© 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.
It 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.