The Point of It All Is Joy
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 30, 2023
The women who went to the Lord 's Tomb on Sunday morning "while it was still dark" Were frightened and, sad, and very likely angry at what had happened to the Lord in Jerusalem on the one hand. On the other hand they were driven by love for Jesus and responsibility to fulfill the proper Jewish burial rites for him in spite of the existing dangers. Fear divides. Love unites. Courage was the glue that united their fear and love for the single purpose of doing what needed to be done revealing a direct path to the Empty Tomb in spite of the dangers they might encounter. The very dangers that caused the other disciples to cower and hide in place.
I think we are living in a similar kind of moment. Fear, anger, and violence threaten to undo us as a country, as a people, and even as a species. We are most certainly endangered by the illusion that the world and its people and all of creation are disconnected. Where that insidious delusion is held the dualism that resists love spawns hatred and violence. Everything and everyone suffers. The civil war inside of us (between selflessness and selfishness, the divine and the demonic) is mirrored in the war taking place outside of us.
Do we have the courage to live the Gospel as Jesus intended even though to do so would mean to live in a way that makes sense only to God? Do you remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." (Isaiah 55:8-9) Whatever we think God's way is, we are sure to be mistaken.
To live the Gospel would mean to accept the same persecution the Lord embraced, to be labeled insane as once his relatives called him, to become foolish in the eyes of this world, humble as the dirt under our feet and misunderstood by friend and foe alike. The Way of the Cross is not the way to fame and fortune, but rather to utter humility and poverty. We can bring peace into this suffering world by allowing God to heal the traumatic divisions that spark the civil war inside of us and by following the teachings of Our Lord to govern all aspects of our lives: blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the merciful, love one another just as he has loved us, give expecting nothing in return, do not judge, do not condemn, take care of the less fortunate and one another, do not even entertain sinful thoughts, forgive one another not 7 times, but 70 times 7, do to others what you would have them do to you. On and on his teaching goes and on and on we continue to forget them or replace them with other teachings often utterly in opposition to Our Lord's. We must never, ever contribute to the divisiveness of society, as many Christians have chosen to do in the name of righteousness. We must always bring peace and never the sword or we shall perish by the sword.
At the heart of the Lord's teaching there seems to be, at least to me, an implicit inclusiveness, an embrace of all people and all things created. Leaving no place to the dualistic fantasy that separateness defines the world, Christ calls us to the primordial unity that truly defines us: humanity is one family and all things are inextricably connected. This unity is expressed through his Body and Blood, in the Incarnation, in his DNA and genes, through his flesh and spirit.
You see, the fact is that all of creation is inextricably connected. Not only humans, but the whole of creation. Do you remember the incomparable Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock"? She sang, "We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year-old carbon." She is right. We are. The cosmos is one. Humanity is one. Everything is interconnected. "We are stardust" and stardust is us.
Realizing, recognizing and celebrating this Essential Oneness, the Eucharistic nature of all things, may be the greatest revelation of God's limitless love the Church has to offer. The triumphalistic, bombastic and judgmental perspective many have is contrary to the Gospel. The secret to living in Christ's love is to keep our hearts wide open. The Myrrh-bearers did even in the midst of their fear. If we do learn how to keep our hearts open as well, as the song goes, love will find a way. Holy joy is the fruit of letting go of the myth of separation.
As difficult as it may be to remain detached from the passionate reactivity all around us, I think we must make it our mission to share with the world the "peace that passes understanding." First, we must pursue peace within ourselves or we will not have it to share with others. We must transform the reactivity in us into peaceful response. Remember the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." So, we should make of ourselves peacemakers by the practice of making peace inside and out.
On the website of Mull Monastery in Scotland it reads, "Seek peace and be still in the isles of the Celtic Saints." We can do exactly the same wherever we are. We must never contribute to the chaos. We must rather invest in peace-making wherever we are, whoever we are with, whatever we are doing.
And by all means spread joy. To sad sack Christians with gloomy faces, Mother Teresa had some sage advice, "If you truly believe Christ has risen from the dead, you might want to inform your faces." Rejoice always! God himself is the yeast that enlivens everything.