Sermon April 20, 2014 – Easter Sunday

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyPoetry, Perhaps

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Jesus then said, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to Abba, ascended to God. Rather, go to the sisters and brothers and tell them I am ascending to Abba, to my God and your God.’” — John 20:17.

This is a poem Mary of Magdala [1] wrote when she came to understand she was called to write poetry and when she understood what it means to be a poet.

At first there were shadows.
Then it was night…
simply night.

The light came next.
But it was not visible light,
not light one saw.
It was light,
which seemed to sear the soul—
sear the soul with its intensity,
sear the soul with
the length of its presence,
sear the soul with
a sense of its purpose,
sear the soul
because it felt
so unwavering in its reality.

It was light
which could be felt.
But it was light not seen.
It was light hidden
in plain sight. (Pause.)

Mags’ sleep that night— all her friends called her Mags because she was from the town of Magdala— Mags’ sleep that night was… restless. There were dreams.

There were dreams of long forgotten memories; there were dreams about shadows; there were dreams about light. Were she conscious, were she awake, she would have realized there was nothing in the dreams which made total sense. They were ambiguous yet precise. She slept— a sleep crowded with dreams. (Slight pause.)

Mags sat up suddenly, fully awake, sweating, gasping for air. She moved to stand and felt the age of her bones complaining about the effort. But stand she did.

She lifted a finger and scratched behind her ear as she wondered why the dreams had returned after they had been absent for so many years. Perhaps the dreams returned because she seemed to be writing less poetry these days. The truth is the events in these dreams were both a reality singed in her memory and yet distant, somehow disconnected. But still, they were all connected by one thing: poetry. (Slight pause.)

After realizing it was too early to rise, Mags once again rested on the side of the bed. As she sat in silence the memories of that time some thirty years ago erupted within her. There was the dinner with friends. After that they traveled to a garden and Jesus went off to find a quite place to pray.

Then, suddenly, a strange combination of Roman soldiers along with Temple guards were swarming all around them. Roman soldiers and Temple guards never cooperated with one another and yet here they were— together. It made no sense.

And they found Jesus and took the Rabbi away. Why were they interested in Jesus, a Rabbi— a Rabbi who preached about love? It made no sense.

And then… and then the next day— that dreadful day— they executed Jesus. Not that executing a Jew was abnormal. Hundreds of Jews were killed by the Romans every day. Hundreds of Jews were crucified by the Romans every day.

But Jesus was her friend. And she had watched while her friend was murdered. (Slight pause.) It hurt. (Slight pause.) It… made… no… sense. (Slight pause.)

She was thankful for Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a Pharisee. Joseph was wealthy. Joseph owned a fresh hewn tomb. Joseph took charge. The Rabbi was buried in the fresh hewn tomb. (Slight pause.)

After the Sabbath, early in the morning, Mags went to the tomb and saw the stone had been removed. She ran, she went to Simon and said, “The Rabbi has been taken from of the tomb!” (Pause.)

To this day she could not explain what happened after that. Jesus was there. The Rabbi was present to her. Mere words failed when Mags tried to speak about what happened, about a presence which seemed to sear the soul with its intensity, sear the soul because of its unwavering reality, sear the soul with a light that could be felt even though it was a light not seen, a light hidden in plain sight. (Pause.)

Time passed. Years passed. Then one day, she realized there were words she could use, words with which she could speak about those days. These words existed. And she started to write… poetry.

Poetry— a way of knowing, of expressing the possibility of grace. Poetry— a way of describing that which cannot be described. Poetry— the only language which broke the bonds of the finite and allowed a glimpse of the infinite.

And so she wrote. (Slight pause.) Over the years of composing, among the many poems she wrote, this is the one Mags liked the best. (Slight pause.)

I am dreaming, perhaps.
I am dreaming… of a time
which happened
and a time yet to come, perhaps.

I am dreaming
of the present, perhaps.
I am dreaming
of a reality unknowable,
a life unthinkable, perhaps,
a dream grounded
on groundless ground, perhaps.

The Presence Who
radically opened the present,
exposed its flaws and its truths,
its complexity and its simplicity
its longing and its fulfillment
is here, is now, is real, perhaps.

Proof of the Presence
seems lacking in faith, perhaps;
for proof of what is believed
seems to, perhaps, not care
for what is truly true,
for what is truly,
deeply believed,
deeply real, perhaps.

So perhaps, by insisting
I know that I do not know
what I really know,
what I really need to know
I can more fully know.

And what is it
I perhaps do not know—
that which is in reality known?

The Presence is real.
The Presence lives,
The Presence promises
to love forever…
and loving, perhaps, forever
is the reality of life.

(Slight pause.) How many years had it been? Thirty, at least. And this she knew: the Presence, the Rabbi, Jesus, was still there, still at her side.

And she wrote poetry about it. Why? Yes, the reality, the Presence was real but that’s not the reason she wrote. She wrote because perhaps she knew the ambiguous yet precise language of love exists in poetry. Amen.

Easter Sunday — A.K.A. The Feast of the Resurrection
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I am sure the well known American composer Irving Berlin was a nice fellow. I hold nothing against him. Among other works, he wrote the songs Easter Parade and It’s a Lovely Day, Happy Easter. But these are not Christian sentiments. These are secular sentiments. If someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ shake their hand and say, ‘Christ is risen.’

BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing and then please join with me in the responsive Easter acclamation found in the bulletin: May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ, Jesus, and in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit this day and forever.
ONE: Rejoice, people of God! Christ is risen from the dead! Go in peace to love and serve God. Christ is with you always. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
MANY: Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

[1] Mary Magdalene is at best a bad translation of that name. Mary of Magdala is a more appropriate rendering of it.


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