Three Forest Hill members died and stood before the pearly gates. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question: “What happened at Easter?”
The first person replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.”
“WOW!” replies St. Peter. He asks the second person the same question: “What is Easter?”
The second replies, “Easter is the holiday in the summer. We celebrate the founding of our country. Everyone puts up red, white, and blue, and we have fireworks!”
St. Peter is dumbfounded: “I know in your country you have an issue with religion and politics, but…I have to go visit John and Clover and see what they are preaching.” He peers over his glasses at the third person waiting in line. He asks, “What is Easter?”
The third smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is. Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover.”
St. Peter smiles broadly with delight.
The third continues, “Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.”
“That’s right!” says Peter.
“Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out…”
“Yes, Yes!” shouts Peter…
“and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”
Sometimes I wonder if we really understand what this day is all about.
For me, Easter is the reason I call myself a Christian. It is not the teachings of Jesus that matter so much, (although this world would indeed be a better place if we followed “WWJD.”) It is not the teachings that are essential, it is the resurrection of Jesus that is essential. The empty tomb is what has changed everything. Whether you believe it happened or not, the narrative of world history took a decisive turn the morning the women went to the tomb and found no one there. Nothing has been the same since Easter. Everything turned topsy-turvy the moment a dead man lived – and it wasn’t like the walking dead – who are out to eat you – this dead man is now alive and lively, who wants to give you life, life rich and eternal, and hopeful.
Easter is the reason that I continue to look outside these four walls and look inward at my life and have hope. Easter gives me the lenses to make sense of this world. Through the Easter lens I have much to hope for. Yes, hope. And hope is more than just, “the sun will come out tomorrow” type optimism.
As Pastor Mitri Raheb from the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem told a group of us several years ago: “Optimism comes from the word “optics” – which is related to the eye and seeing.” Pastor Mitri said, “There are days when I look out my window and see the occupation and what it is doing to my people and it is not pretty, it is not good. So I am not always optimistic. But I am hopeful that one day this will change. Hope is deeper than optimism.”
I too look out at the world today and see much to despair: Drones, wars, poverty, partisanship, mistrust, division, violence, and so much fear.
I know many people who are in pain, facing and feeling their mortality, who are depressed and lost and lonely. It is too cheap to say: “Don’t worry, be happy!” It is not enough to say; “Don’t sweat the little things.” More is needed than the words: “Christ is Risen.” But that is a start.
The great Christian theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, once wrote: “Christian faith is not “naïve optimism…[Christian faith] is grounded in the historic Christ event which is understood as a definitive breach in the deterministic chain of human trial and error and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.” Or, in the words of St. Yogi Berra; “It ain’t over, ‘till it’s over.”
Hope is a powerful corrective. Gabriel Marcel once said: “Hope is the act whereby the temptation to despair is actively overcome.”
Being part of a hopeful people, being part of a church defined by resurrection hope changes the way I look at the world and what I expect of it and of you and of me. If I am grounded in the hope that Jesus lives, how can I despair? If my worldview is shaped by the hope of the risen Jesus, how can I give into fear?
Just as I need these glasses to correct my blurred vision, so that I can read and I can see signs on the highway, so I know where I am going; so too, do I need Easter to color to my world, and correct my vision.
Easter lenses do not make everything look pretty – rather they sharpen my view, and focus reality. These are NOT rose colored glasses. I see the hunger – Christ calls us to feed.
I see the injustice – Christ calls you and me to re-arrange the social order.
I see the walking dead – Christ calls us to preach good news and give life and show hospitality.
Everybody puts on lenses, whether you need glasses or not, whether you are able to see or visually impaired. Everybody has a way of interpreting reality. Everybody seeks to understand the mysteries; the 50 shades of life and death and love.
What lenses do you put on? How do you interpret reality?
There are a lot of lens styles and different prescriptions.
There are the lenses of nostalgia: “it is not like it used to be.” The lenses of Easter clarifies the past so that you can move confidently forward. Life is not lived in reverse so you better see more clearly what is up ahead!
There are those who put on the lenses of literalism – but that only narrows the view and makes you suspicious. The Easter lenses of hope give you better peripheral vision – very inclusive as the scene widens.
There are people who put on the lenses of cynicism, which someone once described as a “coward’s revenge of being intimidated.” The Easter lenses of hope can be critical but never cynical.
There are people whose vision are blurred by sadness, pain and suffering but Easter lenses of hope at least invites you to lift your eyes to the mountains from whence cometh your help. You may not be able to see much right now other than the shadow, but that shadow is cast only because, for a time the cross, blocks the light of eternal love.
There are people who see the world through the lens of judgment –Jesus says; “take off those glasses, and put on the lenses of compassion.” Judge not lest you be judged! And you will feel better! Easter offers a new prescription for your lenses. It makes things more clear than even “Claritin Clear!” “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.”
Putting on the Easter lenses of hope will empower you to say YES in the midst of NO.
They will help you trust despite the fear.
They will help you grab on to love in the midst of despair.
They will show you the way to pursue justice in the midst of injustice.
They will allow the light to illumine the shadows.
They will help you celebrate life in the midst of death.
They will help you live into the now instead of then; offering you clarity for tomorrow instead of the fog of yesterday.
They will help you find and hold on to the rock instead of being swept away in the current.
They will give you the power to trust instead of doubt.
They will help you find your way towards community and away from isolation.
Putting on the Easter lenses of hope will allow you to see things that you cannot imagine. You will look at the world in a whole new way.
You may need to make an appointment with your ophthalmologist after this service!
But first make that appointment with the one who is alive, not entombed – Jesus, who gives sight to the blind, and power to the weak, and hope to the despairing – It is time to put on the Easter lenses of hope and change the world.
Come and SEE that the Lord is good! Hallelujah, Christ is risen! He has risen, indeed!