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Easter Sunday - March 31, 2024

Father Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D.

St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

will notice this morning in your bulletins that you have a little strip of paper. That’s my sermon! The running joke here is “What do you get when you cross a priest with a professor – Sermons with handouts. So, if you take a look you will notice (if not you can check in with somebody next to you). And I would like you to simply from left to right, count with me:



I would like you to look at that IX and using one line make it a six. How about a line that looks like this: S

So, you see, you can spell the word SIX. Now I want to reflect on Mary’s confusion this morning, who could not recognize the meaning of an empty tomb because she had no category. Her head, her mind, her heart could only think in one way, “What have you done with his body?” And even when she sees Jesus, she can’t recognize him: dead people don’t rise from the grave – this must be a gardener.

When we don’t have a place to put things; a category for which to understand them, we often cannot see what is right in front of our eyes. For many of you, it would have been much easier to respond to my question had I first spelled out: O-N-E…T-W-O. It would have been a no-brainer by the time we got to S-I-X.

In the gospel today, Mary also had no category. No category to understand what she saw right before her eyes. A limitation not of her sight, but of her perception. A limitation that blinded her until Jesus calls her by name.

What she came to realize in that moment is that the story of Jesus, was far, far larger than she had ever imagined it could be. In that one moment, she had to reimagine everything she thought possible about Jesus, her world, her God, about life and death itself.

Let us not forget that she and the other women went down to the tomb with spices prepared to anoint a corpse. To find Jesus’ corpse missing could mean a lot of things:

Someone had stolen his body? Maybe it was this strange gardener whom she did not yet recognize?

Indeed, a missing body could have meant a lot of things…but it could not mean resurrection. She had no category for resurrection.

It might surprise many of us today, as Elizabeth Colbert reminds us in her book, The Sixth Extinction, that a child playing with a toy dinosaur is a very recent human phenomenon. We live in a world in which we take for granted the category of “extinction.” We take for granted a universe that is 14 billion years old and a planet that is 4.5 billion years old. 

But in fact, it was not until 1778 that James Hutton, the “Father of Modern Geology” first realized through the study of rock formations in Scotland that the world had to have formed not quickly or instantaneously over a six-day creation period as recounted in our Genesis myth, but rather over vast expanses of time. The unambiguous evidence was written literally in stone. That was followed shortly after by a public lecture given by Georges Cuvier in 1796, when he presented his paper "On the species of Living and Fossil Elephants" at a public lecture in Paris. He argued that the bones of Wooly Mammoths were not, in fact, elephants as had long been assumed, but a newly discovered, and now already extinct, species.

Both Hutton and Cuvier were initially met with great skepticism, and in some cases, ridicule from their own scientific communities because there was as yet no category in which to fit this new reality had discovered. It was not until 1981 that the American writer, John McPhee, coined the phrase: “Deep Time:” a term that refers to cosmological or geological time measured not on the scale of thousands, but rather of millions and indeed, billions of years. A time frame in which Big Bangs and mass extinction events could happen.

These new realities and the new categories we created to understand them have forced us, much like Mary Magdalene, to completely and radically reshape our world view. For her, the life, person, and ministry of Jesus could never be seen in the same way again. No less can we observe this primordial universe and our place in it but through the lens of this unimaginably long and complex history.

And the realizations about our own planetary history no less than the vast mysteries of the universe continue to unfold at an almost unimaginable pace. It is one thing for Cuvier to have realized one species had gone extinct, but quite another to realize, as we do now, that mass extinctions are not only possible, but have occurred over the course of our planetary history at least five time, with many concerned scientists sounding the alarm that we are now entering a sixth extinction due to the deleterious impact of human civilization on the planet.

The worst of these catastrophic losses is known as “The Great Dying,” or more formally, the Permian–Triassic extinction event, and it is, without question, the single most devastating cataclysm to impact life on Earth in the history of our planet. Occurring nearly 252 million years ago, its causes remain obscure but is likely the result of massive volcanic eruptions over a vast region of what is now known as Western Siberia. In its wake 96% of all marine life and 70% of all terrestrial life had been pushed to extinction, totaling a combined 90% loss of species across the globe.

Similarly, the most recent mass extinction event occurred some 66 million years ago, resulting from a massive asteroid impact off the Yucatán peninsula famously wiping out the dinosaurs in the blink of an eye.

This is indeed the pattern of Earth’s geological history. Things move slowly, change gradually, and evolve steadily – until they don’t. And then in one catastrophic moment: the eruption of a massive volcano, the impact of a six-mile-wide asteroid releasing the power of a billion nuclear weapons – changes everything. Such catastrophic events determine the pattern of extinction but no less do they determine the pattern of life.

