THE DAY OF RESUSCITATION
© Rev. Dr. Gary Blaine
University Congregational Church
March 23, 2007
Reading: “Spring” Henry David Thoreau
A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men’s sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors. You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world; but the sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning, recreating the world, and you meet him at some serene work, and see how his exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten. There is not only an atmosphere of good will about him, but even a savor of holiness groping for expression, blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born instinct, and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar jest. You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his gnarled rind and try another year’s life, tender and fresh as the youngest plant. Even he has entered into the joy of his Lord. Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors, why the judge does not dismiss the case, why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all.
The story is told of the old Congregational preacher who was dying. He sent a message for his banker and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home.
When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, and stared at the ceiling. For a time no one said anything.
Both the lawyer and the banker were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled. The preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed, covetousness, and avaricious behavior that made them squirm in their pews.
Finally, the banker asked, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?”
The minister mustered up his strength and then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go.”
Well, it turns out that the old minister died at the same time as a taxi driver and they arrived at the Pearly Gates together. St. Peter was there to meet them both.
“Come with me,” St. Peter said to the taxi driver.
The taxi driver did as he was told and followed St. Peter into a lavish mansion. It had everything you could imagine from a bowling alley to an Olympic sized pool and saunas. Banquet tables were piled high with roasted meats, vegetables, breads, fresh fruits, and desserts.
“Wow,” said the taxi driver. “Thank you very much.”
Next, St. Peter led the old Congregational minister to very Spartan barracks. He was assigned a bunk and a foot locker in a long line of bunks and lockers. There was a communal shower at the end of the hall. Of course, it dripped throughout the night. There was a chow hall but the food was reconstituted from dehydrated products. There was not a fresh orange or apple in sight.
The preacher protested vigorously. “I think you are quite mistaken,” he said. “Shouldn’t I be the one who lives in the mansion? After all, I was a faithful minister of the gospel, preaching God’s word, tending the sick and dying, and attending interminable committee and board meetings.”
“Yes, that’s true,” replied St. Peter. “But during your sermons people went to sleep. When the taxi driver drove everyone prayed!”
Today is, of course, Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Day, in the Christian tradition. It is the most important Christian celebration. For some Christians today marks the physical – bodily – resurrection of Jesus from the grave. His tomb is found to be empty and he appears briefly before his disciples in human flesh and blood. Now, however, his body bears the marks of crucifixion with a wound in his side, hands, and feet. This was not the original idea of the resurrection in the New Testament. In fact, the idea of a corporeal resurrection does not emerge in the Christian community until about the ninth decade of the Common Era; that is ninety years after the death of the Carpenter. For other Christians Easter Sunday is a celebration of the power of life over death and goodness over evil.
Did you know that one of the oldest Christian beliefs about the resurrection is the restoration of the community to the life sustaining values found in the teachings of Jesus? These would be the values that have the power to save the world. These are the values of compassion and justice, kindness and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Real faith is ultimate trust in these values as we live them out in our relationships with one another and the earth. Real faith is the willingness to trust such values in the face of senseless violence, corporate greed, and an entertainment industry that is increasingly pornographic. And because the consumer world of materialism is so very powerful the church gathers once a year to be reminded that grace will always conquer the evils of militant materialism; to promote the good news that human communities can be recalled to the fullness and purpose of their being.
Henry David Thoreau wondered why the church lingered in the recrimination of winter; why the church was the last to recognize the restoration of human beings; and why the church did not recognize the renewal of life in the signs of nature and neighbors. Thoreau saw in the season of spring such renewal and he was witness to human beings who recast their lives from brokenness to wholeness. From the skeletons of gray trees buds swell with hope and fan into leaf. Men rise up from the frost of despair and determine to rededicate their lives to their children. Brown and desolate soil erupts into green grass. Winter wheat stands proudly in the face of freshly plowed corn fields. Women shake off the last chill of winter and renew their determination to build a stronger community that will be safe for their loved ones and will protect their civil rights. Robins, wrens, finches, and cardinals restore or rebuild nests that were wrecked by chill winds. A college student determines to sober up and return to classes. Life is a constant process of living, dying, and living again. Life is about possibilities and problems; beginnings and endings; promises and failures.
