Easter Slowly… but Fling Wide the Gates
You can watch the video to this here: they are slightly different: https://youtu.be/j5kqSiyTmFQ
Also… no – this manuscript isn’t edited – life moves on and I find no inclination to do that kind of work… after all… another sermon this coming Sunday awaits… 🙂
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
We gather on a day in the familiar memory of just about everyone. Regardless of your religious tradition, cultural heritage, geographic location, or if we even celebrate it – you have a sense of what Easter is all about: Easter is about scientifically spurious, dubious and surprising claim that… bunnies that lay eggs.
I am very good a theological and philosophical gymnastics – and its never really bothered me to have these cultural celebrations of our religious holidays. I love the magic and joy of Santa and the Easter Bunny as much as a do the crazy antics of the leprechaun who comes to our house every year and throws all our furniture upside down while my children lay traps the leprechaun cleverly dismantles… and the commercial and monetary proliferation of tooth fairy is always appreciated. I get fully into all these holidays… the Easter Bunny hid 108 eggs in our house this year – as one should – because we all know that spring is about resurrection in the form of budding trees and flowers, eggs and bunnies, and the return of baseball… and there are 108 stitches on a baseball. My joy at celebrating cultural holidays is no threat to my desire to observe the religious genesis and ongoing unfolding story of grace and abundant life the in the incarnation and resurrection of the Word made flesh.
I am about as embedded in that narrative you can be. My father and I were discussing via text this morning the challenges of faith – while it was yet dark and I was just arriving at church… and he said he doesn’t sweat unbelief in children and neighbors, friends and family because, and I quote, “We don’t choose God, God chooses us. Why else would a young Polish kid sneak the family bible – King James no less – under the covers of his bed to read it when no one was looking?”
That is the faith that formed me… and my father the printing executive making a living producing junk mail but in every moment being a servant leader of the faith that found him under the covers of his bed passed that on to me… I have never been anywhere other than here – or a place just like it – on Easter morning. The power of the story of this day has captured my life – my lying down and my waking up, and no Easter bunny fun has the power to mess that up.
But… a moment of clarity is needed if we imagine that the only threat to the story of the resurrection is the Easter Bunny… the Easter Bunny as a threat pales in comparison to the larger threat: our religious observation of Easter. The brass quintet’s and the flower crosses… the fancy sermons dragging Jesus out of the tomb for yet another round of theology about the victory over death… the lilies and the butterflies – seeds that died to bring about new life…. all of that is – in its own way –the bigger threat to our understanding of the story of the resurrection. I love it all – don’t get me wrong. I want the brass to blow us out the back of the Sanctuary on Jesus Christ is Risen Today… and I want to be bedazzled with color and brilliance on Thine Be the Glory – a Glory to spectacular to be processed. Resurrection is about eggs.. and seeds… and caterpillars becoming butterflies… but – it also isn’t that easy… it isn’t that dependable… it simply isn’t that quaint.
I easter slowly… Its not that I do not like the message of an empty tomb… it isn’t that I don’t believe in the Resurrection, and its very real power in our lives. In fact I’d say it is because of my deep and abiding belief in its real and present power in real and present tombs that I easter… slowly.
This morning I arrived “while it was still dark” ala John’s Gospel… not “early dawn” like Luke -but full on “while it was still dark”. And I walked into the Narthex and I saw, as desired, the crude wooden cross we use for Holy Week centered there in the Narthex with the appropriate white cloth drapped on it to indicate liturgical white of Easter rather than the black of Friday…. But I also noticed that rather than the typical white cloth wrapped around its base – which is there to serve to hide its wooden, non-attractive, base. It stopped me. Well… I was want to say – that doesn’t look right. But… It is rigtht… in truth. Its maybe not cultureally right to let the black cloth of Friday – with its signs and seals of despair and grief invade our Easter worship… but the cross… is root in despair. The cross is root in suffering. The cross is rooted in grief… or it has lost all meaning. Easter is not a day to celebrate the negation of our suffer… but to recognize that there is a power at work in the world that empties tombs… that redeems the lost… that gives witness that the powers of love and life are strong than that of hate and death.
We don’t need Easter if everything is going well.
We don’t’ need Easter if Jesus doesn’t die.
We don’t need Easter if the powers and principalities of Rome and Temple cults aren’t a problem.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t hungry people on the street.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t people who dying the sickness unto death of despair and heartache.
We don’t need Easter if we already are living together in peace and harmony. Resurrection is not something that happens on a cloudless midday basking in the sun… its happens when you accompany a friend to cloth a loved one in the trappings of death when the cold grip of night is still upon us.
The Empty Cross sits the literal crossroads of injustice and mercy. Of pain and healing. Of despair and hope. And while we celebrate with the crystalline purity of bells, and the booming voice of the brass… with the angelic melodies and harmonies of choral voices… this is not meant to be a cover to disguise the truth that the power of Resurrection is still needed in this world. That Resurrection will win… doesn’t not mean that it already has. Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection but the power at work in this first story has much work yet to be done and we are – if nothing else – its instruments. The God that has found us here today at the entrance of the empty tomb has work yet for us to do… to preaching and do and following in the way of Resurrection life.
The last couple of months for me have been dominated by a lesson I’m learning through my children – or actually more through their friends. I’m learning that the world’s predominate understanding of the church is not one of Resurrection. Its more a sense of being the powers and principality that are forces for control, for discrimination, for despair. I mean.. I read those articles that the predominate understanding of the church is a that we are hypocrites… that we preach forgiveness but we practice hate. We fight… we split up over arguments… we try to keep people out more than we welcome them in… that is if they don’t look, act, and believe like us. I know that intellectually but to experience firsthand a generation that just presumes that if you are a church person that is how you think and believe… Not that long ago one of my children’s friends asked them if I was homophobic – sure that to be Christian meant one HAD to be homophobic. My child, of course, said not – went to share about advocacy and actions and set the record straight. But it struck me that this person – who I now give a hard time about as often as I can – just had never experienced the church as anything but a place of disclusion – and had no reason, nor should they, to give us the benefit of the doubt that we might be different. That there might be Christians more focused on love and acceptance… on Resurrection than on creating and keeping people in tombs.
I am name that now because it reminds me when we hang out here – when Easter together here… when we only are around other churchy people who understand that there is nuance to this name Christian – and that there are people who believe it means we follow in the way of Christ’s love and inclusion – if we only name that here – then the people out there will never get that message!. It makes me aware of just how important it is that we offer the world a reparative theology and witness. If we, as the church, in our buildings, but even more so in the world are not speaking up with clarity and power to abundant life, to healing the fractures we have caused, to welcoming all regardless of perceived worth, to affirming each person in their God bless individuality – than we are not preaching the resurrection. If we are not telling people that they are loved and worthy as they ALREADY are… and that we aren’t here to fix them, and they don’t need to fix themselves for us – than we are not letting the power of resurrection be at work in us. We may be worshiping on Easter but we are not a part of God’s power of life emptying tombs, showing solidarity with the lost and the hurting, and healing the world one relationship at a time.
This is the message Jesus died for, that Jesus rose for… that Jesus continues to lead us in preaching to the world every day. And unless we preach that louder than the others preach hate and discrimination – than the world has no reason to believe that it is true. The world needs more Resurrection and less Easter… and we are just the people called to live that life.