Easter 2011 Family Service 9:30am, April 24, 2011 First Parish in Needham, Unitarian Universalist Molly Housh Gordon

, leading Sounding the Chime Welcome – John Buehrens Call to Worship and Chalice Lighting – John Buehrens (By Elizabeth Strong)

Out of the earth Rises light, Rises life, Rises spring. May we join with the miracle that is springtime, and enter into life with lightness and joy. Out of the spirit Rises hope, Rises faith, Rises love. May we join with the miracle that is Easter time, and enter into life with hope and love. *Hymn 361 – Enter, Rejoice, and Come In! (led by the Children’s Choir)

Easter Litany – John Buehrens

(By Molly Housh Gordon)

After every line, join in with : Today will be a joyful day! Come in to this house of hope and love, where: Today will be a joyful day! Bring your mind, body, and spirit into this place of worship, and: Today will be a joyful day! Because the air warms and the flowers break through the soil once more: Today will be a joyful day! Because a very long, very hard winter draws finally to a close: Today will be a joyful day! As we celebrate the miracle of Easter: Today will be a joyful day! With faith that love is powerful beyond measure: Today will be a joyful day! As we work to create the world of our vision: Today will be a joyful day! Even when our broken hearts make joy seem impossible: Today will be a joyful day! Because we make it so with our love for one another: Today will be a joyful day! Because we are ready for joy: Today will be a joyful day!

The Story of Easter – Hope – Molly Housh Gordon The ancient stories say that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. I think it would have been a funny sight. Donkey’s are sort of awkward, and short. Not regal like a horse. Some say Jesus was mocking those high and mighty lords who ride in on horseback. Some say the donkey was a symbol of peace, and the horse a symbol of war, and Jesus chose peace. Even though he came in on a donkey, many people of Jerusalem greeted him like a king. They laid their cloaks along the road so that he wouldn’t have to ride through the mud. And those who didn’t have cloaks laid down leaves and palm branches. You see, these people had heard all about Jesus even before he came. They had heard about the amazing things he had done and about his message of peace and justice. They had heard that he kept company with the poor and the dispossessed. They had heard about his acts of love toward those that society shunned. They felt that a person like him in power would mean an end to their suffering. As he rode his donkey through the crowd they were so excited and full of hope. They shouted Hosanna! Hosanna! Which is a word of praise and which also means “Save us!” The people who greeted Jesus were common people and poor people, those who were treated the worst by the kingdom, and they were sure that Jesus was their Messiah, sent by God to save them from all of their suffering. To imagine how much joy they felt at his coming, imagine your greatest hopes for the way the world could be. And imagine that someone that you trust and believe telling you “Yes. Together we can make it so.” What are some of your greatest hopes for the world? (After each person yells something out, motion everyone to join in saying “Yes, Together we can make it so!”) The people of Jerusalem were so excited and so full of hope, and as Jesus entered the city, he was righteous and angry about the injustices happening there. That day he went to the temple, where moneylenders were taking advantage of the poor by selling them religious offerings and high, high prices. He shouted angrily and drove them all away. When the people saw this, their expectations grew even more. Maybe this guy Jesus really could change things for them! They continued shouting words of praise and said Hosanna and Hallelujah! They didn’t know what he might do next, but in that moment they were full of hope… Song – Antiphonal Alleluia – First Parish Children’s Choir

