REV. DR. ELIZABETH CUNNINGHAM
Stouffville United Church
In the aftermath of an overnight ice storm, when you’ve listened to the ice hit the window like hundreds of little pellets, you look out in the early morning light to a landscape that has been transfigured. Where everything is encased in a thick layer of ice. Tree limbs bend with the weight of the ice. Snow covered fields glisten as an unbroken sheet of ice. And then the wind begins to play among the branches. And then you begin to hear the crackling of the ice, and in time, there are showers of ice as the bits of broken ice fall to the ground from the height of the trees. This letting-go of the heavy ice that weighed the branch down reminds me of resurrection. When the trees are released from the burden of that ice, the branches spring up into the air, released from the bondage of the ice. It is a veritable symphony of joy that these upstretched branches shout to the world.
Easter Sunday is about Jesus who bursts the bonds of death and rises triumphant over the power of death. New life rises from the dead. In endings, are new beginnings. Nature shows us resurrection over and over. A freeing up. A release from bonds. There is in nature, always, this forward moving energy, this reaching to the next place of growth, of living into its promise. From a caterpillar to a cocoon, and then the metamorphosis which emerges in the unfolding of beautiful wings, to reveal the butterfly. Or in the beauty of a pregnant woman, whose belly grows bigger and bigger, and then the birthing contractions begin, and new life pushes out from the womb, with a cry and a gulp of air. All life moves forward to this next breath, this next step, to live into its promise.
Former United Church Moderator, The Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell wrote of Easter “Being raised to new life only follows the death of what we have known, what we have been … our assumptions about how life works. It is painful, difficult, unwanted. It can be devastating. Yet only those who have experienced so profound a death can know something of the power of resurrection. It’s not that we are brought back from death to return to our former life – that is over. Rather than undo death, resurrection overcomes it. Its resurrected power transforms us from death to new life, one that we have not ever known before.”1
In three days, Christ rose again, from the darkness, from the tomb, to become the Risen Christ. Easter defines us as Christians, as we acknowledge Christ’s dying on the cross for our sins. And that in his death and resurrection, he opens the gate to eternal life. This is the day that God has made – a day of new beginnings. As a commentary wrote, “This is the one day, the church breathes out and basks in the good news that I shall not die but live!”2
Surprised by joy is what Easter brings into our lives. That the essence of Easter – where the impossible is now possible, where what was dead is now alive, where despair turns into joy – these things can surprise us in a way that makes our heart jump. Any of the gospel passages that tell us about that early Easter morning remind us how the first who got to the tomb were surprised by joy! Some gospels tell us about the women arriving first, others tell us about the men getting there first. And when they discover that the tomb is empty, they are surprised by the appearance of angels, or the gardener, depending on which Gospel you are reading. The mark of a Christian is to be surprised by joy!
Allan Lynk, a Canadian Forces chaplain wrote of his Easter experience as he led a Sunrise service in Alert, Nunavut, the most northerly base camp in Canada. The one thing he didn’t count on was that the sun rises at 1:13 am up there. He wrote, “So it was 1:13 am on Easter Sunday, with a wooden cross facing the Lincoln Sea, the wolves curiously wandering outside the perimeter of the circle, and a roaring bonfire breaking the silence of the Arctic air, that I awaited my congregation. The sky was rose-coloured, creating the most perfect silhouette of Greenland’s mountains visible to the east. And then they came, more than 20, with smiles and laughter, like me, a little befuddled by the situation. We read the words of John’s gospel as the sun broke the horizon, we dipped our bread into the slushy wine, which was almost frozen in the chalice at minus 31 degrees Celsius, and we celebrated Easter.” He continued, “I may not understand the mysteries of spirituality, but I do understand the gift that was given to me that day and has remained with me ever since. If Easter is the celebration of the spark of the Divine that does not die, I was reborn within that spark on that bright Easter morn.”3
May such a spark of the Divine resurrect Easter’s mystery in you.
Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 The Observer Magazine, March, 2016.
2 Feasting on the Word, Homiletical Perspective, p. 361.
3 Anecdote from a sermon given by Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, Sunday, April 8, 2012.