Speaker: The Rev. Shearon Sykes Wiliams
The Very Reverend Shearon Sykes Williams
Saint George’s Arlington, Virginia
The Day of the Resurrection: Easter Day
March 27th, 2016
Isaiah 65: 17-25, Luke 24: 1-12
“The Force Awakens”
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” So begins the opening crawl for all of the Star Wars movies since the first one back in 1977. We hear those words and we know we are in for an epic adventure complete with light sabers, Jedi, Darth Vader, the Empire and even a cute little wisdom figure, Yoda he is.
This past December, a lot more people seemed to be anticipating “The Force Awakens” than the arrival of the baby Jesus. It had been 10 long years since the last Star Wars movie and the sense of expectation was at a fever pitch as the December 18th release date approached. The film earned $1 billion in just 12 days, and since then, it has made $3 billion dollars, making it the third highest grossing movie of all time. People were holding Vigil, camping out, many in costume, so that they could be the first to see it. That’s devotion. So, what is it about Star Wars that has so captivated the imagination of so many people and motivates them to go to such lengths? George Lucas, in a 1999 interview with Time magazine said this.
“I see “Star Wars” as taking all of the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct. …I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.”
George Lucas had no idea that Star Wars would be such a phenomenal success. He was inspired to make the first movie when he looked around and saw that people had lost their sense of wonder. And when we lose our sense of wonder, we have lost our humanity. Our quest for the mystery is what inspires new scientific discoveries, kindles the creativity of the artist and energizes the athlete “to go where no man has gone before.” (forgive the Star Trek reference.)
Spirituality is what gives us the desire to know more than what we can see and touch. Faith is a meaning-making enterprise. It’s about putting our everyday reality into a larger context. We want to experience and know that there is more to life than our own little struggles. We want to be a part of something bigger and know that our life matters. The epic stories of good and evil, light and darkness, appeal to that deep desire that each of us has. We want to go on a long, arduous journey where we are tested and proven worthy.
We have this desire because we are created in the image of God and God specializes in mystery. One of the foundational elements of the Star Wars movies is the Force. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it this way. “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
Who knew Obi-Wan was a theologian? He makes me think George Lucas was paying attention in church- which brings us of course to why we are all here on this Easter morning….
Some of us are here this morning to be with family. Some of us are here hoping to connect with joy. Still others are drawn to the mystery. Whatever our motivations, we are here, right now, together. That’s what matters. There is an energy field that surrounds and penetrates us and binds us together. And it connects us with the entire cosmos. That energy field is where we experience God. The Force is real. God is the source of truth and meaning and all that is good in this life and beyond. God was and is and always will be. God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it and God is always creating the universe and re-creating each one of us. The Prophet Isaiah puts it this way.
“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress…”
God is always bringing life out of death. The battle between good and evil is real. That conflict takes place on a cosmic scale but is also takes place on a very personal scale. It takes place in each and every one of us. We are created in the image of God and we have been given power, and training ourselves to use that power for good fulfills our life’s purpose. Every day we make decisions large and small, conscious and unconscious, that either lead us more into the light or push us back into the shadows. Darth Vader didn’t start out as an embodiment of evil. And even he has a small, flickering light deep within. No one is beyond redemption. God is always calling us into the light, no matter how much we resist it or deny it.
On the first Easter morning, the women came to the tomb at early dawn, just as night was turning to day. They expected to find a dead body and that was a very normal expectation. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary had seen Jesus die a horrible and gruesome death at the hands of the Roman Empire. And before that, they had seen, with their own eyes, how Jesus challenged the regime and spoke truth to power. They had experienced with their hearts and minds, Jesus’ ministry of bringing life out of death. They themselves had been set free from “the captivity of self” because of him. He had taught them, but more importantly, he shown them, how to connect with God and find meaning within themselves and beyond themselves. He had led them on an amazing journey. When he was with them, preaching and teaching, eating and drinking, laughing and crying, healing the sick and loving the stranger, they knew, they knew at a deep cellular level, that they were in the presence of God. But Jesus had been lifted high on a cross for all the world to see. It looked like the empire had won. But evil had not triumphed. The women went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, but instead of a dead body they found two mysterious messengers telling them that Jesus had risen. Terror was their first response. Doubt and terror are a normal first response to the workings of God. When God enters the dark and dank places of our lives and fills them with light. We don’t expect goodness and truth to overcome evil and falsehood, but they do. We don’t expect to be amazed, but it happens. Because under all of those very understandable layers of self-protection, cynicism, fear and doubt, we know, we know that God is there and calling all of us into the light.
Christianity makes an incredible claim, that we come from God, we return to God and God is all around us. And that God is not only a cosmic force, but that God is also profoundly personal. That Christ was with God from before time, creating the heavens and the earth, galaxies, stars, and every living thing. And that cosmic force came into being in human form in Jesus of Nazareth who ate and drank and helped people understand that they can connect with the light and become light through him. And that our life begins today and continues for all eternity because of his life, his death, and most importantly, his Resurrection. We come to know this truth little by little, step by step, in both extraordinary and ordinary ways. By coming together, week by week, Sunday by Sunday, to drink wine and eat bread, to seek wisdom in the ancient words of Scripture, to pray, to ask questions, to share our doubts, to be real. And to connect with the light of Christ that lives in each and every one of us, and to intentionally put ourselves in this place where that powerful force can grow in us. Christian faith is a practice. It requires sacrifice, but finding meaning requires sacrifice. It’s about us, it’s about the community here centered on Jesus, and it’s about working for the common good in the world around us. The darkness is real and we have to learn to resist it and defend against it. And the light is also very real. Faith is about awaking to the knowledge that God is always working within us and all around us to bring forth more light.
We all want to be more and we can be more. The epic adventure began long ago and far, far away and it can begin for each and every one of us today. Alleluia. Christ is risen!