Easter Story – Faith – Molly Housh Gordon Later that week, as Jesus prepared to share a Passover Seder dinner with his followers, he felt very solemn, because he knew he was in great danger. The leaders of the establishment were threatened by the power that he had among the people, and they didn’t want his message of justice to the poor to win out, because that would mean the loss of their own power. So when Jesus sat down to dinner, he was feeling sad and somewhat afraid. He told his followers that he knew his time now was short, that he would be captured soon enough. His disciples were angry, and sad. “No!” they said, “This cannot be.” Jesus smiled at their love for him. “Just never forget me,” he told them. “Do not forget my message and what we have worked for. Think of me as often as you can and do good.” “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples-when they see the love you have for each other.” Then he set out to wash the feet of all his disciples. When he got to the one named Peter, Peter said, “Master, you cannot wash my feet. That is a servant’s job.” To that Jesus replied, “We all can serve. When I am gone, you must serve each other and you must be servants to the world.” And then, because he was feeling sad and scared, he decided to go out to the garden to pray. “My soul is sad,” he said “Father, please take this cup from me.” He didn’t know if he had the courage to stand up to those who did injustice. He knew it would probably mean death. But then he thought of the people who had welcomed him into Jerusalem, and their great hope. He thought of the people he had helped and inspired in many places. And he thought of his followers and the lives they had changed with his message of peace. And in that moment he found a faith that his work would live on, no matter what. He knew that there was more love in the world, somewhere. Love that his followers would spread far and wide. He knew that there was enough hope in the human spirit to withstand even in the worst. That his people and this movement he started would keep on going and change the world. (And he was right about that). In that faith he found peace and courage. Hymn 95 – There is More Love Somewhere

The Easter Story – Love – Molly Housh Gordon That night, Jesus was arrested and taken before the powerful priests of Jerusalem, and there he stood trial. They asked him about the things he had done, and they asked him if he thought it was true what the people said, that he was the Messiah. “I am what the people say,” said Jesus. The priests were furious! How dare this man, who did such unacceptable things, who had ridden into town on a donkey, claim to be the savior of the people! Why, Jesus spent his time with poor people and outcasts and lepers. The priests could not allow someone like that to be thought of more highly than themselves! So they took Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, and demanded that he be executed. Pilate could not find that Jesus had done anything wrong, but when the Priests continued to demand it loudly, he finally agreed that Jesus would be crucified, which meant that he would be killed on a cross. There were many women there who had been followers of Jesus, and they cried and grieved, and after Jesus had died, they watched as his friend Joseph took his body and bathed it and wrapped him in cloth gently. With great love, they saw that his body was taken to a tomb and buried, with a stone rolled across the entrance so that it would be safe. And with their hearts full of sorrow they left. Three days later, the women who had loved Jesus as their teacher and friend went back to visit his tomb They had brought along some spices and perfume that they wanted to place on Jesus' body. They knew the huge stone had been placed in the doorway and they had no idea how they were going to move it. What a surprise they found when they reached the tomb! The stone had already been moved! And . . . there was an angel sitting on the stone! The women were quite afraid, but the angel told them “Don’t be afraid. Jesus is not here, for he has risen. Come and see.” The women looked, and sure enough the tomb was empty. They were so amazed and shocked that for a moment they just stood there. “Go,” said the angel, “and tell the people of this wonderful thing that has happened.” And so they did. At first Jesus’ followers didn’t believe them, but then several of them saw for themselves and they, too spread the word, and there was great joy among all who had loved Jesus, that their teacher and friend had returned to them. Song – Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold Me Down) – performed by Steve and Shellie Prayer – Rev. John Buehrens Sung Response – #123 Spirit of Life Offertory – Joy Comes Back – performed by Steve and Shellie

Homily – Ready for Joy We don’t know how true the Easter Story is in the sense of historical accuracy. Probably some of the things in the story really happened and some of them didn’t. But the story of Easter does contain the kind of deep truth that all good stories do, the eternal truths of the mystery of life writ large. The events of holy week mirror on a grand scale the patterns of all of our lives. We each find reason for hope. We put our faith in people in things. Many times they fail us or are defeated. We suffer loss. Always we suffer loss. We despair and grieve and weep. And something happens to bring joy back to us: something small, something large; something normal, something unbelievable. Always joy comes back. It may not come back to stay, but rise again it does. The psalmist says: “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy comes in the morning.” And it does. No matter how long is the night… and it can be long. Joy comes in the morning. We see it every spring as the light gets longer and the flowers burst forth and the cold long winter ends. We see it eventually every time we grieve. Sorrow stays; I know that sorrow stays. But then there is a moment, and who knows what it is, and a flash of joy breaks through, and something shifts, and there is room for joy too. We see it every Easter as we celebrate a man whose teachings of peace and love have lived on for thousands of years beyond that day he was hung upon the cross. Easter is a holiday of great joy, when we sing Hallelujah and shout “He is Risen.” Because, no matter each of our own loves or dislikes of the word, Easter is undeniably and unavoidably about Resurrection. Resurrection means ‘to bring back to life’ or ‘to rise

