University Congregational Church
April 21, 2019
“Reclaiming the Symbols of New Life”
Luke 24: 1-12
It has been a very long winter. It has been an even longer Lenten season. Lent is a time for the church to wait. Through cold February and March Sundays, sloshing through the cold we have come to church, and we have waited. Since January 1st, I have conducted 13 funerals myself. Paul has conducted several more. And we already have 3 more scheduled in the next few weeks. Some churches literally bury their “alleluias” during the Lenten season and then pull them out again for Easter. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for spring and I am ready for Easter and I am ready for alleluia!
A little more than a week ago, I conducted a large funeral for one of my husband Eric’s former bosses at Cessna, a man named Fred Bright. It’s an oxymoron to bury a man named Bright – and it was difficult to bid farewell to a man who was as bright a light to those he knew as this man was. One of my favorite stories about Fred was about the day he played the Easter bunny for his teenage son. His son, about to finish high school, was working at a gas station at 13th and Woodlawn, on Easter Sunday. Fred decided to hand deliver his son’s Easter basket to work and just to make it fun, Fred dressed up as the Easter bunny. He donned panty hose and over these he put on his boxers. Now Fred was a professional man and about 6’4” tall and thin. He wore a T-shirt and fashioned bunny ears from a coat hanger. He put some girls’ pink tights over the hanger for bunny ears. I can imagine that he looked like the Jolly Green Giant dressed as the Easter Bunny! And he drove the family van to the gas station and parked a good distance from the place where his son was inside. And then he hopped all the way to the station… with the Easter basket in tow. His son was startled and embarrassed. After they laughed together and the customers all around had a good laugh too, Fred’s son told him it was time to leave. Fred hopped all the way back to the family van just for good measure!
Fred was larger than life and a man who will continue to live on long after his physical body is gone – because of the way he lived. Death cannot contain him. His alleluia cannot be buried. His light will not be hidden.
Two thousand years later, we still remember a man whose light will never be extinguished. Even in the darkest of times, he continues to live on in the hearts of the faithful. Death will not overtake his story. His alleluia cannot be contained. Here is the age-old story…
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12
I watched with many of you this week as Notre Dame Cathedral burned. Eric and I have had the privilege of visiting the cathedral a couple of times. The last time was with our young adult children in June, 2010. We lit a candle for my beloved step-father Dale, who had died just a week earlier. Our family of five had planned a European trip and couldn’t change our tickets when Dale died unexpectedly, so we missed his funeral. Our tribute was that we lit candles in European cathedrals we visited – especially poignant since Dale was Roman Catholic. The candle we lit in Notre Dame was on the day of his funeral in the U.S. The 5 of us stood there and had a few tears. It was a sacred moment.
Last Monday evening, after the fire there had been extinguished, I heard that there were prayer candles still lit in the nave of the cathedral. In the dark of the night, in the darkest dread of destruction, a glimmer of hope shone in that hollowed out holy hall. It could not be damped or turned to ash. It could not be extinguished. Like some people, some lights will not be damped.
Did you watch on Monday evening while Notre Dame burned and after as people sang in the streets around her? Hundreds of voices, perhaps thousands, joined together to worship and to pray? It was a profound expression of sorrow and faith and beauty and worship combined in voices from around the globe. It was as if they know in their very souls what the first disciples of Jesus knew that first Easter morning knew… and what those who knew Fred Bright knew … that when everything seems to be falling apart, when it feels like the world is burning down and fire and debris threaten either to bury us or consume us, we know that will not be the end of the story. We know, as sure as the cross stood on the hill as a symbol of death, so it will rise up and become an insistent sign of life. We know that this week more than ever. Good Friday comes. And that means only one thing: Easter is coming.
So the church may burn. The body may die. Death and destruction look like the end of the story. But do not give up hope. The church will rise from the ashes. Because some things cannot be extinguished. Some lights will not be damped. Jesus cannot be contained. Death will not overtake his story. Some alleluias cannot be silenced. For ours is nothing if not a resurrection faith. Hope and new life have more power than death. Love wins. Grace prevails. Alleluia. Amen. And from now on, every morning is Easter morning!