Something New (Easter) – 4,08,07

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!It’s good to see everyone here this morning.  I wanted to mention a thank you to Jerry Sears for his artwork that we have on the bulletin cover today.  This is beautiful.  We’ve got tree of life, cross, resurrection, spring, all sorts of things in this one image.  If you don’t get anything out of the sermon today at least take this bulletin home with you and let it speak to you.  Thanks Jerry for sharing this.  Being the father of a 15 month old and the expectant father of a 4 ½ month in the womb year old, I feel like I’m always on the lookout for the new things that are happening developmentally.  Abbie has been pretty consistently making little notes on a calendar about what Eve is up to each day.  Here are a couple from the last month or so:  March 6, “Eve will now give Joel kisses even though his beard is scratchy.  Eve will occasionally stand on her own for a few seconds.”  March 15, “Everything is a phone – keys, thermometer, food, juicebox.  She has a realistic intonation for questions and will raise her eyebrows.”  March 26th, “Trying to say uh-oh.  Plays with dishes and pretends to eat.”  And this baby on the way is starting to get more active.  This past week I could feel some definite kicking around going on.  Of course Abbie’s been able to feel the kicking a little longer than I have.          At those stages of life, new things are coming along at a fast pace.  I’ve pretty much come to expect something new on a weekly basis and it’s kind of energizing and inspiring to be around a little person who is always discovering new things about themselves and the world around them.I’m still in the young adult phase of life, but have gotten plenty of glimpses of how life is not always about rapid growth and development.  Both of my parents are still quite healthy, but different aches for them make life a little less enjoyable.  They don’t sleep as well as they used to.  Mom’s arthritis makes outdoor work a little more difficult.   Personally I’ve already entered the low maintenance phase of hair care for my life.  This doesn’t bother me too much, but looking at pictures of high school and college I’m reminded that a certain part of me is in the past and isn’t coming back.  I like to stay active with running and other sports, but realize I won’t always be able to do these things.  Different spiritual writers talk about the little deaths that we die in life and the little ways that we release these losses to God.      As we are just barely emerging from the shadow of Good Friday and the reality of death, the words from Ash Wednesday are still ringing in our ears a bit here:  “Remember that you are from the dust, and to dust you will return.”     For children the world is a brand new place.  But things get worn out.  People get tired and our bodies expire.Isaiah is writing at a time when his people are experiencing something like the latter stages of life.  Their hopes for liberation are getting worn out.  They had been captured by Babylon and released back to their own land, but are still living under foreign rule and there is not peace.  The poor are still getting run down by those in power and injustice shows no signs of ending anytime soon.  People are worn out and tired.  Tired of hoping against all hope, tired of struggling.  To a people who believe they may be about to reach their expiration date, Isaiah speaks these words: “For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth (says the Lord); the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people a delight…no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it or the cry of the distressed.”I suppose something can’t take place until someone imagines that it is a possibility, and imprinted within Isaiah’s imagination is the belief that God is able to create something new out of the old.  That things are not simply spiraling toward death.      About a week and a half ago I was able to attend the Community Intergroup Seder at the Plum Street Temple downtown.  Being new in town this was a first time experience for me, but this interfaith gathering has been happening for the last 14 years in Cincinnati and is a way of the Jewish community to reach out to the city and share its tradition with others.  We sat at round tables that had been set with the typical foods of the seder meal — the matza, the bitter herbs, the wine, and Rabbi Gary Zola led us through the different stages of the meal.  Toward the end he said that now is the time when we always say “next year in Jerusalem.”  And he explained to us what this meant to him and his congregation.  He said we always say “next year in Jerusalem” not because we want to pack up and move to Jerusalem before next year, but because of the prophet’s vision for the kind of city Jerusalem is to be.  He said even Jews who live in Jerusalem say “next year in Jerusalem” because it is an expression of hope that God will liberate all peoples to live in the kind of freedom that the Jewish people experienced in coming out of slavery in Egypt.  So Rabbi Zola invited everybody to say “next year in Jerusalem” because this specifically Jewish hope rooted in the Jewish story of liberation, also related to the hope of all humanity.  So Rabbi Zola would say that when Isaiah is claiming that God will create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight, he is referring to the renewing of the entire human family with Jerusalem as the symbolic center of our world.  