The sermon below begins at 18 minutes and 14 seconds of the video above.
I stood beside my father and held his hand when he took his last breath.
And for my mother also. I was with her when she gave up her life, and was finally at peace.
These deaths broke me open to mystery.
I was pained and I was grieved, but I also knew that something deep within me had shifted, and that nothing would ever be the same.
I had encountered something beyond human understanding. No one, no matter how powerful or knowledgeable or impressive, has the least influence over it. There exists no tidy rationalization that let’s one set it aside and forget it, no logic or philosophy one can use to keep it at arms-length. This fate – our common inheritance, as mortal creatures – is beyond definition – and so our only recourse is to gesture at it, sketch it, hinted at with some faint melody.
We cannot conquer death. We can only struggle to accept it – and make that struggle the ground of beauty.
I have stated before, from this pulpit, my belief that there can be no sadness without beauty. This interplay is my great comfort and faith. If any of you have, by chance, walked a New Hampshire road in late October and given heed to the sun at play in the deepened colors, the bare branches gesticulating at the sky, the rustle of the leaves by yonder ancient rockwall, the wind rippling over the surface of the lake, you can readily attest to the sweet tangle of grief and loveliness. We live, for a brief time, in a miraculous world, and our souls — if we but let them — are perfectly tuned to the frequency that this exquisite sadness. The slightest gesture at this tender, vibrating truth, brings us into contact with beauty. Consider this, my favorite passage from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden:
Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view to the next day’s dinner, spent the hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight, serenaded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from time to time, the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand… These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me,—anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners, dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight …as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feeling a slight vibration along it, indicative of some life prowling about its extremity… It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.
In years past, our Earth Day services have been the collaborative effort of our Christian Social Concerns Committee, and have, for this reason, revolved around themes. One year we littered the altar with plastic and I preached about the problem of plastic in the oceans. Last year, we gathered in the round in the parish hall and discussed ways we can each make a small difference. A similar notion was in the works for today before, of course, the Corona-virus came along and shut us all down.
These circumstances, as serious, painful and terrifying as they are, have not shut down our ability to have an Earth Day service. It certainly makes the service itself more logistically challenging, since we can only gather in this peculiar, digital way, but writ large, the way the virus has altered our experience, and our relationship with the earth – is intriguing, to say the least.
The last time we had a global pandemic was in 1918, when the so-called “Spanish Flu” infected as man as 500 million people, and killed between 50 to 100 million people. Those numbers are alarmingly huge and completely inaccurate because in 1918 we had no antibiotics, no anti-virals, and of course, no internet. Not only were we unable to fight it with medicine, we also couldn’t communicate about – share ideas and learn the lessons it could teach. That pandemic was practically in the dark ages compared to today. We are better off today, for advances in medical science, and our ability to communicate, coordinate, and learn.
Today we have the unique capacity to experience this global experience together – to learn from it, together, as a global community. And if there was ever a time, in human history when we needed to learn a lesson, together, as a global community, this is that time.
I began, this morning, talking about how the death of my parents altered my life. It was, in equal parts, an experience of grief, and a spiritual recognition of humility. Like Thomas, in this morning’s gospel lesson, I was confronted, directly, with the proof of the reality of death – I touched the wounds, as it were – and I believed. I was not “converted” into salvation by giving myself over to Christ. I was broken open, like Henry David Thoreau, into a beauty and mystery of which I was but a small part.
The corona-virus has done something, in one month, that the climate crisis has not succeeded in doing for five decades. It has grabbed the undivided attention of the entire human species, forcing all of our economies to grind to a halt.
This is because the threat is immediate. The virus is contagious and if you get it, you could die.
Death gets our attention.
We don’t doubt mortal wounds. We pay attention to them, like Thomas did. We pay attention. And with attention, comes the possibility of change.
Never before in human history has a common threat met with our ability to communicate and learn. Never before have we, as a species, been given such an opportunity for real spiritual change.
On Earth Day 2020, 95% of the human population has been told to stay at home, and so almost all the airplanes in the world are parked on the ground.
On Earth Day 2020, China, the nation that has the worst record for climate gas emissions, has suddenly reduced emissions by 25%.
On Earth Day 2020, the Eastern Seaboard of the US, from Montreal to Miami, has seen a 30% drop in nitrogen dioxide—the air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels since the “Great Pause” began in March.
On Earth Day 2020, Los Angeles, which is famous for its horrible smog, is experiencing clear skies. 
The horrible irony of all this good news, is that it is all at the expense of people. What is good for the earth, is bad for people.
Or is it?
It is, if the only way we understand well-being is through economic growth.
It is if the only way we understand wealth is through material abundance.
It is, if the only way we understand well-being is through personal comfort.
But it isn’t bad for people if our first priority is the health of the planet.
It isn’t bad for people, if we take this as an opportunity to go out and plant zucchinis.
It isn’t bad for people, if we take this as an opportunity to shift our economies to emphasize local foods, and local products.
It isn’t bad for people if people are willing to make the spiritual shift that sees the earth, not as a resource to be exploited, but a holiness to revere.
We must give up the idea that we have dominion over the earth.
The idea that we have “dominion over the earth” is the sin that has brought us to this environmental crisis.
We do not have dominion over the earth.
We are part of the earth.
And finally, our God offers us this ultimate consolation, that even the coronavirus cannot take from us –
death, is not an end, but a return to the earth that gave us life.