2 Corinthians 1:17b-22 Mark 16:1-9 Russell Eidmann-Hicks
Yes! Yes, it’s Easter morn! Yes, we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise of resurrection and new life! Yes! Can I please hear you say “YES!”? YES!
St. Paul writes: “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes and No.’…For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’” In Christ every one of God’s promises is a ‘yes.’ Yes. On Easter Day we are called to trust God enough, to have faith in resurrection power enough to believe that stones can be rolled away, angels revealed, death defeated, and new days unveiled. At Easter we affirm that the Yes of God has overcome the No of death and the No of despair.
Jesus at Gethsemane could have said no. Instead of accepting God’s will and the suffering and sorrow ahead of him, he could have thrown in the towel and walked away. He could have slunk back to his carpenter shop in Galilee, made a few bucks, gotten married, had some kids – gone fishing with his buddies on the weekends. At Gethsemane he didn’t have to say, ‘Not my will, by thy will be done.’ But he said yes instead of no. YES to all that lay ahead.
You probably know this, but they say the key to doing improvisational theater is saying ‘yes.’ It is going with whatever your fellow actor throws out there – even if it happens to be about a manatee who rolls into a bar on a skateboard and asks for a stiff one. It’s your job in improv to nod and say sure, and then to serve the manatee a drink, challenge him to arm-wrestle, and to ask how things are floating in Florida. It is not whether to be a manatee and or not to be a manatee: it is to say yes. OK. YES!
Our denomination, the UCC has the logo of a comma. It’s a comma because it is not a period. A period is a no, a stop, a death, a grave. A period puts an end to the sentence. A comma means the story continues, the thought rolls on. This idea comes from a comment by the great comedian George Burns, who was talking to his wife, Gracie Allen, on her death bed. He asked whether she believed in life after death. Her response was, “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma.” Today we celebrate this comma – that the story continues with a stone rolled away, an empty tomb, angels proclaiming Jesus heading out on his way back up to Galilee.
As a freshman in college, I was once complaining to a friend, a friend who happened to be a girl, about how self-critical and down I was feeling. (Older members of this church can be rightfully tired of all my stories of my sad and lonely youth.) But anyway – this girl offered this advice: ‘ just say yes.’ Just say yes instead of no. Instead of dumping negativity and criticism on myself, why not just work on saying yes to myself, accept who I am, let go of the no? She told me to listen to the rock band, YES, that was current at the time. I bought the album – which didn’t give me much guidance beyond loud psychedelic music. But she did help me to begin to move toward a new way of living: YES. Yes to this glorious life. Yes to beauty. Yes to God’s love and peace. YES!
Of course ‘NO’ has its value. We need healthy boundaries and protection from taking on too much or to go down dangerous pathways. We need solid barriers against mean-spirited people and unjust or violent leaders. No can be life-giving in its own way. We need to know when to say no and when yes.
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews wrote this for Easter: “Some folks say the Resurrection is about joy, others say hope; I appreciate the way Marcus Borg calls it “God’s yes to Jesus, and God’s no to the powers that be”–the empires of violence, injustice and greed that try to rule our lives today just as they killed Jesus long ago. But God, Borg reminds us, said no to all that and yes to Jesus… Jesus, who told us that everyone would know that we are his followers if we love each other. So I think we can say that the Resurrection is about joy, yes, and hope, and most of all, love.” Love perhaps is the greatest way to say YES. Love is whole-hearted acceptance of others, to embrace life with open arms.
Social psychologist Brené Brown talks about a way to turn around our inner tombs and chains, to create new realities based on the power of saying ‘yes.’ She writes about what she calls “Rising Strong.” This is a change in our inner attitude in which we walk into our stories and own them and ‘rumble’ with them. Then, we get to choose how they end. Just as Jesus rose strong from the grave, we can find ways to rise up out of our conflicted and narrow prisons of worry and obsession – to form new pathways into the light of new vision.
She encourages people to what she calls the ‘Reckoning’: to walk into the messiness and reality of our stories. We have in our heads what Brown calls the CFD, or ‘crappy first draft’, a term borrowed from Anne Lamott. These are stories that roll around and around in our minds – that often paint a bleak and sad picture. What stories we are telling ourselves about our lives?
