April 12, 2020
Rev. Maddie Sifantus with Erik Halseth
Vincent Sorisio, Church Musician
Yvette Sanchez with our children of all ages
Once again the word comes true Alleluia!
All the earth shall be made new. Alleluia!
Now the dark cold days are o’er, Alleluia!
How our hearts leap with the spring! Alleluia!
~Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892)
PRELUDE Excerpt from “Scenes from Childhood” Important Event
RINGING OF THE BELL
CALL TO WORSHIP Erik Halseth
On this Easter morning
As we gather in this virtual space
Let us be thankful.
Let us be thankful that Spring rains fall as they always have.
Let us be thankful for the plants that rise from the earth,
The howl of coyotes in twilight air as the days grow longer,
The voices of neighbors calling out a greeting as they walk past us on the street.
Let us be thankful for the people,
The people who keep food flowing from the fields to our local stores,
The people who work as first responders in this time of crisis,
The people who still have to go to work,
and at great risk to themselves and their families.
Let us give thanks for the technology that allows us to stay connected,
Connected to our families and friends,
Connected to the world,
And connected to this community.
Let us give thanks that we can gather this morning.
Let us gather in worship
on this holy day
and give thanks .
TIME OF PRAYER AND MEDITATION
In song There is a Love Rebecca Parker, Beth Norton
There is a love holding me (us)
There is a love holding all that I (we) love
There is a love holding all
I (we) rest in that love.
In word Richard Gilbert
A tomb is no place to stay,
Be it a cave in the Judaean hills
Or the dark cavern of the spirit.
A tomb is no place to stay
When fresh grass rolls away the stone of winter cold
And valiant flowers burst their way to warmth and light.
A tomb is no place to stay
When each morning announces our reprieve,
And we know we are granted yet another day of living.
A tomb is no place to stay
When life laughs a welcome
To hearts that have been away too long.
From his book In the Holy Quiet: Meditations by Richard S. Gilbert,
In music Prelude op. 28, No. 6 Frederick Chopin
REFLECTION Even Now, Alleluia Rev. Maddie Sifantus
I have been thinking all week about Easter, about what it means to be in quarantine at this time, not be able to share an Easter dinner…or Passover Seder, for that matter…with family and friends, not be able to gather in our historic sanctuary with its beautiful, stained glass windows, not be able to sing out with gusto with each other, not being able to shout out some Alleluias.
I have been thinking about Easters past: the Easters of my childhood at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of Newton Lower Falls in Massachusetts where each window held flowering bulbs; the scent of hyacinths was overwhelming to this young girl and that scent always brings me back to Easter, celebrations, and chocolate! And when I was a little older, the Easters at the Church of the Holy Spirit, another Episcopal Church in Wayland where my family moved when I was eight: the sound of the organ on Jesus Christ is Risen Today, the colors of the vestments and the familiar Gospel texts…and my new pastel Easter dress and patent leather shoes. And piling into the car with my siblings and heading to my grandparents where all the cousins, aunts and uncles would gather. And later Easters with my parents, my siblings and our spouses around the family dining table, always augmented by special guests who had no local family to share Easter with.
I wonder what memories you have of past Easters, whether you are a birthright UU or a come-outer from another tradition? Perhaps that is something you could share in our Zoom coffee hour in a few moments.
By the time I was a young adult, Easter became for me more of a family gathering event. I had internalized my Christian faith but I had trouble with what people had done with the ancient stories. It took some years and going to seminary to understand it for myself in a deeper way. But I still understood it as an Alleluia time—alleluia the snows of New England are done for another year, the crocuses and the daffodils are blooming and the birds are back in our gardens and on our lawns. The daylight lasts much longer and I would feel like I had come out of a tomb, with the stone rolled away. Alleluia.
I would reflect then on who Jesus was to me, what these stories of old might mean to a young woman. What the hope of a feeling of Alleluia might be in the darker times, like the Easter when I was going through my divorce and I can remember sobbing in the ladies’ room of the hotel where my family had unusually gone for Easter Dinner. Or perhaps the darkness many feel now at not being able to gather in our congregation, visit friends and family, bear the worries of the loss of income and where the next food is going to come from, or the darkness of knowing that some of our most vulnerable neighbors are paying a larger price in loss of life. Or for my family, the loss of our beloved family member, my sister Bonnie’s husband Alistair Catto.
