The week before Palm Sunday, one of the ministers at our church began her sermon with the observation that Methodists hate talking about sin. Her voice showed her nervousness at broaching the topic, and during her homily, she compared it to the dust that we have to wipe up during spring cleaning.
Her nervousness was understandable -- after all, we Methodists are about social work, about changing the world, about bridging the gaps between one another so that God's love can shine upon us all. It is that love, we believe, that will draw us all toward the cross. When we talk about sin, the specters of judgment and those television preachers with their Bibles held high, hollering about brimstone, come to mind. Judgment raises barriers, after all.
But there is a difference between judgment and acknowledgment. No matter what your religious beliefs are, you can't say that evil does not exist. You can't say that people do not do horrible things to one another. Maybe you can say that you have never done anything awful, but I can't say that about myself. I have to acknowledge and banish, on a daily basis, my imperfections, so that I do not go running after them.
Sin is awful. It is the black mold that eats away at souls -- it can be so hard to scrub away that we just let it sit there and grow. It is the one weed in your rose garden that, every Saturday morning when you go outside to take a look, is already working its way toward your prize Texas Beauty. It is that crack that appears above your bedroom doorway one morning, showing the malaise in your foundation as it scornfully works its way up your wall.
And it is real. It chases all of us, because God's adversary wants all of us to be as miserable as he is. He offers to distract us, sympathize with us, befriend us. He even tried it with Jesus, out in the desert.
But it is not a tool. It is not a weapon that we use to judge each other. It is not a microscope that we use to analyze the lives of others. It is not a can of red paint that we throw upon those whom we find distasteful. It is a tarry, dark filth that, once it coats a person or a thing, becomes transparent and even shiny -- and to some, it even becomes an invitation. Because the temptations within sin call out to all of our weaknesses.
We need to fight sin. But we don't need to fight each other to fight it. Too many churches grasp either the first sentence, or the second sentence, but almost no churches grasp both of them at the same time. The problem is that you have to be able to deal with BOTH sentences at the same time to honor the teachings of Christ.
The beauty of Easter is that, in the spring, we are reminded that there is a way out of sin. There is no way to keep God's adversary from coming after us, but we have the overwhelming love of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and with the comfort of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of hope that, if we believe in Jesus' defeat of His adversary, and of death itself, a better life awaits us -- as the Methodists say, "the life everlasting." This is what grace offers us -- as Mrs. Onlooker Slowdown so wisely says, without grace, we all will end up alone. Far better to end up in God's country.
So, this Easter, focus on the cross...and the empty tomb. Don't think about the other people in your row. Don't think about all the people you don't like. Don't think about the stewardship campaign, even if your pastor brings it up. Don't think about politics, or self-help, or any of the other nonsense that too many pastors have painted onto the cross. Don't think about judgment, because those days are past.
They have been. For over 2000 years now. He is risen...indeed.
This poem is one of the most powerful meditations about the truth of Easter. Enjoy...and have a wonderful Easter Sunday.
Seven Stanzas At Easter
By John Updike
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.