Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Great Lakes UU Military Ministry Easter Homily

Though I do not often post sermons to Celestial Lands, there are exceptions. On this Easter Sunday Morning, I thought I would share the homily I am preaching in our UU Worship Service at the Great Lakes Naval Station, Recruit Training Command this morning.

Introduction to the Homily

In our tradition and in our churches, the center of our worship remains the sermon or the homily, but it is understood in a very different way than many traditions. We believe in the Freedom of the Pulpit and the Freedom of the Pew. What this means is that what is presented from the pulpit is not the sermon, but rather it is the raw material through which you write the sermon upon your own heart and mind. We listen to what the preacher is called from his own heart to preach, but we also listen to what our own heart and mind thinks of what is said.

So what you think during the homily is as important as anything that is said. Pay attention to the stories and memories from your own life that come to you during the sermon. Pay attention to the feelings you have, to the places where you agree and where you disagree. Pay attention to what is happening within you, for that is the true sermon. The spirit may move our hearts more than any words of mine/ ours.

Homily
Martyrs and Easter Flowers

Though both the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Conference, the two denominations that merged in the 1960’s to become today’s Unitarian Universalist Association, began as Christian churches, they have certainly grown into more than just a Christian church.

While the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth remains an important part of who we are, one of our foundational sources, it is joined by religious traditions such as Buddhism, Humanism, Paganism, and others. Our faith has grown to be less about what you believe, and more about how you act within the world.

There is probably nowhere you see this difference between our faith and the Christian churches we grew from than in the celebration of Easter.

I grew up Southern Baptist. I remember we would get up very early on Easter morning, and spend the whole day at the church… with a Sunrise service depicting the crucifixion of Jesus on posts on the hill behind the church, one of our thirty year old church members tied to the cross. There would then be Sunday School, and then another service in the Sanctuary at 11am. We would be dressed in new clothes, and the women would all be wearing flowers. After church there would be a BBQ, and some baseball and volleyball, interrupted by the occasional prayer. The day would end with another worship service on that hill at Sunset, and we would go home.

Now, while I have never seen one, I am told that there are Unitarian Universalist Churches who do have a sunrise service on Easter morning, but I doubt if you would have one of the young men of the church tied to some posts behind the church. Actually, our churches often have different kinds of Easter Sunday services, which I think is fitting, considering the history of Easter…

Easter began, not as a Christian holiday, but as a Pagan one. Among the Pantheon of Germanic Pagan gods and goddesses is Eostre, Goddess of Spring and Fertility. The spirit animal of the Goddess Eostre is a rabbit. Not much is known about these early Eostre festivals, except that they were held on the Spring Equinox, usually around March 21st, they involved large bonfires, and there was much wild partying. Today, German Christians sometimes still include large bonfires in their Easter celebrations, but not so much the wild partying.

The early Christian leaders, in working to spread this new faith, realized that they would have a lot more success if they did not try to replace the local holidays that the people were used to, but rather to just give those same festivals some different practices and some different meanings. And so, as the pagan festival of Yule was replaced with Christ’s Mass… or Christmas, the pagan festival of Eostre was replaced with this celebration of the central miracle of the early Christian Church, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

We don’t know what time of year the young man named Yeshua was executed. We have come to know of him by the Greek and English spelling of his name, Jesus, from the small coastal town of Nazareth. It really does not matter, because it is in this time that we celebrate his life, his death, and the resurrection of his message after his martyrdom.

Now, I’m going to talk a little bit about my beliefs as a liberal Christian about Easter, and about the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of my fellow Unitarian Universalists would agree with me about what this holiday means to me, but others might not. You might not agree, and that is not only okay, it is wonderful. These are the beliefs and ideas I have come to through studying the Christian Scriptures and Christian History, as well as the other historical accounts of Judea and the Roman Empire, and through my understanding of human nature… but I am not asking you to believe as I do. I am only asking that you think about it, that you apply the ability to reason, not just to these religious thoughts, but to all of our religious understandings about ourselves and the world.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, not by the Romans, but on the orders of the religious leadership of Judea, because he represented a threat to their established political and religious order. I do not believe he was crucified as a blood atonement for sin, neither his own nor ours. He was crucified because he dared to stand by his ideals and beliefs when confronted by that religious leadership, and because he had gained a popular following among the people. He was made a martyr because he was a threat.

When, on what we now think of as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, it was a profound statement. People stood on the side of the road waiving palm branches and calling his name. The only person who was ever received in a town of the region that way was the Roman Emperor.

By riding into town being hailed by the masses, Jesus was saying to the Religious and Secular leadership of Judea that he had come to replace them.

This was certainly what his followers expected to happen. They expected Jesus to overthrow the temple priests, name himself high priest, perhaps even king, and name them the new priests and leaders of Judea. When he entered the temple and threw the moneychangers out, that seemed to his disciples to be a good start, but only a start. They expected to take over Judaism, not found a new religion. I believe it was what Jesus expected too, but it did not work out that way. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to crucifixion, not because he was God, but because he was a rebel.

I believe that in the aftermath of his crucifixion, the followers of Jesus were in disarray and shock. They had expected Jesus to overthrow the religious leadership of Judea and take over as high priest of the temple. Now, they were hunted, Jesus was dead, and they had to come to a way of making meaning from what had happened. I don’t buy brand name imitrex believe that Jesus rose from the dead physically, I believe it was his message that rose from the ashes of defeat… a message that would profoundly change human society.

