Whoever you are, wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!

Easter 2013 Sermon
Reverend Ross Varney

Easter, Easter Easter! It speaks of Resurrection and Victory! It sings Alleluias and Hallelujahs, like the Hallelujah Chorus that we'll sing at the end of this service.

Yet, if we are honest, it is often hard to sing and rejoice. Like the two disciples, on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and another, we also can walk with head bowed, with face downcast, saying "We had hoped, we had hoped.... for a different outcome ... in our jobs, our relationships, our family gatherings, our national politics, etc."

But the two disciples had an encounter on the road that changed them; they felt their hearts warming, even "burning" as they walked along talking with a "stranger" whom they later recognized as the Risen Christ (or at least Christ's Spirit dwelling in some stranger, we can interpret it how we like). What can we learn from this encounter?

A key ingredient to the change in the disciples is something that we too often avoid: Honesty about loss and suffering, about the cross that they now carry. This is the "crux" of the matter, yes the "cross," yes, the "crucible" of their transformation. The "stranger" (or the Spirit of Christ) said to them: Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer before entering into his glory? Then he spoke of Moses and the prophets and pointed out things about himself. Undoubtedly he spoke of Moses' suffering with all the complaints of the Israelites. Similarly he would have spoken about how much the prophets suffered and that Isaiah said the anointed one to save would be a "suffering servant."

So there we have it. The path to resurrection or new life must often go through a "crucible of transformation."

NATURE speaks of it: Jesus taught that the grain must fall to the earth and "die" so the seed can break open into new life. Precious metals are mined by splitting open rocks, then they are further refined in crucibles with fire. Even the beautiful butterfly must go through great struggle to break free from its cocoon.

SPORTS teach us about the crucible: No pain no gain! THE ARTS as well: Practice, Practice, Practice! Do you know how many rehearsals they do before the Choral Society puts on those beautiful concerts? Months! And you can bet there is some suffering trying to get it right. LIFE STAGES speak of crucibles of growth. We often learn by trial and error. Think of children learning to talk or to walk. Or we learn lessons "the hard way" with costly mistakes!

One of the toughest lessons in life is learning to live in peace with brother, sister, or neighbor. We come by it naturally, it's in the genes! Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, neighbor and neighbor... reasons for animosity abound! Henri Nouwen, respected spiritual teacher and professor at Yale, shared memories of his own family dinner tables. He saw it as a place of great intimacy...a place for stories and laughter, but also a place for silence and sadness, even walking away (anger often being a cover for deeper hurt or sadness).

So I come back again to my central point: The journey to Resurrection and Victory, the "crux" of the matter, is that we have to be willing to take up our own cross. We have to be willing to be honest with each other. We have to follow the example of the two on the road to Emmaus. They told the stranger their true feelings. They revealed their true selves. And that "stranger," as the Spirit of Christ, listened long and well. Like a good therapist he allowed them to release the burdens of their hearts, and he lightened their steps.

So the road to Easter rejoicing, to Resurrection singing, often goes through the valley, the crucible of honesty about our hurts or sad places. This Easter, as we gather around family tables, can we be a bit more honest about any elephants that are in the room? OK, sure, there are plenty of things we may choose not to say in front of 10 or 15 people! But perhaps we can go aside for some conversations, for some clearing of the air. And some things may be said before all to express what many are thinking .... how much we miss not having grandpa at the table, or what a long haul someone has had with illness, or that we're so glad to be together once more.

Even as we break bread and share it, we can remember that each person has some broken places, and that our sharing and supporting one another is Christ's Spirit of Love. I think the United Church of Christ does this well! We know that we all hurt a bit, that we are often not the most popular church, not the "in-crowd" ...... because we are very honest about our differences, and difference is easily a source of division. But we in the UCC commit to the hard work of inclusive love.... of not turning away from one who is different from ourselves. The final victory of Christ is a victory of Love! Christ loved the two disciples, even though they didn't understand that he must suffer, even though they were broken and depressed. He loved them by listening, and by accepting them. And they loved him by trusting him with their true selves. And the result is that they were buoyed up with Love. The result was true communion with Christ... or with his Spirit of Divine Love.

And the really good news is that they were able to pass on this Love! Jesus vanished. He was showing them that the Spirit they were coming to know could now dwell in them; he did not have to be physically by their side. So we can all welcome Christ's Spirit to our tables.... a Spirit of inclusive love, even compassionate love that will not turn away from difference or suffering. This is one path, even a crucible, for transformation, for healing change. When telling or hearing a story that involves suffering, let us allow our hearts to burn also, to be warmed with true compassion for our brother, sister, parent, child, or neighbor. This is the road to Resurrection and New Life!


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