Updated: Apr 7
Recording of our April 4, 2021 online Easter worship service
Welcome and Announcements
Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church!
I am Bill Fox, your Worship Associate this morning, and will be assisting Ed Sharples in this morning’s service. We are joined today by our Music Directors, Steve and Abha Dearing, RE Coordinator Nico Van Ostrand, chalice lighter Holly Corteville, and hymn leader Dominik Mangrulkar; with technical support from Sara Constantakis and Zoom greeter Mary Jo Ebert.
BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. Social justice is an essential component of our church life.
We are a “capital W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on civic engagement, racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental justice.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour.
If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.
We have 3 announcements this morning:
This Tuesday, April 6, at 7:00 pm, join Keith Ensroth on Facebook Live for our monthly Vespers Service. This is a joyful, yet introspective evening service that centers gratitude for the day that has passed and welcomes the night that is beginning. The service will include the lighting of memorial candles, candles of concern, and candles of hope and joy. Names and information for candle lighting can be submitted via the link on our website or shared in comments on the Facebook Live video. To view the service live, visit the Birmingham Unitarian Church Facebook page this Tuesday at 7:00 pm. The video will also remain on Facebook for later viewing.
This coming Saturday morning, April 10, at 10:00 am, join the Social and Environmental Justice team for “At the Corner of Environment and Race in Southeast Michigan.” We’ll welcome State Senator Stephanie Chang and Professor Shea Howell, both from Detroit, to explore how environmental hazards often cause particular harm to communities of color and low income. The two leaders will share their expertise from the front lines, including ways that we can push for environmental solutions that serve everyone, including those most vulnerable. Zoom access info is on the church calendar.
Then this Saturday evening, April 10, at 7:00 pm, join the Membership Team for our April Mixer and Game Night, a fun-filled evening of icebreakers, games, laughter, connection, and--of course--prizes. Hope to see you there! Zoom access info is on the church calendar.
The gospel of Mark is the shortest and the oldest of the Synoptic gospels.
Written between 70-75 A.D., it centers on Jesus as teacher, not as a divinity.
In the Easter season, I like to read Mark’s narrative of events following Jesus’s
Crucifixion. In the 16th and final original chapter of Mark, three women go to the tomb in which Jesus’s body had been placed. But his body is not there; instead, a young man clothed in white greets them. Mark does say that Jesus has been Raised, but not that his body is in a heavenly sphere with his Father (capital F).
In contrast, when verses 9-16 were later added, Jesus is “taken up into
Heaven and [he sits] down at the right hand of God.”
But here are the final verses of the original ending of the Gospel. Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Jesus, and Salome are frightened . The young man in white clothing says, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his Disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized
them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
And so ends the original version of the Gospel of Mark.
And now we will have the offering:
The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo (user name @BUCMI), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
Please join with me in a brief meditation.
We bear witness to life and to life re-emerging in this season. Wherever we look, we see daffodils, tulips, forsythia-- buds on trees, and we know that life in nature continues and
Reasserts itself We bear witness to the holiness of the season. Our spirits are lifted.
In the words of Leonard Mason--
We affirm the unfailing renewal of life
Rising from the earth, and reaching for the sun, all living creatures shall fulfill themselves.
We affirm the steady growth of human companionship.
And we affirm a continuing hope.
Please, now, in silence, think upon these words of continuation, hope, and healing.
by Nico Van Ostrand
When I was growing up, my family was Catholic. The week before Easter, we'd go shopping for new Easter dresses to wear to Sunday mass. The Easter story was simply something I was obligated to sit through before returning home to find my Easter basket.
When my family found their way to Unitarian Universalism and my interest in social justice grew, I began to think about this Easter story in a different way. The core events of the story haven’t changed, but the lens through which I view it has. So today, I am a Unitarian Universalist religious educator sharing the Bible story I learned as a young Catholic kid.
