Alive Again, Naturally
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, March 27, 2005
Some years ago, when I was serving my first church in Hartland, Vermont, I used to visit on occasion with a man named Russ Perry in a nursing home there. Russ was one of the older members of the church; he had been a farmer, and was a real Vermonter. Even in the nursing home, he wore his farmer jeans, and his red flannel shirt, and, often as not, a John Deere cap. He was a big man, too—even though age had taken its toll: burly and tall, as rugged as the hillsides of northern New England his face weathered by the import of 90-something Vermont winters.
But he didn’t talk much. Never had. As you might imagine, carrying on a conversation with him was something of a challenge. So, of course, to fill in those long silences in the conversation (and they were numerous), I would blather, and babble on and on about nothing in particular-- which, no doubt, only served to confirm Russ’s image of me as a silly flatlander even more.
One day, just around Easter, I had come to visit Russ, and, as he sat there in his wheel chair, we talked about the weather (always a safe bet), and I was babbling on and on (about nothing in particular), for it had been a long winter (and in Vermont, winter is really winter), till finally I gushed— “Do you think spring is ever going to get here?”
And Russ lifted his chin up off his chest, and looked straight toward me, and said (in one of his longest sentences on record), “Always has.” Then, back to the silence.
Indeed, spring always has. Even when winter encroaches upon Easter, and the Easter egg hunt has to be moved indoors. Even when there are predictions of snow for Easter Monday, and we’ve come to see temperatures in the 40s as a sort of “heat wave”. Even when Easter comes way too early for our human calendars and figuring.
Spring will get here, in its own time; which is the Earth’s time; a deeper time, which represents a deeper knowing than all our human calculations. Already, something is alive within the Earth, though we may not see it yet. The crocuses are getting ready to push forth (if they haven’t already); the days are growing longer; the air is growing (almost imperceptibly) warmer; and yes—even the skunk cabbages are getting ready to bloom again, right on schedule.
“Lo, the Earth awakes again/ From the winter’s bond and pain.” Easter is our spiritual reflection of that deep natural reality. Even when it seems as though death is final, and tyranny has had the final word. Even when it seems that we will be locked for all existence in that tomb on a hillside in Judea, our name and what we stood for forgotten. Even when the days of our lives seem like one interminable Good Friday after another, and hope fades and the emptiness and meaninglessness of it all descends upon us like a darkened curtain. Easter reminds us that, if we pay attention to the natural world, then hope, too, will have the final say.
“Will hope ever get here?” we ask. And, like spring, it responds: “Always has. Always has.”
Easter is a promise of a deeper and more complete life, here and now. It is a call and a challenge to live our lives in the light of the blessed souls who have come before us. But Easter is also a declaration of the hope which transcends this earthly coil, and declares that the human spirit is fundamentally, essentially, immortal.
Easter is the delicate but resilient flower of the hope of the hopeless. It is our hope beyond hope; the divine hope which abides when all human, earthly hope has been stripped away.
Easter speaks to us of the deeper levels of life—the level beyond horror, and hurt, and heartbreak; the level beyond the “win some/ lose some” of this life. It speaks of the life beyond life, and the sacred heart that beats (like a drum, faint off on the horizon most of the time, but growing deeper if we listen for it) at the very center of Creation. Easter is the destination at the end of our spiritual pathway, but you can’t get there without going through Good Friday first; just as you can’t bypass winter on the road to spring.
These lives we lead are lives of cycles and seasons, rhythms and ebbs and flows; of dying and rising again. “What is life?” someone once asked the Buddha. And the Buddha summed it up very simply: “Seven times down, and eight times up—that is life.”
Easter is the eighth time up, and it points us toward eternity. But you can’t get there unless you’ve been through the other seven parts of the cycle.
Sometimes, the dying comes easy for us. In the disappointments we suffer, and the disappointments we are to others, we die a little. In the wounds we bear in these lives we lead—in our careers and in our work; in our callings as parents and partners and friends; in our families, and marriages, and relationships. In all of the time that we sense failure, and disappointment, and the gnawing pangs of shame and guilt, we die a little.
Some of us have been very lucky in this life, while others have had more than their share of sorrows and afflictions. But none of us gets out of here alive, as Jim Morrison said, and none of us gets out of life with the whole jackpot. None of us has had (or will have) the “perfect” life.
But Easter reminds us—our deep, primordial sense of the Easter within—that as good, or as bad, or as blessed, or as cursed, as our lives seem to be, there are always the possibilities for new life, and more life, waiting for us. There are always new resurrections waiting for us with the coming of the dawn, and we will know what it is to be alive again, naturally, as sons and daughters of a Life that will never die.
That new life can flow through us when we stop running from the darkness and the pain, and let it take us where we need to go. When we stop trying to run away (or numb away) from the pain and the rage and the longing, and instead use its wisdom and its energy to roll away the stones from our tombs, and break the seal that binds us to the past, and arise—and behold—all things—including us—made new.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” the gospel of John reminds us. “When we accept the dyings, the beginnings come easily,” said William Houf. To which Sam Keen adds: “Beginnings with end [is what life is about]. I have learned one important thing in my life,” he concludes, “how to begin again.”
The winter was harsh, as life sometimes is.
But spring will get here. Always has.
Easter, whenever it comes, reminds us that eternity is right now, we are in the midst of it, and our lives are part and parcel of it.
Easter is God’s proclamation (Nature’s proclamation, too) that life is too great for us to go on forever being small.
The winter is past (or will be, one of these days).
And lo, the time for singing—for singing the great “Alleluia!” of life—is finally at hand.
The time is here, my friends, for us to come on up for the great rising—the rising of Easter—carved forever on our hearts and in our souls.
A blessed, hope-filled Easter to you all.