GREETING Ray Simpson, adapted
Arise, shine, for the rays of God’s glory touch the earth,
The Sun of suns is rising;
Leaders and people shall be drawn to the light.
We welcome the light that burns in the rising sun.
We welcome the light that dawns through the Chosen One.
We welcome the light that gleams through the growing earth.
We welcome the light that is kindled in our souls!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
PRELUDE What a Wonderful World Weiss & Thiele
CALL TO WORSHIP Jan Richardson, adapted
May we emerge from our tombs this glorious Easter morning!
ANTHEM We Come to Sing Our Joyful Songs Irish trad./arr. HKJ
Lakewood UCC Choir virtual performance
MODERN READING Countee Cullen, from The Black Christ
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
Mark 16:1-8, 9, 9-20
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MUSIC Nocturne in Eb Major Chopin
SERMON Out of the Tomb Rev. Kim P. Wells
Daytona, Florida of the early 20th century was a mere outpost of some 5,000 plus souls. And among them was Howard Thurman, who was to become a moral, religious, and academic pillar of 20th century America. Thurman, a black person, grew up in the Waycross section Daytona with his mother and grandmother. His father died when he was young. His grandmother was a midwife but she also did laundry for people including the owner of a local hardware store who was a white person. She had been working for the family for years. They also employed Howard. When he was a boy, he would be hired to rake the leaves in the yard in the fall. He would go to the house each afternoon, rake the leaves and then burn the pile. Thurman tells of an incident that occurred one afternoon:
“The family’s little girl, four or five years old, waited for me to come from school to do my job. She was a lonely child and was not permitted to play with other kids in the neighborhood. She enjoyed following me around in the yard as I worked. “One day, after I had made several piles for burning, she decided to play a game. Whenever she found a beautifully colored leaf, she would scatter the pile it was in to show it to me. Each time she did this, I would have to rake the leaves into a pile again. This grew tiresome, and it doubled my work. Finally, I said to her in some desperation, ‘Don’t do that anymore because I don’t have time.’ She became very angry and continued to scatter the leaves. ‘I’m going to tell your father about this when he comes home,’ I said. With that, she lost her temper completely and, taking a straight pin out of her pinafore, jabbed me in the hand. I drew back in pain. ‘Have you lost your mind?’ I asked. And she answered, ‘Oh, Howard, that didn’t hurt you! You can’t feel!’” [With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, pp. 11-12]
In just that small incident, one afternoon in the lives of two children, over a century ago, we see evidence of the constraining fetters that our culture places upon us. We see the bondage that society puts us under. That little girl had to be taught that some people were subhuman and that they were born to be abused, degraded, and debased. She had to be schooled in the lessons of superiority, entitlement, and privilege. She had to be raised to deny the full humanity of those with darker skin. She had to be indoctrinated in what James Baldwin calls “The Lie.” And Thurman had to be taught that despite the behavior of white people toward people of color, he was a full human being. He had been endowed with the sacredness of life and created in the image of a loving God. And so were the white people who abused him.
Oh these things that separate and divide us. That denies our full humanity. That mars and desecrate the holiness of our humanity! Oh what masters we can be at deceiving ourselves and devising ways to degrade and demean others and ourselves. Often masking these impulses as something noble, good, justified, even, gasp, godly.
But we don’t have to live that way. Today is Easter. Our festival of the empty tomb, of new life, of creative possibility even in the face of death. The story tells us that the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. Love, justice, peace, dignity, a new reality was unleashed into the world. The empty tomb means that we are freed.
Freed from all that constricts our full life, our wholeness, our deep and meaningful experience of being alive. The glories of this new life await us. We do not have to stay in the tomb. It is open. And Jesus Christ shows us the way to leave the place of death. The lies. The deceptions. The justifications. Of racism, injustice, hatred, bitterness, greed, and harm to self and others. That can all be left behind in the tomb. A new world awaits. Life, full and free! The way is open! The light beckons!
I like the conclusions of the Gospel of Mark that was read for us with the three different endings. With ending number one the women are scared. They find the tomb is open and they are bewildered and trembling. Then with ending number two, it is as if they have looked out from the tomb, and they conclude that everything will turn out ok in a general way. Then with the third ending, it is as if they have ventured out of the tomb and they have seen the signs and the assurances and it is glorious!
Having come out of the tomb, they can testify to the experience. So the endings go from being scared to coming out into the new wonderful world!
