple meal shared together, is a profound act of life over death, love over hate, good over evil, equity over disparity, diversity and inclusion over supremacy, caring over violence, compassion over despair, life over death!
To say and sing together, Christ is risen! To shout and sing Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! is to defy death all around and within us and this hurting world and earth. Not deny the truth of the suffering and death as in Jesus’ own, but defy it with life! Defy death and despair with hope and mercy and justice and peace and joy because Christ is risen! And in Christ we are raised! In the risen Christ all and all creation are raised to new life. In this gathering and re-membering and believing and communing and witnessing, we are alive again and trusting and looking for everyway and everywhere that the ever-gracious God is raising life out of death, even now, even today in this war-torn, pandemic-ridden, earth-ravaged, we are so weary- world, because we have heard, we have seen, we remember, we believe, we trust, we commune, we are witnesses that God raised Christ from death to life. That God’s Spirit is raising this world and all of us from death to life! Let it be so, in all our relations. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.