Practicing Resurrection

Rev. Beth Hoffman Faeth
April 7, 2024

Texts: Acts 4:32–35; excerpts from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

(The excerpts read from the poem are in red type.)

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

When I was a child and heard the word “practice,” I would cringe. It was always in the context of preparing for my weekly piano lesson. A perfectionist since birth, I struggled daily with making mistakes, and this was never so apparent and obvious as when I tried to play the piano. Practicing required both patience and a self love I did not possess, and how I ever made it through any of the recitals I played might be more miraculous than Jesus’ spectacular event we celebrated last week. I took piano lessons for 15 years, never ever living into any potential or competence. In an unfortunate turn of events piano became my “minor” instrument for my bachelor’s degree, (my major instrument being my voice) and I had to endure piano lessons all through college and then have a graded piano jury each semester, which still makes my palms sweat to remember. I never developed any discipline around practice and sadly after all those years on the bench I have nothing to show for it. Please do not ask me, ever, to play piano… it is the one thing I cannot do in front of people.

Obviously, I have some personal work to do on the whole piano playing matter from my past, but I will say that my older and hopefully wiser self has a whole new appreciation for and commitment to the understanding of practice. Sadly, I am still a perfectionist yet I approach practice with far more gentleness and self acceptance than I did as a child. Practice is all about the courage to try, the commitment to develop, the dedication of time and effort to grow both in skill and in spirit. And often, it is the practice of such endeavors that bring the most meaning. We practice yoga, we practice centering prayer or other spiritual disciplines, we practice a certain diet for ethical or health reasons, we shape “best practices” for our work and our life, anything we value can be a practice. Practice means approaching something deliberately, with presence, and with the intention to improve and grow. And so, Easter people, why not practice resurrection?

Did you know that today is known as a “Low Sunday”? Last week we marched in to the sanctuary with high expectation and spirit—the aroma of blooming flowers in the air, the buzz of the musicians reverberating the walls, the pews filled with folks we haven’t seen in ages, an impassioned message, repeated shouts of alleluia and “He is Risen” all because we could palpably feel the excitement of the day and maybe even believe that hope reigns. And then we went out into our Monday world and many of us forgot what we had just experienced. And here we are a week later and some of us feel as withered as the Easter lilies and bouquets, carrying a heaviness for all the grief and devastation in the world. But you get commended because you actually showed up on this “low Sunday.” As you have already noticed, many do not. Well, I mean, there is no brass today and like Seth said last week—brass instruments make everything better! Even the gospel text assigned to this first Sunday of Easter, the story of Thomas, the Doubter (which I purposefully did not read today) brings us crashing down the mountain. Last week was about the power of life and a renewed understanding of love personified and this week we go low—low energy, low attendance, low in mood. Because Easter is over, tucked away into the tomb for another year.

And so I must remind you that Easter is not over… at the very least Easter is a season—lasting from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost some 50 days later. Each Sunday in our Easter Season invites us to consider the realities of resurrection in our modern day world by reflecting upon the disciples’ response and actions following the first empty tomb experience. Today we hear from the book of Acts a challenge to imagine a church living as “one heart and soul.” The church is lifted up as a place of mutual sharing, a community of care and concern where no one has physical need. Even though some time has passed, testimony continued regarding the resurrection of Jesus and “great grace was upon them all.” This demonstration of being an Easter centered church was lived out in the way folks made sure everyone had what was needed, that people knew they mattered—to one another and to God. In the book of Acts the church not only continues the ministry of Jesus, it amplifies it. This passage invites us to imagine what resurrection practices look like in a communal context. A beckoning to new life, Acts keeps reminding us, has a way of impacting people. And that makes all sorts of things possible.

Author Nora Gallagher, in her book with the same title as this message, considers the disciples reactions following what we perceive as the first Easter and their journey to become the church we find in the book of Acts. She writes, “When I think about the resurrection now, I don’t only think about what happened to Jesus. I think about what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion, but after the resurrection appearances, they walked back out into the world. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers, and healed the sick… It was not only what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them. … What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone, but also about what those appearances point to, what they ask? It’s finally what we do with them that matters; make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to new life. We have to practice resurrection.”

Perhaps resurrection, like everything else that provides our living with meaning, needs to be practiced. Because the practice of resurrection, as demonstrated to us in our scripture from Acts, leads us to the kinds of relationships God desires for human flourishing.

So how do we take resurrection from the sanctuary to our society? How do we practice resurrection in a world that is so full of death and decay? Years ago I read the following story by Catholic theologian Megan McKenna, and it has stayed with me as an example of the real practice of resurrection. McKenna writes:

Once in a parish mission when I was studying the resurrection story with a large group, someone called out harshly, “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?” I had been saying that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering. And then this challenge from the back of the church. My response was “Yes.” I went on to say, “Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice—yes—I bring people back from the dead.”

Mckenna suggests what I believe… that if we so choose, We are all participants in the practice of resurrection. Practicing resurrection means recognizing the possibilities of God in all people, in all situations. When we are God seekers and faith proclaimers we, too, have the power to bring people back from the dead. What could this really look like? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you’ll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you.
  • Whenever you lead with compassion, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.
  • When you cultivate the art of making connections, the walls of separation come crashing down and new life can spring up out of the rubble.
  • When you regularly pray for others, you are practicing resurrection.
  • Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.
  • Bring hope to someone in despair, bring healing to those in conflict, and you set the table for resurrection.
  • When you feed the hungry and stand up for the oppressed, you are a life-giver.
  • When you practice reverence for life, you can’t help but notice the continual process of creation, little resurrections going on all around
  • By respecting the mystery of God, human nature, and the natural world, you bear witness to the ineffable nature of renewal and rebirth.

(Adapted from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, in an article entitled “Easter: Resurrection as a Spiritual Practice,” http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/days/features.php?id=10963)

Every time you take something lifeless and broken and revive it, you are practicing resurrection.

There were so many wonderful things about the celebration of Easter last Sunday, not to mention a powerful sermon—during which we were introduced to a new word: “resurrectional.” DeWayne did admit that he likely invented that word, yet I think it has significant meaning, and is extremely relevant for our Easter season. DeWayne said to us at the conclusion of his message: “when I look at Plymouth Church, when I look at the faithful disciples gathering as beloved community, when I get over the terror and amazement of an unexplainable empty tomb, I see we are the fulfillment of God’s promise of life. And everything we do becomes resurrectional, full of promise, possibility, and imagination.”

Being resurrectional is the practice of resurrection. Leaning in to the promises of Easter we know life differently, we need not fear death and we have been gifted with the opportunity to practice this radical concept of resurrection in the ordinary moments of every day. We have a choice like the disciples to practice resurrection or to practice apathy, complacency, suspicion. To view this practice as an opportunity for growth and discovery or to accept it as a chore destined to endure and then fail. What will you choose? How will you live now? When will you deliver the good news? In our growing lists of practices—those endeavors in which we pursue courage and proficiency, let us put resurrection at the top.

Let us practice resurrection.

Amen.

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