The Rev. Alison Cornish
April 8, 2007
Why, who makes much of a miracle? As for me, I know nothing else but miracles. To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle.
– Walt Whitman
Reading: Did the Sun Come Up This Morning? – Victoria Safford
The dead shall rise again.
Have you seen the trees? Have you seen the maple buds? The magnolias, swelling? Poplars, the first lacy, pale spray across the shoulder of the hills? The forsythia (or as one child I know calls it, the three-sythia, the two-sythia), and those three small perfect crabapple trees in the park, strong little trees begging children to climb them and get lost for a while in their magical, pink canopies?
Did you smell the rain this week, and the muddy, ready earth receiving it? Did you smell the musty, lusty, moldy pile of leaves all thawed now, and underneath, the moist and living earthworms, wide awake?
Is it safe, I wonder, to presume that we have all seen the dead resurrected?† Can we presume, just quietly among us, this basic fact? Can we admit, however carefully at first, however foolish it may sound, that once or twice in our lives or perhaps over and over and tumbling over, we have seen events miraculous?† Choose the words you will, whatever words you need. If “miracle” cloys, try “unexpected.” “Surprising.” Unanticipated.” “Lucky.” “That which has been given us, that second chance, that second wind, by the grace of God knows what.”
The dead shall rise again.
We know, because we’ve seen it.
We don’t know, and never will, where the leaf’s strength comes from in the spring. We don’t know, and never will, entirely, where our own strength comes from. But we have known despair, some of us, and deep discouragement, some of us, and discord of the mind and heart, or disasters in the body or the spirit or in both. We have known dead hope, dead courage, dead caring, dead will, dead faith, dead vision, dead power, deep winter, and we have felt, perhaps when we least expected to feel anything at all, our own slow blood stir in the vein like maple sap, and something very small and tight within begin to swell and open up, urgent, imperceptible at first, then undeniable – love lives again that with the dead has been.
Did the sun come up this morning, no thanks to us and all for us, and did the earth awake again, or did it not?
We will testify to resurrection.
Words of Prayer – Kathleen Rolenz
Easter Is Breaking
Somewhere across the world,
Easter is breaking
not the Easter we may think of,
with arms upraised and “he is risen” echoing from canyons,
but a much quieter, less dramatic Easter.
Somewhere in the world -perhaps not this day, but some day soon,
a woman and a man rise from their beds,
shaking the sleep from their eyes,
and find their children already awake and
preparing for their morning prayers
There has been no gunfire, no drug wars, no yelling or shouting or screaming,
only the quiet of the night and the peace of silence around them.
And somewhere in the world, perhaps not this morning, but soon, very soon
A soldier is packing his duffle bag,
has emptied out all his bullets,
is changing into civilian clothes,
and is coming home, for peace has long been established,
and there is no need for his presence.
And somewhere in the world, Easter dawn breaks over the earth,
not only on this day, but every day,
and the familiar pulse in our veins throbs of “peace, peace, peace.”
“Miracles Abound” – The Rev. Alison Cornish
‘Can we admit, however carefully at first, however foolish it may sound, that once or twice in our lives, or perhaps over and over and tumbling over, we have seen events miraculous?’ For me, these words of Victoria Safford bring to us the essence of the Easter story. Her words bridge the eons and invite us to stand alongside those followers of Jesus who expected to find his body at rest in the tomb, but instead, found the rock rolled back, the tomb empty. Can we share the awe and disbelief of those early witnesses? Can we imagine what it was to have witnessed events miraculous, this first of a remarkable series of experiences, even to include encountering their friend, though he was no longer of this world?
I daresay many of us would respond ‘no.’ No, we must submit, because the words of the scripture are too remote, too strange, and the miracles too incredible for the well-informed and rational to take very seriously. When it comes to events that confound the laws of nature, we, children of the Enlightenment, find in favor of nature. And when it comes to Jesus, we prefer our prophet to speak more words about justice, and perform fewer miraculous healings, thanks very much. Remember, it was our spiritual ancestor, Thomas Jefferson, who took his scissors to the New Testament, excising all the miracle stories, leaving us a much slimmer text called ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.’ No, we are likely to respond, that is not my place, awestruck with wonder, next to that echoing, empty tomb.
So, perhaps you will not expect me to say this next. I think I want to ñ no, make that, yearn to, long to, hope to, admit, however carefully at first, however foolish it may sound, that once or twice in [my life] or perhaps over and over and tumbling over, I have seen ñ or even might yet see – events miraculous. I do believe I’m ready for some ‘miraculous’ in my life ñ and in the life of the world which I inhabit!
OK, you know what’s coming next ñ a few definitions, so we can all be on the same page. You know how this goes with me! By miracles, or the miraculous, I do not mean the contemporary view of miracles as a ‘quick fix,’ although it is tempting to say that’s exactly what I mean because there are certainly a lot of things to be fixed around this planet, and I wouldn’t mind a little wand to wave and be done with it. But, no, that’s not what I mean. In the words of my colleague Lyn Ungar, ‘whatever miracles may be, I am sure that they do not take the place of the day-to-day work of dealing with reality as we know it.’ Too bad, but it’s the truth.
No, when I talk about the miraculous, I actually return to the Greek of the New Testament, where ‘miracle’ means ‘a sign, a wonder.’ A miracle, in this sense, is something that points beyond itself ñ perhaps to a divine power ñ but also to that which inspires wonder, or awe. Again, in Lyn Unger’s words,
‘A miracle, contrary to popular understanding, is not something [in itself] supernatural, something outside the world that breaks through in a burst of glory.
