Spring and Resurrection: A New Way of Life
May 12, 2013
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Good morning on this beautiful spring day! I really struggled this week with what I would focus on in my message today. I knew I wanted it to have something to do with the spiritual significance of spring and I felt I would like to tie it in somehow with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I don’t think the time of year of Jesus’ death is ever mentioned anywhere in the Gospels, yet Easter has always been celebrated in the spring, and this for obvious reasons. It is the time when we see the world around us spring to life from apparent death. Springtime evokes in most of us an awareness of our basic, primal connection to creation and life—and we often experience a renewed enthusiasm and energy as we watch the greening of grass and trees, enjoy the rich colors of spring flowers, and hear the early-morning chorus of birdcalls once again.
The natural world around us is almost achingly beautiful. With this beauty comes a sense that, no matter what difficulties we may be facing, we can indeed overcome and go on. And friends, it is not by chance that we feel this. It is truly by divine design! It’s coded into our DNA, so to speak, that we see spiritual reality mirrored in the world of nature around us. We are told that “every single thing in nature, from the smallest to the largest, corresponds to, or expresses, something spiritual. This is because the natural world and everything in it [actually] exists and endures from the spiritual world, and both of these worlds exist and endure from the Divine…,” from God’s creation.
In other words, we are created to be capable of perceiving the world around us in a way that helps us understand ourselves as spiritual beings and grow accordingly.
Many native cultures have long understood this and made great use of their deep connection with the world of nature to develop themselves. Their sense of a holy and purpose-filled life is deeply embedded in living with “an attitude of gratitude,” as well as stewardship for the beauty of God’s world. A Navajo prayer expresses this wonderfully:
I walk with beauty before me;
I walk with beauty behind me;
I walk with beauty above me;
I walk with beauty below me;
I walk with beauty all around me;
Your world is so beautiful, O God.
Matthew Fox, in his book Creation Spirituality, suggests that “beauty is the habit of the universe” and that therefore “it is essential that humans be about the good work of showering each other with beauty, and of bringing out the beauty in one another.” He notes that
we all share beauty. It strikes us indiscriminately. It may be when our child was born into this world, or a simple flower; or a song; or a smile on a face; or a great act of courage; or a dance well done; or a child’s laugh; or a loaf of bread baking; or finding a worthy job; or a snowfall; or laughter among friends; or the death of a loved one returning to his or her Source; there is no end to beauty for the person who is aware. Even the cracks between the sidewalk contain geometric patterns of amazing beauty…we walk on beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us. (p. 49)
This idea made me think about what it would be like if we were all so caught up in the beauty and wonder of this created universe—if we could really see it and feel it—how it might affect our outlook and behavior. What would it mean to “bring out the beauty” in ourselves and others? Is that not our real purpose for being? Is that not, in effect, what Christ’s life was all about—to help us see the beauty within ourselves and others, and to bring it forth so it can live and flourish? We often refer to that as seeing the “Christ” or “God” within others. It means seeing one another as made in God’s image, as precious beings.
Jesus went around the countryside redefining, by his words and actions, what beauty really is. Carroll E. Simcox gives a powerful description of this. He says, “How can anybody read the Gospels and fail to see how Jesus, in his contacts with all sorts and conditions of people, even the apparent good-for-nothings and worse, seemed to find in them possibilities for sublime development?” (April 18, In God’s Care: Daily Meditations)
Jesus touched the “untouchables,” forgave those thought to be unforgivable, sat down and broke bread with outcasts and women, and brought out, in all those who were willing, the beauty within them. He recognized and taught that true beauty abounds where love is—and that ugliness is anything that disconnects us from love: injustice, hatred and intolerance, vanity and greed, selfishness and violence. That is why, even in the ugliness of the death he suffered, we are left with the overwhelming beauty and power of his ability to continue to love. Some, such as Jean Houston, suggest that the resurrection was possible because the power of Jesus’ ability to love became so “interwoven in his human structure” (physical cells) that Jesus became Christos, or Divine Human, and “all matter [was] shown to be holy and the human [became] love” (Godseed, p. 108). In this view, his continual struggles between his human side and his spiritual, inner nature, over the course of his lifetime, had led slowly but surely to an internal transformation where he overcame his human limitations, modeling for us all the changing power of love and the eternal nature of existence.
Although none of us can know for sure exactly what happened in terms of Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, we do know this: The whole story is about dying to one form of self and being resurrected or changed into a new form of self.
This is what we call “regeneration”—the process of continually moving to new levels of spiritual awareness and growth. This is also what we see in the seasonal cycles of the world of nature. Erich Jantsch notes that “the ultimate principle of evolution does not seem to be adaptation, but transformation and the creative diversification of evolution....Similar to the death of individuals, the death of whole species in ecosystems, too, furthers evolution.” In other words, the death of certain species actually makes way for new, more advanced species.
In the same way, our spiritual growth over our lifetime involves allowing parts of us to die so that new understandings and feelings can be born in us— so that we can evolve as spiritual beings. But for this to occur, we must be willing to go through a process very much like that expressed in David’s Song to God in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion,
blot out my transgression.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast and right spirit within me.
Here we see David’s awareness that his “sin”— those things within him that block him from God’s loving, transforming power—must be removed if he is to grow and be renewed.
Last weekend, I spent several hours in our backyard raking up dead leaves, picking up old sticks and branches, and burning them all. In the midst of clearing away this old detritus, I was acutely aware of the delicacy of tiny flowers in the grass, of the almostbudding daffodils in my flower gardens, and the florescent green of the grass itself. I dug and planted some rhubarb and asparagus and looked at all the worms wriggling and the weeds that had already begun to grow. It was a wonderful example of a spiritual correspondence in process—all the old, dead vegetation is a symbol for that within each of us that must be recognized, picked up, cleared away, and burned. Although we can put it in the fire and even start the fire, the actual burning and transformation process is not something we “do.” As the fire burns and purifies, eventually all that matter will become part of the earth, food for new growth.
And by clearing the yard and gardens, the new plants have room to develop, grow, and bear blossoms or fruit, yet we don’t actually do the “growing” itself. Do you see the correspondence with our spiritual growth as human beings? It all works together, doesn’t it? Death and life, life and death—a neverending cycle of existence, simply moving from one state to another.
The words from Revelation 21:5—“Behold, I make all things new!”—are not some kind of empty promise. They are about what Rev. Kit Billings calls “the Lord’s power to change and transform us deep down inside, where it really counts… We are being called to allow our everyday thinking and expectations to be lit up by the great power and energy that feeds the Lord’s regenerating forces all around and within us.”
As we experience the beauty and renewal that comes with spring, the newness of life welling up around us, we are called to a conscious awareness, as Rev. Billings reminds us, that “every one of these wonderful blessings associated with spring represent and reveal to us the positive and beautiful changes that happen to us when the Lord comes to us anew and afresh!”
Let us open ourselves to that change and renewal within that is so needed if we are to be part of the change we want in this troubled world in which we live.
I close with a section from a poem of Robert Frost:
But God’s own descent
Into flesh was meant
As a demonstration…
Spirit enters flesh and for all its worth
Charges into earth in birth after birth
Ever fresh and fresh.
O Tree of Calvary,
Send thy roots deep down into my heart.
Gather together the soil of my heart,
The sands of my fickleness,
The stones of my stubbornness,
The mud of my desires;
Bind them all together,
O Tree of Calvary;
Interlace them with thy strong roots,
Entwine them with the network of thy love.
- Chandran Devanesen
The reign of God is here, and we are invited to enter.
The door is a humble and hidden Messiah whose moving force
is the power of God, totally directed to the life about to be born...
to liberate, to give growth, to render fruitful.
Human violence and power cannot compare with this quiet force,
for they are marked with the sign of death.
This quiet, life-giving force, we call it Love.
- Pierre Claverie
Mrs. Betsy Coffman