Easter for the Earth
Luke 24: 36b-48
by Elisabeth R. Jones
Today, congregations across the United Church of Canada have been invited by our Moderator Mardi Tindal to celebrate Earth Day as an act of worship. For this congregation, Mardiâ€™s invitation was a â€˜no-brainerâ€™: we have stated as part of our Identity that â€œwe value the God-given gift of our home, the Earth. We recognize the need to
adapt our thinking and our actions in order to restore and sustain our environment.â€ 1
This presents us with a bit of a challenge though; Earth Day is a secular, grassroots, popular event that has its origins in a grassroots educational â€œEarth Dayâ€ teach-in organised to highlight the damage human industry was causing to the planet, precipitated by the devastation caused by a massive oil spill off the California coast in 1969. Today itâ€™s estimated that Earth Day activities will occur in 175 nations across the globe as more and more people become aware not only of the damage we have done to the planet, but also of the possibilities for us to engage in practices of repair and restoration.
Our challenge is how to participate â€˜as Christiansâ€™ in this event; to ask ourselves:
What does our faith story, what do our Scriptures have to say to us about our human, God-given place in this tiny blue corner of Godâ€™s creation?
What might we as Christians bring as a gift to this global day of awareness and action?
The texts for this third Sunday of Easter would not be the natural starting point to address those questions, or respond to our creedal promise to â€˜live with respect in creation.â€™ Wouldnâ€™t we be better to, â€˜celebrateâ€™ with a Psalm in praise of the Creator, like Psalm 148 for example?
Praise God from the earth,
you great sea creatures,â€¦.
8lightning and hail, â€¦.
9you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10wild animals â€¦
small creatures and flying birds,â€¦â€
Or, if our mood is one of lament for the damage weâ€™ve done, wouldnâ€™t we be wise to let Paulâ€™s Letter to the Romans
remind us that â€œcreation groans in bondage to decay while waiting for the children of God toâ€ reveal their God-given nature; and then turn back to Genesis 1:26-8 to discover that â€˜having dominionâ€™ is not about domination, but about nurture and care, mirroring Godâ€™s own Dream for a vital creation?
But, the lectionary offers us instead some leftover fish.
Lectionaries invite us not to go cherry picking for a particular text that has answers to todayâ€™s dilemmas, but rather to â€œhost the given textâ€2 long enough for it to begin to ask us questions that open up new possibilities for addressing the dilemmas we face, questions and possibilities that we wouldnâ€™t otherwise have found if weâ€™d looked in the usual places.
Hereâ€™s what I discovered as I â€˜hostedâ€™ this Gospel text while getting seeds and soil and choosing hymns for todayâ€™s service.
Here (in the text) we have a group of committed, good people, huddled in fear, dragged down by despair, weary with grief for a lost dream, a lost future, now perplexed beyond all reason at unconfirmed rumours swirling about their dead Lord. Elvis-like sightings, an empty tomb, conspiracy theories, media hype, police probes, the whole nine yards. And underneath all that, a faint hope, or fear, that there may be some truth to the rumoursâ€¦â€¦
Does that sound like us after the warmest winter on record, in the face of mounting evidence â€“ still denied in some quarters – that we humans have strip mined, clear-cut, overfished the planet into a state of peril? Guilt-tinged sadness, anxiety and a mounting sense of hopelessness are often the emotions we experience when we
listen to the proclaimers of Inconvenient Truths.3 Despair is not far behind. Many of us wonder if our personal attempts at recycling, shopping local, carbon off-sets, organic agriculture, will amount to anything worthwhile. We lament the lack of global leadership, and wonder if the dreams and possibilities are as dead as Jesus. We are in that room. We know just how they feel.
But the longing, the hope is there, in that room, and in this one. Maybe Jesus did defeat death. Maybe there is a future for the planet that is not filled with smoke stacks and nuclear devastation, but with life, diversity, abundanceâ€¦ Maybe.
I know I long to believe that every story of planetary resilience is like a stem cell, holding within itself the full potential for Godâ€™s Dream for a diverse, expansive, wild, free creation. I long to believe itâ€™s possible for a new start, for me, for the planet. But I also know Iâ€™m a jumble of hope and doubt. When Luke says that Jesus spoke to them and let them touch him, and joked about not being a ghost, he says â€œin their joy there was still disbelieving,â€ and at first Iâ€™m incredulous at them, then I get it. You can be both;
sad and happy, certain and doubtful, hopeful and anxious, holding back while reaching out towards an impossibly good promise. Is it possible Jesus still lives, somehow? Is it possible that earth might recover, somehow?
Itâ€™s to both questions that Lukeâ€™s Jesus answers with â€œPeace be with you.â€ Sounds too good to be true, doesnâ€™t it? Peace may be the answer to a troubled mind, soul, planet, but is it that easy? Theyâ€™re – Weâ€™re too used to bad news to trust Good News when it walks in the room, into the world. We stifle wonder, balk at mystery and stand stupefied in the face of the impossibly good news that death is not an ending, not final.
But in Good News walks, in flesh and bloodied earthiness, â€œShove over Andrew, my feet hurt, and I need to sit down.â€ (Of course his feet hurt, they had nails in them three days ago.) He says heâ€™s hungry, for goodness sake! Thereâ€™s no place set for him, (why would there be?), but thereâ€™s some leftover fish, thanks be to God, and
Peterâ€™s appetite. He eats, and he carries on doing what heâ€™s always done. The bow of the head over a piece of bread, reddened hands stroking the crust before his thumbs press in to break it, dip it in the fish juice, put it to his lips. The stories start to flow again like good wine at a party, of Godâ€™s Kingdom where death is not banished from the party, not wiped off the face of the earth, but simply re-seated somewhere in the middle, not at the end. God-life, God-Dream, resurrection, Easter, mingling with their life, our life, the life of the world as if itâ€™s the most normal, the most natural, the most God-given thing in the world.
The helplessness, despair and sense of insignificance that infected the disbelieving disciples takes a while to dissipate, just as it does for us, even when Easter walks into the room, into the Earth. But as sure as Earth is round, and beautiful and blue, shrouded with blankets of white, Easter is as much a part of the legacy of God for the world as it was for disbelieving disciples 2000 years ago. Science and Scripture both witness to an innate liveliness, beauty, diversity and energy contained within the subatom, and exploding beyond the farthest reaches of the Universe. Some would call that â€œGodâ€, Jesus called this life-making heartbeat â€œAbba.â€
Between mouthfuls of leftover fish, and with a crumb stuck to his beard he says to anyone listening, â€œ Oh, and you, are witnesses of these things. Tell the world.â€
Tell the world, this Earth Day, about Easter, what it means for the Earth. That Godâ€™s life-giving, beauty-out-of-chaos-making energy is more powerful than any of the dead certainties that cause us to despair for ourselves, our faith or our Earth.
Witness these things.
Look for Easter in the Earthâ€™s spring,
in the return of salmon to the rivers,
in the frog song vibrating across restored marshes,
in the lodge-pole pines rising from the ashes of forest fire or volcano.
Proclaim Godâ€™s Easter for the Earth in the peregrine in flight,
in the stem cell,
in the germinating seed,
for as a poet once wrote, â€œEarth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God.â€4
Tell the Earth, Easter is here.
Â©Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
Easter 3, 2012.
â€œHosting the Wordâ€ is a concept explored by Ed. Searcy in various articles, cf. e.g. Gathering, Summer/Autumn 2012, p.6.