"Easter People: Side B" - My Unedited Sermon on Feeling Depressed on Easter

May 8, 2011

Last Sunday, I preached at my church and led most of the service. I think it went well, even though I overslept that Sunday and ended up writing the bulletin and the sermon in basically three hours. I felt bad and a little embarrassed about that and I was going to let the congregation know before I began my sermon, but I decided not to let them know after all. It's not that I wanted to procrastinate, but that I had been very stressed, tired, and busy all week. Of course, once they read this blog, they'll know...haha I don't think it was my best sermon ever, but I have certainly heard a lot worse ones in my lifetime! People seemed to like that I was honest, although I felt like I wasn't honest enough. I hope that when I said I had been depressed on Easter that people believed me, because the way I painted it in the sermon, it sounds more like a case of the blues to me, which it definitely was not. I am not going to go into the details of my depression here, but I am going to post the scriptures that I used and the sermon.

By the way, I am posting my unedited version of the sermon. When I preached, I had to edit as I went, which is perhaps why I was left feeling like I did not really portray my depression. I figured dropping words like "shit" and the f-bomb were probably inappropriate. If anyone agrees or disagrees, I'd love to hear your comment! (Mostly unedited, anyway-I took out specific people's names, even though they were in the spoken sermon. It is the creepy internetz after all...)

"It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start."
— Mother Teresa
(These were my words for reflection.)

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

I love you, YHWH, for you have heard my cry for mercy. You have listened to me; I will call on you all my days. The bands of Death encircled me; the messengers of Sheol ambushed me, I was overcome with trouble and sorrow. Then I called your Name, YHWH- “Help, YHWH, save me!” How can I repay you, YHWH, for all your goodness to me? I raise the cup of deliverance, and call on the Name of YHWH. I will fulfill my vows to you in the presence of all your people. The death of your faithful is precious in your sight. YHWH, I am your faithful one-I am faithful to you alone, the child ofyour fidelity. You have freed me from your chains. I will offer you the sacrifice of praise, and call on the name of YHWH. I will fullfill my vows to you in the presence of all your people, in the courts of the house of YHWH, in the midst of Jerusalem. All: Alleluia!

Luke 24:13-35

That same day, two of the disciples were making their way to a village called Emmmaus-which was about seven miles from Jerusalem-discussing all that had happened as they went. While they were discussing these things, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them, though they were kept from recognizing Jesus, who asked them, “What are you two discussing as you go your way?” They stopped and look sad. One of them, Claopas by name, asked him, “ Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened these past few days?” Jesus said to them, “What things?” They said, “About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and ded in the eyes of God and all the peope-how our chief priests and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the One who would set Israel free. Besides all this, today-the third day since these things happened-some women of our group have just brought us some astonishing news. They were at the tomb before dawn and didn’t find the body; they returned and informed us that they had seen a vision of angels, who declared that Jesus was alive. Some of our number went to the tomb and found it to be just as the women said, but they didn’t find Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Didn’t the Messiah have to undergo all this to enter into glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted for them every passage of scripture which referred to the Messiah. By now they were near the village they wer going to, and Jesus appeared to be going further. But they said eagerly, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening-the day is practically over.” So the savior went in and stayed with them. After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Weren’t our hearts burning inside us as this one talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven and the rest of the company assembled. They were greeted with, “Christ has risen! It’s true! Jesus has appeared to Simon!” Then the travelers recounted what had happened on the road, and how they had come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

The Sermon-"Easter People: Side B"
Easter I was really depressed. I felt guilty, because if there is one day when Christians are not supposed to be depressed, it’s Easter. I mean, we greet each other saying things like, “Alleluia! Christ has risen!” and we are expected to respond by saying “Christ has risen, indeed!” But I am not going to lie and say that I do not have doubts. I 100% believe in rebirth and renewal and in celebrating those things, but I have a hard time believing that Christ rose from the dead. There, I said it. I have my doubts. The more I thought about how I’m supposed to be happy, even though I was home alone on a holiday, my foot was in severe pain, and I felt like I was having a crisis of religion, the more depressed I got. Not surprising. I reached out for community and I only sort of got it. My needs, though, were not fulfilled. This Easter, I was not feeling it and I was offended at the phrase by my minister, “We are Easter-people,” when I felt more like death was still at my door.

But then I thought to myself, “I think all this celebration is a bit unfair.” What I mean is, we spend six months (haha, that's what I wrote-fortunately, I laughed about it in my sermon and clarified that it only FEELS like six months-it's really six weeks. lol) in Lent, a time for introspection and in preparation for Christ’s death and sacrifice and then magically, on Easter, we’re supposed to be super joyous in the blink of an eye? Speaking from someone who is partly bipolar-it seems like we’re celebrating mood swings, only it’s the opposite of what happens in bipolar disorder-instead of going from mania to depression, we’re going from depression to mania. Strikes me as fairly unbalanced.

I kept on thinking. Surely this isn’t how it really happened? Surely this isn’t how the original followers of Jesus really felt? Surely we humans are more complicated than only experiencing one emotion on one day, right?

Now I know the modern-day Christian response to this question: The disciples were confused, because they were in middle of it and so couldn’t understand what was happening. We have the Bible and so we get that Christ has risen, that joy and life always triumphs, and so we by now should fully understand that Easter is a day to be unabashedly joyous.

Except I disagree. Now I don’t disagree that Easter is a day to be filled with joy if that is how one really feels. In fact, I think that’s great. I sincerely wish that I had felt that way two weeks ago, myself. BUT, for those who do not, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with that emotion either. And if people are feeling conflicted about Easter in general, say they are partly excited and happy, but also confused and stressed-well, frankly, that encourages me, because I often find that people are more complicated than they let on. I know that I am complicated and it sometimes is a big relief to know that I am not the only one.

