It’s a Beautiful Day

Part 7 of the series “Lent and Easter with U2
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 24, 2011—Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1–10

Acts 10:34–43 • Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 28:1–10 • After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Beautiful Day by U2 (and sung by the Fellowship of Sound)

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground
But there’s no room, no space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck and the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck and you’re not movin’ anywhere
You thought you’d found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace

It’s a beautiful day,
The sky falls and you feel like
It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away

You’re on the road but you’ve got no destination
You’re in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if that doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over and it’s been all over you

It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day,

Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me love, I know I’m not a hopeless case

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out

It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
A beautiful day

Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case

What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now
It was a beautiful day

I. BEGINNING

My father was an art teacher for many years.  When my sister and I were younger, my dad would give us art lessons from time to time.  It was fun and we learned a lot.  But one of the things that I remember him saying in the course of those lessons was “Black is not a color; it is the absence of light.” Black is the absence of light.

That was a fascinating thing to learn as a kid.  The realization that without light, everything is black. What a fascinating idea.  The idea that objects we think are black are simply not reflecting any light back to us.  (Of course, there are very few things that are truly black—and so we are still able to make out the edges and the contours of black objects because some light is reflecting.

But there was something about that phrase “the absence of light” that struck me.  There was something intriguing about that notion.

Being an artist, my dad remains much more aware of light than I am.  When he comes down to visit and we go to the National Gallery, he lingers much longer on paintings than I do.  I tend to look at them, say “That’s pretty” and move on. He sees more in them.  He’ll comment on the use of light and shadow.  Things that I perceive on some level, but don’t notice.  On another occasion, visiting a Vermeer exhibit with my then girlfriend and her mother, I knew that I liked the paintings but only later discovered that Vermeer was famous for his use of light in his art.

Seeing the light is the key.

II. THE TEXT

And so, perhaps a little better educated on the use of light in art, I notice that it is with light that our story begins.  We read in Matthew’s gospel:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

It is early on a Sunday morning.  The sabbath has passed and the day is dawning as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  The story begins with the new day dawning, light coming up over the horizon; the darkness of the grave yielding to the light of life.

But there is more.

The gospels all use the designation “the first day of the week” to say it was Sunday.  Sunday was, and is, the first day of the week, the Sabbath (Saturday) being the seventh day of the week.  This on its face is not too surprising: in Hebrew to this day, Sunday through Friday are just referred to as “First Day” “Second Day” etc.

But the description is not accidental. Matthew could have just left it at “After the sabbath…” and everyone would have known what day that would be.  By identifying it as the “first day of the week” there is an identification with the first day of another week.  The first day of creation.

Christian theologians often refer to Sunday as the first and the eighth day of the week.  The first day representing the Creation and the eighth day representing the New Creation begun with Jesus’ resurrection.  But there is something else about the first day of creation worth noting.

It’s the day on which light is created.

III. LIGHT AND SHADOW

And that light stands at the heart of our Easter story.  The whole story of the Gospel is a story of light and shadow.  The gospels begin with light: Matthew’s gospel has a star shining leading the magi on their way to Bethlehem.  When Jesus is baptized, the heavens are torn apart.  When he meets Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop, he is transfigured and radiant in brightness.  And when he enters into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday there are glad shouts of “Hosanna!” and a triumphant entry into the city.  But then…

But then, conflict and controversy increase.  Jesus makes a demonstration at the Temple and the leadership decides he’s become too much trouble.  The scene of the narrative becomes ever more shrouded as circumstances lead toward his betrayal.  Jesus is betrayed in the evening.  Arrested and accused at night.  And before the sun can rise the next day, before the rooster crowed heralding the dawn, Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times.

On the next day, at Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew writes: “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon”.  When Jesus is laid in the tomb it is evening and when the stone is rolled across the door of the tomb Jesus is encased in darkness.

The contrast between Good Friday and Easter, between the Cross and the Resurrection, between death and life could not be starker.  It is, in many ways,  a contrast between the world we live in and the world we hope for.

We long for the light of freedom and justice, but we dwell in the shadow of injustice and oppression.  We long for the light of peace, but we dwell in the shadow of war, violence, and destruction.  We long for the light of community and unity, but we dwell in the shadow of hate, bigotry, and discrimination.  We long for the light of love, but we dwell in the shadow of fear.

IV. TO SEE AS GOD WOULD HAVE US SEE

But all this imagery of light and darkness simply makes for nice poetry if we forget the most critical thing: light helps us to see. And to see the world correctly.

A. Light to See

I know I have told you before of the time the light in my walk-in closet was out as I was getting dressed for work that morning.  It wasn’t until I was out on the street in the bright light of day that I noticed that I was wearing a dark green suit jacket with dark blue suit pants.

Of course, I am not alone in my experience.  Well, maybe in the mismatched suit I am, but in the experience of detail and darkness.  Friends who are colorblind tell me that the confusion between red and green is particularly acute when they are not bright colors, or when the light is low.

In times of shadow, in times when the light is low, we can get a very different perspective on the world we inhabit.  Details become harder to make out.  Objects’ true natures become harder to see.  It’s why driving at dusk is so dangerous, because without light to see, everything blends together and the world is hard to discern.

But we do have a light to see.  We have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is not some cheap parlor trick.  It is not simply vindication of Jesus as a good person or as an agent of God.  The resurrection is the vindication of our hopes.  The vindication of our hope that the brokenness of the world does not hold sway, but that God does.  For we know that death does not have the final say, neither for Jesus nor for us.  We, too, shall be raised to new life.  If death itself has been vanquished, then all of the fear and brokenness that comes with it has been vanquished, too.

