Monday, April 09, 2007

April 8, 2007 - Touching Base, On Easter

If last year was my cancer year, then this is my survivor year. What I've been doing, particularly when it comes to milestone celebrations in the liturgical year, has been touching base.

A cardinal rule of baseball is that a runner has got to touch all the bases. If you miss one, you've got to go back and rectify your error. I feel like there were a lot of bases I missed last year, so as I come upon them again, I've got to make sure I touch them.

If the liturgical year is a baseball diamond, then Easter is surely one of the bases. While I haven't referred to my medical situation in most of my sermons, as I come up to a base like Christmas or Easter, I feel I've got to make some reference to it. Partly this is because I know the "C & E" crowd is different from the folks I see on a typical Sunday. Many of these are people I know, though not well. Many of them are aware of my recent medical history, but haven't been here to see that I'm really doing OK. I said something about being a cancer survivor in my Christmas Eve sermon, so now as I come up to the Easter base, I feel like I've got to touch it, as well. This is particularly true of Easter, because that was the one major holiday I missed completely, because of my illness.

Here's some of what I said in my Easter message:

"As many of you know, on Easter last year, I was sitting in the Manse, too sick to come across the street. I could see many of you, though, through the curtains, coming and going in your Easter finery. On the Wednesday before last Easter, I spent eight hours sitting in a lounge chair in my oncologist's office, as chemotherapy drugs dripped into the port I still have implanted in my upper chest. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I felt so weak, I probably couldn't have sat upright in a church pew for an hour, let alone stood here at the pulpit and delivered a sermon. You all muddled through without me – you did just fine, as a matter of fact – and now, a year later, I stand here before you: a witness to the resurrection.

When I say that, I don't mean to claim I had any mystical visions of Jesus. Nor do I mean to say that God healed me in some spectacular, supernatural way. God used all the tools of modern medicine to put my cancer into remission.

What I do mean to say is that I've learned some things, in the past year or so, about resurrection faith. I can't stand up here today and present incontrovertible historical evidence that, round about the year 30 A.D., a dead rabbi by the name of Jesus got up and walked out of his tomb. I believe that he did, but I can't prove it to you. But I can tell you something I have learned: that the story of his rising is true for me, now more than ever."

We preachers are in a dilemma, when it comes to Easter. How do we convey the truth of something that happened centuries ago, for which we have no credible evidence, only secondhand testimony? Recently, I read an article by Diana Butler Bass, who was addressing this very question. Coming out of a liberal Protestant background, whose preachers tended to treat biblical miracles figuratively, she recalled being curious about what one particular preacher, Episcopal Bishop Daniel Corrigan, would have to say about the resurrection. Surprisingly – after what she'd heard him say about other miraculous events – he affirmed its truth, unequivocally. When someone asked him if he believed in the resurrection, the bishop replied, "Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I've seen it too many times not to."

I guess that's where I am, too. I've seen resurrection in other people's lives. I've felt its power in my own. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not so much a historical reference, a single point in time, as an ongoing process. We can spend all our time peering into an empty tomb, if we want – discussing the details of what may or may not have happened there – but there's no real future in that. "He is not here, but has risen," say the angels to the women, in Luke's Easter account. Sooner or later, we've all got to decide whether we wouldn't do better to look for the risen Lord not among the tombs, but rather in human lives. There is where we find him. There, he continues to be active.

That's what I'm about these days, anyway, as I round another base.

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