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If you have been here for the last couple of Sundays, you might not have realized that it is Easter. Still.
Yes, we are still in the season of Easter, and we have received some wonderful and important words: First, from our brother and sanctuary guest Lucio Perez, about his personal story and the importance of staying together in the boat with Jesus—no matter how frightening the storms of this life. And then, last week, TJ Harper called for the transformation of our hearts and minds and lives on matters of racism and white privilege.
Our souls have been fed, our hearts filled, and our minds challenged—and yet we have not exactly been considering the power of resurrection and what it might mean for our lives and this world that God so loves. We did not hear the story of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to the grieving and frightened disciples, when he showed up behind locked doors, showed them his wounded hands and his side, and offered them the peace of the Holy Spirit. We didn’t hear how he came back a week later and invited Thomas to reach out and touch him in the wounded places. We didn’t get a chance to reflect on the humanity of the Risen Christ—how, even as his disciples were rubbing their eyes and shaking their heads and weeping with joy, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” He was hungry, and so they watched with mouths hanging open as this walking miracle ate a piece of broiled fish.
Nor have we had an opportunity to reflect on how the disciples came to understand and preach about the resurrection, or to consider what we think about resurrection and what difference it makes in our lives.
Two Sundays of Easter gone with nary a nod to the post-resurrection stories—and it might seem that today is the third in a non-Easter series, it being Earth Day and all. Jesus doesn’t even get a mention in our readings, and I am all but obligated to talk about climate change. Of course, climate change forces us to confront death and destruction and gloom, all of which feels like the opposite of good news. And who comes to church to get depressed? Don’t we get enough bad news the rest of the week?
What is earth care about, if not resurrection? What is the spiritual life about, if not transformation? What is God’s ages-old, enduring work in the world, if not the business of doing new things—not only in individual lives, not only in entire peoples and ways of relating and understanding, but also in ecosystems, and in the very soil itself? What is God’s dream for us and all of creation, if not wholeness, restoration, harmony, and redemption?
That sounds like Easter to me. And it sounds like Earth Day.
Earth Day comes in the season of Easter to remind us that all is not lost; that the death of our beloved Earth is not inevitable, and that even as we experience little deaths in the environment and big fears about the future, death does not limit God’s power to revive and restore. Indeed, when we look to the Earth we see the Easter cycle: death, then resurrection; the falling away of fall, the barrenness of winter, and then the greening of spring, the riot of color, the lushness of life restored.
We are Easter people. Easter people do not only believe in the promise of new life. Easter people do not only willingly die to all that does not give life. Easter people also lovingly partner with God to birth new life in the midst of death, decay, and despair.
So what does it mean to be Easter people in a time of climate change? What does it mean to be Easter people when our government has disavowed the painstakingly brokered agreements of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord to limit the rise of the average global temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius? What does it mean to be Easter people when our government is an accomplice to the murder of nature—rolling back earth-protecting regulations and selling off government lands to fossil fuel producers? What does it mean to be Easter people when the signs of death are everywhere? What does it mean to be Easter people when we can almost hear all creation groaning for redemption? What does it mean to be Easter people when, if we’re honest, our ways of life are sustained by the very fossil fuels that are destroying entire ecosystems? What does it mean to be Easter people when we may have a hard time believing that our earnest efforts to reduce the size of our carbon footprint will make a difference?
What does it mean to be people of resurrection, agents of new life, partners in re-creation, keepers of Earth sabbath, shepherds of despairing sheep, liberators of the oppressed, revealers of glory, keepers of the promise, redeemers of what seems lost, lovers of all
What does it mean to be the church of the Risen Christ in a dying world?
How do we convey a sense of urgency to an economy built on exploitation and limitless growth, to an immediate-gratification society that cannot be bothered to address what feels like a long-term problem? How do we embody hope in the face of overwhelming science and daunting odds?
With our lives, it seems to me. With the choices we make, the things we love, the values we hold, the people we stand by, the commitments we live out, the transformation we open ourselves to, the trust we put in our Creator, the faith we hold in the long run.
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth,’ said Friedrich Nietzsche, “is . . . that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
A long obedience with our lives. A long obedience to the Source of Life. A long obedience to the love of God and neighbor, including our children and grandchildren and those neighbors seven generations hence. This is, after all, what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Jim Antal, president and minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, says in his new book, Climate Change, Climate World, that if we believe in God, we have a moral duty to fight climate change. And, he says, the church must lead the way by declaring “a new moral era,” seizing this moment as one of “God-inspired possibility,” and rejecting our society’s “insatiable desire for material growth, our uncompromising insistence on convenience, and our relentless addiction to mobility.”
Margaret Bullit-Jonas, former associate rector at Grace Church and now Missioner of Creation Care for both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass. and the Mass. Conference of the UCC, says that as followers of Jesus we act to protect life “not only out of fear” of what may come, “not only because we’re angry” at the economic and political systems that are whistling in the dark, not only out of sorrow” for all that we have already lost, but especially because of our love—“love for each other, love for the Earth entrusted to our care, love for the God whose mercies cannot be numbered. We were made for communion with God and each other and God’s creation, and we put our trust in the power of God to work through us to heal and reconcile and save.” 1
So what does that mean, in concrete terms?
Collin Morris, a British theologian, has written that “The best most of us can do is to take hold of the near edge of some great problem and act at cost to ourselves.” 2
What would it mean to take hold of the near edge of climate change? For you as an individual or a family? For us as a church?
What would it mean to act at cost to ourselves?
People of God are people of covenant, and writer and activist Ken Sehested recommends that we each make an Earth Day promise that would go something like this:
“For renewing my intent to care for the Earth, here is what I promise for the coming year.” He suggest that we write it out, sign our name to it, and share it with someone who will help hold us accountable.
“Making one or more specific commitments—to things that require concerted effort and at least a bit of inconvenience—is how we grow into the people we want to be,” he says.
“Your commitment may involve renewing and expanding habits you already practice or resolving to start something new. It might be large and ambitious; but it will more likely be something modest and incremental. Being concrete and persistent are the most important things. And it will always involve some cost—money or time or attention (frequently all three).
“Think of the now-familiar trilogy of recommendations,” he suggests: “reduce, reuse, recycle. Then add a fourth observation: refuse—break habits of mindless consumption. And add to these watchwords a fifth word: rejoice—fostering a vision of Creation’s blessedness granted at the beginning: "God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was delightful.”
And, of course, “work at changing personal habits should always be paired, in some part, with work [at] changing public policies.” 3
All creation is groaning–can you hear it? Are we listening?
What will your promise be? What will be our covenant with God and one another?
On this Earth Day, let us resolve to be Easter people, people grounded in love and life, a people and a church committed to healing and restoration, a people and a church engaged in the work of new life.