On Pentecost Sunday I have often preached of an experience I had at a relatively young age sailing with my family on Long Island Sound. My parents loved to sail. My father, a Quaker, no doubt found the hours he spent in silence at the tiller guiding our boat over the waves a time of peace and refreshment. When I was about 10 I began taking the tiller. Some days the wind would be stiff and we would heel over and cut through the waves. Other days were calm—meaning little or no wind. On those days we were hot and often bored.
There is a Victorian-era church in England, where, in the midst of billowing clouds painted on the flat surface of the ceiling, plaster feet meant to be those of Jesus visibly hang down. Today we smile at the image. The possibility that Jesus moved vertically into the sky, to be seated at the right hand of God, isn’t made more real by our exploration of outer space. The image has moved from belief to metaphor, or, perhaps, was always meant to be metaphor.
I have always loved to walk. Along the Connecticut River, where I grew up, no place was better for walking then through the fields and marshes, under thickets, and over stiles exploring the farms that spread out in every direction.
If I were to ask all of you gathered here today to raise your hand if you experienced teasing or bullying in your life, I imagine most of us would be raising our hands. For some of us it was a searing experience that has impacted much of our lives since then. For others it may have been a time that brought some reality into our lives without much lasting consequence. Yet, we know that for many being bullied was, and is, an ongoing serious concern.
Throughout history, people have been moved to share the inspiration they find in nature, and their understanding of the experiences in their lives, and ours, that nature can offer. Throughout history people surrounded by nature have been moved to prayer. And we come together today to celebrate a festival of nature whose roots predate Christianity.
My first year in seminary we were all required to meet each week in a small group called Curriculum Conference. I was surprised to learn that one of the members of the class, lived on a farm in a nearby suburb—a sheep farm. All winter long as we talked about our lives and our experiences as new seminary students, we watched Liz knit scarves and sweaters from fine wool of vibrant colors—wool from the sheep she and her husband raised. The last meeting was held at her house because it was lambing time. We marveled at the gentle lambs—they seemed to be all legs, covered with white fluff. We held them and they nestled into our arms.
As we celebrated Resurrection Sunday and continue in our Alleluia season of Easter- there appears to be a feeling of relief within us. One that looks forward to a life spent in hope yet we are aware of the realities of life such as sickness, social disparities, and violent tragedies. Somehow Easter makes us optimistic by assuring us that through grace and our faith in Jesus Christ, All is Well.
Tonight we stand at the intersection of time’s finitude and eternity. The time where all of creation, guided by this new light in Christ Jesus is led to an empty tomb. A tomb where Christ was laid and where Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others arrived to find their Lord to be missing. We read that two angels witnessing their prostration before the tomb asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Imagine the confusion that must have set in. Implicit in the next lines is the fact that these women had been with Jesus as He taught.
In the 19th century, a medical doctor named J. C. Stroud explained the odd flow of both blood and water from Jesus’ body as a violent rupture of his heart. “Stroud theorized that a hemorrhage had taken place through the heart wall into the pericardial sac, there was a clotting of blood, separating it from the serum … —a convenient thesis that gives preachers the opportunity to stress that literally died of a broken heart.” Another 19th century doctor theorized that the soldier had actually pierced his bladder as well and that it was urine that flowed out with the blood. Doctors in the 1950’s and 60’s estimated the water probably represented serous pleural and pericardial fluid. “Since the pleural cavity is just inside the rib cage, even a shallow lance thrust could have opened it and the two parts of the blood have come out relatively unmixed.”
For me, preaching at a funeral, much like preaching at a wedding, is an essential part of my call to ministry. When else are there so many people in church for whom Jesus Christ has little impact on their daily lives? There is no more pregnant time for birthing new life in Christ.