Sermon: Rules For Resurrection

2018 April 1
by Rev Ana Levy-Lyons

The story of Easter is the story of a resurrection. A resurrection is a miracle and a miracle, as I talked about last week, is something explosively new that’s created when heaven and earth crash into each other – when a spark of spirit meets human hard work. When Jesus rises from the dead in the biblical story, it is just such a miracle whether or not you believe that this was a physical resurrection. His body dies but his presence intensifies and his voice amplifies. The community comes together around him. Something new is created that has lasted some 2000 years. In some important ways, Jesus’ death was not an ending, but a beginning.


How did he do it? How did he pull this off when all the forces of society were arrayed against him? He was a poor Jewish peasant with some wacky ideas about religion trying to take on the Roman empire. And with his resurrection of whatever kind you think it was, he trumped them. How did he do it? More importantly, how can we do it? Many of us want to invoke a resurrection in our own lives. Because resurrection comes in many different shapes and sizes. It’s not always the high drama of the empty tomb. Resurrection can be as personal as a reuniting of an estranged sister, brother, or child and family relationships are born anew. It can be as private as a new capacity to take a risk, where you lived smaller and safer before. It can mean embracing the process of aging instead of fighting it. It can mean emerging from grief back into the world and finding life again.


Resurrections of these kinds do not just happen by themselves. The force of inertia and the laws of nature dictate that the stuck tend to stay stuck and the dead tend to stay dead. Some attempted resurrections fail. Many never even get off the ground. But I think we can look at the story of Jesus and the stories of other types of resurrections we see around us in our world and notice some common themes that make the magic happen. If we want to try this at home, we can look at what characteristics they share and deduce rules for resurrection. Here’s what I’ve come up with. You might be able to come up with more.


  1. You gotta know you need it.

Maybe you’re feeling trapped and need to get untrapped. Maybe you’re mired in old family dynamics. Maybe you’re repeating self-sabotaging patterns again and again. Maybe you’re addicted to a substance, to a phone, to a behavior that takes away the pain. Maybe you’re feeling helpless to do anything about the political nightmares of our day. Maybe you’re frozen in fear or disassociating completely because it hurts to look.


But if you don’t know that you’re trapped, or self-sabotaging, or addicted, or feeling helpless, if you can’t name it and know that you need a resurrection to live your full self, it’s not going to happen. You need to be aware and awake. You need to look hard at your own life. You need to be able to say to yourself that you’re living a partial life in some way and that that’s got to change. Something is not working and you’ve got to decide that too much is at stake to just continue to let it slide.


Jesus knew that he needed a resurrection. His ministry was going fine from a spiritual perspective, but he knew that if he just continued doing what he was doing – traveling around, preaching, teaching, and trying to convince people to join his rebellion against the Roman empire, he would end up just like the hundreds of other would-be rebel leaders of his day – dead in the dustbin of history, a footnote at best.


And so, although he famously implored God to not make him go through with it, he ultimately went and did the series of steps that he knew would lead to his resurrection – he predicted it from the start, saying that he will rise up again after three days. He named it and he knew he needed it – the world needed it. If we’re thinking of a miracle as a meeting of heaven and earth, this is the “earth” part. It’s practical; it’s concrete; it’s about the messiness of our lives, the gap between how they are and how we want them to be. It’s about the moment when we have to make a change. So number one, you’ve gotta know that you need a resurrection.


  1. You gotta lean on something larger.


Nobody can resurrect themselves. A resurrection can only happen when you give up the conceit of being self-made and reach out beyond yourself to something larger. Some of us call that something larger “God.” For some of us it’s the spirit of love and liberation or just the way the universe bends toward justice and we climb on the slide of that bend and let go. For some of us, the something larger is our community, maybe here at First U, or a circle of friends or family. Community. For some of us it’s the deep wisdom of our inner self that allows us to transform from the inside out.


But we need the humility to recognize that the type of transformation required when we need a resurrection is so profound that we cannot do it alone. We need people and powers beyond our ordinary day-to day self. Jesus was in constant conversation with his God – he spoke out loud to God, prayed regularly, fasted, studied the scriptures. He also leaned on his human family – his followers and fellow teachers to help support him and pray with him. He was baptized by someone else.


