Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23 2006, (Earth Day/Creation Sunday) delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Isaiah 26:2-9, 19
Acts 3:12a, 13-15, 17-26
Wounds of Creation,
Wounds of Christ
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Every year on the Sunday after Easter we listen to that marvelous and mysterious story we just heard from the Gospel of John, the story of Jesus showing himself to the disciples on the evening of Easter Day and then returning a week later to reassure and convince the disciple we call Doubting Thomas that yes, the Risen Lord is real.
“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says to Thomas, showing him the wounds. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And then Thomas finds his faith, saying, “My Lord and my God.”
Today, across the country and around the world we are also celebrating Earth Day – rain or shine. What happens when we hold Earth Day and our concern for God’s Creation up to the light of this particular Gospel story of the wounded and Risen Christ? Here on Earth Day 2006, what word of hope or comfort or challenge might God be speaking to us in this Gospel text? What might the wounds of Christ have to say to us about the wounds of God’s Creation?
And maybe that’s the place to begin: with the wounds of God’s Creation. To me, at least, and maybe to growing numbers of Americans, those wounds have never seemed so clear. Take, for instance, global climate change. You know that burning fossil fuels such as coal and gas and oil produces carbon dioxide and other gases that create a blanket around the Earth, making the climate hotter and more unstable. You also know that what scientists are telling us with increasing alarm is that climate change is not some future event, something that only our distant descendants will deal with. It is with us. It is already here. Maybe you saw the recent issue of Time magazine that proclaimed in big bold letters on the cover, “Be worried. Be VERY worried.”
Here are some of the items that scientists reported in just the first two weeks of April.
“Dreaded warm air hovers over Antarctica,” reads a headline in The Los Angeles Times. “In the winter sky over Antarctica, scientists have detected a vast cap of steadily warming air, in the first sign that record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be trapping heat above the ice sheets of the South Pole” [Friday, March 31, 2006].
On April 1, an Associated Press article is headlined “Caribbean coral in hot water.” “A one-two punch of bleaching from record hot water followed by disease has killed ancient and delicate coral in the biggest loss of reefs scientists have ever seen in Caribbean waters. ‘It’s an unprecedented die-off,’ said [a] National Park Service fisheries biologist [Jeff Miller] … ‘We’re talking colonies that were here when Columbus came by [that] have died in the past three to four months.’ In the same article, another scientist [Tom Goreau of the Global Coral Reef Alliance] called what’s happening to coral worldwide “‘an underwater holocaust.'”
On April 3, ScienceDaily reported “Greenland’s Glaciers Pick Up Pace in Surge Toward Sea.”
On April 4, BBC News reported “Europe’s Alps could lose three-quarters of their glaciers to climate change during the coming century” [‘Major Melt’ for Alpine Glaciers, by Richard Black, BBC News].
On April 11, scientists reported “Global warming will become a top cause of extinction from the tropical Andes to South Africa with thousands of species of plants and animals likely to be wiped out in coming decades The scientists said their study broadly backed the findings of a 2004 report in the journal Nature that suggested global warming could commit a quarter of the world’s species to extinction by 2050 ‘It isn’t just polar bears and penguins that we must worry about any more,” said the study’s co-author [Lee Hannah, senior fellow for climate change at Conservation International in the United States].
Are you still with me? Have you tuned out yet? It’s hard to listen to even a quick sketch of the devastation that is going on around us without wanting to cover our ears. It is painful and scary to face this die-off, this crucifixion, and if we don’t have moments of wanting to hide out, then I don’t think we’ve been paying attention.
That’s where the Gospel story comes in. Just think about those disciples huddled fearfully in that locked up room. We can say this about them: at least they were no longer in denial. They had seen the crucifixion; they knew the reality of the violence and the wounds. They were not about to tell you that Christ’s wounds on the cross were not real, any more than we can pretend that the wounds to God’s Creation are not real. Like we who face global warming, the disciples had looked death in the face, and they were scared.
I find it interesting that the text tells us that they locked the doors “for fear of the Jews.” Maybe they were afraid that the Jewish authorities would round them up as accomplices of an executed criminal and that they too would be killed. We know what that’s like, the impulse to hide because some external force seems out to get us, whether it’s global warming or anything else. But the irony is that the disciples who hid out “for fear of the Jews” were themselves Jews. I wonder if it was also themselves that they were afraid of. I wonder if, in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, they had learned some things about themselves that they never wanted to see – perhaps their own violence, their own impulse to do harm, as when Simon Peter drew his sword during Jesus’ arrest and cut off a man’s ear. I’m sure the disciples felt guilty as they huddled in that locked room, for they knew they had abandoned the very one they held most dear. One of them had denied him three times. Maybe they were whispering fearfully to each other, “What have we done?”
