Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter—the eighth day of the Easter Octave. Alleluias resound as we remember ours is a God full of surprises. A God who even brings life out of death. Today we give thanks for new life rising from an empty tomb.
Today we at St. Michael’s are also celebrating Earth Day—a day recognized and celebrated all over the earth. A day celebrated in places where the face of the earth is being renewed and a day celebrated in places where the face of the earth is being desecrated at ever more alarming rates. Even as the alleluias resound we can’t help but hear cries of lament from the earth and the children who dwell therein.
Today, on this our Earth Day, I find myself remembering that first Earth Day forty-seven years ago. Our country was a mess—the war in Vietnam still raging, protests all over the country, violence in our cities, lakes in which one would dare not swim (Lake Erie even caught on fire!), air which was hard to breathe, a toxic oil spill that killed fish and birds and sea mammals in it’s wide wide wake. People in those days looked out at their world and lamented. Hence–Earth Day. A day launched—primarily but not entirely on college campuses, a call for renewal conveyed primarily but not entirely through speakers and teach-ins that focused in sometimes mind-numbing details on the many ways we humans were destroying the face of the earth.
And yet what I remember about that first Earth Day are not the facts or the personalities or the mechanisms of the day or of the movement but rather a most improbable scene that took place at the principal demonstration on my college campus. It wasn’t the first day of spring and it surely wasn’t a warm day but still at least two thousand people crowded into the plaza in front of the student union. There was a band, speakers chanting earnestly through bull horns, even a geodesic dome for on-lookers to wonder at. But what caught my eye, in the midst of important speeches by important people decrying the condition of our planet was a sprite of a woman dancing joyfully at the edge of the crowd weaving a web of delight around that gaggle of protestors and on-lookers and the curious ones like me. It seemed as if she’d made a connection the rest of us had missed.
We—you and I, the earth and all that dwells therein—are made for joy—the joy that moved that young woman to dance, the joy that reverberates through all of creation. How does Teilllhard de Chardin put it—“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” I might couple joy with delight in God’s creation—both God’s joy and delight in the created order and all of creation’s joy and delight as well. Remember God says to the people of Israel, the people returning from captivity in Babylon, “I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight….no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”
So also John of Patmos assured the people who listened to his revelation, people who faced persecution by the reigning empire of their day, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” and then repeated to them the promise of God to make his home among them and to wipe every tear from their eyes.
Like the people returning from captivity in Babylon, like the people to whom John of Patmos preached, like the disciples hiding behind doors locked from fear, we, too, know fear and despair. We, too, sometimes feel at the mercy of destructive forces far beyond our control. As we look out at a world in which forests are cleared and species die off and water ways dry up, it’s hard not to feel despair. It’s hard not to worry about tomorrow.
But that is not where we are called to be. We are an Easter people. We are called to live in hope. Joy and delight are woven into our DNA. After all—we are people who live with the knowledge that death and destruction do not have the very last word. God is always making the world new. We know that in our bones. After all—we are Easter people.
And yet we are not called to sit idly by. Waiting for the rapture is not an option.
Perhaps the place to start is with (or maybe in) delight—delight in God’s creation—all of it. Delight even in the face of fear and despair. Delight even as the earth seems to spinning off it’s course. I’m reminded of a story I once heard about a young London model during the blitz. She got a fantastic modeling job in a fancy store. All she had to do was walk around the store in a fabulous fur coat. Then the sirens sounded. The city was being bombed yet again. Most people headed to the shelters but she dashed out into the empty street where she danced and danced and danced in that fabulous fur coat. A dance of defiant delight in a very dark moment.
Taking delight in the dance is an important first step, but delight is not enough. The psalmist reminds us that God has made us but little lower than the angels and given us mastery over the works of God’s hands. How we live on this earth and what we do with and to it matter.
On this, the forty-seventh celebration of Earth Day, my mind turns back to that improbable dancer wending her way around the outskirts of that crowd, sometimes darting into the center, often touching people gently on their arm, turning her head up to theirs in a gesture of recognition and connection and then inviting them into the dance.
What do Easter people do when the Lord of the Dance extends her hand to us?
Of course, we join in. Some of us with our two left feet tentatively swaying to the music and taking a small step forward or maybe just to the side when we feel confident. Some of us leaping gracefully in step with the dancer. All of us sustained in the dance with the memory of the many ways in the past the Lord of the Dance has cared for us and all creation; all of us moving to the beat of God’s consistent care for all she has created.
On this, the 47th Earth Day and on this, the second Sunday of Easter we hear the words of the prologue of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” The Chinese translate that to “In the beginning was the road and the road was with God and the road was God.” Perhaps we might say, “In the beginning was the dance and the dance was with God and the dance was God. Shall we dance?