The Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon
On September 14th – three short days after the heinous travesty in New York City, the Pentagon and in a rural field in Pennsylvania – I stood in this great Cathedral Church and proclaimed to all gathered here that love was stronger than hate and that love lived out in justice would, in the end, prevail. I could and did make that bold declaration with assurance because I believe that God acted in human history to convince men and women that God’s love could not be destroyed by hate or death. That is the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of God. God took the worst that humankind could do, a senseless, agonizing, hateful death on that cross on Calvary, and turned it into an accolade of love and life.
What one believes or does not believe about the life of this Jesus, one must admit that the event that happened on that spring morning in Jerusalem changed the history of the world. “God’s love abideth still.”
This Easter Sunday morning in Washington that truth still propels you and me to live our lives as lovers and risk takers. For if Jesus broke the bonds of death, then death is not the final word and life is not lived to preserve life but to risk it. To risk it by living as if love matters most and that love is stronger than hate.
I am talking about a serious, life-changing kind of love, a love that has profound and radical consequences, a love lived out in justice. Reinhold Neibuhr, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, defined justice as love lived out. I know that to be true. Justice is love lived out.
God knows that we live in a world today that wails for active, heart warming, mind changing love. The kind of love that changes hearts and minds begins by taking the other seriously. It is this serious love that is the first step toward doing justice.
For Christians, our icon is the God/man Jesus who always, always took each human being seriously: the despised, the forgiven, the zealot, the infirm, the betrayer. For Jesus, each child, each woman, each man was worthy of true attention.
Our first step needs to be taken at home with family, our spouse, our partner, our children, anyone whose life is bound to ours. For if love is not taken seriously in the bedroom and at the dinner table, there is a lesser chance of a love lived out in the work place, in the community, in the nation, and in the world – yes, in the Church. And if we do not take each other seriously within the Church, how can we expect those looking in from the outside – maybe some here today – to know about justice as love lived out?
“Attention must be paid.” Remember those words of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman? She is pleading for her husband’s boss to take Willy, her flawed and childish mate, seriously. Attention must be paid. This is true of our children – the world’s children – true of Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat, all the crying people of Palestine and Israel, Afghanistan, the Sudan, and here at home for George Bush, our President, for every woman and man – no exceptions! That is the beginning of love that is lived out in justice. This is risky business.
The second step follows, for if we take the other seriously, we must establish a right relationship; equity must be achieved. And that is true at home, at church, in the nation, and in the world. The love that burst forth that tomb on Easter morning made that right relationship an eternal reality. For it is God’s design, God’s will, God’s dream. To give a very personal and indeed universal example of right relationship ordained by God is the place of women in God’s good creation. The opening chapter of the Book of Genesis makes clear God’s intention: “And God created them, male and female in God’s own image.” In the following chapter, however, the word used to describe the relationship of the man and the woman has not been translated equitably. The King James version translates the relationship as “helpmeet;” the RSV translates it as “helper.” The Hebrew word for God’s design is “counterpart,” equal yet different.
Right relationships between all people must be established and injustice of any kind must stop. And we have to acknowledge the unjust acts we commit. In the Church we have learned, truly the hard way, that taking the risk to acknowledge the injustice to another and to ask forgiveness has great power to restore right relationship. But acknowledging the injustices and offering restitution is imperative. Archbishop Desmond Tutu took this truth to the people of South Africa in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
So we come this Easter day, whether for the first time or the 50th time to see the beauty of the Cathedral, to marvel at the flowers and the creativity that made this loveliness possible, to hear and to sing the beloved Easter hymns, to feast at God’s abundant table and to hear the story of “a love so amazing, so divine, it demands my life, my soul, my all.” And that is why I can stand in this same place and declare once again with boldness that love is stronger than hate and that love lived out in justice will, in the end, prevail. That is the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God took the worst that humankind could do, hate and death, and turned it into an accolade of life and love and justice.