One of my favorite writers is the English novelist A. N. Wilson. In his 1986 novel, Love Unknown, one of the women characters decides to try church again, after a long absence. She decides to go back at Easter; the church is at her best at Easter, she thought. But this is the way she described the Easter sermon, which included some lines of poetry about stars and light: “It was the way [Anglican] clergy spoke, as though they were coaxing you along with tempting morsels of nature-worship until suddenly the mousetrap snapped over you.”
If you came here tonight expecting some “tempting morsels of nature worship,” here are mine; they come from physics, which these days is sounding more and more like poetry, and even theology, than old-fashioned science! I offer it only to kick-start your imagination for a much larger and a much more personal claim made at Easter. We will start out abstract, but, I warn you now, before we finish, we will get very personal.
Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, gave the prestigious Gifford lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1985, which he repeated as the Tanner lectures at Cambridge the same year. In those important lectures before some of the worlds greatest scientists, Dyson announced that he had calculated that the amount of energy to maintain the present human society on earth from now and forever equals about the same amount of energy that comes off the sun in about eight hours. He also calculated that our sun contains enough energy to maintain a society ten trillion times more complex than ours—forever.
John Polkinghorne, former Cambridge professor of mathematical physics, has done another set of calculations that indicate that we have been aware of only a small portion of the unimaginable life in the universe. From this, he concludes, belief in larger life in a greater dimension is much less a gap in credibility than even a few years ago.
I could continue this for quite awhile, offering you “little morsels” to melt your modern skepticism with postmodern physics and seduce you into, if not believing, at least speculating for the duration of this magnificent liturgy, the possibility that this life can be transformed into another dimension.
So, now I have done the expected.
But I want to try an experiment this evening.
I have reached the conclusion that the stumbling block for most people to accepting the claims of the church at Easter, and every Sunday in the year, is not intellectual or even imaginative. Although some of us still need that kind of kick in the head. The issue is, at the same time, larger, even cosmic, and more personal than that.
I invite you to ask yourself these two questions and, before you leave here tonight, to begin to answer them: Recalling the events of the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth, do I see enough love for every person then, now and always; do I see enough love for me?
The church declares at Easter not some calculations of physics that reason there is enough energy to transform us into another dimension of existence for eternity. At Easter, the church declares that there was and is and always will be enough love to create and sustain all creation and every person forever. That infinite love was as compact and as intense as a laser beam on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. It sears into the hearts and minds of open, sincere men, women, young people and children an image of God’s infinite love in human form. What we saw on Friday was enough love to convince us that all creation, as well as every single, individual person, was conceived in love, is nurtured in love and will be protected in love—forever. That is infinite love, that is divine love.
The personal decision you must make is this: How much love do I believe is at the center of being?
If you believe there is little or even no love at the beginning, middle and end of all existence, as well as at the beginning, middle and end of your own, personal life, you behave out of scarcity. You assume there is only a limited amount of love. You hoard it. If love is limited, you avoid the demands of others. You keep God at a distance, because you expect so little from God.
But if you believe, as the church of Christ declares, that after Good Friday and after this holy night, we now know for sure that at the center of the universe, at the beginning, middle and end of your life, there is love, infinite love that can be universal and personal at the same time, then you assume love is abundant. It was the reason God made you and it is the reason God sustains you now and forever. You share it because, as St. Francis discovered, it is in giving that we receive. You seek to understand the needs of others because the more you give yourself away the happier you are. You are drawn to God because you find more love than you have ever known: Christians, who have personally experienced the love of God revealed in Christ have an expression; they call it “unconditional love.”
If we believe something—anything—is scarce, we live our lives, we behave one way. But if we assume something—anything—is “infinite,” we live, we behave very, very differently.
And so that is the question put to all within ear shot of the church’s Easter claims: How much love is in the universe; is it finite or infinite? The answer of the church every Sunday, especially this night of all nights, is that God’s love is infinite, it is fully universal, embracing every person, even those you cannot embrace easily, it is fully personal, embracing even you here this evening.
One of the great paleontologists of this century was Teihard de Chardin. Among his many scientific accomplishments were important discoveries confirming the existence of Paleolithic man. Chardin, who also was a Jesuit, was one of the great theologians of our century, too. On an Easter Day, he wrote this prayer:
Christ of glory, hidden power stirring in the heart of matter, glowing center in which the unnumbered strands of the manifold are knit together; strength inexorable as the world and warm as life…you who gather up in your superabundant oneness every delight, every taste, every energy, every phase of existence, to you my being cries out with a longing as vast as the universe: for you indeed are my Lord and my God.
He died on Easter Day, 1955.
This prayer was found in his writings:
Lord, since with every instinct of my being and through all the changing fortunes of my life, it is you whom I have sought, you whom I have set at the heart of universal matter, it will be in a resplendence which shines through all things and in which all things are ablaze, that I shall have the felicity of closing my eyes.
Once you capture a vision of “infinite love” at the center of the universe, nothing ever looks the same again. Once you understand and accept that that “infinite love” is aimed directly at you, you never see yourself the same way again. After that, the resurrection and the promise of eternal life are only the logical extension of God’s love we saw on the cross on Friday. Easter follows Good Friday in that kind of universe as surely as dawn follows night.