Tag Archives: Easter

on easter, making sopes, and finishing the music

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© erin dunigan 2013

Good morning. It is wonderful to be with you all, on this the fifth anniversary of our La Mision Easter celebration. Whether it is your first time with us, or your fifth, know that you are welcome here, that you belong here – that this is a place that is open to all people, of all faiths, or of no faith, where we are seeking to journey together along the spiritual path though we come from very different approaches to that.

I have had people ask me how in the world do we have an Easter celebration that is so inclusive, that welcomes atheists and devout believers, that has those who have dedicated their lives to spiritual things and those who think that, to be honest, they are kind of a bunch of BS, those who are intrigued by the spiritual life and those who would rather just get on with living the life in front of them. It is, I grant you, an interesting mix. We are, of course, an eclectic community. For that I, for one, am incredibly thankful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this gathering and it seems to me there is an important question that is sort of hanging in the air surrounding it – this Easter thing, which, of course, is a Christian feast day commemorating the crucifixion – crucifixion was a common death in the first century in the Roman empire. It was for criminals. When the man Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, the story says that it was with a thief, a terrorist even, on either side of him. It was a shameful, degrading way to die – reserved for those who were a threat to the system –  and, more importantly, this day is a day commemorating the resurrection, the somehow living beyond death of a man, named Jesus of Nazareth, who walked this earth and through his resurrection became the living Christ.

It can be a crazy thing to get one’s head around.

For some, it is accepted without question – it is a matter of faith. Done. For others, it seems like a fairy story that asks one to check their brains at the door. We are both in this room.

So, I wonder, if just for a moment, we can all – those who accept this and those who think it is a bit too crazy to actually believe – I wonder if we might let go of, for the moment, the question ‘Did it happen?’ Did it actually happen? Did a man who was dead come back to life? What did that look like? Did Jesus actually walk out of the tomb where his dead body had been laid? Was the resurrection a flash of light? Is this meant more as metaphor?

They are good questions. They are important questions. They are questions that have been the cause of much wrestling by people who have dedicated their lives to such wondering – and they still don’t agree, they still don’t know, definitively, one way or another what actually happened – there were no video cameras, no iPhones there to capture the moment. Only the stories of those who experienced it, passed down through generations.

So I wonder if, just for this moment, we might set aside the question ‘did it happen?’ and wonder together instead, ‘does it happen?’


It is, as I mentioned, the 5th anniversary of our Easter service. But it just so happens that it is another very important anniversary, which is less well known, but, if you ask me, also very important.

It is the fifth anniversary of the first time I ever ate sopes.

vitaIt was on Easter evening, five years ago, that I had my first taste of a sope – made by Vita. It was delicious! I fell in love immediately.  I had to know how to make them for myself.

So, not long after that first sope experience, I invited Vita over, and some of you, my neighbors, to make sopes. I have to admit – my first attempts, well, they were less than ideal. Some were too small, some were too thin, others were too thick – if you watch Vita make them, each sope is identical, perfectly shaped, perfect thickness – a work of art, really. Mine were something more like play dough thrown against the wall.

For in making sopes there is both the consistency of the dough that has to be just right – not too much water or they will fall apart, mostly masa, but a little bit of flour, and then work them together into a consistency that will not crumble but is also not too mushy.

In the five years since I’d like to say that I’ve perfected the sope making – but the reality is, Vita’s are still more precise, more perfect than mine. I’m guessing she’s had more than five years of practice at it.

But that hasn’t stopped me. We’ve had many a sope night at my house – when friends from the US come to visit I make sure that they are in the kitchen at least one of their nights, learning how to roll the balls of dough, flatten them, make the ridges around them, and then delight in tasting them. I’ve modified the traditional sope somewhat – making vegetarian sopes with a potato filling instead of meat, or using whatever I happen to have on hand for the fillings.

As I thought about it, I realized, making sopes is a lot like Easter. It’s a lot like this gathering here.


