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Brother Sun, Sister Moon

“Brother Sun, Sister Moon”

April 14, 2024 Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Psalm 19; Luke 24:36b-48

Third Sunday of Easter 

Luke 24:36b-48

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Happy Easter!  Today is the third Sunday of Easter and we have a tradition in the UMC of recognizing and celebrating Native American Ministries on this day.  And so, with that in mind, I want to tell you a rich story.  We tend to think of the Haudenosaunee peoples, the five nations of the Iroquois confederacy, as a united collection of peoples.  But that wasn’t always the case.  For a long time, there was conflict among the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Onondaga peoples.  Tradition says that among this conflict the Creator sent a Peacemaker. “Gradually,” the story goes, “he turned each nation to peace, yet the Senecas remained unconvinced. During a conflict involving the Senecas, the sky suddenly darkened as an eclipse took place and halted the violence. Witnessing this awe-inspiring cosmic event, the Senecas embraced the Peacemaker as the emissary of the Creator, catalyzing a collective resolve towards unity. With that eclipse as a divine omen, the five nations of the Haudenosaunee convened, acknowledging it as a sacred moment, which inspired them to follow the Great Law of Peace.”  The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the earliest known democracy in our world, became a system of cooperation and governance rooted in equality, justice and collective decision-making.  This unifying eclipse is believed to have happened in the year 908 AD. 

The skies captivate us.  Rainbows, dark thunderclouds, brilliant sunsets, early morning first light.  And what’s truly amazing about us as a human race, is that the skies have always captivated us.  At the beginning of worship, we used words from St. Francis of Assisi in our call to worship who wrote a Canticle of the Sun in 1225 to praise God by noticing the heavenly bodies God has made and even affectionately see these bodies as part of our family.  Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  And then just now we just heard about the Haudenosaunee who in the millennia before that were so astonished by an eclipse that they put down their weapons and made peace.  And if we go even further back into the millennia before that, we have the Hebrew Psalter, an ancient book of songs.  And there is Psalm 19, a song written by David, a hymn in tribute to the majesty of the sky.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.Day to day pours forth speech,   and night to night declares knowledge.”

(Ps 19:1-2)

It’s not just that the skies captivate us, it’s that they tell us something we can’t know on our own.  They point to a truth that is greater than us.  They show us beauty, majesty, wisdom, glory, and mystery.  But the most important word in that sentence is the plural pronoun us.  They show us beauty, majesty, wisdom, glory, mystery.  The sky is a giant tapestry that we cannot decide to live apart from.  Because we’re all under it, it makes a universal experience bond.  

On Tuesday, the NY Times published coverage of the eclipse and the article was entitled ”Looking Up, Together.” Through pictures and stories, it told us what we already knew.  In a giant swath of land cutting across the very middle of America, people of every kind were looking in the same direction at the same time.  For once it seemed there was something that could transcend us as individuals and subgroups, political parties, religions, generations, and races.  There was something bigger than us, uniting us.  It was called beauty, majesty, wisdom, glory and mystery.  A display of Divine proportions.  And even though we may have more scientific understandings of why eclipses happen now, the glory of the skies is no less universally captivating.  When the eclipse began, it really did feel like the moon could be our sister and the sun could be our brother, and everyone looking up together also related to each other in inexplicable ways.  When we all stand under the same sky and witness the same majesty, are we not all more alike than we ever thought?   Are we not all witnesses to the Divine, siblings in some way tied together?

I have to think this must have been the wisdom that led enemies to put down their weapons.  The wisdom that led to poems, canticles, hymns and psalms to be composed.   The wisdom that caused crowds of strangers to start clapping their hands together on Monday and cheering out loud, as if Sister Moon was somehow getting our encouragement and praise to say hello to the Sun. 

The eclipse happened a full week after Easter Sunday, but in our tradition the Easter story gets spread out over 50 days.  And in that sense, I would like to officially reframe this eclipse as an Easter Eclipse.  You know why?  

