As a bishop I often receive letters from people at this time of the year who wonder about Easter; what it’s all about and how it relates to the life they are living today, especially during these very troubling financial times.
Let the facts show that this is the worst financial crisis this nation has faced since 1932 and the great depression. There are no quick answers, no easy solutions to the problems facing Americans and the global community because of the deteriorating economic picture reflected by Wall Street’s rapid subterranean plunge. In hind sight, such a rapid decline could have been predicted if anyone with any economic sense could have looked back over the last 15 years of unprecedented economic growth in America.
There has been a 30% reduction in overall wealth in the United States, a 26% reduction in home values, and a Gross National Product deficit two and a half times the past 50 year average. The unemployment rate nationally hovers at more than 8.5% and will more than likely reach 10% by the end of this year. Close to 9 million homes in America are now facing foreclosure. And China owns a disturbingly large investment in US debt through US Treasury Bonds. The debt held by China as of March was $1 trillion. Most everyone here this morning has been impacted by this frightening financial meltdown.
As the numbers and the news of failing banks and financial institutions hit us hard, we are also staggered by the boom to bust auto industry and the corrupt and too often illegal investment dealings of people who have been motivated by the primary principle of greed. In any capitalistic society such as ours, greed for profit is a driving force for economic growth. But greed must always be balanced by fear. This delicate balance was subverted by many in America whose hunger was satiated by greed alone and who felt they had nothing to fear.
A specter of fear has crept across the American landscape. What will happen or what has happened to my job, my pension, my home, my 401k, and what will the long term impact be since I have lost almost 40% of my investment portfolio. Inflated housing values over the last 12 years made us use our houses as “piggy banks.” As one Harvard economist recently said, “We are now faced with a cost cutting death spiral. What must begin to happen now is that somehow a psychology of growth must be re-established in the hearts and minds of the American people.”
This is all tough news to hear on Easter morning, and yet it is the news that permeates the letters, emails received, and the fears that are expressed each Sunday when I travel around visiting our parishes in the Diocese of Washington, a large diocese comprising the District of Columbia and the counties of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Charles and Saint Mary’s in Maryland.
Where is Easter in all of this? Where is God at a time when so many are suffering, locally, nationally, and globally?
We are here in this great cathedral today experiencing the resurrection story through the reading of the Easter Gospel, the singing of great Easter hymns, and experiencing magnificent choral music. We in great humility offer prayers for each other, for our city, and our political and religious leaders. And we petition God in our prayers to be with us in ending the significant troubles of the world. We gather this morning in reasonable comfort while millions in our own country and hundreds of millions globally, living on the slim margins of survival, remind us that “When the American economy sneezes, we catch a pneumonia.”
Easter has an answer for all of this if only we are able to understand the powerful narrative experience of Christ’s resurrection.
In the Episcopal Church, our baptismal liturgy reminds us of a powerful reality if we can only grasp its theological significance. “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
Today in celebrating this great Easter Sunday with all of us here at the cathedral, you have been given the gift of being re-born by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you didn’t come here today with that in mind, but in fact what we say, sing, do, and pray is all about celebrating this great gift. Words by themselves cannot express this miracle fully and so in our humanity we express this great miracle through the beauty of music, flowers, the power of sharing community, and the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Eucharist.
The Resurrection of Jesus can also become your own personal resurrection; a resurrection of new life, new hope, and healing. You may not know the power of this gift right now, or when you initially walk out the front doors of the cathedral this Easter morning. But at some point during your earthly journey, some day when dark clouds seem to be growing even darker because of the challenges that are before you, whether caused by the economy or the state of your life or the condition of the world, God in some miraculous way, much like the resurrection of Jesus, will enter your life and remind you that God never leaves his people alone. And that with God, “All things are possible,” and with God, “All things are being made new.” That my friends is the great message of Easter! Believe it!
For out of Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday, each of us has been given the gift of new life, a second chance, a new opportunity, the ability to cast out doubt and fear by faith and courage, and to become a vehicle of hope and light for so many who seem to be wanderers in a hopeless and wandering world. The economy is not just about numbers, investments, gains, and losses. It is about humanity and how we share the goodness and abundance of who we are and what we have with others.
As difficult as it may be to understand the cross and how this happens, God in the flesh of Jesus crucified has become Jesus the resurrected one, who in and through each and every one of us makes all things new, even during these hard and challenging economic times. And Jesus speaks to us in words that we have too often forgotten during the sky rocketing times of a “high rolling” housing market, and a dizzying, ascending stock market: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
And this morning, Easter comes once again to challenge our way of thinking, acting, and living. And Easter comes to challenge our way of thinking about what we have already been given and what is truly important in our lives, and to have a second chance to reorganize our life’s priorities. And Easter comes to challenge our way of understanding where we place ourselves, and our very lives in the greatest story ever told: the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
This Easter, you and I have been given gifts that cannot be bought and sold, invested with interest or purchased on “margin.” The question before us is: “Will we accept the most precious gift of all, the pearl of great price that neither gold nor silver can buy; the life-changing gift of the living Christ, bought for us through his resurrection on Easter Day. On this Easter Day, during these challenging times, what will your answer be to this question?