Well, here’s the truth: sometimes it is me who is sitting in that locked room, and maybe sometimes it is you, too: guilty as sin and knowing it. When it comes to climate change, we North Americans bear more than our fair share of the responsibility, because it is our cars and trucks, our appliances and computers, our airplanes and factories and power plants that are sucking up fossil fuels and churning out 25% of the world’s global warming emissions. Historically our country is responsible for something like 80% of the extra carbon dioxide that is now circulating in the atmosphere, so when we look at the unraveling of the web of life, when we look at dying coral and melting ice caps, when we look at raging floods in one part of the world and growing deserts in another, we are looking at the consequences – unintended, to be sure, but very real, all the same – of the way of life that gives us such privilege and comfort. No wonder many of us feel a twinge of guilt when we look at that, and maybe more than a twinge. It’s a lot to face. And so we lock ourselves in, paralyzed sometimes by guilt and sometimes by the fearful sense that it’s too late, the deed is done, death has already had the last word.
“When it was evening of Easter day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'” [John 20:19]. Can you feel the impact of that moment? The Risen Christ comes to his guilty, worried, frightened friends and says “Peace be with you.” It is peace that he gives them. Forgiveness. Acceptance. However much they’ve abandoned and denied him, he loves them still. In fact, in this one short passage Jesus says those words three times, as if the disciples need to soak up that message, to hear it again and again – not only to undo Peter’s three-fold denial but also so that all of them, all of us, will experience that forgiveness deep in our bones. Maybe that is the beginning of our resurrected life: the moment we hear and take in how much God loves us and how completely we are forgiven.
And then Jesus says “Here. See my wounded hands and side.”
I wonder what the disciples see as they look at his wounds. I think they see the harsh reality of violent suffering and death, but now those wounds are radiant – they are lit up with love, as if light were pouring from Jesus’ hands and side. I wonder what it would be like if we could look at the wounds of Creation in the same way. I wonder if we could learn to see the wounded Earth as expressing not only the reality of suffering and death, but also as lit up with God’s forgiveness and love. I wonder what it would be like if, in tending to the wounded body of Creation, we knew that we were also ministering to the wounds of Christ – so that in every act of love for Creation, in every compact fluorescent light bulb that we installed, in every decision we made to walk rather to drive to a car, in every push we made for a national energy policy that promoted renewable energy and tougher fuel standards, we were responding to the deep reassurance and forgiveness of the wounded and yet Risen Christ.
Fear and guilt can take us only so far in motivating our efforts to care for Creation. It is only the forgiving love of God – that endless, self-sacrificing, hidden outpouring – that can sustain our efforts to become healers of God’s Creation and to share in what today’s Collect calls “the new covenant of reconciliation” [c.f. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20].
For it is not only peace that Jesus gives the disciples. He gives them a commission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he says, breathing into them the Holy Spirit, the same creative wind and energy that moved across the face of deep at the very beginning of creation. Jesus not only loves and forgives us – Jesus also wants us to share in the divine life of the Trinity that expresses itself in acts of generosity and compassion. Like Jesus, we too have been sent here on a mission. We too have a job to do.
And that, believe it or not, is where we can have some fun, where we can share in the joy of the Risen Christ. There is nothing more satisfying than living out your deepest values. Making the switch to more efficient lighting, healing, and cooling can be an act of praising God. So can supporting renewable energy technologies or becoming a member of a local group such as Co-op Power. While you drink your cup of coffee after the service, take a look at the display that our Greening the Church group has set up in the Connector of products to “green” your home, from compact fluorescent light bulbs to environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and 100% post-consumer-waste recycled paper. Find a member of the Vestry and thank him or her for agreeing to make this parish one of the National Council of Church’s Environmental Justice Covenant Congregations – a mouthful of a name meaning that as a parish we’ve made a commitment to care for God’s Creation.
We don’t want to huddle in fear. We want to embrace the world with the love and peace and exuberance of the Risen Christ. I am grateful for Doubting Thomas, for he can express our doubt – doubt that we can stop catastrophic climate change, doubt that we can make a difference, doubt that the Risen Christ will be with us, doubt that resurrection is even possible. Whatever our doubts today, wherever we’re holding back, Jesus invites us to open ourselves to the gift of his forgiveness and his energizing Spirit. Today at the Eucharist we will stretch out our hands to receive the body and blood of Christ, just as Thomas stretched out his hands to touch Christ’s wounded hands and side. Like Thomas, we too want to know that the risen Christ is real and alive, and, like Thomas, when we feel Christ’s presence, we too can’t help but rejoice.