But even then, even now, I believe there will be Alleluias. There are alleluias. I say alleluia for those helpers at this time who are working on our behalf in our hospitals. I say alleluia for those who are helping out their neighbors by making runs to the grocery store or pharmacy. I say alleluia to those who are chalking their sidewalks with words of hope or posting handmade signs I see on my daily walk. I say alleluia for the caravan of decorated cars honking their horns to help one of my neighbors celebrate their birthday yesterday. I say alleluia to all the meditation teachers, yogis, dancers, and creative people of all stripes who are posting ways to cope, ways to celebrate together apart, and ways to find some joy or at least some distraction in these times. I say Alleluia to those in Santa Paula who are housing and feeding those unhoused among us and I say Alleluia to those in our valley who are trying to meet the needs for those struggling with immigration and who are unable to get to agencies in Ventura or Oxnard at this time. Alleluia.
It would be years before I understood that most of the holidays I celebrated in my Christian upbringing had trappings pragmatically taken by the early Christian church from the ancient pagan festivals, before Christianity made its way across Europe and beyond. So it is that Easter came in part from the pagan festival of Eostre—Eostre being a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit. It is related to Ostara which we had intended to mark in our Sanctuary on March 22 which turned into a service I called “A Different Time” as we moved from our sanctuary to listening from home. And years before I knew that there were other stories of resurrection from ancient cultures. And I say Alleluia that we have the technology to gather as we are doing on Zoom, reaching out beyond the city limits of Santa Paula and being able to connect with each other in this way until this different time is over and we will once more be able to gather face to face.
I end my reflection today by saying an alleluia to Jesus of Nazareth who came into this world millennia ago teaching us to love our neighbor as ourselves, however we as UUs may understand his birth or death stories. The message he brought has been one that has been needed down the ages and certainly is needed now. And to that I say, Alleluia.
Before we go into our final hymn, let us do a short Easter visualization together. Please take a moment to come into your bodies. Feel the life moving through you from the tips for your toes to the crown of your head. This is the life given us. Be aware of your breath. With each breath, life is pulsing through us. Life: energy, movement, connection.
Let us feel the spirit of life moving through our very selves.
We ae not isolated; we ae alive with every green and every moving thing
Life vibrates within us. Each of us amplifies the spirit of life, the spirit of hope.
Spring lives within us every day, sometimes asleep, sometimes awakening, sometimes vibrant with life.
Spring: the awakening of life happens not just in the world, but in us, for we are of the world, and of the seasons.
Let us awaken to life, to wholeness, to maintaining health, to maintaining hope and to finding the sacred even in this time.
Happy Easter to all and the celebration of the resurrection, however you understand it, and to the resurrection of all lives as we move forward together.
Amen. Blessed be.
The words to our final hymn, Lo, the Earth Awakes Again, were written by one of our most famous hymnodists, Samuel Longfellow. Samuel was the younger brother of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Samuel Harvard Divinity School and was ordained a Unitarian minister.
CLOSING HYMN 61 Lo, the Earth Awakes Again
Lo, the earth awakes again — Alleluia!
From the winter’s bond and pain.
Alleluia! Bring we leaf and flower and spray — Alleluia!
to adorn this happy day. Alleluia!
Once again the word comes true,
Alleluia! All the earth shall be made new. Alleluia!
Now the dark, cold days are o’er, Alleluia!
Spring and gladness are before. Alleluia!
Change, then, mourning into praise, Alleluia!
And, for dirges, anthems raise. Alleluia!
How our spirits soar and sing, Alleluia!
How our hearts leap with the spring! Alleluia!
Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892); Music: Lyra Davidica, 1708
BENEDICTION Erik Halseth
The world is turning.
The world is turning,
Regardless of our fears,
Regardless of our hopes,
Regardless of the dreams we may have put on hold,
We can bring to the world
In this time of the unknown
A message of hope
A message of longing
A message of yearning
Yearning for a return to normalcy
For what was.
And what could be
Go in peace
Go in health
And go with the knowledge that we all are in this together.
May it be so.
POSTLUDE Ballet Music from Rosamunde Franz Schubert
 Adapted from Mark Mosher DeWolfe. Celebrating Easter and Spring. Carl Seaburg and Mark Harris, Anne Miniver Press, 2000, p. 112.