First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany
"The Truth Lives"
Easter, March 31, 2002 Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Brer Rabbit and the Easter Bunny
It was the day before Easter and the Easter Bunny had assembled all the Easter baskets for his little southern town. You know of course there is not just one Easter Bunny - there are hundreds and thousands of them so they can cover the world. This particular Easter Bunny named Lester was relaxing in his rocking chair looking at all the Easter baskets he'd just finished. All of a sudden like, he started a sneezing. His nose started a drippin and his head started a hurtin and he started feeling mighty weak. Yes, the Easter Bunny started getting a bad cold and it just got worse and worse with every hour. By the afternoon, he realized he was so sick he wouldn't be strong enough to hop around and deliver all the Easter baskets to all the children.
He thought about who he could ask to do it fo' him. Most ever'body were out of town visiting their friends and family. The sick o' Easter Bunny waddn't about to be hopping all over town looking for someone to fill in for him. The only person he thought might be able to pull it off was Brer Rabbit who lived near by.
So da Easter Bunny hopped over to Brer Rabbit's hole in the ground and asked him real polite like to see if he'd be willin' to he'p out. Brer Rabbit wasn't much known as the most helpful character, always thinking how important he was, you know. Brer Rabbit wasn't interested in doing a lick a work more than he had to.
Land alive! Wasn't the Easter Bunny surprised when Brer Rabbit cheerfully said, "Sure brer Easter Bunny, I hep you out." Once night had fallen, Brer Rabbit gathered up all the Easter baskets on his back and set out a hoppin on the road toward town.
But when he was just out of sight of the Easter Bunny's house, he took a detour to circle back to his house so he could have all them goodies in dem baskets fo' himself. He laughed to himself thinkin' what a fool he'd be makin' out o' da Easter Bunny.
But who should he meet circlin' back but Brer Bear. "Where you going Brer Rabbit?"
"Ah, I just a goin' help the Easter Bunny deliver dese baskets."
"Aint you a goin' da wrong way Brer Rabbit? Aint the village de odder way?"
"Oh me gosh darn goodness!" lied Brer Rabbit. "You be right. I musta got all turned around. Why thank you for yo' help Brer Bear. I'd better hurry now."
Brer Rabbit hopped back the other way looking for another detour back to his hole.
But who should he meet on the way back but Brer Fox. "Where you goin' Brer Rabbit?"
"Ah, I just a goin' help the Easter Bunny deliver dese baskets."
"I think you'd make a better Easter Dinner than a Basket Deliverer."
Ole Brer Rabbit started a sweatin'. He had all those baskets on his back so he couldn't run away and Brer Fox was closing in on him.
"O Brer Fox. You got me this time. There aint no hope for me no how, no way. I see I'm gonna be yo' Easter Dinner. But I promised I'd deliver all these baskets. And a promise is a promise. If you let me ride on your back and deliver all these baskets, then you can gobble up what's left of me and I won't say another word about it."
Brer Fox knew he had him and having him on his back would mean he couldn't get away. And, well, a promise is a promise. So he agreed. Brer Rabbit got on his back and they went silently into town going from house to house leaving the Easter baskets. What a sight that must have been seeing the Easter Bunny ridin' on the back of a fox. Who would have believed it. There are mighty strange things in this world and still, this was one of the strangest.
All the while Brer Rabbit was a scheming. He got Brer Fox all mixed and muddled up goin' from this house to that house in a crazy pattern. Soon Brer Fox didn't know where he was. When there were two baskets left Brer Rabbit said to Brer Fox, "Let me get off your back just a step or two to deliver this basket before I deliver the last one and then you can eat me up."
Brer Rabbit got off his back, took a step or two, then dashed down a hole. Brer Fox had delivered crafty old Brer Rabbit to his own doorstep. Brer Fox was hoppin mad. "You said I could eat you Brer Rabbit."
Brer Rabbit laughed, "You can eat what's left of me, I said, and that's your Easter basket. Happy Easter, Brer Fox."
And that's the story of the one and only time Brer Rabbit ever filled in for the Easter Bunny and delivered all the Easter baskets, even one to Brer Fox.
Part of our service today is lifting up the Easter message that the Truth Jesus knew and served lives on. Al DeSalvo forwarded me these words I'll be using for a meditation this morning. They articulate a compelling and moving Easter message. People keep dying for the Truth even today. And their spirit lives on. The Truth cannot be killed.
These words come from a letter by Mariane Pearl, the widow of murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl:
"From the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the people throughout the world who have given Danny and me support and encouragement.
