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Sunday, April 12, 2009

God grows Orchids
Easter Vigil

Tonight we are in a liminal time. In the in-between of Holy Saturday. Good Friday is passed and Easter is not quite yet. We all have liminal times in our lives. Times in-between when the past has passed and the future is uncertain. There is always a gap between Good Friday and Easter morning, and sometimes it is very long. The time between taking a test and getting the result, the time between losing a house and finding a new home, the time between diagnosis and recovery. Each of these is a liminal time. A time of uncertainty, grief and disorientation, even confusion.

The disciples that Saturday did not know that Easter was coming. They may have had memories of Jesus’ words about being raised from the dead but it seems that they were basically very depressed, shocked and in grief. The person on whom they had pinned all their hopes had been killed, dead and gone. I don’t know what they did that day but my guess is that they gradually gathered together, quietly, secretly and in stunned shocked silence. Or perhaps they began to accuse each other – if only you hadn’t done this, if only we had done that… So often when someone dies or we lose something of great importance we deal with anger and guilt – the coulda, woulda, shoulda’s. Or perhaps they were able to start the healthy process of telling stories, of re-membering Jesus by talking about the things he had said and done, the special moments, the times of joy and the times of pain and fear.

Tonight we have listened to the retelling of the salvation history in words from the first Testament. This is not just for the sake of curiosity or as a way to pass the time but because this is the narrative within which we make sense of Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, and the narrative which provides the framework within which our own lives and dramas take on meaning. Just as the disciples may have begun the work of repairing their lives by talking about Jesus, so in this liminal time we too remind each other of God’s great work of redemption.

We begin with the story of the Creation when God created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good. I read a book review this morning of a book entitled ‘Why Evolution is True’. It certainly seems from my own limited observations that the universe is constantly evolving. Perhaps that is part of God’s ongoing creation, that every death and rebirth brings a slightly modified organism. Rather than imagining God as a distant creator who started the ball rolling and then sits back to watch, we can instead imagine the Trinity constantly watching over creation like gardeners with a greenhouse of prize orchids.

Each moment there is something to remark upon, each moment there is something new and different happening. Every now and then something quite new appears. You can tell a true gardener from a weekender because they are constantly messing in the garden – there is always something to be fixed, something to be improved. In this Creation, God took on a great experiment. What if the Creation had a mind of its own, the ability not to do exactly what God wanted, and what if God were to become part of it and discover what it was like to be creation not just Creator?

We know how the ancient people described the flaw in Creation that made this possible, the serpent in the garden, the desire to be independent of God and do our own thing. Which, in the course of evolution had significant and increasing implications. Soon there was rampant greed and hostility among people who now thought that God was punitive and withholding, and that there was not enough to go around.

So God continued the great experiment by proclaiming a people as his own. Could they have enough of a relationship with the divine that they would be able to release their fear and belief in God’s basic hostility? Even though they were brought out of slavery across the dry sea bed into safety they were not willing to give up their independence. We know the stories of the Hebrews’ forty years spent wandering around a small piece of desert, one minute trusting Yahweh, the next going off in a totally different direction. This back and forth continued for the next many generations. Prophets came and went, generations repented and turned towards God, then went off in a different direction again. And all the while the evil in the world became greater.

By the time Jesus proclaimed his ministry the people of Israel were longing for something different. God was ready for the next step in the great experiment. I don’t know why this was a particularly good time but this was when God chose to become human, to take on the life and experience of one of the created ones. God could not chose not to do God’s will so Jesus could not experience what it was like to be separate from God in the way that we are used to. His participation in the Godhead brought forth all the fear and anger that people had been storing up against their God who seemed to be withholding, hostile and judging. In the extreme moment of his experience on the cross, just as he crossed from human life to death he experienced the separation from God which is so familiar to us.

To return for a moment to the picture of the gardeners tending their prize orchids, this created the amazing effect that the gardeners now knew in their marrow what it is like to be an orchid.

You might expect that the gardeners would be furious that the orchids had turned against one of them in such a hostile and angry way. But it has the opposite effect with God – God’s love within the Trinity and within the Trinity for all of Creation, including us, is only increased. The great experiment is not over. The gardeners continue to fuss over their orchids, but of course the orchids have been changed. The course of evolution has been changed. Jesus Lives! The ultimate power of evil – to kill someone - is ended. Death is not the end. Life and love go on in unending praise to God. No longer is God separating out one people, all people are equally able to access God’s infinite love.

But it is not forced on us. That would defeat God’s intent for us to relate freely to the divine. Tonight as we wait for the resurrection to be declared, we have been telling the story of our salvation history. As we come to the end of this liminal time, it remains for us once again to turn to God. We do this by reaffirming the vows made for us at our baptism and affirmed by us in our confirmation. In this act of rededication we consciously and intentionally open ourselves to accepting the gift of love given to us in the resurrection and offered anew every day. We also take on the responsibility to share Christ’s resurrection life with those around us, because we are some of the channels by which God’s salvation is made available to the world.

When we sprinkle baptismal water it is a symbolic reminder that we have been brought out of bondage through the great sea, that everlasting life is ours in God’s wonderful and unstoppable love. Our part is to open ourselves to Spirit and to turn back again and again, turn back to God knowing that there is always a welcome for us in the Risen Life of the Christ.


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