In last Sunday’s "New York Times Magazine", there was a moving, painful, yet often hilarious personal essay by Dominique Browning called “Losing It”. [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/magazine/28fasttrack-t.html?emc=eta1] For the twelve years preceding 2007, Browning was editor of the magazine House and Garden. Just before Thanksgiving of that year, she was called into a meeting and informed that Condé Nast was shutting House and Garden down. For the first time in her life she was without a job. And for Dominique Browning, being without a job was something akin to being without a life. As she puts it:
I have always had a job. . . . Without work, who was I? I do not mean that my title defined me. What did define me was the simple act of working. The loss of my job triggered a cascade of self-doubt and depression. I felt like a failure. Not that the magazine had failed — that I had.
Anyone who has ever found themselves shut out from the things that define their life—and this can happen when one is let go or fired, when a business fails, when retirement comes, when a spouse moves the family to another part of the country, when a child leaves home for college—knows what Dominique Browning is talking about. In “Losing It” she goes on to describe, in painfully funny ways, the kind of vegetable existence she descended into. Her life became an unstructured round of meals, sleeping in, and obsessive house-cleaning. At the low point of her existence she finds herself loading an expensive dessert plate with peanut butter as her evening meal. “I dolloped the stuff onto the plate — an extra helping so I didn’t have to go back downstairs for seconds. I put the plate of peanut butter, a half bottle of wine, a glass and a linen napkin on a tray and climbed back to my bedroom.”
As a Christian community, we have just lived through Holy Week, sharing with Jesus the sorrows and pains of the cross. There are worse things—serious illness, the death of a family member, the end of a relationship—than losing a job. But losing a job is a serious, major blow. If you’ve ever gone through a loss of status like this, you know how devastating it can be to your sense of your self, your worth, even your desire to go on living. When we lose that which defines us—the position, the routines, the relationships—our life as we have known it can seem like a thing of the past.
We’re gathered together this morning to celebrate Easter, the central feast of the Christian year. Easter is about resurrection, new life, transformed existence. Jesus has been put to death on the cross but God has validated his life and purpose in this surprising act of raising Jesus from the dead. We celebrate Easter because, as Paul says in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, Jesus’s resurrection has implications for us. His resurrection is what Paul calls “the first fruits” of our resurrection. Easter proclaims that Christ is risen and we shall be, too.
There is more to Easter than the promise a future blessedness. Easter is most powerfully about the here and now. Dominique Browning’s "New York Times Magazine" story reminds us that you and I and those we care about need help now. Easter is not just about risen life after death. Yes, to be sure, it is that. But it is also about risen life now. Because Christ is risen, death has lost its hold over our lives and imaginations. This means that we will have a life beyond death. And it also means that we can have a life beyond mere life.
To return one last time to Dominique Browning’s story. Her slide into aimless, vegetable living stopped when she finally began to let go of her old lost worklife routines and rhythms and gave herself over to the life that was actually hers in the moment. Here is how she puts it:
Slowly, slowly, the months go by, each one a variation transposing loss, loneliness and anger to gratitude and hope. . .I find room in my life again for love of the world, let the quiet of solitary moments steal over me, give myself over to joy. What a surprise! . . . [T]hese are moments of grace. Old Testament loving-kindness, the stuff of everyday life.—Dominique Browning , “Losing It”, New York Times Magazine, March 22, 2010
What is this but a kind of resurrection? Though the budding plants and singing birds around us today lift all our spirits, Easter is not only or even primarily about the return of spring. It is about risen and transformed hopeful living, about what Jesus would call “watchfulness”, what the Buddhists would call “awakening”. There is a beauty and depth and grace in the present moment that you and I usually miss because we are too obsessively focused either on the past or the future. The gift of resurrection is the gift not only of what we Christians call “eternal life”. The gift of resurrection is the gift of living the life God offers us in Jesus now. That resurrected life is a life characterized by openness, forgiveness, compassion, and an ongoing sense of wonder at the the beauty and joy of God’s world and the lucky gracious privilege of being alive in it. Listen again to what Paul says about this life in today’s epistle:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.--1 Corinthians 15.20-22
Life will always present us with obstacles and challenges. The life God lived in Jesus shows us that you cannot be human without confronting frustrations to your hopes and expectations. We are, after all, finite, fragile creatures. We are subject to illness, abandonment, betrayal, failure, and loss. That is, unfortunately, the way it is. If even the life God lived in Jesus was characterized this way, you and I should not be too surprised when our plans and hopes collapse. But there’s good news there, too: the news that God lived this life in Jesus means that the life we live ourselves has meaning and value. It means that our sufferings and losses do not count for nothing. It means that Jesus’s destiny is our destiny, too.
“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” The glorious truth this Easter Day is not only that you shall be risen. The glorious truth is that you are risen, with Jesus, today. The abundant life that Jesus lived with his companions—thankfully receiving and sharing God’s gifts, reaching out in love and compassion, being wakefully open to the glory and preciousness of God’s world and the beings who inhabit it, and your own precious uniqueness—this abundant life is now, can be now, yours. That is the real truth of Easter today. The gift of resurrection is yours to claim and live into now.
What that Easter living looks like will depend on where you are on the journey of your life. For some it may mean, as it meant for Dominique Browning, living into a whole new way of being. For some it may mean letting go of old hurts and wounds and failures and losses and greeting this new day in the spirit of resurrection. For some it may mean ceasing to worry about yourself and starting more to care for the needs and fates of others. Resurrection is not a one size fits all kind of deal. God is making you into the original, unique being you were always intended to be and fitting you to live your unique role in God’s world. So your risen life will not look like anybody else’s.
But that risen life is real, it is here now, and it is yours. As we come now to gather at God’s table, we share the meal in which Jesus promised to be present to his friends as they ate and drank in his memory. At Easter, though, this meal is not primarily a memorial. It is, as one theologian [Jurgen Moltmann] called it, a “feast of freedom.” We gather at this table and stand in Jesus’s presence in thanksgiving for this Easter freedom that God has bestowed on us in the resurrection of Jesus and us. In the surprising grace of the empty tomb, God has set Jesus free. In the gracious surprise of Easter morning, God has set you free, too. "Why look for the living among the dead?" Today is the day of your empty tomb. You have been made alive in Christ. Come to God’s table and give thanks for that awakening of rebirth, and then go forth to live that free and risen life in God’s abundant and hurting world. Amen.