FROM FR. JAY SIDEBOTHAM +
Column dated April 5, 2021
The prayer closing Martin Luther King’s sermon: The Questions Easter Answers
O God, our gracious Heavenly Father, we come on this Easter morning thanking Thee for revealing to us the ultimate meaning and the ultimate rationality of the universe. We thank you, this morning, for your Son, Jesus, who came by to let us know that love is the most durable power in the world, who came by to let us know that death can’t defeat us, to take the sting out of the grace and death and make it possible for all of us to have eternal life. We thank you, O God. And God grant that we will be grateful recipients of they eternal blessing. In the name and spirit of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Alleluia, the 2021 version!
A parishioner once rather heatedly questioned my wisdom as rector because he believed that I had scheduled Easter during his son’s spring vacation. He was not happy. In response, I began by noting my appreciation for the ascription to me of such authority. I also conveyed my own frustration that Easter keeps moving around. Seasons shorten and lengthen depending on when Easter is scheduled. That presents challenges for type-A planners like me. Do you know any in the church?
But here we are. It is Easter, a season as well as a day. Why not look on the bright side? Led by the Spirit, changing dates can help us find new insights into the meaning of the day, the reason for the season.
For instance, when Easter falls on April 10, we are able to recall the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died on this day. He gave witness to Easter as he was led to execution, turning to his imprisoned congregation and saying: “For us this is the end. For me the beginning.”
When Easter falls on April 1 (April Fools’ Day), we can live into the wisdom of Esau McCaulley in his column in the New York Times on Friday, words about the unsettling news of Easter. He wrote: Christians, at their best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life.
When Easter falls on April 15, we get to explore the question of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. That can be a vision of a new, resurrected life.
When Easter falls on Earth day, we celebrate the beauty of the earth, which teaches us all the time about death and resurrection, seeds going underground and dying to produce growth.
And as Easter falls on April 4, as it did yesterday, that collision of calendars offers opportunity to give thanks for the life and ministry of Martin Luther King. His life ended on April 4 on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The Sunday before Dr. King died, he preached a sermon in which he seemed to know what was coming. He spoke about the promised land, a hopeful vision which he knew that he himself may not see but to which he had led a movement. That sermon had Easter promise written all over it.
He said: “As I look over the world, as I look at America, I can see Easter coming in race relations. I can see it coming on every hand. I see it coming in Montgomery. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. What stops us does not stop God and that miracle is as much a part of the end as of the beginning. Above all, Easter provides answers to the deepest queries of the human spirit.”
All of this says to me that our observance of Easter obviously happens year after year with dreams unfulfilled. In 1957, Dr. King claimed that he could see Easter coming in terms of race relations. I can’t imagine he would have imagined that in Holy Week 2021 we’d all be watching footage of the end of George Floyd’s life. And while we may see Easter coming after a year of COVID, we still contend with the great losses that come from this health and economic crisis.
The new life that is promised in Easter does not mean that all difficulties of life dissipate. It does mean that week in and week out we affirm that love wins. We join with Dr. King in claiming this as the Easter message: “Love is the most durable power in the world…Through the love that God revealed through Jesus Christ, things move on.” As he said, what stops us does not stop God.
May we this day, this week, this Easter season tap into that durable power. Where will you start this morning?