Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thoughts on Easter Morning

Today is Easter, the day of resurrection, the foundation of Christianity. I'm not going to give a theological treatment of Easter, or build any arguments. I'm taking the day off from that sort of thing. Instead I'm posting here a homily that I gave at an Easter sunrise service a few years ago, titled Thoughts on Easter Morning.

When I was a kid, I had an irrational fear of death. This fear colored every aspect of my life. I remember staying up at night, thinking about life and death, paralyzed by my anxiety. I also remember running around in circles, as if running from death. I thought that perhaps, if I kept moving, death might not find me.

The great American author and Presbyterian minister Fredrick Buechner once wrote that the fear of death is a fear of life. Likewise, a psychologist once told me, when speaking on thanaphobia, the irrational fear of death, that, until you are prepared to die, you cannot truly live. Life and death are so hopelessly mingled that you cannot think about one without thinking about the other. In fact, you cannot experience one without the other. Everything that lives dies. Likewise, death only touches that which lives. In many Eastern religions, death and life have been represented as different sides of the same coin.

Some of this comes through in Jesus’ teaching on death. He said, in Mark 8:35, that "…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but, whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it." (NIV) We are not prepared to live until we are prepared to die.

I know that we who gather here this Easter morning to watch the sun rise are all prepared to die. And so, we are all very much alive, and alive for Jesus. Why else would we gather together this early in the morning to honor God? I also know that we are prepared to die not just because we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior – though we all have, and that acceptance of Christ is truly what it means to be prepared to die – but also because God has ordered our lives in such a way that life itself, and the world in which we live, prepares us for our deaths.

When I was a child, scared to death of death, death was not the only thing I was scared of. I was also scared of the dark. I hated night time, and, like most other kids, I really hated to have to go to sleep. I think that I intuitively knew that night is the time of death, and that sleep is a form of death. Each night, when we go to bed, we, to a certain extent, die. Each night we close our eyes, kiss a loved one, bid them goodnight, and then voluntarily surrender our consciousness. In the time we are asleep, we are dead to the world, we are dead to our loved ones, and we are dead to ourselves. And yet, we do this voluntarily, laying down our lives, as it were, and trusting God. Trusting God to not only run the world while we are gone (as if God needs out permission), but also trusting God to wake us when the sun rises and the morning comes.

The past week has been Holy Week, the week in which we honor the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, which culminates in today’s Easter celebration. The sun set last night, Holy Saturday, just as it set that Saturday all those years ago, when it set on a world in which Jesus was as dead as death itself. He had been in the grave two days, and surely some in the world had already forgotten him, even as his disciples mourned. But the sun rose the next morning, just like it always does, and as it rose, death turned to life. Jesus rose from the grave as the world rose from its slumber, and with him rose all of our hopes and dreams.

As we gather this Easter morning to watch night turn into day, we also gather to celebrate death turning into life. We gather to celebrate the resurrection of our risen Lord and Savior, and we know that with him, so we too shall rise. Just as we went to sleep last night with the faith that God would wake us with this sunrise, we know that, when it comes our time to die, we shall wake again. As the old day becomes the new day, so too, the old life shall become the new life. So, when we leave this place, let us leave as those who have died and been resurrected with Christ. Let us leave with the hope of our resurrection, and the knowledge that we have, through our salvation, already been changed.

Amen.

2 comments:

Troy said...

S,

I shared both of those fears as a child; I've heard lots of philosophy about fear of death, but in small children the fear of annihilation, of not being, is a strange one and I'm still not sure I understand its source for me.

I do believe fear of death lies in and around many other phobias; likewise loss of control, both seem like fundamental instinctual fears, but then maybe not.

I also remember being very afraid of eternity as a child. I'd lay in bed and try to imagine time without end and once got so distressed I got up and vomited.

I dig that you shared this here.

t

Sandalstraps said...

Troy,

When I was a kid (probably four or five, maybe even earlier - it is one of my oldest memories) it occured to me that there are, concerning life and death, really only two options:

1. You die, and that's it. Extinction.

2. You live forever, an endless life, but (this is important) within the bounds of time. An endless life in an endless time.

Neither of these options appealed to me. I desperately wanted to avoid extinction, but if the cost of avoiding extinction was an endless life very much like the life we lead now...

I often say to my wife, I'm exhausted. I'm not old yet, of course, but psychologically speaking I hope that this is as old as I get. Time stretches on and on and on, and I keep existing, much like I've always existed. But this existence doesn't always work for me, and I can't imagine it without some sort of end. We were made to end.

There has to be a third choice, doesn't there? Because the two choices I could identify as a child seem like death and hell. Where's heaven?

I often take comfort in the notion of a heaven beyond time, outside of time. It doesn't make rational sense. It is merely wish fulfillment. But what's wrong with that? It is our shared dream, the life which is neither endless nor subject to end.

I'm just talking nonsense, though. I've been through a rough bout with insomnia, which is why I'm not writing much. I can't think clearly unless I get sleep, and for personal reasons I'm not sleeping. I'll probably blog on it soon. In the meantime, as the teenagers I teach every Sunday say, "I feel you." What an excellent expression on empathy! Slang sometime does that.

Anyway, if our choices are to live forever or to die, I'd choose to die, as I know I can't sustain this life indefinitely. Death can be quite merciful, even if I'm not exactly courting it, or even looking forward to it. But I'd love for there to be a third choice, and my theology tells me that there is. Of course, without some sort of theology there isn't even a second choice.