This Easter, we are invited, urged, beckoned, to come out, to live in the light. To dare to risk taking even a few, tentative, steps out of the tomb that is keeping us from the glories of abundant life and love. This Easter with its alleluias and lilies, its eggs and bunnies, beckons us to leave whatever death is entombing us; whatever attitudes, behaviors, assumptions, or ingrained messages are contributing to the abuse and degradation of life. These can be left behind. We don’t have to stay trapped.
Today is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Now, Dr. King is a beautiful example of someone who chose to come out of the tomb. He would not let himself be captive to racism, hatred, and bitterness. He also would not capitulate to the lie that violence creates peace. King came out of the tomb where might makes right, the ends justify the means, and racism will slowly, quietly dismantle itself with time. No, King chose to emerge out of the tomb into the broad daylight of honesty and truth; of anti violence and the power of love.
Howard Thurman was living in San Francisco when King was assassinated. A local radio station contacted Thurman and asked him to prepare a statement about King’s death that could be played repeatedly on the radio. Thurman’s statement included this insight: “His assassination reveals the cleft deep in the psyche of the American people, the profound ambivalence and ambiguity of our way of life. Something deep within us rejects nonviolent direct action as a dependable procedure for effecting social change. And yet, against this rejection something always struggles, pushing, pushing, always pushing with another imperative, another demand. It was King’s fact that gave to this rejection flesh and blood, courage and vision, hope and enthusiasm. For indeed, in him the informed conscience of the country became articulate. And tonight what many of us are feeling is that we all of us must be that conscience wherever we are living, functioning and behaving.” [Thurman, p. 223]
King had come out of the tomb. He chose the light. He chose the way of Jesus. He couldn’t be satisfied with the dim half truths and lies about liberty and justice for all when he had seen the beauty of beloved community in the way of Jesus. He had freed himself from the assumptions and compunctions that strangle, instead choosing life, full and flourishing, for all. And Thurman, too, had come out of the tomb into the broad and glorious light of freedom and truth.
In closing, we have another story from the childhood of Howard Thurman. As a youngster, Thurman was pigeon-toed. This contributed to his being shy and very self -conscious. He tells us, “I could not run as fast as, or with the ease of, other boys. I was odd man out in all games that required being fast of foot. . .” We know how debilitating that can be for a child. But then something happened.
Thurman tells us:
“One of the truly important moments of my young life came one morning when I went on an errand to Mrs. Brinkley’s grocery store. When I looked up she was watching me as I approached the front steps. As I mounted the steps, she looked down at my feet and said: ‘Why don’t you practice turning your right foot out when you walk? Practice it all the time, even when you go to ged. Think when you walk. Your foot will do what you make it do. That is why God gave you a brain.” It was the moment of birth of a new self for me. I improved my gait.” [Thurman, p. 252]
What is keeping us in the tomb when the glories of life in the light of solidarity, justice, beloved community, and peace await us just outside the opening of the cave of death? What prevents us from taking a step out? From leaping out? From dancing out in a conga line? What holds us back? Just like we can be trained to hate and to degrade, and we can be trained to walk properly, we can chose to emerge from whatever death is holding us captive, whatever lies are keeping us bound, whatever patterns of thinking or behavior have us tangled up and enmeshed. We can be free. The tomb is empty.
This is Easter. Our celebration of new life. Our festival of hope and possibility. Love triumphs over death. Friends, we are the body of Christ. And Christ is out
of the tomb.
UNISON READING Jan Richardson
In the vein
and in the vessel,
in the marrow
of the bone,
in the chambers
of the heart,
in the waters
of the womb;
in the teeth
and in the tongue,
in the pounding
of the blood,
you speak a new creation
in the flesh
MUSIC Harmonious Blacksmith Handel
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
MORNING OFFERING Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring J.S. Bach
Prayer of Dedication based on a Mohawk prayer
Gratitude for the sun: blinding pulsing light
through trunks of trees, through mists, through walls
warming caves and corridors
— the one who wakes us —
in our minds so be it. Amen.
PREPARATION FOR COMMUNION Wendeyaho Native American/arr. HKJ
CELEBRATION OF HOLY COMMUNIOIN
Blessing the Bread and Cup
Sharing the Meal
Musical Offering Claire de Lune Debussy
Giving Thanks Kathy Galloway, adapted
You set before us a great choice.
Therefore we choose life.
The dance of resurrection soars and surges through the whole
It sets gifts of bread and cup upon our table.
This is grace, dying we live.
So let us live. Amen
*BENEDICTION Ray Simpson, adapted
The tomb is empty!
The God of life go with us.
The Risen Christ beside us.
The vibrant Spirit within us.
*POSTLUDE Hallelujah Chorus Handel