A miracle is something that connects us back to the world, which reminds us that we are a part of the larger heart, the wider embrace.’
C.S. Lewis poetically captured this sense of the miraculous, writing ‘Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.’ A miracle is sort of a glimpse, a quick look, at the full power and potency of life in all its fullness and glory.
Our story this morning, the 1939 Easter Sunday concert of Marian Anderson, was, I would testify, a miracle in this sense ñ a glimmer of life at its most remarkable, surprising and transforming. There was nothing supernatural about it, to be sure.
But think about it ñ an event which started as an annual fundraising event for Howard University was transformed into a bold stand confronting segregation in our nation’s capital. What was manifest was nothing short of staking out holy ground on the National Mall ñ an integrated audience gathered to hear one African American woman, standing at the feet of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, singing in celebration of that to which this country still aspires. Even now, some 68 years later, it is difficult to imagine how such a remarkable moment could evolve from such a bitter root. In fact, it seems almost impossible. But lest we forget that this miracle was about more than one woman and her skin color, recall that Marian Anderson changed the lyrics of her opening song, ‘America’ for the occasion. Instead of singing ‘My country, ëtis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing,’ she sang ‘My country, ëtis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, To thee we sing.’ In so doing, she spoke up, she sang back, she claimed, for that moment and hour, a place for her and all those pushed to the edges of a segregated America. A miracle is something that connects us back to the world, which reminds us that we are a part of the larger heart, the wider embrace it tells in small letters the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. That story that day, and for days to come, was this ñ there is a place for you, no matter what color your skin, before the icon of American freedom. For the rest of Marian Anderson’s life, wherever she traveled and sang, people would come backstage after a performance and say, ‘You know, I was at that Easter concert.’ What happened that day was retold, over and over again, as if to say ‘it really happened, I really did see it.
That day, I saw something fundamental about this country, and the way we are together, change.’ Miracles happen, they really, really, do.
But there is more to the miraculous than this ñ the sense of wonder, of awe, the sign that connects us back to the world. And that’s mystery. Now, this is another area of discomfort for our modern, and science-oriented minds. I think we have come to see the world in terms of the known, and the not-yet-known. We have become so very confident of our investigative and technological skills that any stones left unturned are simply stones we haven’t got ëround to ñ yet. But we will, and we have the confidence, once we are there, that we will figure out whatever is revealed. In fact, I believe we’re on the brink of seeing our world as a long and complicated roster of problems to be solved ñ and once we’ve solved one, we’ll go right on to the next. Mystery is something quite different. In the words of Diogenes Allen,
[W]e do not solve mysteries; we enter into them. Mysteries, to be known, must be entered into. The deeper we enter into them, the more illumination we get.
Still greater depths are revealed to us the further we go. When a problem is solved, it is over and done with. We go on to other problems But a mystery, once recognized, is something we are never finished with. It is never exhausted. Instead, we return to it again and again and it unfolds new levels to us We live in a universe permeated by a divine reality whose hem we touch when we encounter mysteries. (Gomes, 328)
Mysteries are where our imaginations have a chance to stretch and roam free. Mysteries demand that we set aside our need for order and tidiness, for all things to be understandable, and domesticated. Mysteries invite us into the full experience of life, rather than standing outside analyzing and judging and weighing the odds of getting to the bottom of it all. Mysteries require that we become comfortable with ‘maybe,’ or ‘not just yet,’ or, ‘hang on I’m still discovering, there’s still more here.’
Each of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is laden with invitations to mystery. The empty tomb. The mysterious encounters between Jesus and Mary, and Simon, and the disciples, and doubting Thomas. If we choose to see these as mysteries, rather than problems to be solved, perhaps we will be led away from the ‘did it happen?’ questions, and deeper into the true Easter message ñ which is this: ‘You can’t kill the holy spirit of love by killing a body. It will rise up all the stronger in other people’s bodies because they have seen and felt and known ultimately the cost of love in action.’ (Alice Blair Wesley) This is the mystery of Easter which is never exhausted. We are invited to return to it again and again, and when we do, it unfolds new levels to us. Each year, we are invited, once again, to walk into the empty tomb and engage with this mystery: that one life, both remarkable and ordinary in every way, planted the seeds of love and justice that are ‘alive everywhere that a revolution for goodness is thoughtfully engaged’ (Fitting).
Love is mysterious. And so are miracles. Both send us this much needed message: we are not forever stuck in life as we now find it. Miracles occur. Everything can change. Black and white women and men standing side-by-side, listening to a soulful voice sing to America. Children awake and preparing for their morning prayers. No gunfire, no drug wars, no yelling or shouting or screaming, only the quiet of the night and the peace of silence around them. A soldier packing his duffle bag, emptied of all his bullets, changing into civilian clothes, coming home, for peace has long been established. Miracles that we want, that we yearn for, long for, hope for ñ may miracles yet abound.
Wendy Fitting, ‘A Unitarian Universalist Perspective on Christianity,’ UUA, 1995.
Russell Freedman, The Voice that Challenged a Nation (NY: Clarion Books, 2004).
Peter Gomes, The Good Book (New York: Wm. Morrow and Company, 1996).
Victoria Safford, Walking Toward Morning (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2003).
Lyn Ungar, ‘Resurrection and Other Miracles,’ Quest, April 2006.
Alice Blair Wesley, comments on UUMA Chat, April 10, 2006,
quoted with permission.