April 11, 2004
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
A little while ago, I saw a quiz designed to test how well a person is in touch with their natural surroundings and, priding myself on being somewhat of an amateur naturalist, I decided to take the quiz. The first question said, “Name five songbirds that return to your area in the spring.” That was easy; I am always attuned to the sound of birds establishing their breeding territories in March and April and so I quickly checked off — robins, song sparrows, mourning doves, and a little later tree swallows and bluebirds. The earliest sign of spring for me is the courting call of the woodcock who sometimes begins his strange twittering flight in late February but the woodcocks are actually here all winter so I couldn’t count them as a returning bird.
The next question concerned spring flowers, and I managed to tick off snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, and glory of the snow and that yellow flower that looks like a dandelion but isn’t a dandelion which I decided to count as number 5 even though I don’t know its name. Having somewhat easily answered those two questions, I continued with the quiz which went on to pose many other questions about local trees, wildlife, and weather patterns all of which I likewise answered handily and knowing this congregation I suspect a lot of you would have aced it as well. There was one question on this quiz, however, which momentarily stumped me.
“Give or take a few days,” the quiz asked, “when is the next full moon going to occur?” I tried to remember what phase the moon had been in the last time I had seen it but given the normal cloud cover in Alfred, I couldn’t recall even seeing the moon in the past month and for a minute I was afraid that this question would be my downfall, but then suddenly I remembered.
“Ah ha,” I said to myself. “Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and since we’re past the spring equinox and Easter is April 12th , the moon must be full sometime between April 6th and 11th.” It was a slam dunk! I had been able to answer every question on the quiz thus demonstrating my perfect awareness of the world around me; but I had to admit that no matter how good my human powers of observation were, my understanding of the world became complete only when I was able to see through the eyes of Easter.
The apostle Paul saw everything through the eyes of Easter. He filtered all of his experiences through his encounter with the risen Christ and weighed every suffering against the hope of resurrection. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Most likely the Roman church’s initial reaction to Paul’s question was, “You betcha, Paul. All of those things seem very likely to separate us from the love of Christ.” They had known the debilitating effects of personal suffering and societal struggle. They knew how grief can leave you numb, what it feels to have your heart a wasteland where God seems far far away. They had faced doubt-filled days of illness. They knew first-hand how hunger can gnaw at one’s insides so insistently that there is no energy left in a body for thought let alone the love of Christ, and most certainly the church at Rome knew what it was to live in an unjust society where the powers and principalities constantly hamper your efforts to bring freedom and peace to the people. Can these things separate us from the love of Christ? The church members in Rome must have been tempted to answer with a loud, “Yes!”
But Paul’s answer was just as resounding a “No!”
“Nothing,” Paul insisted, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul was not just looking at the world through rose-colored glasses – he was looking at the world through an even more powerful prism. Paul was seeing everything through the eyes of Easter. Who more than Paul knew the unstoppable power of resurrection, for who more than Paul had done everything he could to stop it? Paul, who had railed against the church, persecuting it with such vengeance that surely he seemed the most unlikely candidate for Christ’s love, had nevertheless been bathed in that love on the road to Damascus. When Paul said that not principalities nor powers could separate us from Christ, he knew he had once been those very powers persecuting Jesus’ followers, yet Christ prevailed over him. Christ’s love somehow managed to find its way into even Paul’s stony heart triumphing over the murderous rage that had enchained Paul and liberated him to new life. Paul had experienced the power of the resurrection on the road to Damascus and from them on, Paul would see everything through the eyes of Easter. In resurrection, Paul said, God declares that darkness will be defeated by light, suffering will be transformed into joy, and death will give way to life once again.
What happens when we also embrace the power of the proclamation of resurrection and see the world through the eyes of Easter?
This is what happens: the man who gives his time day after day to bring peace to a broken world yet feels constantly defeated by the unyielding violence of the human heart can find the energy to continue his work in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. He trusts, because he has heard Christ proclaim it, that peace will prevail; that God’s love will triumph over hatred. Perhaps his human eyes can see right now only the shadow of the cross but he chooses to look through the eyes of Easter and knows that there is resurrection on the other side.
And the woman who prays unceasingly that her heavy heart may be lightened yet feels burdened by a darkness she cannot lift will continue in her prayers when she commits herself to seeing through the eyes of Easter. She trusts that one day light will break through the darkness and the comfort she longs for will descend upon her like a loving embrace. Perhaps her human eyes can see right now only the shadow of the cross but she chooses to look through the eyes of Easter and knows that there is resurrection awaiting her on the other side.
And those who battle the relentless injustices of society do not give in to despair because they choose to look at the world through the eyes of Easter believing in the promise that freedom is waiting in their future.
And those whose bodies are inexorably toward the end of their mortal lives find peace in the hope that death is not the final word; they choose to see through the eyes of Easter and know that resurrection waits on the other side.
Can anything separate us from the love of God in Christ? When we look at the world through the eyes of Easter, we will join with Paul in declaring, “No! Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”