That first Easter as we gathered downstairs here in Kathleen’s house we were led by Gary Wilburn – a man many of you had the privilege of knowing. Gary was a retired Presbyterian minister. Retired not because he was tired of being a minister or ready to be done with it, but because he had been diagnosed with ALS. He and Bev made the decision to live full time in what had previously been their vacation home here on the beach in La Mision. As their first Easter approached, they wondered what they might do – were they to do nothing? It did not seem right. Easter, after all, is arguably the biggest day in the Christian year.

But it just so happened that there was a bit of a minister match maker in the midst – Marty Harriman, who introduced me to Bev and Gary and next thing you knew, we were planning and then hosting our first La Mision Easter service.  What a gift that was in so many ways.

You might think that because I’m a minister I remember sermons all the time – I don’t. Sometimes, sure. But most often, nope. But I remember Gary’s sermon from that day. It was called ‘Finishing the Music.’ In it he told the story of Puccini, the great musician who wrote Madame Butterfly, La Boehme, and so many other majestic operas, and who was stricken with cancer in 1922.  So what did he do?  He sat down to write a new opera.  His students asked him, “But suppose you die?”  “Oh,” he replied confidently, “never fear.  YOU will finish it!”

Puccini did die…and as he predicted, his students did finish his music.  The premier of the great opera, was held at La Scala Opera House under the direction of Puccini’s best student – Arturo Toscanini.

The performance proceeded and came to that point in the music where the composer had finally laid down his pen.  Tears streamed down Toscanini’s face.  He put down his baton and turned to the audience and said, “Thus far, the master wrote…and then the master died.”

Then, picking up his baton, his face wreathed with smiles and determination, Toscanini shouted to the audience, “BUT HIS DISCIPLES FINISHED HIS MUSIC!”  And they played on through the grand finale.

So shall you and I play on, said Gary, as he finished that sermon on that first Easter celebration.  He concluded it with an Amen. There was not a dry eye in the room.


It is said that Jesus, toward the end of his life, told his disciples, his friends, “You will do far greater things than these.”  A bit crazy, if you think of it, as the story up to that point has us learning that Jesus had not only restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, multiplied loaves to feed five thousand, and healed all sorts of disease and sickness. You will do far greater things than these, he said to his friends, his followers. Really?

Earlier in the week some of us gathered for a Passover celebration – Pesach, as Ron has instructed me – the Hebrew way of saying Passover. As we sat down to begin the reading of the Haggadah, the Passover story that is read every year, re-telling the story of exodus, of liberation from captivity, Ron shared with us an important, an essential, part of this re-telling of the Passover story – when we read it, we are not reading a story about an event that happened way back when, to some other people. No, as we read it, it is our story, we are the ones who have been liberated from that which binds us, we are the ones who have been set free, who have crossed from death to life – it is our story.

We are, if you like, not just those who would eat sopes one time five years ago – we are those who are ourselves learning how to make sopes, and then sharing that feast with others.

In the Jewish tradition, as in the Christian tradition, we are called to be as the phrase tikkun olam puts it, repairers of the world – actively involved in sowing love, justice, peace, and joy.

So today, on this day where we celebrate resurrection – new life – that death does not have the final word, that the systems of power and domination do not have the final say,  I wonder what would happen if we were to ask ourselves, not, did it happen, as if the only importance were the historical validity of a particular event two thousand years ago,  but does it happen?

Does it happen?

Are people set free from their bondage? From their addictions? From the things that weigh us down, that threaten our very ability to carry on? Is hospitality practiced amongst us? Are those who have much sharing out of their abundance with those who have less? Is life being lived in the now, in the present, awake to the moment, and to its fullness? Are we growing in love, in compassion, in service to one another?

For, of course, it is we who will finish the music. We who are, even now, here in this place, continuing the music. Even as we gather here today.

So shall you and I play on.  Amen.

breaking the bread of happiness

The story of this Easter Day that we read this morning, from the gospel of John, is actually one of four accounts, in the Bible, that tell the story. Each account tells a slightly different version of the story–not unlike La Mision, where everyone has their own twist on the chisme of the day!

