“Planting Seeds of New Life” Rev. Susan Brecht
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
“Garden Resurrections” by Christine Sine
God planted a mustard seed
deep within my heart
A tiny grain, a kingdom presence
A hidden germ of life
Warmed by God’s love it grew
Sending down its roots
A tender shoot, branches too
and in its season fruit
A harvest far beyond my dreams
increasing through the years
A miracle, a life transformed
abundant act of grace.
Four summers ago I traveled to the islands of Iona and LIndisfarne, off the coast of Scotland. It’s where early Celtic Christianity took root and flourished in the British Isles. It’s one of the most sacred places I have ever walked. This poem reflects their spiritual connection to the earth and the new life that emerges from it. Many years ago, three days before those farmers sowed their seeds, they would sprinkle them with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
If possible they would always plant on a Friday. The moistening had the effect of hastening the seed’s growth. Friday was chosen because it was the day of Christ’s death and burial. The whole process of planting was symbolic of the planting of Christ, the seed of a new world in which resurrection will come for all humankind, as well as for creation.
A couple of weeks ago, when our earth here in Newton was still blanketed in snow, a friend of mine on Staten Island posted a picture on Facebook of the first shoots of green emerging from the earth in his garden. I was jealous, but he reminded me that they are there under all that snow ready, just to emerge.
It’s been a long, challenging winter. I would imagine many of us sitting here today are looking forward to the day we can get out in our yards and spend time clearing the dead leaves and branches, preparing the soil to plant and give birth to new life.
Our time spent in the garden is a metaphor for the Easter experience. Easter is about resurrection, which means “coming back to life.” Friends have often reminded me that those dead looking trees are not dead at all, just sleeping through the winter waiting to bloom. The earth is about to awaken to new life, and it will be magnificent! And somehow it happens every year - just like Easter!
We too can awaken to new life through the Easter experience. We refer to Easter as a time of new birth, re-birth, renewal. It all sounds very exciting, but it’s not always easy, because it requires letting go, sometimes to things and ways of being that we are very attached to.
It requires us to change, to see in new ways, to try new things, all the while trusting God to be there with us. It doesn’t happen in a split second, or during an hour of worship, or even on a day like Easter Sunday. It’s a process. And it can be downright frightening, as we see in Mark’s account of the Easter story this morning.
Here we have Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bringing spices to anoint the body of Jesus - a loving act of compassion. But imagine how they must have been feeling: disoriented, grief stricken, hopeless, frightened and confused. They’ve just been to hell and back, witnessing the brutal death of Jesus, the person in whom they had put all of their hope and trust for the future. Now what? Their lives had been turned upside down. Where do they go from here?
Have you ever felt like that? Life as you’ve known it suddenly comes to a screeching halt and you don’t know what to do, where to turn next? You want to just crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and shut it all out. How many of you have said at one time, I just want to go back to how life was before all this happened? But we can’t go back, can we? We can only go forward.
And for these three women, this was only the beginning. They arrived at the tomb, and the world, as they knew it, was suddenly, dramatically thrown off course. They thought they knew how things worked: dead meant dead, large stones did not move themselves, and who was this guy in white?
“Do not be alarmed” he tells them. (oh yeah, right) “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
That did it. They had heard enough. They fled, “for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Who could blame them?! I would have run too. People would think they were crazy.
Is this any way to end a gospel? - on Easter?! Fear. Silence. Apparently some writers didn’t think so, because two other endings were eventually tacked on, but scholars haven’t found any manuscripts to support that they were original.
So this is how the first gospel that was written ends. What are we to make of it? What meaning has Easter for us today?
Gerald Manley Hopkins, in his poem, “The Wreck of Deutschland,” gives us a clue. He writes, “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.” “Let him Easter in us” - Christ, that is. Hopkins has given Easter a new meaning. It becomes a verb, not a noun, not some long ago event, over and done.
The women at the tomb experienced Easter as a noun. They fled and didn’t say anything to anyone. If that was the end of the story, Easter would have remained a noun, but we know there was plenty more to come. The story didn’t end there. It still hasn’t ended.
Mike Piazza, one of our better known UCC ministers says, “If Easter has any meaning at all in our lives, it is that God is the God of alternative endings.” God is the God of alternative endings. I like that. So what is that alternative ending for each of us?
If Easter is a verb, then it is something that transforms our lives, permeates our souls, gives us hope and meaning and courage to let go of those parts of our lives that are no longer serving us, no longer bringing us closer to God; and move on to embrace new ways of life.
This didn’t happen that Easter morning, at least not in this story. The women didn’t go out broadcasting the empty tomb to all of Jerusalem. They ran away. In some accounts we’re told the disciples went into hiding. They were cowering in that upper room when the Holy Spirit descended on them weeks later, on what we celebrate as Pentecost, the birth of the church.
Over time Christ ‘Eastered' in the disciples, and they were transformed from a group of terrified people into disciples who boldly went out into the world and spread the good news that life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, and God’s peace is more powerful than violence.
Easter wasn’t just a noun, an event. It was something that happened to those first disciples. A tiny seed was planted in their hearts, that produced a harvest beyond their wildest dreams, that increased through the years and continued to transform lives by acts of abundant grace. And it can happen to us too, if we’re open and ready.
It’s a message of comfort and hope in the midst of despair: that there is life after all the little, or big, deaths we encounter throughout our lifetimes. They are not the end, only the beginning of something new.
The gospels tell us we don’t have to go it alone. “Go to Galilee”, the mysterious man in white instructs the women. Eventually the disciples got there. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus meets them up on one of those mountains, where he tells them to go make disciples of all: teach, baptize, heal. And he promises to be there with them. You see, Jesus is loose in the world - not a corpse or a distant memory, but alive in each of us who follow him.
I think Mark is inviting us to finish the gospel for him: to open our hearts, so God can plant seeds, and watch them grow into new life; in ourselves, our families, our relationships, our communities, our churches, our broken but beautiful world.
I got to thinking this week, maybe Easter should be the beginning of our church year - this time of resurrection, of coming back to life. Maybe Easter is the time when we begin the process of taking stock of what we have to let go of to make room for new life, new ideas, new ways of doing things, in our personal lives and here at the church.
Jack, our seminary intern, will be taking up this theme next week during our Pledge Sunday, showing us the seeds that have already been planted here at Eliot, and inviting us to plant new ones. And he’s not talking about just symbolically.
For me, the real miracle of Easter is that in the 2,000 years after those three women made their way to that empty tomb, millions of people have been raised to new life by following the way Jesus taught, opening their hearts, planting seeds of love, compassion, forgiveness, peace and generosity.
Quinn Caldwell, another of our UCC ministers, once said, “They weren’t burying Jesus that day; they were planting him. And when he sprang up green and fresh, he took that dead, arid place and filled it with life.”
So this morning I challenge you to go out of this sanctuary into the world. Look for those places where seeds need to be planted and plant Jesus. Watch him grow and multiply, and your life too with be transformed by God’s abundant grace.