Jesus was a beloved teacher from long ago. He liked to travel around, sharing stories and learning from people, including people that others thought were dirty or lesser. He believed in loving thy neighbor and helping one another. He helped heal sick people and even threw tables once and yelled at a bunch of people who were trying to get rich by lying. Through this message of justice and love, Jesus attracted a lot of followers, including 12 young men called disciples who learned all they could from Jesus and helped him share his message.
Eventually, Jesus became so popular that the head priests and some people in the government began to feel threatened. They worried that this radical changemaker and his band of activists would change the balance of power in the land, and they were afraid of losing their power. So, they decided to kill Jesus.
One of the disciples, Judas, went to the priests and betrayed Jesus. “I can help you arrest Jesus,” he said. “But I want to get something in return.” The priests agreed to this deal, and they gave Judas thirty pieces of silver in exchange for his help catching Jesus.
Later, as Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, he revealed that he knew that one of his disciples had betrayed him. He knew also that another disciple, Peter, would later pretend not to know Jesus at all.
The next morning, Judas led the authorities straight to Jesus, and he was arrested. His other disciples were afraid, and they all ran away. Jesus was taken to court and tried. The priests presented lots of false evidence and brought witnesses who could lie about bad things that Jesus hadn’t actually done. They accused Jesus of speaking blasphemy -- that is, of teaching things that were counter to the teachings of the temple. For this, they sentenced Jesus to death.
Meanwhile, three different people approached Peter and asked him whether he knew Jesus. Peter was afraid of being arrested just like Jesus was, so three times he pretended he had never met Jesus. By the time the morning came, Peter remembered that Jesus predicted this would happen, and he felt so sad to have betrayed his friend.
So Jesus was beaten and nailed to a cross. For three days, he hung there as people yelled insults and mocked him for his teachings. And on the day we now call Good Friday, Jesus died. His body was buried in a tomb, closed by a giant stone for a door. His friends mourned his death, and missed him dearly.
And then, the story goes, three days later on what we now call Easter Sunday, Jesus rose miraculously from the dead. The giant stone over his tomb cracked in half, and an angel appeared. Jesus met with his disciples at Galilee and asked them to continue spreading his message of love and justice. And then, Jesus ascended into heaven.
This story is very important to Christians, who believe that Jesus was truly the son of God and that he really did come back to life. Many Unitarian Universalists find different themes in this story -- not so much the miracles and God. We tend to focus on the idea of fighting against oppression even when it requires sacrifice, or the idea that we miss people who have died.
This Easter Sunday, I’m not waiting for this story to get over so I can get on to the commercialized aspects of today (although I do love a good chocolate bunny). Instead, I’m thinking about how this story might partner with my Unitarian Universalism to guide my fight for justice. I’m reminded of how complicated it is to be part of a community that cares about justice, and how sometimes we do have to get through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday.
by Ed Sharples
In the final analysis, however, I doubt that I shall worry, as my own death approaches, about the disposition of my helium atoms. If I think much at all, it will probably be on lost relationships, the end of character, the oncoming failure to do any good to and for myself or others. IN OTHER WORDS,I expect to be in the grip of life ending, not moving into an other sphere as presented in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,”
a medieval presentation of hell, purgatory, and heaven.
I still remember when I was 5 years old my grandfather Sharples died and Grandma taught me the rudiments or prayer, rudiments I did not analyze at the age of 5 but accepted by faith. After all, my grandma wanted me to be able to protect myself in dire circumstances. So she taught and I memorized “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Clearly, there was a father figure, in that prayer, perhaps someone who looked like my dad, but my dad, my father, was in a real place, not just an imagined one. But in the prayer, this person-like figure’s name was “hallowed,” which sounded pretty special, even though I was not sure what a “hallowed’ name would sound like or mean. Probably something more special than Ed or my friend Larry across the road. And I understood that there was a kingdom that belonged to the Father (capital F) and he really, really wanted me to be perfect because... that was his will.