Part of what I love about this story is that, in it, Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest companions, upon encountering him, doesn’t even know who he is. She thinks he is the gardener, of all things! I love it. Was he wearing his cut offs and black rubber boots? Is that why she thought he was the gardener?

Granted, to her credit, she did not expect to see Jesus walking around. She was looking for a dead guy, who was supposed to be in that garden tomb, behind a big rock. So, we can cut her a little slack that she didn’t, right off the bat, realize that it was Jesus that she was talking to.

In fact, even when he spoke to her, she still didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t what she was expecting.

“Woman, why are you crying?” he asked her. She heard his voice. But it was not until he called her by name, “Mary,” that her eyes were opened and that she could see that somehow, miraculously, it was actually Jesus standing there before her.

Last week I came back from Thailand. It was a long flight. I flew through Tokyo, on Al Nippon airlines. It just so happened that one of the movies that was playing was a Japanese film called Bread of Happiness.

Bread of Happiness is a story of a husband and wife who move from the big city of Tokyo to a remote rural area, really nowhere in particular, not necessarily a destination itself, but somewhere with a bus stop–a place that is more on the way to somewhere else than a place to head for its own sake.

The wife, Rie, has always dreamed of her soulmate–the perfect companion with whom to share her life, her dreams, her hopes for the future. But, instead, she’s got her husband, Sang. It is not that they are unhappy–but it is just not the dream that Rie had been imagining. It wasn’t the life she was expecting.

There, somewhat in the middle of nowhere, they open a cafe–a cafe in which, each day, each season, Sang bakes bread–a different type of bread, based on the season. As the two begin to carve out this life together, people seem to find their way to the cafe–a woman who has been dumped by her boyfriend, an elderly couple who plan to go there to die, a young girl who has lost her mom–and in the midst of the sharing of bread together, and the hospitality of Rie and Sang, the bread that is broken together begins to heal the brokenness of their lives.

Toward the end of the movie–and it was a long flight, I should have been sleeping, and was sort of on the verge of it–all of a sudden I had to rewind it, as a phrase (in the subtitles, of course–I’m not yet fluent in Japanese) caught my attention.

It was almost said in passing between the characters, but it struck me by its simple depth–companion, as it turns out, literally in the origin of the word, means those who share bread together. Really? I had never heard that. I had no idea that is what the word meant. Companion. Those who share bread together.

For, though Rie did not find her ‘soulmate,’ what she did find, in the kneading of their lives together, in the sharing of the bread, was that Sang had become her companion.

Today is Easter. It’s a big day. One of the two biggest days, in the Christian calendar. It’s a holiday. A big celebration. And that is fantastic, something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

But I began to think, as I pondered the Bread of Happiness and Mary thinking Jesus was the gardener, if resurrection, new life, is not also played out in the unexpectedly ordinary–in the day to day, sharing of bread with one another, in a place that is really here nor there, but somewhere along the journey? Being companions to one another, breaking bread together, and in the midst of that breaking, finding that our own brokenness is being kneaded together as well?

Recently I saw an article posted on facebook. It was called ‘The Brain on Love,’ from the NY Times. A line from it caused me to pause:

In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.

What we pay the most attention to, defines us, literally transforms us.

So, on this Easter Sunday, let us celebrate the big moments of new life, rebirth, and resurrection. But let us also go into the world, into the ordinary moments, as companions, those who break bread with one another, and share that bread with the world.


the labyrinth at Serra Retreat Center, Malibu

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent (in Spanish, Cuaresma), the season of penitence and preparation leading up to Easter.

The 40* days (thus the word, cuaresma in Spanish, cuarenta meaning forty) are symbolic of the story of Jesus, after being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan river, being sent out (literally driven out) into the wilderness where, according to the story in Mark 1, he was tempted by Satan and with the wild beasts.