"The messages I have received from the five continents have shown me that a lot of you who don't even know Danny personally have come to understand him as a man. Not a hero, not a spy, but an ordinary man and great journalist who has traveled the world to reveal facts and seek the truth -- a value for him as sacred as freedom itself.
"Danny's principles were steadfast: He never accepted an opinion at face value nor submitted to those who tried to silence or pressure him, regardless of their power or nationality. All of this can be seen in the work he has produced over the last 12 years as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. A video has been produced of him forced to read a statement and then showing him dead and stabbed in the most cruel and cowardly manner.
"From this act of barbarism, terrorists expect all of us to bow our heads and retreat as victims forever threatened by their ruthlessness. What terrorists forget is that they may seize the life of an innocent man or the lives of many innocent people as they did on September 11, but they cannot claim the spirit or faith of individual human beings.
"The terrorists who say they killed my husband may have taken his life, but they did not take his spirit. Danny is my life. They may have taken my life, but they did not take my spirit.
"I promise you that the terrorists did not defeat my husband no matter what they did to him, nor did they succeed in seizing his dignity or value as a human being. As his wife, I feel proud of Danny. I trust that ourstruggle will ultimately serve the greater purpose of resisting those evil people casting a shadow upon our world.
"This responsibility rests with each one of us no matter our age, our gender, our nationality, our religion. No individual alone will be able to fight terrorism. No state alone will be able to wage this battle. We needto overcome cultural and religious differences, motivating our governments to work hand in hand with each other, perhaps in an unprecedented way.
"I think we are now all aware that terror is not a problem facing one country alone, not Pakistan, not the United States. It is the worldwide responsibility of governments and we as journalists, professionals of allkinds and human beings -- mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. We are all going to need courage and commitment. Let us inspire each other to goodness.
"Revenge would be easy, but it is far more valuable in my opinion to address this problem of terrorism with enough honesty to question our own responsibility as nations and as individuals for the rise of terrorism.
"My own courage arises from two facts. One is that throughout this ordeal I have been surrounded by people of amazing value. This helps me trust that humanism ultimately will prevail. My other hope now -- in my seventh month of pregnancy -- is that I will be able to tell our son that his father carried the flag to end terrorism, raising an unprecedented demand among people from all countries not for revenge but for the values we all share: love, compassion, friendship and citizenship far transcending the so-called clash of civilizations."
THE ORIGINS OF EASTER (or is it Ostara?)
Easter, the first full moon after the vernal equinox, wasn't invented to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Its beginnings reach back to the times when people started to plant seeds in the soil and wanted a little help from above to get a good harvest. As the days begin to grow longer than the nights, as the sun warms the soil and the rains coax the seeds to sprout, as the warmth of the sun excites the birds and the animals to mate, lay eggs and give birth, the winter worn world comes alive again.
Before the Roman Catholic Church expanded across Europe, people celebrated the coming of spring with pagan festivals. The remains of stored food carefully rationed all winter could be feasted upon as game and greens became more plentiful and people could move around to seek them. The name "Easter" comes from a Saxon celebration of the goddess Eastre, the goddess of fertility and the East.
In Eastern Europe, eggs have been decorated for many, many years. The art of decorating eggs today is at its highest in the Ukraine. The symbols used on these eggs can be traced back to the worship of an ancient bird goddess. Sometimes eggs were even buried with the grain with the hope of a bountiful harvest. In Hungary, a 1300 year old burial of a woman was discovered. Her skeleton had in its hand an inscribed egg.
One of the older stories celebrated before Christianity colonized the holiday was the celebration of the return of Persephone. I'd like to tell you that story now.
The story of Persephone
Zeus and Demeter were the greatest of the Greek Gods and Goddesses with awesome powers over the world. Together they had a daughter named Persephone. This goddess' lineage shown in her radiant beauty. All who saw her loved her and desired her.
One day, while Demeter and Persephone were gathering flowers in a field, the god of the underworld, Hades, rose up out of the earth on his chariot and grabbed Persephone. Before Demeter noticed what had happened, he plunged into the earth again, down, down deep into the ground to his dark kingdom.
Demeter was distraught and searched and searched the world for her wondering what had happened. Her profound sorrow caused the leaves to turn color and fall to the ground and a chill wind to blow.
Persephone was furious that she had been taken from her mother and refused to eat or drink. Hades implored her to marry him and join him to rule his dark kingdom. She spurned every overture.
When Demeter found out what had happened she cursed the ground causing it to be barren. She commanded the cold northern winds to blow over the land bringing ice and snow. Her fury knew no bounds.