I believe that Jesus’ disciples began seeing the teachings of Jesus all around them, and began meeting the spirit that he showed in the lives of people. With his death, his teachings were no longer a religious philosophy… the seriousness of what they were involved in had been made clear to the disciples. They were involved in the beginning of a cultural revolution. They too had become rebels.

I believe they met together, shared his teachings, and felt his presence. By dying on the cross when he did and how he did, Jesus in many ways became immortal. His death as a martyr led to the explosion of the faith… to disciples and apostles going out to spread the message that Jesus had taught. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, “If you bring forth that which is within you, that which is within you will save you”, and so much more that was very radical for its time.

The resurrection that occurred on the third day, and in the days that followed was not the physical resurrection of the body, but the resurrection of the message of Jesus, and its subsequent dispersal through out the world.

The later attempts to deify Jesus, to show him to have never really been like us, never really human, were in effect attempts to kill his message… not to promote it. Jesus was a divinely inspired man, but essentially a man, who against all odds stood up to the powers of the day and was martyred for his commitment … it is to me one of the most profound examples of living one’s faith, no matter the cost, that has ever occurred.

By making a God of this divinely inspired man, the early Christian church leaders said “you can’t hope to be or live like Jesus, for he was God. All you can do is ask for forgiveness and grace.” To me, this was a perversion of the message that I find in the life and sayings of Jesus… that the Kingdom of God can only come to existence by loving one another, by realizing our own interconnections, and by having faith in both God and ourselves.

With the deifying of Jesus came a message that reinforced the power and authority of the Christian bishops of the second and third century as they sought to suppress the many times many different understandings of the teachings of Jesus that had arisen.

Some early Christians believed, as I do today, that Jesus was primarily a teacher and prophet, who taught us how to live in a divine way and challenged the unjust society in which he lived. Some believed that Jesus was God, not in the sense of the Trinity, but as if all of God had appeared as a human. Some believed the Jesus was both God and man. All of these different groups wrote gospels and stories about the life of this man who changed the world, many without ever having met him. Only a few of those stories have come to be in our modern Bible.
The crucifixion that I remember on Good Friday was the death of a man who had dedicated his life to finding a new way for humans to treat one another, to live together in right relationship both with each other and with God. The resurrection that I celebrate was the resurrection of the message of faith, hope, and love that occurred among the followers of Jesus after the disarray caused by his death, and the subsequent spread of that message throughout the world.

I hope for a new resurrection as well… one that lets go of much of the myth and superstition surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and returns to a message of unity, justice, freedom from oppression, peace, and right relationship that was the core of what he taught in life.

There is another meaning in the resurrection for me, and that is that hope never dies. In the way the disciples and apostles of Jesus carried on after his death, there is the message that, even when the worst has happened, there is hope. The message, the experience will transform and evolve, but for people of faith there is never an end, only transformation and hope.

It is that message of transformation and hope that is most commonly celebrated in Unitarian Universalist Churches on Easter morning, by the participation in a short ceremony known as the Flower Communion. In 1923 Rev. Norbert Capek, a Unitarian Minister in Czechoslovakia, desiring a new and different kind of communion or Easter service for his congregation, performed the first flower communion.

This annual service in many of our congregations represents many things… the hope and possibility in the message of Jesus of Nazareth; the hope and new life of spring; the sharing of ourselves by the flowers that we bring; the birth of beauty from the cold of winter; and even the celebration of fertility once dedicated to the Goddess Eostre.

On Easter Sunday, or whenever a congregation holds their flower communion, members will bring flowers from their home gardens, from the roadside, even from the store… flowers that they like and find beautiful… flowers that represent hope and possibility and new life to them. Flowers that represent the resurrection of life each year, as the message of Jesus was once resurrected by his followers after his death.

During the service, each of the members will come forward in a time of sharing, bring their flowers, and place them in a central vase. This symbolizes the congregation bringing their faith, hope, and love together and sharing these precious gifts with one another. As the flowers in some ways represent each of us, the vase becomes a symbol of the gathered congregation.

Each of you was given a flower or two when you came in this morning. If you wish, I invite you to come forward and place that flower in the vase before you. In your heart think of all the hopes and dreams, all the possibilities you bring to this new year. Hold those in your hearts and, in silence, come forward as you wish to share in this Flower communion.

(Flower Communion Music)

Rev. Norbert Capek, who performed the first flower communion, became a martyr for his beliefs and faith, in the tradition of Jesus. In 1942, after many years as a Unitarian Evangelist in Czechoslovakia, he was executed with his daughter in a Nazi Gas chamber at Dachau. He stood up for his beliefs, and he was martyred for them. So, when we celebrate the Flower Communion at Easter, we are not only remembering the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, but indeed of all those who have died for their faith and beliefs.

I will close this morning with the blessing of these words which close many Flower Communion services, written by Rev. Capek right before he died in Dachau.

It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals.
Oh blow ye evil winds into my body’s fire; my soul you’ll never unravel.
Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight and everything would worthless seem,
I have lived amidst eternity.
Be grateful, my soul,
My life was worth living.
He who was pressed from all sides but remained victorious in spirit is welcomed into the choir of heroes.
He who overcame the fetters giving wing to the mind is entering into the golden age of the victorious.

So may it be, and blessed be…

3 Thoughts on “Great Lakes UU Military Ministry Easter Homily

  1. Patrick McLaughlin on Sunday April 12, 2009 at 10:39 +0000 said:

    Amen.

  2. Amen again. 😉

    Happy Easter of your understanding David and others.

  3. A good word for the day, indeed. Blessings to you!

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: