Happy Easter, everybody! Christ is risen indeed, and it’s time to celebrate. Spring had sprung, then got itself un-sprung, and now seems to be springing again.
Every spring when I was young was track season, and I ran track, or more precisely, I watched the runners run by and then tried to throw heavy things as far as I could. I’ll always remember that if we throwers didn’t live up to our potential at a meet – and there was always three or four of us who didn’t – our coach would take four of us and sign us up for the 4×400 relay. Now, if you’ve ever ran a 400 or seen it run, you know that it’s essentially a quarter-mile sprint; it’s too short for pacing yourself but too long for sane people to run like that, so it was an ideal punishment for us weight guys, given our average personal weight of two runners and a bag of chips.
Holy Week too is like the 400 – to short to ease through but too long for a sprint, but sprint we must. Holy Week doesn’t feel like punishment but it can be punishing: to place yourself into the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, to walk alongside Jesus and His disciples as they walked to the Cross, is a beautiful and profound and daring thing to do, but it’s not necessarily pleasant.
And so it must have been all the less pleasant for Jesus and the disciples; they were living a series of unfortunate events. Even the story of Easter, the climax of the greatest story ever to unfold, wasn’t a particularly pleasant story, if we follow it closely. But it’s our story, the story of how we relate to God, and more importantly, the story of how God chooses to relate to us.
I have a friend or two (one of their names rhymes with Dob Roste) who like to say that we should “know our story” and then “live it boldly.” But the story of Easter is a bit difficult. Christmas is much easier to explain, to trace the history, to take what popular culture gives us, Santa Claus, candy canes, Christmas trees, and bring it all back to Jesus being born, the Son of the living God lying in the arms of His mother.
But the next time we hear of the Son of the living God lying in the arms of His mother, He was dead, His death being, well, a really big part of the Easter story. I think that’s why at Easter pop culture gives us a bunny who brings us baskets of chocolate, because the story is just too gritty. Bunnies are an easier sell, unless they work at a mall in Jersey City, and then it’s every man for himself.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like chocolate bunnies. My rector at St. James in Long Branch, Fr. Doug Freer, he liked white chocolate bunnies, which I think might be a heresy of some sort. But Easter is not about the time when the Easter Bunny popped out of a tomb, laid a Cadbury Creme Egg and ran away.
What Easter is about is the time when God decided we were worth dying for, going to Hell for, and then, finally, rising for. Easter is the story about how humanity, clouded by sin, managed to hunt down, brutalize, and kill an innocent Man, precisely because we could not stomach the thought of an innocent man. It’s also the story of how that Man defeated death and the grave for the sake of those who would have rather just seen Him dead.
The portion of our story we heard this morning starts out pretty bleak. St. Luke tells us that they, they being Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them, hauling a load of embalming spices, went to Jesus’ tomb to do the dirty work of caring for the dead. But on arrival they found the stone unsealed and rolled away, they found no body there. Something was undeniably wrong. “What had happened was obvious. Since Jesus had been dead, and since Mary knew what dead looked like and how undeniably Jesus had fit the bill that past Friday, if he wasn’t in the tomb where they laid him, then someone else had taken him. As a general rule, dead folks don’t do a lot for themselves.”1
The Magdalene and the other women certainly scared to death, and just as certainly they had contemplated the things they had seen over the previous few days: a long, inspiring, sad, and hopeful supper; Jesus being arrested as the men flee; the long walk to Calvary and the horror on that hill; the desolate honor of Joseph of Arimathaea and the long wait to honor their Lord’s Body with those spices they carried. And now this, the desecration of His grave, the type of crime committed by only the lowest of godless men.
But then, the angels, the blinding light, the news too powerful to understand. He is risen! They could not yet grasp the full story, their story and our story, the story we gather here this morning to recite once again, that though Jesus was dead, He is alive; that He has conquered everlasting death by rising to life again; that each one of us has witnessed His resurrection, has received Him as our Savior; that because Jesus lives, so will we. Truth be told, it’s the greatest story ever told, and the best part: it’s our story.
What we do with that story is up to each one of us. We find ourselves in a world without security, without peace, a world in which humanity turns again and again against humanity. It’s all too easy to live in fear, to choose security over peace, to live only for ourselves and not for others. Our question this morning, then, is Will we let the resurrection of Jesus Christ change us, transform us, free us from the fear of everlasting death? If we do, each one of us, each one of us can reflect the light of Christ into this dark and chaotic world; through the power of the resurrection we can not only receive the love and mercy of Christ, but also have the freedom and power to bring that love and mercy to a world that doesn’t even know what it’s missing.
And so that’s our story, my brothers and sisters: Alleluia, Christ is risen!
1Scott Hoezee, This Week. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/easter-day-c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel