“Hallelujah Anyway”

“Hallelujah Anyway”
A Service for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
At The First Parish in Bedford
With Revs. John Gibbons & Megan Lynes


A Thought to Ponder at the Beginning:

Easter is not a ‘spiritual’ event, but a surging of power that touches all of life. The Easter question is not whether you can get your mind around the resurrection, because you cannot. Rather the question is whether you can permit in your horizon new healing power, new surging possibility, new ways of power in an armed, fearful world: new risk, new life, leaping, dancing, singing –and praising the powers beyond all our controlled powers.

—Walter Brueggemann, adap.


Opening Words
Some Things Will Never Change
by Thomas Wolfe

Some things will never change.
Some things will always be the same.
The voice of forest water in the night, a women’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of mid-day in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air –
These things will never change.
The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors –
These things will always be the same.
The feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry –
These things will never change.
The leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees, whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth –
All things belonging to the earth will never change.
All things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth, these come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever.
Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.
The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change.
Pain and death will always be the same.
But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower –
Something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.
– Thomas Wolfe


by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People
have done so,
their small bodies be bound
to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But
this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

An Easter Prayer
Rev. Megan Lynes
O Source of Wisdom and Strength,
You know our hearts
Our Joys and sorrows
Our confusion and pain
Our dreams and hopes

We give thanks this day for the bird call that awakens us to the leaping, greenly spirit of now.
We give thanks for the children with laughing eyes, who will soon search for colored eggs upon the common,
And for these sturdy wooden pews, in our 200 year old church, that hold and support us now, as they have held the generations before us, and will hold all who are to come.
The wheel of the year has again turned to Easter, the creeks have found their bubbling voice again. The flowers push through.
We gather this morning to celebrate the triumph of life over death.
The body can be killed but the spirit cannot be quenched.
Call it whatever you want, it is happiness, the poet says.

We gather today in wonder,
Awed by the stone rolled back;
And the surprise of the empty tomb.
Knowing that the Easter story speaks to us of all great loss, and all great love.

We gather in recognition,
Of the pain and the injustice that drove the resistance movement in biblical times;
And of the pain and injustice that calls to us in our nation and world today.
Mary Oliver asks “What is name of the deep breath (you) would take over and over for all of us?”

We gather in faith,
That the light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness does not overcome it.
We know the sun blazes for everyone.

We gather in awe,
Of the beauty we can see;
And of the mystery of all we can never know.

Today we rejoice in light and gladness.
Be with us, Spirit of Life, and help us to be open and awake to the springtime miracle that is in each one of us.

We pause in silent witness to these hopes and aspirations.



“The Paradoxical Commandments” by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.


“Hallelujah, Anyway”
Rev. John Gibbons

There’s getting to be an Easter tradition around here: I preach an Easter sermon and, afterwards, Brad comes up to me and asks, “Are you OK? You seem so depressed. Your Easter sermon was such a downer!”

This must be some failure to communicate because while that may be my impact, uh, that’s not my intention and not what I think is my usual Easter message. So let me try again. And I’ll start, Brad, with a light-hearted joke. There’s a category of jokes that are called Bad Dad Jokes. It’s not the dad who is bad but the jokes that are bad: they’re so bad that you can’t help but laugh at them.
So what did the dad say when he got a new TV and picked up the universal remote for the first time? THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

The traditional Christian Easter message is like that: The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty! Christ has risen! Sin and death are no more! Hope springs eternal! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! Hosanna and hallelujah!

And I just don’t think that’s the way it works. You know, today we could have – and I hope we do have – the most marvelously perfect Easter Sunday of our lives. And then, what happens tomorrow? We’ll wake up and we’ll make the mistake of reading the newspaper and….Trump will have done something else egregiously offensive and obscene. Or someone else will. Or likeliest of all we ourselves will have done something, if not egregiously offensive and obscene, well, we’ll wake up pretty much unchanged with our usual mix of neuroses, anxieties, and foibles.

Some of my colleagues this morning are preaching hopeful messages, suggesting that whatever darkness we may feel may indeed be the darkness not of the tomb but the darkness of the womb! And maybe it is. And maybe it isn’t. But you know: It is darkest, they say, just before it becomes pitch black!

Fortunately, here’s another Bad Dad Joke: What did the fish say that swam into the wall? DAM!

And so I really don’t think there’s one single This Changes Everything Resurrection…but, Brad, do not get me wrong: I believe in resurrections! Truly (verily I say unto you) there is so much more to the story than sin and death! Hope is resurgent! Hope, nevertheless, does persist! Just like Elizabeth Warren: hope nevertheless persists! (I once preached an entire sermon on that single wonderful word: nevertheless!)

These are words you’ve heard before, written by Max Coots:

It is the little deaths
before the final time we fear.
The blasé shrug
that quietly replaces excited curiosity,
The cynic-sneer
that takes the place of innocence,
The soft-sweet odor of success
that overcomes the sense of sympathy,
The self-betrayals
that rob us of our will to trust,
The ridicule of vision, the barren blindness
to what was once our sense of beauty —
These are deaths that come so quietly
we do not know when it was we died.

Turn that around and this is what matters to me about Easter: It’s not the This Changes Everything Resurrection that matters most, but rather it’s the little resurrections we long for: the little things that cause us to be curious; the little things that surprise us and cause us – who are so often world-weary and tired even of ourselves to feel some small tingle of innocence; it is the little things that restore our sense of sympathy and our willingness to trust; the little things that startle us by beauty; it’s not the THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING RESURRECTION but it’s the little resurrections we long for that come so quietly we do not know when it was that we were born again.

Arising from your bed in the morning may well be a little but, nevertheless, miraculous resurrection!

Our friend the author Annie Lamott (who has twice spoken here) came out with a new book last week and I figured I might get an Easter sermon out of it, you can tell, because it’s titled “Hallelujah, Anyway.” And I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a sermon out of it, but her final paragraph says something like what I’m trying to say:

“Images of tiny things: babies, yeast, and mustard seeds can guide us; things that grow are what change everything (what change everything). Moments of compassion, giving, grief, and wonder shift our behavior, get inside us and change realms we might not have agreed to have changed. Each field is weeds and wheat, but mix the wheat with yeast, the most ordinary of elements, and it starts changing the flour. It becomes bread and so do we, bread to eat and to offer. The world keeps going on. You can have yet another cup of coffee and keep working on your plans. Or you can take the risk to be changed, surrounded, and indwelled by this strange yeasty mash called…life, here for the asking.”

So what I’ve got for this – I remind you – hopeful and uplifting Easter sermon are four quite different parables…maybe they’re just vignettes from which I hope you may hear a small glimpse of resurrection.

The first is something I realized about last week’s child dedication. Many of you were here when we welcomed Larson Benjamin Rabinowitz, Sally’s great-grandson, Bill and Chris’s grandson, Meg and Jacob’s son. I mentioned then that it had been my privilege to officiate at Jake and Meg’s wedding, and then at their child dedication. But what I had forgotten was that I also officiated at Jake’s dedication when he was small. Wow. Look at this one way and one could come to the conclusion that I am getting to be old. But look at it another and there is the Easter realization that there are resurgent, persistent cycles to life. It is a little resurrection whenever we note that “this too shall pass,” that there are cycles life and death and rebirth in nature, in the world, in ourselves, and in every living thing.

Parable #2 is one you might have heard.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal was a children’s author and NPR commentator. Last month, she died of ovarian cancer at age 51. A week before she died she wrote a column in the New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” Facing what she called a “pressing deadline,” she wrote it as a valentine to Jason, her husband of 26 years, and a profile of him, a kind of classified ad written with the hope that he might find love and happiness again:

“First, the basics: He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes…. He is a sharp dresser. Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes. Those who know him — or just happen to glance down at the gap between his dress slacks and dress shoes — know that he has a flair for fabulous socks. He is fit and enjoys keeping in shape.
If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy. On the subject of food — man, can he cook. After a long day, there is no sweeter joy than seeing him walk in the door, plop a grocery bag down on the counter, and woo me with olives and some yummy cheese he has procured before he gets to work on the evening’s meal.