And there was another prayer, this one much shorter, that I was also taught to say every night not kneeling by the bed in the unheated room of winter, but while in bed, covered by layers of blankets. Hands joined across my chest-- I had an insurance policy! “Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I Pray the Lord my soul to take.” I was covered by more than blankets. Even if the very worst thing….even if I died that night, the Lord would Somehow keep me safe. That prayer protected me.
It was my insurance blanket.
Years later, Diane and I were to see the print of a painting. The subject was death, and several grieving figures surrounded the bed on which lay the figure. What startled both of us was a whitish, translucent figure at an angle of 30 degrees or so, was rising from the body. It must have been the way the painter wanted to tell a story about a transition. What he was saying to Diane and me was “Have faith, this is what happens when the body no longer functions. The soul has been developed in this human all one’s life, and now it is released as your childhood prayers said it would be.” And then I thought, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It was part of what I had learned as a child, and here was its representation.
Twenty years after that, Rev. Hurt asked one day, “Ed, how do you define soul?” I did not know where that question came from, but I felt obliged to say something, so I said, “It is a product of the human brain, and spirit moves it to action.” I don’t think I have improved on that non-dictionary definition of soul, but I do feel, with some confidence, that soul is not a translucent form that resides in the human body. Not a some thing that is released in death.
In a spiritual level, does “Life everlasting” have anything substantial to say? Or do we just define it by negatives?” “Oh, don’t be silly; there’s nothing after….
I often think of unintended consequences. There is a very old story about butterfly wings. Do you remember it? The fluttering of a butterfly’s wings may start a series of physical actions that create a tornado in Texas, or maybe change the weather half way around the globe in Malaysia.
When I was teaching, I was intensely aware that I did not know what was going on in the minds of students in my classroom. Were they understanding and appreciating the text? Were they FEELING the text as did I, and I wanted each one to feel the splendor of language.
But a teacher never knows. Henry Adams put it nicely when he wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he [forgive the male pronoun] can never tell where his influence stops.” My, my, my…”A teacher affects eternity,....” If one takes that to heart, how moving one’s behavior and profession.
My older son has done a lot of work on genealogy because he wants to know where our family came from. He has gone back, on one side, to the 13th century, and some of the genetic structure of generations ago, resides in him. And looking forward, part of my son will be contained within his daughters and their sons and daughters, as long as time permits. It is a fundamental part of life everlasting.
So what of the concept of eternity? Physicists have their models, bleak though they are to the faint of heart. They seem to tell me that everything that begins must have an end. Not simply of things that live, but of a blue and white marble floating in space, and of the end of the cosmos as well But, at least for now, I think of continuations and trust we shall all make mistakes and when they happen, we have the power to change their consequences. We can be caring, not careless, helpful, not hurtful, givers, not just takers.
If we do our best in the now, in this moment that-- like a blink of an eye between past and future-- perhaps that is all we can do. Thoreau said, “There is eternity in each moment. You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find YOUR eternity in each moment.”
And then, Emily Dickenson--Forever is composed of Now--\
‘Tis not a different time…
From this--experienced here.
Our eternity is right here, in this moment of time. We can never go back, there are no do-overs. And the future is a glimmer of grief, misery, sadness, as well as a glimmer of accomplishment, successes and joy. Yes, we are made for joy and sorrow. We are preparing for the future even now, even as we live it, even at this very moment.
May it be so, and amen.
Brian Greene, a brilliant physicist, gives us this morning’s closing words. He concludes his new book, Until the End of Time, writing:
And so, in our quest to fathom the human condition, the only direction to look is inward. That is the noble direction to look. It... forgoes ready-made answers and turns to...constructing our own meaning. [Science grasps external realities, but within that understanding…] everything else is the human species contemplating itself, grasping what it needs to carry on, and telling a story that, at its best, stirs the soul.
Amen, and may it be.