Yes, the world may labor under the shadow of injustice, but the light of God’s justice is shining upon the world because Jesus has been raised from the dead.  The world may labor under the shadow of war and violence, but the light of God’s peace is shining.  The world my labor under the shadow of hate, but the light of God’s fellowship is shining upon us.  The world may labor under the shadow of fear, but the light of God’s love is shining upon us.

Now, it isn’t always easy to focus on the light.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the shadow.  Life can feel oppressive.  It can feel like we’re beaten down by the state of things.  We can feel lost.  Stuck.  Rejected. That the world is hopelessly broken.

B. Light to Sing

Almost ten years ago, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the country was reeling.  Our worldview had been shattered.  Our sense of stability, security, safety had all come to ruin.  Thousands of our brothers and sisters had been murdered in a cataclysm.

After a time, television programming returned to entertainment.  And the cast of Saturday Night Live returned to the airways.  They began with a tribute to the fallen, at the end of which, producer Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Giuliani whether it was okay to be funny.  “Why start now?” Giuliani quipped.

But in the middle of that program something extraordinary happened.  U2 was the featured musical act.  And they performed a song off of their most recent album.  A song called “Beautiful Day”.  And the lyrics spoke to the pain of heartbreak, of feeling stuck, of loss:

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground
But there’s no room, no space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck and the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck and you’re not movin’ anywhere
You thought you’d found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace

They spoke to feeling aimless, directionless; feeling out of place and longing for home:

You’re on the road but you’ve got no destination
You’re in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if that doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over and it’s been all over you

Emotions everyone in the audience was likely feeling.  Disorientation. Loss. Sorrow. Heartbreak.  But then suddenly, Bono ran out into the audience and with a burst of energy that few, if any, had been able to summon over the previous two weeks he sang out:

It’s a beautiful day,
The sky falls and you feel like
It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away

He ran throughout the audience, he sang into the large boom camera at the top of his lungs with a passion that could only be a declaration of faith.  For, it was anything but a beautiful day.  Oh, the weather was fine.  And September 11th itself had been a beautiful, cloud-free fall day.  But there was a cloud that hung over us.  As one of my preaching professors at the time[1] had asked, “If an artist were to paint our national mood, how many shades of gray would he have to use?”

But here, inexplicably, in a studio at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, was this unbelievable declaration of the beauty of life. And of the need to seize onto it: don’t let it get away.  It was surprising.  It was unexpected.  It was audacious.  It was the Gospel.  And I will never forget that experience of hearing it sung that night.

Throughout Lent we have been using the music of U2 as illustration for the Gospel texts of the season.  This is not just because U2 is a great band or because I like them.  No, as many of you know, if it were based solely on my musical tastes it’d have been “Lent and Easter with Rush”.  Rather, because I am convinced that U2 is one of the greatest Christian bands to have ever lived.  With apologies to all the self-consciously Christian bands out there: you don’t even come close.

The Gospel is the declaration that in spite of the brokenness of the world, in spite of all the shadow, there is still a light.  And we place our hope in the light, not in the shadow.

A light that shine’s God’s love upon the world and calls us to see it anew:

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light

And then in language that is downright biblical:

See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out

And we, in the confidence of that light, help to shine that light into the dark places.  Helping others to see the love and grace of God at work in the world.  Reaching out to those who are marginalized, hurting, rejected, scorned.  Those crying out

Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case

To them, we share the light that is the Resurrection, a light that shines with love and grace for all people, so that they too may proclaim “It’s a beautiful day.”

V. END

There is enough shadow in the world, and the cross casts a large shadow.  But, it has been noted that the only reason the cross casts a large shadow is because the light behind it is so bright. And it is that light that helps us to see the world as God intends us to see it.

A world no longer in the throes of fear, but restored by love.  A world not under the control of sin and brokenness, but of grace.  A world wherein our hopes are vindicated, our sorrows comforted, our faith renewed.  Because Christ is risen, we can view the world as God intended it and help others do to the same.

When we are inclined to focus on the shadows, we are reminded of the light that lies behind.  And so in the midst of all that we feel is wrong, in the midst of a hurting world, of shadow and cloud, injustice and suffering, even in the midst of rain and gloom, on account of the Resurrection, we run out into the crowd and sing at the top of our lungs: it’s a beautiful day! Don’t let it get away.


[1] The Rev. Canon Eugene Sutton

 

2 thoughts on “It’s a Beautiful Day

  1. Loved the sermon, not because I was referenced, but because it brought back such fond memories of Mark and Jennifer sitting at the kitchen table with paints or crayons creating such wonderful works of art. Who could ever predict that that special time would be an introduction to an Easter Sermon. This should be a message to all parents, you’ll never know what your children will take from those special times you spend with them. So spend time with them, for all time spent together is special.

    Thanks Mark
    Love, Dad

  2. Loved the sermon, not because I was referenced, but because it brought back such fond memories of Mark and Jennifer sitting at the kitchen table with paints or crayons creating such wonderful works of art. Who could ever predict that that special time would be an introduction to an Easter Sermon. This should be a message to all parents, you’ll never know what your children will take from those special times you spend with them. So spend time with them, for all time spent together is special.

    Thanks Mark
    Love, Dad

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