26 March 2023 – Fifth Sunday In Lent
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Stepping into the bright light of day—after so long in the darkness of the tomb—I imagine the light was blinding…painful even.
It’s one thing to learn to see in the dark…to tolerate the discomfort of learning patience…practicing that inner gaze…that allows you to gradually discover what really lurks in the dark places of our psyches…
It’s something else entirely to step boldly—or to be hauled, stumbling and bound—into the light of an uncannily familiar—yet ultimately strange—new world.
But the spiritual life…spiritual growth…(which is the same thing, because there is no life with out growth, and no growth without life)…spiritual life requires both…both darkness and light…patience and courage…We must develop the patience and the capacity to sit and learn see in the dark, and we must cultivate the composure to stand in the light.
This is not work we do entirely—or even mostly—on our own. When we sit in the dark, and open ourselves to exploring the murky depths of our souls…God is with us…as we heard in our psalm this morning…Out of the depths we call…and then we learn to wait…to develop the patience enough to see the light…hear the voice…of our ever-present and always faithful companion…Jesus.
And then, when we do emerge…when we return to the world…we are also not alone.
Jesus issues two commands today—the first to the one in the tomb—“come out.” The second to those gathered around—“unbind him.” We all need to come out of our tombs…and when we do we will still need to be unbound.
See, inner work—that work that you do in the dark, or with your spiritual director, or your therapist, or your soul friend, that work is vital and important…AND…it’s not enough…because, we live in a world encrusted with layer upon layer of cultural expectations…Societal expectations. Familial expectations…in other words we all encounter, in the words of one poet, “stones that seal us off from life and cloth that binds our transformation.” [Brittany Deininger ]. And so we need others to help unbind us, when we stumble, squinting from the dark.
I’ll give you a concrete example. Part of my Lenten practice this year has been reading and reflecting on a series of meditations from Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, from her book called, The Night is Long but Light Comes in the Morning.
She says clearly, at the beginning, that “If you don’t do your inner work with sincerity and intention, you will never do anything in the outer world that is worth speaking about.” And so, for the past five weeks, I’ve been getting up—in the dark—making some coffee, lighting a candle, and sitting down with this book and a journal. I’ve spent several weeks now reflecting on questions relating to fear, and rage, and loneliness. Trying to name those fears that arise in me over and over again. Tracing the sources of irritation that still too often spill over into rage? Are they attached to anything? What stories are associated with those feelings? Can I imagine life without those stories? Or with different stories? What might I need to leave behind? What in me might have to die in order for something else to live…or be reborn? Trust me, I’m going to have plenty to talk to my spiritual director about the next time we meet. Let’s call all this dark, individual, soul searching stuff— “tomb work.”
The other thing I’ve done is taken the Intercultural Development Inventory, which is part of the Race, Church, and Healing Workshop, I’m doing through the diocese. The IDI has been around for decades, and maybe some of you have taken the IDI through your work. It assesses intercultural competence, and places you on a continuum from denial to adaptation. It also highlights the difference between your “perceived orientation” (or how adept I feel I am at navigating intercultural differences), and my “developmental orientation” (or how I actually perform). Not surprisingly (or it shouldn’t have been a surprise—but it was still humbling), I overestimate my ability to effectively and graciously navigate intercultural differences…and I tend to operate at a lower level of competence than I believe I do…and certainly than I would like…in other words…although I’ve done a lot of inner work—“tomb work”…But every time I emerge into the bright light of day, I am still bound (and often tripped up) by my white, male, cis-gendered, hetero-normative, ableist, educated, relatively financially secure position in the world. And none of those bindings can I fully remove by myself. I need partners—fellow pilgrims—to speak truthfully, and compassionately, to me…to unbind me as I stumble from the dark into the light. We all need that. We all need to do both the inner work, and have some fellow pilgrims we can rely on to tell us the truth about ourselves. I am very fortunate, because I do have those fellow pilgrims…and I pray that All Saints can be a place where many, if not all, can find space to do the inner work, and find fellow pilgrims to help with the unbinding. I pray that this “tomb work” and this “unbinding” can be—not just a special program we do once in a while, but the fabric of our common life…simply how we are with one another.
Brittany Deininger, the poet I mentioned earlier, sums it up nicely. She says, “I am reminded that we must be gracious with one another as we recognize the fact that we’re all in various stages of coming out of our tombs. The process of coming alive is mysterious and holy work. In the unbinding of Lazarus, I am reminded that we need one another alongside us as we undergo the vulnerable process of being unwrapped, of seeing in a new way, of learning to use our hands and feet again.
“Transformation is life-long work. As we move toward Easter, may we respect the journey of the other. May we reach for our neighbor and do the work of unbinding. May we look for signs of life within us and move from our tombs. May we partner with one another in the process of becoming more fully alive.”
May it be so. Amen.