When I teach my children how to ride horses I teach them that one day they will be thrown. It is not a question of if; it is a question of when. And I teach them that when they are thrown they must get back in the saddle. I have been thrown by more than one horse. Sometimes it was my fault. Sometimes it was an ornery horse. I have been nipped and bit and kicked. It is what happens when you ride life. The tragedy is not falling off the horse. The tragedy is lying in the dirt, hay, and manure. The tragedy is not death. The tragedy is failing to rise up like the grass in the spring.
This is what the nature and the purpose of the church is all about. We exist to celebrate winter and spring, fall and summer. Through the celebration of life passages, the holy seasons, and the seasons of nature we give song and story to the sacred courses of life. We celebrate the coming of age, the marriage and union of new life partners, the dedication of infants and children, and we memorialize our loved ones. Too bad we do not have rites for the loss of jobs, divorce, or homes. These should be woven into the church’s fabric of celebrations such as the birth of the Messiah, Baptism, Ministry, Death and Resurrection. These are the life patterns of people, their families, and their communities. It is my job to tell the stories of faith and play them out in the life of the church.
Easter Sunday is a chance to tell the story, and the whole cycle of stories, over again. We get to bring them back to life and remember that winter does not have the last word; nor death, nor retirement, nor divorce, nor failure. Life is about little resurrections and the chance to be resuscitated. Resuscitation is not a word that Biblical scholars like to use in place of resurrection. They do not like it because resuscitation suggests that the victim was not quite dead or dead enough! It is a problematic word, as if resurrection was not a problematic word. But I like the word because it is one way to expand the dialogue about the meaning of resurrection.
The last two lines from the “Prayer of St. Francis” read, “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Now here is what I find so interesting. In the original French the word used for “born to eternal life” is resuscitation. When we resuscitate someone we bring them back to life. When a person is drowning or overwhelmed by noxious fumes we resuscitate them by CPR. We bring them back from the brink of death. We revive them to this life. There are even cases when all vital signs are silent and the person is pronounced dead. But some nurse or doctor or friend refuses that conclusion and continues to resuscitate.
It occurs to me that Easter Sunday is not primarily a question of life after death. It is not theological speculation about what happens to us after we die. The point is to bring us back to life – to resuscitate this life. We are not meant to wallow in the fear of death or drown in a river of tears. We are meant to grieve, yes, and return to life. We are meant to let go of corruptible, diseased, and broken bodies. We are meant to embrace the values, character, and humor that still fill our hearts long after someone has died. We are meant to find their smile in the sunrise, their voice in the babble of creeks, their wisdom in the question of a child, and their comfort in the halls of memory. My mother has been dead seven years. But there is not a day when she has not hugged me or smiled at me. There is no one I have loved and lost who expected me to be frozen in time with their death. I am absolutely certain that my parents and grandparents would want me to fulfill the years that are left to me. There are many other kinds of deaths, such as divorce or the break up of a business that would freeze you in the past. But the message this morning is “Be Revived.”
Back to Thoreau’s point, the life that appears to be moribund can be resuscitated. The life that appears dead to habit may be brought back to life. The life that is lost to rage may find a centered peace. The life that is without purpose may find direction. My complaint is that the church thinks that the work of resuscitation is only a seasonal affair, a matter that falls somewhere on the spring calendar. Worse, the church does not recognize resurrection or resuscitation or rebirth when it sees it.
The invitation on this Easter Sunday is to breathe a little life back into that which is moribund and lifeless. Take the chance to resuscitate old dreams, tired relationships, and dead commitments. You see, it is not just hope that springs eternal. It is life and human beings. Put your lips to those whom you love and kiss them with grace.
 Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966), 207-208,