Traditionally Lent has been a time where followers of Jesus ‘give up’ something in order to identify with Jesus’ time fasting in the wilderness.

Some people argue that giving up something (such as chocolate or sweets), if it really is just for the motive of going on a diet or losing weight, does not really ‘count.’ The point, they say, is to do something sacrificial, for which you don’t receive a ‘reward.’ Of course there is truth in this, but if you manage to go 40 days (which is really 45 with the Sundays included) without eating sugar or chocolate or alcohol, is pretty sacrificial, at least to your tasted buds!

But what if, rather than seeing Lent as a time to add another item to our list of things to do (or not do), we were to see it as a time of intentionality, of preparation, and of emptying ourselves? What if it were a time to be mindful–of how we spend our time, our money, and of what we consume, both into our bodies as well as with our credit cards? Would this ‘count’ as a Lenten practice?

I’ve never really tried to whole-heartedly embrace Lent. Sure, I’ve flirted with giving up chocolate or sweets as a teenager, have tried ‘adding something good (like service to others)’ instead of giving something up (I didn’t really follow through on that one), and have even had a Lenten practice of going around the world (I’m not sure how that fits with Jesus fasting in the wilderness).

But this year I’m going to try it. I’m going to try to be present, to be mindful, and to seek ways of making space (emptying?) in my life to pay attention. We’ll see where it leads.



*The number 40 is also significant in the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians often call the Old Testament) as the number of days Moses spent on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments, the number of days of rain for Noah’s ark, the number of years the people of Israel wandered in the desert before reaching the promised land.

Outrageous Hope

Happy Easter from Mexico!

Just wanted to give a quick update…I’m back in the country, well, on the continent. I got back late Thursday night, spent Friday unpacking, doing laundry and re-packing in order to drive down to Mexico on Saturday.

You may remember (though I don’t blame you if you don’t—I can barely keep track of my life, and it’s mine!) that last Easter I told a story of meeting Gary Wilburn, a retired Presbyterian minister, who is living here in La Mision where my family has had a house since my grandparents built it some 50 years ago.  Gary and I have both mutual friends, we came to find out, but have also quite mutual paths—Princeton Seminary, St. Andrews Scotland, Bel Air Presbyterian Church and Immanuel Presbyterian Church in LA, to name a few. Gary and his wife Bev moved down here to Mexico full time after finding out that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Gary and I met last year on Palm Sunday, and a week later, on Easter, hosted a La Mision Easter celebration service and pot luck.  In December we hosted a Christmas celebration as well, for a mixed group of Spanish and English speakers, Mexicans and Americans, all part of the community here.

At one point not long after we met last year—I think we were at Tuesday Taco Night at La Fonda Restaurant, Gary looked at me and said, “You could have been Lutheran!” to which I replied, “You could have been Pentecostal!” Meaning…of all the situations, how crazy is it that he, a retired Presbyterian minister and me, a…hmm, not sure what to call myself!, would both end up being here in a fairly small community.

That’s all the back story.

Gary preaches to the La Mision Easter service

Gary preaches to the La Mision Easter service

The update is, I had the great privilege to again, this morning, help put together and host an Easter service for the community here. Gary, with the help of a small microphone which helps him speak (his breathing has become very difficult and he spends much time on oxygen and is pretty much always in a wheel chair now) was able to preach.  Other members of the community helped with readings, prayers, reflections and a benediction. We sang to Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” and Judy Collins’ “Amazing Grace” and even had an impromptu round of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I’ve heard plenty of sermons in my day, and now even preached quite a few, and I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such attentiveness to a sermon as I did this morning.

Here’s just one excerpt from the sermon, entitled ‘Outrageous Hope’ : “I’ve got to tell you—time is not on my side, but hope is…Having hope doesn’t change anything—it makes us want to change it.”

I recently had the opportunity to write an article about Gary for the Presbyterian News Service.  It’s entitled Lots of Hope, which is the title to Gary’s newly released book.  You can also see pictures from the service as well. 

Peace to you this Easter.