Sermon 4.9.23 Easter

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date: April 9, 2023 Easter Sunday
Scripture Lesson: John 20:1-18
Sermon: Don’t Hold On
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

When we see our two little grandsons, ages 2 and 3, the first thing we want to do is scoop the little darlings up in our arms and hug and kiss them.  But their wonderful parents are teaching them about consensual touch.  You need to consult with someone before you touch them.  Ask if it is ok.  Get permission.  So, when we see our grandsons, the older, verbal one, Soren, will ask, “Can I give you a hug, Grandma?”  “Can I hug you, Baba?”  It is so dear.  We went through these negotiations with the boys numerous times to help re-enforce what the parents are trying to teach, which we completely agree with.  Then we let the boys know that we are always receptive to hugs from them.  They can always hug us.  They don’t need to ask every time.  Of course we want to hug those little munchkins!

This morning we heard the unfolding story of Mary visiting the tomb of Jesus and becoming aware that he was not in the tomb, and then that she was having an encounter with him in the garden.  When Jesus addresses her by name, Mary, and she realizes who this is that she is conversing with, she, naturally, wants to embrace him.  Her dear friend and mentor, whom she thought was dead, is talking with her.  Yes, she was stunned and confused and at sea, but here is her loved one and she reaches out to hold him.  It was a natural impulse.  A reflex.   Completely and fully human.  Too instinctual, emotionally charged, impassioned, desperate, to think about asking, “May I give you a hug?”   

And then in the story there is the perhaps surprising response from Jesus, “Don’t hold on to me. . .”   Don’t hold on?  To the loved one you thought was dead.  Don’t hold on to me.  To the one who has freed you from 7 demons and given you a new life.  Don’t hold on to me.  To the one who has brought you closer to God.  Don’t hold on to me.  To the one who has embodied unconditional love to you and everyone else.  Don’t hold on to me.  

From one so loving this cannot be a rebuff but only an invitation.  Don’t hold on to me because I have more to do, more to give you, more to show you.  We’re not done.  We must move on to greater things.  

So we are shown that the power of the resurrection involves letting go; not holding on but moving on to greater things.  Mary must let go of her preconceptions and views about what is possible.  She must let go of her image of Jesus as a capable, insightful, deeply spiritual rabbi and healer so that he can be more than that to her and to the world.  

The story of the resurrection is a story inviting us to new life and hope beyond our wildest imaginings.  Regardless of our circumstances.  And, perhaps the worse our situation, the more powerful the resurrection can be.  The resurrection is about more than we could ask for or imagine.  And experiencing that power and hope can involve letting go of what we are holding on to that may be anchoring us when the winds of the spirit want to fill our sails and send us onward.   If we hold on to the past, to our preconceptions, we might miss out on what Divine Love is offering us.  Easter is definitely about ‘out of the box’ thinking.  Don’t hold on because that just might hold you back from experiencing the joy, wholeness, and love that Jesus is trying to give to us.  

So what might we be clinging to that is holding us back from experiencing the full force of new life, hope, and grace?  What are we holding on to?   Oh, so many things! 

Like Mary wanting to hold on to Jesus, and linger, and grieve, maybe we want to hold on to our limited conceptions of Jesus and to our image of what the church should be.  Maybe we want to hold on to our traditional understandings of faith.  Maybe we want to hold on to Easter as being all about the after life, being in heaven with God and with our loved ones for eternity.  But there is more, if we will open up to it. 

Maybe we are clinging to safety, certainty, and nostalgia when it comes not only to faith but to life in general.  Maybe we are holding on to a grudge or some kind of umbrage in a relationship.  Maybe we are holding on to stereotypes and that is keeping us from seeing real people.  Maybe were are holding on to the security of a power structure that excludes and privileges.  Maybe we are clinging to an economic system that needs to be transformed.  Maybe we are tied to a conception of the past that is not only incomplete but inaccurate.  What about those Confederate statues?  Maybe we are holding on to societal mores that diminish women  –  including expected toleration of unwanted touch.  I am in a book club with several lawyers and they try to avoid going into the law library at the courthouse because they are always getting groped by another lawyer or a judge.  Time for that consensual touch conversation.  So much to let go of!   

