This morning I'm struck by these lines from this perfect psalm, Psalm 126:
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. (v.6)
If it is true, as the author of the book of Ecclesiastes says, that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (Ecc. 3:1) If that is true, then this is the season, at least for many of us, for mourning.
I don’t believe this has ever happened to me in my career before. Last Sunday afternoon I jumped in a car with the Reverend Chris Bell and his family and headed out to Camp Noel Porter, so that the next day we could go skiing. And it was perhaps the finest day of skiing I have ever had – maybe one of the finest days I’ve spent outdoors. And then, on Monday night, we were all resting our bones when I got the call that Betty Wallenius had died. I spoke with Shirley on the phone, and then went to bed, praying for the restful repose of Betty’s soul; and then the next morning I woke up to the phone ringing again; this time it was our friend, Jamie Knutsen, saying that his mom Elaine had died; after a long and epic journey through several illnesses.
So two deaths in about 12 hours.
I was able to get home in fairly short order and spent the remainder of the day with the families. Our hearts go out to S. R., Betty’s younger sister, and to J., Betty’s daughter, and to Fr. J. and M. and A., Elaine’s children; and to all those who loved Betty and Elaine and grieve their loss.
When we consider these two deaths, in addition to a couple emergency hospitalizations last week, and the continuing echoes of the 2 other deaths we’ve had since Lent began, combined with the usual surge of activity as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, you will perhaps understand that it has been a busy time around the parish, with plenty of grief to go around.
But it’s also been a deeply joyful time for me; and I pray for you. Because grief is nothing but the outpouring of love; where grief is, there love is also, and where love is, there also is God.
The Bible knows this – when we consider our lives in their entirety it’s all about victory over adversity; that for all the pain and challenge of our lives, we end in joy. And so we find in Scripture that supreme confidence expressed in our Psalm today: Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
It’s that confidence that I find so moving today; on this second day of Spring; that for every winter there is a Spring.
Well, yesterday was the first day of Spring; and in my enthusiasm I got a little ahead of myself – I showed up to our all-day training for the pastoral care team in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I walked into Farlander and people didn’t recognize me. I heard someone say, “Who’s that old guy walking round in shorts?”
In truth it was a little cold yesterday for that outfit. But I say, we’re Episcopalians; we go by the calendar; and the calendar says it’s Spring, so I’m staking a claim on Spring today. I’m gonna wear shorts whether it’s 40 degrees or 80 – because it’s been a long, cold rainy winter, and it’s time for us to sing, “Here comes the Sun.”
I’m not sure why, but this year I didn't take on any particular Lenten discipline. I know that might be surprising – and even troubling - to some of you, but for some reason I just didn’t feel the call to give something up. In fact, this is the first Lent since my ordination 20 years ago that I haven’t given something up, usually something significant, during Lent.
Instead, I entered Lent with a decision to just open up a little bit; just be a little bit more open to the world around me. And what I found is that as I opened myself just a little bit, I found myself more engaged in the world; and as the world emerged into Spring, so did I.
So this renewal around us - this renewal of the first day of Spring - feels more like my own renewal. This awakening, as it pours through nature in the form of green grass and blue sky and bright sun and the prospect of many more long perfect days ahead, feels like my awakening.
The earth has come alive, and so have I.
This is the resurrection, folks; plain and simple, this is how life's renewal works, through chlorophyll and oxygen and the moist, fertile ground.
Rose and I have been living in Santa Rosa now for almost 7 years and just yesterday I discovered a walking trail in Annadale, no more than a mile and a half from my house, that weaves into the woods for about a mile along a burbling natural creek.
I am not sure that it is possible to walk along that trail and not believe in God.
It’s walks like that that help me understand why people worshiped mountains and lakes and forests. When I was on the mountain at Lake Tahoe, my skis strapped to my feet and with that massive blue lake spread out at my feet, I thought "It’s the womb of the earth" and I almost wanted to get on my knees.
Its moments like that that make me think that the sun and the moon and the stars and all the trees on the earth are all singing songs of praise to God. As our capacity for awe deepens - and who cannot feel awe in front of Lake Tahoe – it seems as if the lake herself is giving praise to God; that all of nature sings of a power beyond all nature and sustaining all nature. Nature sings with the love of God, the way the wind sings through the sails of a clipper ship.
Not to get too theological about all this but this is the difference pantheism, which has traditionally been considered a heresy in our church, and panentheism, which is not. Pantheism is the idea that God is in the world but does not transcend the world. In other words, what you see is what you get. So why not worship it? Pantheists find God in nature and see nothing wrong with keeping God in that box of the natural world. But panentheists believe that the God is found in nature but is not contained by nature - that God is greater, infinitely greater than nature. God transcends nature, but God is in nature too; and everything, from the plants and animals to the angels themselves are swimming in the same substance of God’s Body which we know as the Body of Christ.
And so we proclaim, with John’s gospel, that “all things came into being through him.” And we see that creation itself is a kind of brokenness – all of matter is made up of time that is broken. Just before the big bang happened something broke; something gave way and the energy of the universe was released in brokenness and so the universe itself bears the image of Christ; the Body of Christ broken open the way we break open a loaf of bread; broken open the way morning is broken.
Christ is broken the way morning is broken. And so at the altar we raise the bread and break it; and we proclaim Christ, broken and risen and coming again. Christ is broken the way morning is broken; and we, in the midst of our pain and grief, are broken into joy.
This idea of panentheism is important because it allows us to have a complete spirituality of the Incarnation. Because nothing is left out of the sphere of God's active life; we find God in the flesh; in the midst of our real lives and our real bodies, which grow old and break into new life. This is what it means to have an Incarnational theology: it allows us to sink more fully into the real world; so that we can sink into this Creation fully confident that we can trust it; all of it.
Every aspect of our lives can be trusted because every aspect of our lives is inhabited by God; in the birthing and in the dying and everything in between, God is being born.
Of course, it might not always feel like it at the time; at any given time in our lives we might be struggling with despair or fear or pain. But we trust this God; just as we trust this Earth and this renewal of life; and with the ancient ancestors who have gone before us, we are confident in the outcome; we know that new life comes from being broken open; who go out weeping shall come home with shouts of joy.