I found this to be a moving experience and appreciated this model of how this congregation was sharing its traditions and its faith with people of other traditions.  We share with them in this belief that the creator spirit is moving in the world and through us, to renew the earth.            Something New, Isaiah says.  New heavens, new earth, a new city of Jerusalem            Unique to the Jewish faith is their story of liberation from Egypt, and in sharing their story with others they are teaching us all to live under the God of liberation – a new creation not under the rules of empire but the justice of the God of Israel.  Unique to the Christian faith is our story of resurrection, and the apostles experience of seeing the risen Christ.  Again, Something new.  Where we may able to see only the sure spiraling toward death, God creates something new.  Something for all humanity.                   It is not without intention that John places his account of the discovery of the resurrection in a garden.  Just before the passage read today, he had mentioned that Jesus was buried in a garden area, and then he reminds us that this scene takes place in a garden when Mary mistakes the risen Christ for a gardener.  In highlighting this setting, John is tapping into the symbolic world of his readers and all that is associated with the garden — The birthplace of humanity, as the Hebrews had imagined it — A peaceful garden where the human creature tended the earth and felt no shame in nakedness.  The garden also being the place where the human creature broke relationship with the creator spirit.  And as the writers of Genesis had told the story, there was something severed there that was not readily recovered.  Something lost.  The fabric of the world had become torn.  Things became distorted and twisted out of shape.  The next act of the human creatures was an act of murder – one brother killing another brother, and so the story continues that the human family grows throughout the earth and sisters and brothers keep causing each other injury.  And so creation keeps getting all twisted up, out of shape from the purposes of the creator spirit.  And worn down, tired out.  For John, this garden scene is the birthplace of something new.  Something renewing.  The flow of creation that was plugged up from the beginning is able to flow again out of this garden.  The cycles of murder and injury that had defined human societies and twisted us out of the image of God we were created in have been overcome in this new garden.  This is the beginning of a new creation, and a new people who live in the image of a God who is a God of life.  Something new for the human creatures.  A new fabric of life that God is weaving.  We’re not just cycling endlessly toward death.  Somehow the creator spirit has begun a new thing and is choosing to include us in on tending this new garden.It is a bit humorous that Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener.  She was right, of course, that he was a gardener in his garden, but she wasn’t able to make the connection between this gardener standing in front of her and the Jesus she had known before his death.  She doesn’t make the connection until Jesus calls her by name.  “Mary.”  This deeply personal experience of Christ is for her an awakening to resurrection.  Honestly, there’s a lot about resurrection I don’t understand.  I don’t know what exactly these New Testament writers are talking about all the time.  Resurrection is what is most unique to our Christian faith and its central mystery.  But no matter where we are at in our thoughts or experiences of resurrection, I think this scripture gives us all a way to proceed.  The next thing Jesus says to Mary after he calls her by name, is to say, “Do not hold on to me.”  Don’t cling to me, don’t grasp onto me.  Mary is still is that state of disbelief and is holding on for dear life.  She wants the flesh and blood living Jesus right beside her to teach her every step of the way.  This is what she has grown dependent on.  The familiar world that she understands.  Jesus says, “I’m leaving Mary, don’t cling on to me.  Let me go.”    I see here a way to proceed in good faith.  Faith is not being able to grasp on to something that we think we know for sure, but being willing to let go and trust that the Spirit is at work.  Don’t cling on to the old.  God may just be creating something new.  Open hands make us open to something new.  With resurrection, maybe, just maybe, there is a whole world of God’s presence that we are only beginning to discover.  Maybe our thinking we know everything about how things really work is about as accurate as Eve saying she knows all there is to know about the world.  Maybe when we say “Christ is risen” it means that God is acting in a way that is new and we have the adventure of discovering just what it’s all about.  The worst thing we could do would be to cling on to the familiar and refuse to let God do something new.Whatever it was, the resurrection did energize the apostles.  They went from being fearful ones who abandoned Christ so they could stay out of trouble, to being a spirited community of troublemakers for Christ.  Everything was new to them.  They saw the world in a completely different way.  They often spoke of being born all over again.  Like little Sophie and Eve and Greta and these other kids of ours for whom the world is a brand new place and everything needs to be explored.    Words fall short in capturing this mystery of resurrection.  But we can use this phrase that Christians have been using for centuries.  “Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.”