April 16, 2017 – Easter Sunday
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
When I was in the sixth grade my friend Dan was given a dog. He named her Daisy. Daisy was a Labrador puppy. She was a wonderful dog. Dan’s father coached him as he trained his new friend. One of the things they were able to teach Daisy is the skill of staying in her own yard. I found this to be an amazing feat, especially since their yard was not fenced. Instead of building a fence, Dan spent the entire summer going out with Daisy every-time she went out. Each time she began to take a step across the invisible property lines, Dan would bring her back and gently correct her. By the end of summer that little puppy was bound by invisible restraints that were much more powerful than any physical restraint ever could be. Over the years I have come to realize that Daisy was not the only one to know such bonds in her life.
I am writing this letter to you in the midst of Holy Week. Over these seven days we will hear a great deal of “Bad News.” This will include accounts of greed, betrayal, putting self interest above that of others, the lust for power and its misuse, and of cowardice. Not to mention the manipulation of the public’s faith in God to support a particular status quo. In Holy Week the worst of human nature is on full display. This is the context of Easter morning. The events of Holy Week and all similar events in human history are what give power and meaning to the empty tomb.
On Easter Sunday we hear once again the Good News of that empty tomb. Three days after Jesus’ brutal murder and being laid to rest in that burial chamber, the God of All Hopefulness raised him from the dead. We are also reminded that in that one act of power, the God of the Empty Tomb pledged that the powers of darkness will not have the last word. On that first Easter morning the family of Adam and Eve was given what we long for most, forgiveness and a new beginning.
You would think that with news like this everyone who hears it would jump at the chance to claim their new beginning. But as it turns out there is a chasm between being forgiven – given the chance for a new life, and our ability to accept such a gift. For many of us the history of our lives has trained us as effectively as my friend Dan trained Daisy. Our hearts can remain bound by the memory of chains that have already been broken.
Forgiveness is one thing, having the strength accept and live that reality is another. Many of us have friends who struggle to break out of patterns that do not serve them well, even though those patterns are no longer necessary. Sometimes we are the ones who simply can not jump the track of the ways of our past and embrace a fresh start. Most of us need more than forgiveness. We need the power to take the first steps beyond the borders our previous lives have established.
The church’s Easter prayer speaks directly to those of us who recognize these restraints in our own hearts. In that prayer we ask God for the gift to “die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection.” In church speak, dying to sin means letting go of the strings we use to tie our hearts to the sins and brokenness of our past, and to lay those burdens at the foot of the cross of Jesus. It is only once we have done this that we are able to fully embrace having been forgiven and live in the full joy of resurrected life that God has already given to you and to me. The power to do this is a gift from God.
On Easter Sunday we will pray the following prayer for each other, and for ourselves.
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 222)