Because it’s mysterious, astonishing and totally hard to understand.  And that’s the way Easter feels, too.  Totally unbelievable.  Like, did that really just happen?  A man who was dead is now alive again.  Is there a scientific way to explain this?  Neil, can you help with this one, too?   

No, there’s really not.  And there’s something about the mystery of it that will have to be okay.  That’s what I like about today’s scripture, a continuation of the Easter story.  It’s actually still the same day.  Even though two of our weeks have passed, it’s still Easter day in this story.  Easter is such an important day we’re just going to stretch it out as long as we can.  

So, here’s how it went: Bright and early, the women found the empty tomb, astonishment.  Later in the day Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus with friends who didn’t recognize him. They invite him in for dinner.  He broke the bread; they suddenly recognized him.  More astonishment.  And then while the disciples are talking all of this over late that evening, Jesus shows up again!  Right in the same room.  And they’re like: you’ve got to be kidding me!?   What’s going on?  And it’s a totally relatable response.  You’ve got to be a ghost or something, they say.  But Jesus is all about making it real.  Look at my hands he says.  And then don’t just look at them, touch them.  I’m real.  This is really happening.  And then it says in verse 41, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”  In other words, he was standing right in front of them, they were touching his hands, and still they were not sure.  

And so then Jesus does what Jesus the only thing left he can do.  He asks the bewildered disciples for something to eat.  And suddenly in this very common act of expressing hunger and being shown hospitality (they gave him a piece of broiled fish), suddenly something in the room shifts.  Something that seemed impossible somehow becomes possible.  It’s at the table of shared hospitality and shared humanity that the disciples can let their guard down enough to have their minds opened.  And by the end of the evening, they are no longer stuck in doubt and astonishment, they have transformed into witnesses of something bigger than themselves.

On Monday, I too was doubtful.  I wasn’t sure it was really worth driving two hours north right after getting home from another long trip.  I was pessimistic that the traffic would be bad.  And on top of all of that we stopped at about 10 different places looking for eclipse glasses and there were none.  Everyone was out.  What would be the point of going to the eclipse if we couldn’t even see it?  

 But my family convinced me to go anyway.  We drove straight north into the Adirondacks on small country roads.  When we finally got to the little town of Blue Mountain Lake, it was actually not completely overrun with people as I feared and we even found the parking lot of the little United Methodist Church there to be empty.  So, we accepted that as a first sign of hospitality.  In walking around this little town, we quickly found that the fire department was offering their bathrooms and the art center not only had corn muffins and soup for us but also a huge stack of glasses they were happy to share.  Everywhere you looked people were coming together on lawns.  More offers of glasses.  Laughter, community among strangers.  And when the first bit of moon showed up against the sun, the news passed like a ripple down the street.  Get your glasses on!  Look up, everyone!  When the moon had made it to its spot, the community cheered and clapped.  And then we stood there in silence and awe as darkness embraced us.  

It would have been one thing to watch the eclipse and then to have told no one about the experience.  But that would not have really captured the moment.  The moment was extraordinary, in part, because it was shared.  Whether you watched it with someone else, or a whole group of people, or you saw it alone and then got to share about what you saw with someone else later that day.  We, too, like the disciples in the Easter story became witnesses to a divine story that was bigger than us.  And the story is not just about majesty in the skies and the movement from disbelief to awe, but the story is about shared humanity, hospitality, and the universal experience of sharing a sky with strangers all across the state and nation and planet.  The Divine is interwoven into our shared experience of living under the same sky and recognizing that that alone makes us related in the most fundamental way.  

Let us pray.

A prayer

By Jeff Ramsland, Mohawk  

Creator God, you have made all that is and proclaimed that “it is good.” Help us to discover in all You have made in Nature, the good wisdom about the interconnectedness of all things, about balance and about living in harmony. Remind us that we are not above nature, we are part of Creation; we live by the same laws as all of nature, and need to learn from what God has made. Creator, help us discover the power that lies in the wisdom and understanding of our role in the Great Mystery, and in honoring every living thing as a teacher.  May our spirits be in harmony with Yours.  Amen and amen.

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