On Good Friday, my mom was hospitalized with pneumonia and the doctors confirmed that her cancer had spread throughout her body. She is in hospice now. I flew to Chicago that day and flew back to New York for Easter morning. As I wrote this year’s Easter sermon, my Good Friday and Easter Sunday theologies took on even more poignant meaning. I love Mom SO much. Even in the midst of grief, she resists her cancer and its power to end her life. She is the most resilient person I know. Even in these twilight times, Mom just keeps rising! After you listen to the sermon, let me know how you experience resistance and resilience in the face of your Good Friday moments and how the rising of Easter is real in your life. I’d love to hear from you!!
There is something, I have noticed, that happens first in the eyes. There is this look of recognition. Our beloved knows what’s happening, where they are, they know what time it is. There is a sense of urgency, a darting back and forth, a seeking. Seeking moments. Seeking time. Special time to say the thing, to say all the things. Maybe a desperate apology. The paperwork is in the safe. Don’t let them cremate me. Or I love you.
You say, “I love you too.” She says, “I love you more.” You say, “It is not possible.” She says, “It is actually true.”
She has a name for each of you. Hey sweetie. Hello darling. Hey precious. The eyes lock on yours. They shine with not-yet-falling tears. And though they are receding, the almond shape you know so well, is still there. The deep chocolate brown irises. The still oh-so-white whites, a little milky with age, but only a little. And they watch you. And they seem to say, “I want to say something but I’m not ready.” So, you say, “How is it? Are you afraid?” She says, “No.” Then, “Yes.”
You have become used to the short sentences.
But you are not used to the way the eyes seek you, look so deeply into your soul. Stare at you, really, saying so much more than the sentences. Saying decades of love of love of love in a few minutes.
Watching your beloved die is so very hard. The skin changes, the weight drops. Though there might be some swelling, there is also a kind of leanness. In the body. In the focus. Leanness and clarity.
Jesus’ family and friends had been watching him die for such a long time. Like all of us, he, of course began to die on the day he was born. When he was tapped on the bottom, when he sucked that first air, smelling of animals and straw, when he cried out and was then placed on Mary’s breast. He was, like all of us, alive and beginning to die.
But that is not what I mean.
I mean they were watching him die, watching him move toward death, when he accepted his purpose, when he said “Yes” to his call. When he came dripping out of the river, with visions of a dove, hearing a voice saying, “Beloved Son.” When he read that scripture in the synagogue. The Spirit of God is upon me to preach good news to the poor, liberation to the captives, sight to the blind. Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing.
When he healed the leper, and touched the untouchables; when he cast out those demons. When he fed all of those people on the mountain, not asking what they believed or who they loved. When he rebuked even his friends who did not understand that children matter, that women matter; that those on the margins matter, that the last will be first and the lost will be found. When he turned his focused, lean gaze on Jerusalem; when he wept for her, when he rode in on a donkey, when he chose his words with authorities, when he broke bread with the Judas, AND Peter, who would both betray him.
He was dying all along the WAY, his way, God’s Way, looking deep in the eyes of those around him, saying, you will do greater things than these, saying the Reign of God is a place where a woman finds her lost coin, a shepherd finds a lost sheep, a father finds a son, and rejoices. Saying there was a man who paid the first to come to work and the last the same, saying leave what you think is important and follow me and no matter your burden, I will make it lighter and I will give you rest. He was teaching them, confounding them, in parables. Go to the city and I will meet you. A comforter will come. He was already dying on the Way, God’s Way, his Way, and he was also rising. He was also rising. He was rising.
He was looking at them with those eyes, sentences getting shorter and saying, mother—your son, son—your mother, today you will be with me in paradise, Daddy forgive them for they don’t know what they do. I am thirsty.
He was dying and rising.
She was so thirsty yesterday. Not the day before. Then she could not drink, could not eat, could not breathe. The day before she called out, “Richard, I can’t breathe, I am dying…”
Then my Dad took his wife to the place where they are comforted until they die; then they put the mask on her face so she could breathe, except she felt afraid and so breathing was hard; and she looked with those eyes and mouthed, “I love you, I love you, I love you more;” and she slept and I slept in her room, and listened to the labored breathing, the beeping machine, and the sounds of dying.
But she didn’t die. They took off the horrible mask, and they brushed her teeth. And they put the oxygen cannula in her nose.
She ate two puddings and one jello. And she smiled and her cheeks were so rosy that the nurse asked what kind of makeup she was wearing. And she smiled again, not a wrinkle on the 80-year-old face. And her oxygen at was at 98, and she was breathing more slowly, and
The Lord’s Prayer
And I said, “Mom you can still sing” and she said,
She said, “I know,” (another short sentence…)
Then she sang
A fight song from that commercial
We are fighters, bum ba dum bum bum bum bum
over and over again
And preached to me
We are fighters, we’ve been fighting since we were born. We’ve been fighting for 80 years. Don’t stop fighting. We don’t ever give up. We will not give up. Don’t give up on me.
Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.
She is dying and she is rising, do you understand what I am saying?
She is dying and she’s rising and she won’t stop rising.
Mom. Will. Not. Die.
She’s resurrecting even now.
And the beautiful thing is when you are watching someone live and almost die, and live and almost die, the thing that happens in you is you get really clear about life.
And you get clear about what it means to rise every moment, to seize every moment to dance every time you can; to do all you’re supposed to do to grab life by the fist to stand up every day to speak truth to power now ’cause you ain’t got time to die.
And so, I’m thinking about Mary, I’m thinking about the eye contact with her rabbi in all of those times together, the meeting of the eyes, the receding eyes, the glassy not-quite-weeping-eyes, her seeing, her knowing. All along the Way. But most especially in those last days, those betrayed-by-your-friends days, those tried-by-the-judiciary days. She didn’t go anywhere. She just kept looking and listening. For the words, for the last words. She listens. She looks. She hears her name. Her name is proof of life. Her name is proof of life. Mary. Say her name—Mary; the first woman to preach the gospel. (Don’t let anyone tell you women are supposed to be quiet in church. That’s so absolutely crazy...)
Jesus is dying and she’s rising. She’s rising. Rising in authority, rising in confidence, rising in purpose, rising in call, rising to tell the story. We know the story, because she told the story. She’s rising up. She’s rising to transformation, rising to be a change agent, she is rising to the best kind of rising which is the rising of humanity, which is his rising.
For me Jesus is THE paradigmatic, best example of the rising of everything that is beautiful, everything that is human, everything that is divine, everything that is holy and can be whole.
He was dying all the long the Way; and he was rising all along the Way. With every healing, every border crossing, every boundary breaking, every new-rule teaching, every status-quo squashing, with every reformation. He was rising.
We don’t have to suspend our intellect, or suspend our suspicions to understand that resurrection means the rising up of a love so divine that death can’t squash it.
Something happens when you watch someone you love die, either in a hospital room or on a cross.
You understand that as their life is leaving, what is rising up are expectations for you to carry on.
So, let me tell you, resurrection people, what our task is right now.
Our task is to be the rising.
1.) Our task is to raise our children to love, love, love, love radically. Our task is to mentor them past prejudice, past fear and judgment because what they do on the playground will shape the way they live the rest of their lives. Our task is to put inside them beauty, dance, art, drama, and playfulness, and teach them to suspend judgment so they can teach us to suspend judgment.
2.) Our task is to love each other with such space and grace, so we are magical in our radical love and welcoming.
You know when your mom is dying, your family mostly behaves, and every now and then there can be crankitude. Dying makes us stressed.
Like those disciples
Who is first, Jesus?? Who do you like the best?
Dying makes us a little crazy
The other day, my sister and I—we are the oldest—had a beautiful talk about how we can model communicating better.
We could tell we were talking over each other.
It was like, “Wait, hang-on, let me finish; let me just make this point. Sorry to interrupt you….” Not cranky and mean but not quite gracious and spacious either.
We said, if we were driving, and if someone wants to get in the lane, they’d put their blinker on, and we’d let them get in the lane. That’s our code language now, let someone get in the lane.
What if rising up means let each get in the lane? Let’s not insist on our own way, be demanding, rigid, or critical. Let’s not be “stank,” but loving and wide and spacious and gracious like our God is gracious and spacious. Like Jesus taught us to be spacious and gracious
This is what it means to rise up:
1. Teach our children
2. Be our best, highest selves
3. And no closet prophets allowed, to quote my friend Bishop Yvette Flunder.
There can be no closet prophets. In other words, we have to come out. We have to come out, each of us; come out and be lovers of justice; come out and be advocators for peace; come out and stand up; come out and take care of each other; come out to love the planet.
We don’t just get to sit around and say, Well, I think it would be nice if… No; hell, no… I mean heck no. (sorry children!!)
We have to stand up and love out loud.
Every Easter, I ask myself, “How am I going to tell this story this year? Almost 30 years of trying to tell this story a new way.”
Here is my bottom line: I don’t need to convince you that God can get dead bodies out of the grave. God can do anything.
I want to convince you of your role in the healing of the world.
Jesus did not leave a weeping mourning crying people…
What you crying about Mary? Don’t you know my God is able? What you crying about Mary? Don’t you know death doesn’t have the last word? Not even dead, dying, putrefying systems have the last word…
We are the rising up. We are the rising up!!
So, let’s do this thing! Let’s do this thing like tomorrow is our last day. Because it just damn well might be. Let’s do this thing like the call to love is urgent, because it is.
And let’s do this thing like we are the living, resurrected body of Christ because we are the living, resurrected body of Christ. Don’t be looking around the corner for the living body of Christ. Don’t be wondering about the second coming to see the body of Christ.
Say it with me:
I am the living body of Christ.
I am the rising body of Christ.
We are rising.