Brene Brown encourages what she calls “the Revolution,” or where we go from here. How do we take the story that we’ve looked at with grace and intention, and write a new ending for our story? What’s the bold decision we’re willing to make so that the endings of our stories are beginnings of something more? God knows a new thing is coming— a new way of being, a new way of living, a new way of loving our neighbor as ourselves… one beyond the personal, and into the public, the possibilities before us. God invites us, over and over, to be transformed in the renewing of the mind, for what is to come. Brené Brown helps chart a path for being a resurrection people. Our “no’s” can be transformed into ‘yes!’.
Annie Lamott wrote in her quirky way about this, how to turn our negative inner stories into pathways toward a new Yes. She writes: “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction and aim for that. Shoot the moon.” – Annie Lamott In other words – say YES!
We don’t have to be trapped in tombs of our own making – locked away in our self-made conceptions of reality – reinforcing our fears, our worries, our fixations – while assuring ourselves in our inner stories that we are sad, alone, and without help. We are so wrapped up in these prisons we can’t see that locks can be picked and doors can swing open! Through our tears, we don’t recognize the miraculous presence of God in our lives.
Like the women at the tomb, we catch the glimmer of God’s sunlight that shows us a way out of the tombs within which we entrap ourselves. Easter faith means waking up, letting go of our sorrows, our fears, our anxieties. In humility, prayer, simplicity, courage, and quiet perseverance – we discover angels instead of demons. The Risen Christ is here all along, even in our prison cells. Jesus rises from the dead – and is present to us always, everywhere – the YES of God.
Martin Luther King Jr affirms this when he preached this on an Easter Sunay: “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have fit testimony that this earthly life is not the end, that death is just something of a turn in the road, that life moves down a continual moving river, and that death is just a little turn in the river, that this earthly life is merely an embryonic prelude to a new awakening, that death is not a period which ends this great sentence of life but a comma that punctuates it to more loftier significance.” The two Marys and Salome affirmed this river of life, this yes in the face of death that Easter morning. They were drawn down a pre-dawn pathway – toward their greatest loss and desolation by the Yes of love. If they had no love, then they would feel no grief, no pain. Their longing and love became a kind of magnet drawing them through the dark toward the glory of angels.
Joan Borysenko wrote this in her book Angels, Mysterious Messengers:
The night that she was dying I was sitting by my mother’s bedside in the hospital. It was about three in the morning. My son Justin, who was 20 at the time, was sitting on the opposite side of the bed. We’d both been meditating and praying for my mother, and the room was very still. Suddenly I had a vision — and believe me, I’m not the sort of person who’s prone to visions. And in that vision I was a pregnant mother giving birth to a baby, but I was also simultaneously the baby. That’s an amazing thing: to find yourself conscious of being two people at once. And as the baby, I was coming out through a dark tunnel, and I came out into an experience of ineffable light — just like the light that people talk about when they have a near-death experience. And in that moment, my entire life with my mother made sense, and it seemed perfect that she had birthed me into this world, and it seemed that I had just birthed her soul back out of the world. And I felt such gratitude for her. When I opened my eyes, the room was literally filled with light. You could see it. You could see particles of light. And I looked across the bed and there was my son weeping, tears just pouring from his eyes. And he looked at me and he said, “Can you see the light in the room?” And I nodded and he said, “It’s Grandma; she’s holding open the door to eternity for us so that we can have a glimpse.”
In unique moments we can catch a glimpse – a vision – of the open door to eternity. It isn’t often, and people may not believe us when we have them. Easter is a celebration of these glimpses – a stone rolled away, angels of light, new life claimed from the depths of death and despair. Jesus pushes open the door and through it comes illumination – as dazzling as lightening, as radiant as a smile on a loved one’s face. The love of Mary Magdalene and Mary and Salome, drew them to this brilliance – through the darkness. The yes of love becomes a doorway. We are called into this YES of eternity and love. We aren’t stuck in our prisons. We have the key! Say YES! Amen.