Climate Justice: 3 Easter/Creation Sunday

Communion with creation

April 19, 2015

Scripture Focus: Luke 24: 36b-48

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them,‘Have you anything here to eat?’” (Luke 24:41)

An Episcopal bishop named Mark Macdonald tells a wonderful story about leading worship in a congregation in the middle of Navajo Nation. It was Easter morning, and when the time came to read the Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, Bishop Macdonald stood up and began reading in Navajo: “It was early in the morning…” Almost before the words were out of his mouth, “the oldest person there, an elder who understood no English, said loudly (in Navajo), ‘Yes!’”

Macdonald thought: “it seemed a little early in the narrative for this much enthusiasm,” so he assumed he had made a mistake – maybe he had mispronounced the words in Navajo. So he tried again: “It was early in the morning…’” This time he heard an even louder and more enthusiastic Yes. After Communion, the bishop went up to one of the lay leaders and asked if he had pronounced the words correctly. Oh, she said, looking surprised, of course. Well, asked the bishop, then why was the older woman so excited? Oh, he was told, “The early dawn is the most important part of the day to her. Father Sky and Mother Earth meet at that time and produce all that is necessary for life. It is the holiest time of the day. Jesus would pick that good time of day to be raised.”[1]

Bishop Macdonald comments that while the early dawn is certainly the best time for new life, he had never considered the possibility that this “observation about the physical word could be theologically and spiritually revealing, that it suggested a communion between God, humanity, and creation that is fundamental to our… existence.” It took him a while to absorb this. He writes: “An elder with no formal schooling had repositioned the central narrative of my life firmly within the physical world and all its forces and interactions. It was,” he says, “an ecological reading of a story that, for me, had been trapped inside a flat virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual’.”

Today we are celebrate Creation Sunday, the Sunday closest to Earth Day, and today we give thanks for the gift of God’s Creation and the sacred power of the natural world. Like Bishop Macdonald, today we remember and reclaim what he calls “a primal, long-ignored layer of spiritual consciousness that [is] also an ecological consciousness.”[2]

I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking of “spirituality” as completely ethereal. The God I grew up with had no body. Being a good Christian was all about distancing oneself from the body and transcending the body – both one’s own body and the “body” of the natural world. The natural world and its abundance of buzzing, blooming, finned, and feathered creatures was essentially irrelevant and dispensable, only the backdrop to what was really important: human beings. Since the time of the Reformation 500-some years ago, Christianity – at least in the West – has had little to say about the salvation of the natural world and the whole cosmos, as if only one species, Homo sapiens, is of any real interest to God.

So what a healing it is, what a restoration of the ancient biblical understanding – an understanding that has never been forgotten by the indigenous people of the land – to know that the Earth is holy. Its creatures are holy. The whole created world is lit up with the power and presence of God.

Our Gospel story this morning is full of meanings, but surely one of them is that the Risen Christ is alive in the body, in our bodies, in the body of the Earth. When the disciples are talking how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, “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” (Luke 24:36-37). But Jesus does not come as a ghost. He does not come as a memory or as an idea. He does not come as a wispy being from “a flat, virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual’.” He comes as a living body, a body made of flesh and bones that can touch and be touched, a body that can feel hunger and thirst and that is looking for something to eat. The Messiah suffers, dies, and rises as a body, and that must tell us something about how much God loves the body and wants to meet us in and through the body – through our bodily senses of sight and sound, through taste and touch and smell. Scripture tells us that for forty days the disciples met the living Christ through his risen body. And then, when he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ body withdrew from the disciples’ sight, so that his living presence could fill all things and so that all of us can touch and see him in the world around us, when the eyes of faith are opened.

What this means is that when you and I go out into nature, when we let our minds grow quiet and we simply gaze at a river or the blooming magnolia or the slopes of a hillside coming back to life as the first soft leaves of Spring unfold, whenever we gaze with a quiet eye, not grasping at anything and not pushing anything away, we begin to perceive that a holy, living presence fills everything we see. Wherever we gaze, the Risen Christ is gazing back at us and his presence is flowing toward us. “Peace be with you,” he is saying to us through hawk and wind, through tree and cloud and stars. “Peace be with you. I am here in the needles of the pine tree beside you that flutter in the breeze, and in the bark overlaid with clumps of lichen, each one a tiny galaxy. I am here in the ocean waves that form and dissolve on the shore, in the sand under your bare feet, in the sea gull that is crying overhead. Peace be with you. I am here, and you are part of this with me, and you are witnesses of these things.”

When our inward sight is restored, and our eyes are opened, as today’s Collect says, to behold Christ in all his redeeming work, the Earth comes alive and we perceive Christ revealing himself in every sound we hear, in every handful of dirt we hold and in every bird we see. That insight inspires us to cry out to God during the Eucharist, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” The God who created all things also redeems all things and fills all things. Through the crucified and risen Christ, divine love has woven together the human and natural worlds into one inter-related whole. When we are spiritually awake we feel our connection, our kinship with other living beings, human and other-than-human. We recognize that we’re in this together, that we’re part of a single, precious, and intricate web of life.

A felt sense of kinship with God’s Creation may evoke in us a certain tenderness: we want to protect the gift of belonging to a living planet. But it may also evoke our anger and our grief, for the good earth beneath our feet is the same earth that fossil fuel companies are blowing apart by mountaintop removal in order to extract coal; the same earth that is being violently injected with tons of chemicals that crack apart shale, release natural gas, and poison rivers and streams; the same earth that is flooding in some places and going dry in others, because of the abrupt changes inflicted by global warming.