Jason loves listening to live music; it’s our favorite thing to do together. I should also add that our 19-year-old daughter, Paris, would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else.

He is an absolutely wonderful father. Ask anyone. See that guy on the corner? Go ahead and ask him; he’ll tell you. Jason is compassionate — and he can flip a pancake.
Jason paints. I love his artwork. I would call him an artist except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9 to 5. Or at least it did before I got sick.

If you’re looking for a dreamy, let’s-go-for-it travel companion, Jason is your man. He also has an affinity for tiny things: taster spoons, little jars, a mini-sculpture of a couple sitting on a bench, which he presented to me as a reminder of how our family began.

Here is the kind of man Jason is: He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers. This is a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffeepot: a spoon, a mug, a banana.

This is a man who emerges from the minimart or gas station and says, “Give me your palm.” And, voilà, a colorful gumball appears. (He knows I love all the flavors but white.)
My guess is you know enough about him now.

I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.

I’ll leave this intentional empty space below as a way of giving you two the fresh start you deserve.”

Whenever we harbor hope for a future beyond ourselves, whenever we provide intentional empty space – for others or for ourselves – for the fresh start they or you deserve, it is a little resurrection.

A third parable that could not be more different:

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to you the controversy that has rocked our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association. The persistent appearance of white supremacy and systemic racism resulted in the resignation of the UUA president – a Latino – and two executive staff members, both white. It was – and remains – painful and heart-breaking. This week the Board of Trustees announced that the interim presidency will be filled by three people, two men and one woman, all people of color.

It’s a long complicated story with a lot of not very eastery details but I am left with some hope. A few days ago I preached in Boston and said this:

“In country places, I’ve seen the dried remnants of the last year’s crops intentionally set afire. Aflame, the fields burn and the air fills with acrid smoke. It is a kind of death but it is about life for the purpose is to clear the fields and the promise is a promise of spring and new growth.”
It applies to the UUA but I think you can find the sermon in this. Pain and heartbreak can purify and make new growth possible. I know that this does not change everything, but I sense a little resurrection.

And now my fourth and final parable and, Brad, you’ll be glad that I’m returning not to Bad Dad Jokes but close…a cute little kid story and something I do find funny and light and another little – very little – resurrection.

Joan Petros is our office administrator, a good Roman Catholic by the way, though I’ve now officiated at all four of her kids’ weddings and her father’s memorial service. Her daughter Laura is married to Dan and they have a four-year old named Ethan. So the other day, Dan – who is a really good Dad – took Ethan to the barber for a haircut. Ethan enjoyed it so much that he told his dad that, when he grows up, he’d really like to be a barber. So, good dad that he is, at home Dan makes a little barber shop for Ethan – chair and apron, combs and a hair-clipper (unplugged) – so Ethan can play barber. Dan also gives Ethan some advice. “One of the most important things about being a barber,” he tells Ethan, “is knowing how to make small talk.” Ethan seriously takes it all in.

And now it’s time for his first customer, and it’s Laura. Ethan gets his mom into the chair, puts on the apron, starts to work the comb and the clippers, and then Ethan says to his mom, “So, got any plans for the summer?”

Small talk is the littlest of resurrections, but it is salubrious, it takes the chill off, it lubricates and it warms chilled hearts. Small talk does not change everything. Easter does not change everything and human kindnesses are but the littlest – and essential and wondrous – of resurrections.
Turn then mourning into praise, and for dirges anthems raise.

It’s Easter! Hallelujah, anyway!

Got any plans for the summer?


Closing Words
“The Székely Blessing” “Székely Aldás”

Where there is faith there is love;
where there is love there is peace;
where there is peace there is blessing;
where there is blessing there is God.
Where there is God, there, is no need.

Hol hit ott szeretet
Hol szeretet ott béke
Hol béké ott áldás
Hol áldás ott Isten
Hol Isten
Ott szükség nincsen