Yesterday I heard a scintillating sermon that literally had me on the edge of my seat. Eileen+ (our parish priest) started by noting a headline in the Edmonton Journal about a local passion play: “Bringing the Easter Story to Life”, then saying (after wryly observing the propensity newspaper headlines have for misconstruing the stories they report) that this is precisely backward: we don’t bring the story to life; the story brings us to life. What followed related the “us”—doubting, cynical, world-weary, questioning, despairing people—who gather at church on Sunday mornings (“it’s a myth,” “it’s a metaphor,” “it’s a folktale”) to the doubting, cynical, world-weary, questioning, despairing people who first heard the news on the first Easter morning (“it’s an idle tale,” it’s the women at it again,” “it’s wishful thinking”). As we gather (and Eileen was aware that the church was full of “Christmas and Easter” folk who rarely gather), and hear the story, and perform the story, we are transformed into a body… the very body of Christ.
She wove this idea together with another… inspired by another Journal article. A mother bemoaning her children's lack of interest in the meaning of Easter speaks of gathering her youngsters at this time every year and explaining to them “the meaning” of the story, which she reduced to a phrase: never, ever give up. Eileen (who is a former English teacher and a lover of children’s stories) mused that this is a little like sparing your kids all the words of Aesop’s fables and simply (because you think it important that they learn some kind of ethic) reading them a list of the morals. “Um… don’t speak to wolves on the way to Grandma’s house.” Imagine that.
This is why we gather (often in spite of our culturally-formed instincts, for reasons adequate and inadequate), and indeed why we must gather every Sunday: to hear and perform the story again. All of it. It’s not reducible to a “point”, a “meaning” that we can then transfer to “life” or “apply” to the world. It’s an enacted opening of ourselves to the God of life who imparts his life to us, and who then commissions us to impart that life again to the world.
As the service continued into the celebration of the Eucharist, I felt like stones were being rolled away and a “thin space” hovered over the sanctuary. Everything that followed was bathed in a kind of glow (helped no doubt by the sun streaming through the stained glass). We ended with chocolate indulgences downstairs (the only way to celebrate the end of Lent!)… at which time a 95 year-old woman stood up and thanked the church for sending flowers to her (and acknowledged the rather embarrassed person who—unbeknown to us to that point—has made it a practice of taking flowers to nursing homes for elderly folks celebrating birthdays without community or family connections). I learned afresh that this is what the church is: a newly transformed body "going in peace to love and serve the Lord" by insinuating itself into the spaces of abandonment (and cynicism, and world-weariness, and questioning) in the world, extending that thin space, and bringing good news.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.