If you need a resurrection, and you know you need a resurrection, this would be a good time to start a spiritual practice. If you already have a spiritual practice, now is a good time to deepen it. Find ways, more and more, to connect every day to that greater self. If we’re thinking of a miracle as a meeting of heaven and earth, this is the “heaven” part. Invite the spark of spirit into your life. So: (1) you gotta know you need it and (2) you gotta lean on something larger.


The third rule for resurrection. There has to be a third one, right? In these kinds of sermons, there’s always three of whatever it is. So earlier this week, I’m trying to figure out – what’s the third rule going to be? And my daughter is telling me about a project they’re doing in her second grade class where they grow plants from a seed and when the plants make their own seeds, they plant those seeds and make more plants. It teaches them about the cycle of life – a good thing to do in the spring. But I have to admit, as she’s excitedly telling me about it, I’m not fully paying attention. I’m making her and her brother’s lunch and she’s talking about how they water the plants every day and the leaves have started to come up and then there’s going to be flowers and how they leave a special light on in the classroom all night to help them grow and she has her own plant with her name on it, and I’m kind of doing the parental, “oh wow, that’s really interesting, sweetie,” while thinking about a thousand other things.


And then she says, “…and when we get back from spring break, we’re going to stop watering them and then…”

Wait a minute. Hang on. Did you just say you’re going to stop watering the plants?”

She says, “Yeah.”


So they can die and then we can plant the seeds.”


Second grade was a long time ago for me and I don’t remember anything about this. So I asked her teacher for more info and, sure enough, with this kind of brassica plant, once the seeds are fully formed in their pods, the plant has to be allowed to die and the seeds dry out before they can be planted. Then they can form a new plant in the wake of the old.


So this is the third rule for resurrection: you gotta die first.


To be clear, I’m not talking about physical death. Jesus went that route, but in our case, no. I’m talking about the death of the part of us that’s holding us back – the death of whatever is keeping us down, keeping us stuck. And it may be a part that’s really, really comfortable, really familiar. It may even feel like this is the real me. But if it’s living small, it’s not the real you. It’s not the most courageous you, it’s not the most loving you, it’s not the you that you will want to have been when you look back at the end of your life.


Jesus had to completely and utterly give himself up to God before the resurrection could happen. He had to willingly let himself die. It’s a struggle – he wants to live, like anyone. But he lets go. As he’s hanging from the cross, he finally says to God, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then the text says he breathes his last and then the resurrection can happen.


To give up a part of yourself, to let it go up to God, release it to the universe, is really hard. It requires stopping watering something that you may have been watering your whole life. It could be a grudge or resentment from years ago. It could be an outdated belief about yourself or your capacity to change. It could be a need to please. It could be an attachment to safety or predictability. It can be really hard to let go, it may even be something you love, but it is sometimes the only way to evoke a resurrection. So… rules for resurrection: you gotta know you need it, you gotta lean on something larger, and you gotta die first.


You have in your hand a little piece of paper. I want to invite you to think about what you need to let go of – what do you need to let die in yourself in order to be resurrected into new life this spring. Press that little piece of paper to your heart or your belly or your forehead and pour that thing or idea that you need to let go of into that piece of paper. You can even write a word on it if you have a pencil – a word representing the thing you need to let die.


We’re going to do our fire ritual now. Just a practical note – the paper you have is a special paper called flash paper that burns up instantly. Please do not try this with a regular piece of paper. In a minute we’ll invite you to come up to one of the three stations with your piece of flash paper. Remember why you need a resurrection, invoke the powers of something larger in your life, whether it’s God, your community, or your own higher self. And then prepare to let go of whatever is holding you back. Touch it to the flame, lift it up to the heavens and let it go. I’m going to ask Tom Check to demonstrate how this works… Touch it to the flame, lift it up and let it go. Please come up when you’re ready.


2 Responses
  1. Barbara DeYoung permalink
    April 7, 2018

    Thank you for speaking so well of the Jesus I love… the lesson is taken with gratitude, appreciating your generosity and inclusion…I am older, but I strive for joy and service.

    • Ana Levy-Lyons permalink
      April 9, 2018

      Thank you, Barbara. Blessings to you. -Ana

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