In Luke 24:13-35, two disciples have already heard the news from the women that Christ has risen and yet they do not understand. They are still grieving; they are still broken-hearted.

Now let’s look at the women who first visited the tomb: first, they are grieving and broken-hearted-then they are struck by fear and anger as they discover Jesus’ body is missing-then they are terrified as they meet an angel-confusion abounds!-they are filled with joy at learning that Christ is alive, only to not be taken seriously by the men they tell their good news to. While I am sure they are still overjoyed, I am also sure that they are disappointed, frustrated, and majorly, majorly confused.

Then there are the disciples who are waiting in a little room, terrified that the religious leaders who just crucified Jesus are going to kill them too. They’ve just heard stories that Jesus is still alive. Should they be happy? Should they laugh? Should they make fun of the women? Should they be fearful? What if Jesus is angry that they didn’t believe? How can they believe? In short, when I think of Easter, lately all I see is CONFUSION!!! CHAOS!!! WTF is GOING ON HERE??!!!!!

I really don’t think that all that much has changed, even if we do have the Bible. For one thing, as feminists, we know that there are a lot of problematic parts of the Bible and that we must not merely accept what we’ve been told. We probably have a lot of issues with certain passages in the Bible and just being told that we should know and be happy because the Bible says it’s so is a bit ridiculous for most of us in this room, if not all.

Last Easter, I really thought hard about not coming to church. Why come when I feel like absolute shit? Why come on our most high holy day of even higher joy? I felt like a liar! One, I came because I had an obligation-I was expected to sing two solos. Two, I had stayed at my minister's house that night, so I couldn’t really refuse. [laughter] Three, I know that the times when I do not feel like being around people and the message of God’s Love is when I need it the most. I was hungry for community.

Today, when I was preparing for the sermon, I remembered that I had heard that the Great Mother Theresa reportedly did not feel Godde’s Love for the last fifty years of her life, even though she never stopped serving or believing in the power of that Love. It helps me to know that someone that dedicated her life to serving people did not always, or even usually, feel peace. Maybe there is something more important than our feelings. Here are some insightful comments I read today while researching Mother Theresa:

The comments were directed at an article from the New York Times called, "Mother Teresa's Emptiness..."

In todays Chicago Sun-Times, there is an article on Mother Teresa "going thru the motions" of a faithful follower, but in constant agonizing pain not feeling God's love and devastating emptiness.

The interal struggle in seeking comfort in her brand of belief must have been quite disheartening for her. It says she felt no presence of God in her letters, but kept asking why? As early as 1948 until her death, she kept searching for answers, but never felt a response.

How sad.

I'm not an organized religious follower by any means, but I still liked her for what she accomplished as a humanitarian.

I hope she found her peace.


Mike "Howler Monkey" O. says:

When helping the poorest of the poor in India, I think that is the feeling one might have regardless of religious orientation. The endless needs of others met with limited resources can make things seem hopeless at times. However, her virtuous life and compassion for others makes her Christ-like in many ways and follows his teachings, that "going through the motions" is not a bad thing. Maybe it was her humility of her efforts being a mere drop in the bucket to the sea of poverty around her that seemed so overwhelming. Looking around for God's presence, maybe she was like the forgetful person looking for her glasses: God was in her all along.

brennan s. says:

Even Jesus had doubts about God. It's the natural progression of the human ability to question everything.

"There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways."
— Mother Teresa

What do I think is more important than what we feel? Community. It is in being community with one another that we find, and if we are privileged enough, feel, the grace, joy, and compassion of Godde. When did the two disciples figure out that life conquers death? When did they realize that Jesus was still among them? When Jesus was in community with them. When Jesus broke the bread and blessed it. Now I don’t know if Jesus as a real flesh-and-blood person was among them or if they saw the Spirit of Jesus in the person who happened to talk with them and broke the bread. What I do know is that in community they found the Love of God. We are here to help each other and like I found Mother Theresa saying often (at least according to the quote pages on the internets lol), this help is more meaningful when it is not just about giving money to people we don’t know. We bring the kin-dom of God to Earth when we help establish communities of love and compassion to the people around us. Let us not forget that we are a community and our first mission is to help each other. We are to be Christ and Christa to one another and that starts by acknowledging the needs of our own members. It starts with not just sacrificing a little money and then forgetting about it, but in sacrificing our time to the people directly around us. Christ sacrificed his life for us. Now I don’t believe in atonement, although I think it’s perfectly fine if you do. But whether or not one believes in atonement or not, does not diminish what Christ did for us. Christ showed us that in a very real way, love hurts. Loving others requires sacrifice and giving in the midst of pain. Because it is not just about us, but about being in community. It is not about excuses. It is about helping bring about light and Love and compassion and hope to everyone we meet, starting with our neighbor. And I know that preachers like to say that everyone is our neighbor and I believe that is absolutely true, but for once I would like us to be quite literal. Our neighbor is our neighbor. As in, the person who lives next door to you. The person who you see everyday, who goes to your church, your work, your family. We say it’s easy to love those close around us, but I think the opposite may be true, because we don’t see the faults of those overseas, but we do see the faults of those who live close by. I think it’s often just as easy to ignore the hurt and pain of those we consider to be our closest friends and family as it is the millions of hurt people we see on TV.

Let us remember that feelings are just feelings. Both doubt and joy are valuable parts of life-the moments of doubt push us to grow as people of faith and the moments of joy are what sustain us through this heavy life. Let us also remember that we are a community. The disciples found hope in being a community together-let us find hope in our own community also.

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