The life-giving air that fills our lungs is the same air into which fossil fuel companies are pouring greenhouse gases as if the atmosphere were an open sewer, the same air that contains more carbon dioxide than it has for millions of years and whose delicate balance is being disrupted and destroyed. Our own bodies connect us to the wounding of the world, and to the cries of the poor, who are already suffering from the storms, rising seas, and food and water shortages that are caused by climate change.

To some of us, climate change may seem distant and abstract, like something that will happen to somebody else in a far-off place at a distant time in the far-off future. After all, weren’t many parts of the U.S. unusually cold this winter? Some regions endured a record-breaking, bone-chilling freeze as Arctic air poured south across the Plains and Midwest and down the Atlantic seaboard, and foot after foot of snow piled up in many cities. But unusual spells of cold weather fit into a larger pattern of climate disruption. Scientists have noticed in recent years an unusual number of extreme jet stream patterns, and they are studying how big dips in the jet stream are linked to the rapidly warming Arctic and the exceptionally warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

It turns out that the phrase “global warming” is too simple – a better term might be “global weirding.” In a warming world, we can expect more erratic and extreme fluctuations in local weather, and some places will sometimes become unexpectedly cold. Yet all the while the average global temperature is heading in only one direction: up. The year 2014 broke the record for the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began in the 1800’s, and 14 of the warmest 15 years have occurred since the year 2000. As the environmentalist Bill McKibben has written: “We’ve changed [the planet] in large and fundamental ways… Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.”[3] Species are going extinct at record rates. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.”

The most recent U.N. report on climate change lays out in stark terms the direct connection between climate change and the threat to global food supplies. So it is poignant to hear the Risen Christ ask his disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41). His question resonates with the anxiety of millions of people the world over who wonder whether their crops will fail, whether the seasons will remain predictable and orderly enough to allow farmers to know what to plant and when to plant it, and whether extreme weather events such as record heat, massive droughts, and torrential floods will destroy the harvest.

We face an unprecedented period in human history. At this pivotal turning point, our choices and our moral witness make all the difference to the future of our children and our children’s children – to say nothing of the future of the planet. As Christians we honor our God-given connection to the living Earth on which all life depends, and we take our stand with all those who seek to create a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Never before has our voice as Christians been so needed in the public square as we bear witness to a God who loves every inch of Creation and who longs for healing, justice, and to make all things new.

Deciding to protect God’s Creation will affect what we buy and what we refuse to buy, how we spend our money and how we choose to invest it. The U.N. climate chief is urging religious leaders to divest from fossil fuel companies and to ask their followers to do the same. Christiana Figueres (executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) contends: “It is time for faith groups and religious institutions to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time. Overcoming poverty, caring for the sick and the infirm, feeding the hungry and a whole range of other faith-based concerns will only get harder in a climate challenged world.”

This is the same message championed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has become an ardent spokesman for the campaign to divest from fossil fuels, just as he once advocated for divestment from apartheid in South Africa. Several Episcopal dioceses have already voted to divest, and at General Convention 2015 we hope to have a prayerful, honest, and fruitful conversation about the Episcopal Church’s investment in fossil fuels.

If ever there were a time to bear witness to our faith that life – and not death – will have the last word, now would be the time. If ever there were a time to take hold of the vision of a Beloved Community in which human beings live in right relationship with each other and with all our fellow creatures, now would be the time. The collapse of the ice sheet in Antarctica may be “unstoppable,” but so is the love that calls us to stand up for life.

We have hard work ahead of us. Fossil fuel companies now possess five times the amount of coal, gas, and oil that, if burned, would force the average global temperature to rise far higher than the 2 degree threshold that would give us a chance of preventing runaway climate change. It will be a struggle to keep that carbon in the ground, where it belongs. We will have to push hard if we are going to make a swift and timely transition to clean, safe, renewable energy, such as sun and wind.

But we trust that the Lord of life is with us in the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on this planet. The same Jesus who stands with the poor, and who asks, as they do, “Have you anything here to eat?” is the same Jesus who feeds us in every Eucharist and who asks us to become bread for the world. Communion is what we are made for. We are made for communion with God and each other and all of God’s Creation. Nature is not just a stage or backdrop for human beings to use up and destroy. And non-human creatures are not just items for our mindless domination, exploitation, and use. All of Nature and all living beings belong first to God. As the psalmist says, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). We are the stewards of our world, the species entrusted by God with its care.

So when the celebrant lifts up the bread and the wine at the Eucharist, the whole Creation is lifted up. When the celebrant blesses the bread and wine, the whole Creation is blessed. Christ comes to us in the consecrated bread and wine, in the grain that was formed into bread and in the grapes that were pressed into wine. Christ comes to us in the sunshine that warmed the grapes and the grain, in the rainfall that watered their roots, in the hands that tended them, and that pruned and harvested them. Christ comes to us in the very ground in which the seeds of grain and grape were planted, for the risen Christ is alive in every part of Creation, offering us healing, offering us blessing. In the strength of this blessed and broken bread, and of this blessed and poured-out wine, we dare to hope that human beings will respond with grateful hearts, and will become who were made to be, a blessing to the earth.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas serves as missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and maintains the website RevivingCreation.org.

 

(1) Mark Macdonald, “Finding Communion with Creation,” in Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, edited by Lyndsay Moseley and the staff of Sierra Club Books, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2008, pp. 150-151. Macdonald, the former bishop of Alaska, now serves as the World Council of Churches’ President for North America and as the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.

(2) Ibid, p. 151.

(3) Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Book, 2010, p. xiii and book jacket (http://www.billmckibben.com/)

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