again’ and it is a word that is worth thinking carefully about, as we do every year at Easter. My friend Garrett has started a blog that I really enjoy called The Religious Left.org. And yesterday, he posted an interpretation of the Resurrection by seminary student Crystal Lewis that I found incredibly powerful. Reflecting on the radical acts of love that Jesus had given to the poor, the sick, and the down-trodden – how he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and touched the diseased when no-one else would, Crystal said this about the resurrection: “When I thought more carefully about it, I realized that each lash of the whip, each nail, and every insult hurled at Jesus while He hung on the cross was a simultaneous assault on a generation of people who had finally started to feel loved… and free… and hopeful. I finally realized that the claim of resurrection by early Christians was arguably not as much a cosmic one as it was the subversion of a system that had been stacked against "the least of these." Finally, I realized what it meant for them to say: “Jesus is not dead.”

“Those who claimed that Jesus "had risen" were telling the powerful that despite their attempts to bury hope and equality... despite their efforts to kill the voice of the one who had touched them when no one else would... despite their efforts to entomb the Good News that was being preached to the poor and the radical message of liberty for the captives, the hope of the people would continue to live.”

“For us,” Crystal writes, “Resurrection means that hope is still brewing, even in the most corrupt systems. Resurrection means that love is still powerful in ways that can often

only be explained by invoking the transcendent. Resurrection means that nothing can stop the will of a downtrodden people driven by a force greater than themselves-- Not the death of one person. Not the death of a religious ideology. Not even the death of a generation.” The message of hope lives on. The message of joy cannot die. You see the message that joy comes back and love lives on is actually a radical message of hope for all who suffer and for all who see that the world is not as it should be. I love to watch preachers on YouTube, and recently I watched a clip where a charismatic preacher gave just this message of hope using the Easter narrative of Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s death, and Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection; where Friday means sorrow, but Sunday means hope. He said it like this, “Today is Friday and Jesus is hanging on the cross, but don’t you worry, Sunday’s coming!” He said, “today is Friday and you might be hurting and sad, but Sunday’s Coming!” “Friday people are saying things can’t change and you shouldn’t try, but I’m telling you the Good News. It’s only Friday, and Sunday’s Coming!” “Friday they’re saying a bunch of people in their church can’t do anything to change the world, but let me tell you the good news… that was Friday, and Sunday’s Coming.” I say: Sunday is coming y’all. Hope lives on. And we’re gonna be ready. We’re gonna be ready for joy. We’re gonna prepare the way for love.

Recently I read about some people in Georgia who are preparing the way, performing those small acts of love that we see, from the stories of old, can slowly change the world. A law was just passed in Georgia copying the repressive immigration law of Arizona. And this past Thursday, in remembrance of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the members of a Catholic church near Marietta Georgia marched in protest: white, black, latino; US Citizen, and Undocumented Immigrant, and every status in between. And when they got to the town square, the people with citizenship knelt on the ground, and removed the shoes of several undocumented immigrants. Some of these immigrants had electronic ankle bracelets on, marking them as being somewhere in the deportation process. And the US citizens began to wash their feet, gently, and to dry them with clean white towels. And what they were saying was we are people together, and worthy of respect, and what they were living was Jesus’ message of love. And in that moment another possibility for joy entered the world. There’s always a Sunday of joy and hope coming, and always another Friday close behind. But today is Easter. Today is Sunday. And we’re ready. Today is a reminder that the message of love and justice is already here to be lived. The things that we do to show our love for the world can be small or large. They can be normal or unbelievable. But let us be reminded to do them. The power of joy is within you. The power of hope is within you. Let it rise up! Together let us sing to the power of the joy within. Hymn number 368. Steve and Vivian are going to help us learn it.

*Hymn 368 – Now Let Us Sing Benediction – Molly Housh Gordon May you rise up in Joy, and may you go forth in Joy to live the love that knows no end. Go and be blessed and be a blessing. Postlude – Live Forever – Steve and Shellie

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