The mortals were upset and hungry. The gods didn't get their sacrifices. Everyone begged Zeus to step in to this situation before everyone died of cold and starvation. Zeus saw he had to do something so he sent Hermes, his messenger, into the underworld to talk with Hades. They bargained and argued and wrestled until Hades reluctantly agreed to let her return to the surface.
As Hades was taking Persephone to the surface in his chariot, he offered her some sweet pomegranate seeds saying "Even as I return you to the surface, will you take as a token of my love, these Pomegranate seeds to ease your hunger?" Famished and overjoyed at being able to see her mother and the sun again, she took some seeds and ate them.
At the surface, she ran to meet her mother Demeter. How happy they were to be together again. Green shoots lept from the ground and buds on the trees began to flower. Persephone told her mother of her adventures and her defiance. Then she made a casual comment about being very hungry and glad Hades had given her a few Pomegranate seeds on the way to the surface.
Demeter was devastated because she knew that the seeds had been a trick. By eating those seeds, she had symbolically consummated their marriage. Demeter flew to Zeus only to find Hades there boasting of his marriage to Persephone and his return with her to the underworld. They all fought and argued about what had happened and finally settled the argument allowing Persephone to spend two thirds of the year above the surface and one third in the underworld with her husband. During those months, Demeter morns and the earth is barren. When she returns about this time of year, Demeter allows the world to grow and blossom again
The giant sequoia, the tiny bonsai tree, the sunflower and the alyssum, the ant, the alligator and the anaconda, the zorilla, the zebra and the zebra swallowtail butterfly all begin their lives as seeds and eggs. Big or small, they begin life as a single cell. Long chains of adenine and thymine pairs alternating with cytosine and guanine pairs make up the code, the instructions, the DNA that will determine their future. There is a Truth in that code that does not reside in each individual seed or egg.
Numbers are wonderful. Examining screens full of numbers in my engineering days fascinated me as I looked for patterns. I have fond feelings for some of them. One example is 102077. 102077 (base eight) was the number that appeared in sixteen lights turned on and off on my HP 2100 computer when my test program ran to completion without errors. That meant that if I was repairing a circuit board, I had successfully solved the problem.
There can be wonder and even mysticism in numbers like one, two, three, seven, twelve. They seem to carry messages beyond their simple counting purpose. And they don't stay the same. They can be transformed by operators like plus and minus, times and divided by. Try buying your groceries without using the plus operator to string them together and add them up. Try loosing weight without the minus sign. Try making your savings account or your investment portfolio grow without multiplication. In mathematics there is a truth that lives in us but is not of us. We are but carriers for the truth of numbers.
The power of numbers creates the possibility to discover higher truths. The length of the edge of a circle is its diameter times a wonderful number called pi, a little more than 3 1/8ths. Add the shortest edges of a right triangle times themselves and lo and behold the sum will equal the length of the longest edge times itself! A squared plus B squared equals C squared. And probably most profound of all, the total energy of a given mass can be determined by multiplying it times the speed of light squared. E equals mc squared! Great truth lurks in these numbers and equations. Truths not bounded by the paper they are written on.
Social truths are not like mathematical truths that can be simply and elegantly written down. They lurk in the words that convey them:
There are exceptions one can think up for each of these statements - but in them is a powerful truth that can organize a civilization. They were true before they were first said and continue to be true after they were said just as the laws of physics were true before they were discovered. Once we learn them, they can begin living through us.
The Roman oppressors could kill Jesus's body but they couldn't kill the truth he witnessed to his disciples and followers who carried those truths in their hearts. One of the most important messages he said was love thine enemies. Embracing those who are different is dangerous - but the only path we have toward world peace. Whether the Jews and the Romans, or the Palestinians and the Jews or the Terrorists and the Americans, killing can never solve the problem of hate. Yes, we must set limits and protect ourselves from harm. And we must reach beyond our safety and respond to end the suffering we create in others. We must share this planet. It is not ours for the taking. We violate these social truths at our peril.
Whether we consider seeds and eggs, or numbers and mathematics or social values they all contain and express great truth. May we honor the truths they embody and pass them on to others. The truth lives while we live for the truth.
BENEDICTION (adapted from the original by the Rev. Clark Dewey Wells)
Loving Spirit of Life, of Easter, and of infrequent spring,
Let your trumpet declare victory to the parched and barren land
Broken apart by green shoots reaching for the sun.
Drive your sweet renewing sap surging through our parched veins.
Lure us to fresh schemes of life.
Rouse us from tiredness and hibernation, from lethargy and self-pity,
Whet us for use,
Fire us with creative passion,
Restore in us a willingness to be in the present moment
And bind us to truth and hope again.
May our resurrection be an awakening to our true nature.
Copyright © 2002 by Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore. All rights reserved.