Pastor's Comments

Pastors Comments

It could not have been scripted any better. On a crisp, slightly windy Easter morning, we gathered on the grounds of the Outdoor Chapel overlooking the Big Bethel Reservoir. A warm firepit welcomed us, a reminder of Ash Wednesday, which we bypassed and paid hardly any attention to. At this stage of the season, why should we? Unlike a cold, dark Wednesday evening, it was a beautiful Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new day came into fruition after a long Christian vigil. Light came over the horizon, glistening upon the reservoir water. Instead of ashes, our eyes focused on a cross with flowers at its base. Indeed, this was not about ashes. It was about our Lord’s resurrection, and an empty cross. We read from the gospel of John, the familiar story of Mary in the garden, recognizing the voice of the Lord, as he called her by name. Throughout the day, we celebrated renewal, rebirth, the promise of forgiveness and hope. In the spirit of this resurrection event, we sang songs, and later, a woodpecker joined us with a solo, as if auditioning for a part in the cantata later in the morning. Unscripted of course, not even time for a benediction, before the sudden appearance of eagles flying in front of us. How many churches can say they had eagles as part of their sunrise service? Need I say more? Unscripted, of course!

How fitting for Easter morning. Within Christian art, the eagle is often interpreted as a symbol of the resurrection. In his book “Signs and Symbols in Christian Art,” George Ferguson writes the following in relation to the eagle and resurrection. “This is based upon the early belief that the eagle, unlike other birds, periodically renewed its plumage and its youth by flying near the sun and then plunging into the water.” Ferguson adds: “The eagle is also used to represent the new life begun at the baptismal font and the Christian soul strengthened by grace … The eagle is said to have the ability to soar until it is lost to sight, and still retains its ability to gaze into the mid-day sun. For this reason, it has come to symbolize Christ. In a more general sense, it symbolizes those who are just; or stands for the virtues of courage, faith, and contemplation … The eagle also symbolizes generosity. It was believed that the eagle, no matter how great its hunger, always left half its prey to the birds that followed.” At the sunrise service, we read from the gospel of John. The eagle happens to be attributed to St. John the Evangelist. According to Ferguson, “because St. John in his gospel, soared upward in his contemplation of the divine nature of the Savior, the eagle became his symbol.” And in some churches, you might notice how the lectern is often given the form of a winged eagle, as the eagle has come to be identified with the gospels. Deep within the history of the Old Testament and the Gospels, according to “Strong’s Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible,” there are around 34 combined references to eagle, eagle’s and eagles within the scriptures. A few of these include the following:  Deuteronomy 31:11, “As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young: as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions.”  Isaiah 40: 31 … “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Psalm 103:5 “Who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Who can forget the indelible words of the late Neil Armstrong when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon on July 20, 1969? “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” It was an accomplishment unequaled by any in human civilization, when human beings from planet earth walked and danced on the surface of the moon. As with any historical event, if you were alive, most likely you can remember where you were on that Sunday evening. I was 12 years old, sitting in the den of our home with my family watching and listening to CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite convey the accomplishment. Even Walter seemed to be choked up about the whole, scripted event.

Now 49 years later, early one morning, perched at our dining room table, with a Bible, books, papers and commentaries (a familiar sight in our home,) I was hammering on the keys of my laptop. Elaine asked me what I was doing. I said, “writing my article for the newsletter.” She said, “What are you writing about, the eagles?” I nodded, without muttering a word, not even pausing for a sip of coffee, and she responded positively, “Of course, there is no other choice.” She knows how I have been absorbed for the last couple of weeks with my eyes always looking above, as if I were expecting a divine revelation or some sort of epiphany from these new parishioners, the eagles!

For me, this has been a spring unlike any other, as I am enjoying the arrival of these two magnificent eagles building a nest on the western perimeter of the church grounds. They have become part of my devotions, as I see them most every morning building their nest. If they are not bringing limbs and twigs for the construction of their new home, I have spotted them perched in trees behind the church and across the reservoir, their white feathered heads glistening in the morning light. Knowing I am in their presence, I am a walking with a sense of quiet reverence, with awe and wonder, within the sanctuary of their surroundings. They reveal to me a benevolent presence of God, a mysterious and hidden promise toward the divine, unequaled wonderment held within the bond of creation.

Steeped deep within the Native American tradition, the eagle is paramount in their historic tradition, cultural and artistic geometric portrayals and spiritual understanding. The eagle is considered sacred and believed to carry prayers to the Great Spirit. Being one of the highest-flying birds, its soaring altitude brings it nearest the creator. I am reminded of the lyrics from a song written by the late John Denver titled, “The Eagle and the Hawk.” A very short song, concluding with the words: “And reach for the heavens and hope for the future and all that we can be, and not what we are.” I think the presence of eagles have a way of inspiring us, beckoning us to look toward heaven with hope and life and purpose beyond ourselves. Within the understanding of ancient traditions, I think they have a message for us to discern, whatever that might be. And certainly, with their presence flying around Chestnut, I can actually say, throughout my life, I have never seen anything like this, not even when I was appointed on the beautiful Eastern Shore. Indeed, I think they have a symphonic yet quiet message in regards to resurrection. Certainly, it cannot be scripted any better, and I remain grateful.