Amidst these reoccurring mass extinctions, we have come to discover the shocking truth that of all the species to have ever existed on the planet since the dawn of time, 99.9% share one astonishing fate in common: that is, they all are, in fact, extinct. I want us to pause for a moment to take that in: 99.9% of all species ever to have inhabited the planet are now extinct.

The odds of anything at all surviving in light of those statistics seems neigh impossible, and yet…and yet: since the last extinction event of 66 million years ago, there has evolved across the globe a greater variety of plant and animal species than at any other time throughout Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. Let me put that otherwise: despite repeated and devastating extinction events that have collectively decimated 99.9% of all life on the planet, we nevertheless, today, live in the most ecologically rich and diverse epoch in our planet’s history. Astounding!

Much as Mary and the other disciples needed to rethink their entire lives, their entire understanding of Christ in light of this new category of Resurrection, I want to hold out McPhee’s relatively new category of “deep time”— one that encompasses our entire cosmic and planetary history, and in so doing, offers us a deeper, and indeed more hopeful perspective on our own world. Not just the world of geological history or cosmic mystery, but the very troubling world in which we find ourselves today.

I know that many of you are exhausted, disheartened, frightened, and anxious. In our day we are all confronted with the terrifying realities of ecological collapse; social unrest; racial, political, and ideological division, coupled with the escalation of war, violence, and extremism. The incessant news we confront is mercilessly unsettling, discouraging, and violent.

How then, you might ask, is the devastating history of planetary evolution and mass extinction a helpful lens or category from which to view our current crises? How does our new-found knowledge of the extinction of 99.9% of all species ever to have lived, hopeful? The answer is because 99.9% is not, in fact, the whole story. For sure, it is the story – like the horrible stories of our own day – that grabs all the headlines. It is the story with shock value. It’s the story our news outlets want us to hear: the story that monetizes tragedy, that gets the attention of its listeners. 

Much like the news cycles we all hear, it’s the bad news that gets all the attention. We don’t hear about the do-gooders. We don’t see the thousands upon millions of ways that simple good people do the right thing even when no one is looking. We don’t hear about the simple milk of human kindness, or of the generosity of strangers, or the love of one neighbor for another. All we get is the 99.9%: Mass extinction, cataclysm, death, destruction: war, terrorism, climate change, hatred. And in the midst of it all, what gets lost is the quiet, subtle, hardly noticeable but unavoidable 0.1%. Yet, that’s where the rest of the story is; indeed, that is where the most amazing part, because that is where in the hiddenness of a dark tomb, in the subtlety of Christ’s quiet appearance to a beloved disciple – that is where God moves. That is where resurrection happens. That is where faith lies.

Faith: that tenacious refusal to let go of the possibility promised to us in 0.1%. And I urge you to Ponder this! Ponder the miracle of your very existence. We are here despite this devastating planetary record. 

Our planet has undergone cataclysmic death over and over again and each time has been resurrected triumphantly. Full of more diversity, full of more life than ever before. Our new-found appreciation for deep time has shaken us from our naiveté of a 6,000-year-old planet, but so too must fill us with wonder at the tenacity of life – against all odds, resurrection happens. Not only once in the dark tomb in ancient Palestine, but over and over and over again in the very life of our planet, our nation, our neighborhoods, our families, and indeed in our own hearts. And that is the story of Easter.

Despite how dark our times may look, despite how much despair and discouragement we may feel, despite the violence and death and injustice that we are force, that we are made to face day after day...I implore you, do not let go of the 0.1% -- for in that lies the subtle, persistence and tenacious triumph of resurrection. And our presence here today, alive and breathing, is all the evidence we need.

I know you are tired, bewildered, discouraged, anxious. At times, I am too. But remember this, though Christ was born in a manger, Christianity was born in a graveyard. Its greatest miracle is heralded not by the epiphany of divine lights or the triumphant songs of heavenly choirs, but in the dark silence of an unknown empty tomb. God is subtle like that.

And so, on this very Easter morning I proclaim to you the promise of resurrection against all odds. That is the category of Deep Time and what it teaches us, that is what the gospel narratives of resurrection insist upon. Despite the fanfare of the 99.9, God triumphs in the subtle impossibility of 0.1.

Written no less in that very gospel we proclaimed today than it is etched in the ancient stones of our beloved planet is that promise. The promise that Life has an edge over death – perhaps not much of an edge, but an edge. That peace has an edge over war; that kindness has an edge over cruelty; forgiveness has an edge over hostility, and that Love has an edge over hate.

So don’t you lose courage now! Don’t you lose hope! Live in the light, the subtle, sublime light of the 0.1% – because that’s what the world needs now: Love sweet love!

+ May Almighty God fill you with his grace: give you the courage to hope beyond all odds: and unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the Risen Christ bring you all.


Artwork: The Green Planet by Lorraine Almeida (used with permission).


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