I read recently about a retired Episcopal priest who found a box of her papers and memorabilia from when she was in high school.  She remembers that she was distracted and not a very good student.  But she looked at her report cards and the grades were impressive.  All these years she has carried an image of who she was that is not accurate.  She had to come to terms with the damage that she had done to herself.  There can be a lot to let go of.    

Growing up, my grandmother lived with us.  It was the 60’s.  And she was enthralled with the singer Engelbert Humperdinck.  We had his records and she would play them over and over.  We even went to hear him at a concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion outside Washington, D. C.  My parents and I went with my grandmother.  At one point in the concert, a middle aged woman sitting next to us whom we did not know, turned to my father and begged him to throw her up onto the stage.  We were sitting about midway back in the audience.  Apparently Humperdinck was quite the heart throb for a certain demographic.  The one song of his that I remember, and maybe you know it, too, is “Please Release Me.”  

Please release me, let me go

For I don’t love you anymore.

To waste our lives would be a sin.

Release me and let me love again.

It’s a croon about letting go of a past love and being freed to embrace someone new.  It’s about as sappy as you can get, but there is a message there.  We need to let go of the past, and its hold on us, to embrace a new future.   

Don’t hold on to me, Jesus tells Mary.  Jesus needs to be free to move on with his mission of loving all of creation for all time.  He has to spread his message that love is stronger than death.  He has to let us know that he is with us empowering us to be agents of love in the world – love of ourselves, love of others, love of enemies, and love of the Earth.  Don’t hold on to me – don’t hold me back, don’t hold me down, I am not finished.  I have more love to spread.  More light to shed. 

The story of the resurrection that we celebrate today is about God’s love being so powerful that it is able to overcome whatever is in the way.  It is about love that is stronger than even death itself.  Certainly love is stronger than our faults and grudges and small mindedness.   And greater even than the evil and the terror and the pain we cause ourselves and each other. 
And greater than the injustice and inequality that we perpetuate.  The Divine Love that we see in the resurrection is greater than all of that.  Don’t cling, don’t embrace, don’t hold on.  Especially to what is holding us back from life, full and free.  

Don’t hold on.  Especially to the fears that are holding you back.  Like some of you, I’m sure, I’m afraid of heights.  This condition developed for me when I was in my 30’s and it is still with me.  So, the last thing I would ever want to do is go sky-diving.  But in reading about an account by someone who has done it, I am so impressed by the transforming power of the experience –  of letting go.  

Leah Alissa Bayer tells of her first sky dive:

“First few seconds: Terrifying and full of panic. When I was pushed out of the plane I thought I had committed suicide. I was frantic and felt unbelievable regret. I’ve never felt more scared in my life.

“But a few seconds later things leveled out and I felt a rush of endorphins, exhilaration, and unparalleled excitement. Free fall is intense and I flipped from thinking I was dead to feeling like a rockstar.

“Then the chute hit, and everything was peaceful as we fell gently back down to the sand. I landed on Pismo Beach where a handful of friends cheered and welcomed me home.

“During that fall I had a tremendous personal breakthrough. I had been suffering extraordinary depression for many years with periodic suicidal thoughts. When I left that plane I felt like I had crossed that threshold and thrown my life away. But really, I was putting it in the hands of someone else, letting go, and it turns out everything was ok. More than ok. I realized I really do want to live. As I fell down to the shore I knew I belonged to the Earth below me – I wanted to be there. I have many more jumps to make before my time is done.”

Bayer concludes:

“I highly recommended skydiving as therapy to anyone that has suffered severe depression or suicidal thoughts/actions. It played a big role in changing my life.” []

Don’t hold on, Jesus tells Mary.  When we let go, there is more awaiting us than we could ever imagine.  Healing.  Hope.  Identity.  Unconditional love.  Even for ourselves.  New life.  Don’t hold on especially to what is holding you back.  Let the love flow!

Divine Love is begging to set us free.  Even from the power of death.  Pleading.  To release us into a reality of joy and peace.  Don’t hold on.  Let go.  Consent!   Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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