I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but is this the first Easter service for anyone? Is anyone hearing the Easter story for the first time? If so, welcome. I am especially glad that you are here. I hope your curiosity is tapped and your spirit strengthened. In fact, that is my hope for all of you today if this is your first or 100th Easter Sunday: that you experience Easter again, for the first time.
Most of us know this story well, maybe too well. What more can be said? I know this feeling.
I remember the response to the premiere of the movie “The Titanic.” You know the ending: the boat doesn’t make it. It crashes into an iceberg and sinks. Why would I want to spend three hours watching that? And yet people flocked to that film (I went too!) Apparently we are fascinated by disaster and tragedy and seek to catch glimmers of bravery and hope among the ruins; to see the back story of the rich vs. the poor on deck and on decks below.
Well, we all know the ending to the Easter story. The Jesus movement crashes against the immovable object called Imperial Rome. Jesus is crucified and placed in a tomb with a big stone in front of it and just for added effect guards are placed in front of the tomb. It is OVER! They are sunk! …. Then Jesus rises again. Why do we want to a sit over an hour hearing it again?
And yet, I come to this story every year in anticipation. You still flock each year to this story and to this place – out of conviction, discipline, obligation, tradition, or the family price to pay for a really good meal that will be served in a couple of hours. Can I get an Amen?
For over 2,000 years people have flocked to this story. For over 2,000 years women and men have lived and died because of this story, re-arranged their lives because of this story, changed the history of the world because of this story.
Some of the details of the Easter story may be fuzzy: who was the first to the tomb, what did they see, who said what to whom? It is ok if you not certain on the details for you join good company: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell the story differently. But on this they agree: whoever it was that got to the tomb first – they got the surprise of their lives.
In Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary came to view the body, to honor the deceased, and to anoint a corpse – but the corpse wasn’t there, it had gotten up and moved!
No wonder, as Matthew writes, that they were all shook up as if an earthquake was rumbling.
Heaven and Earth and Hades – were all mixed up – the fabric of time and space and mortality had been ripped apart.
The guards became as good as dead and the one who was dead is as good as alive! Things are messed up!
Some might say this is impossible, a lie. Perhaps.
But for those of us who have encountered the new life in Jesus Christ….
… for those of you who have been shaken to the core of your being by tragedy, injustice, horror and have come back or are returning to life … or even if you are still in the shadows…
…for those of you who doubt (and I do not judge for I am there too, sometimes!) but still live an Easter life…
You poets, dreamers, visionaries, activists, musicians and artists – who lean in to the mystery of life and know that there is more than meets the eye compelling you to write and dream and envision and compose and sketch the deeper reality…
You who hope against hope that there is meaning in, with and under the madness of our times….
Well, there is something about this Easter story that resonates, that invites, convicts, agitates and still shakes us to our foundation. What if it is true?
We are fascinated by the tragedy and disaster of the Titanic, so too are we fascinated by the Easter story: this miracle of hope, this proclamation of the audacity of new life.
The Easter story captures what we long for:
- new life after a long winter;
- that death and decay don’t get the final word;
- that there is something more, something beyond… some energy, power that animates, and re-animates;
- that our acts of justice and compassion are tied to the universal arc of activity and are not for nothing.
Why do I celebrate the determination of a stem of grass pushing through broken concrete, or a daisy pressing through a sidewalk crack?
The story of Easter captures all of this – and yet there is more.
For Easter is not just a story that represents the cycle of spring after winter, the recurring of beauty, the joy of a new love after deep loss, the excitement of a new idea after months of grind.
No! For Jesus Christ is risen from the dead …turns everything on its head – there was a breach in the natural order of things – behold all things are new!
And it makes me think: Easter is not a warm fuzzy, it is an edgy call to new life – to choose an attitude of defiance, joy, wonder; faith, hope, love… mercy, compassion, inclusion …. these are Easter words! I wish the secular world would appreciate that!
Easter is a moment of encounter with the Risen Jesus.
The first Easter encounter caused a band of disciples who had given up the movement for it had gone the way of all movements (seemed like a nice idea at the time) – to begin to preach, to face death and persecution – why would they do that?
This moment of radical encounter drove women and men to look at the world differently: no longer slave or free, no longer Jew or Greek, not longer male or female.
The moment of encounter caused a persecutor of the church, Paul – to become the chief apostle.
And, a man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to proclaim: “I have a dream!”
I know – the institutional church has shrouded the Easter encounter with doctrine and dogma and wealth and power. I know what history has done to this Easter story – causing war and mayhem all in the name of Jesus.
But today I am not interested in institutions or in history…. I am only interested in what God has done and what God is doing.
I only wish that I had the tenacity of faith to press on and be open to a new encounter with the risen Christ and to follow! Not to be put off by expectation and obligation. Not to listen to the doom and gloom – not to give more power to my doubt than I do to my hope, my trust, my faith, my joy.
Easter is not just a good idea – it is a radical invitation.
So, any tomb that constrains you…God doesn’t want you there.
Any fear that hinders you… God doesn’t want you there.
Any narrow thinking and closed minded certainty…. God doesn’t want you there.
Any system of injustice that controls you…God doesn’t want you there.
Those are the tombs we must leave!
Because Christ has risen, he has risen indeed. Alleluia! Hear this good news again, for the first time!
Now go and tell somebody else! And live like you believe it!