NOTE: Here are my notes for Easter Sunday - join us if you can @ 10:30 am.
Every preacher I know wants to give God and their congregation the BEST they possibly have on Easter Sunday – I know that I do – and who wouldn’t? This is the high point of our faith – the Feast of Feasts for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but all too often, we miss the mark on Easter Sunday because we try too hard.
· Some preachers feel the need to try and explain the Resurrection of our Lord logically as if we are capable of articulating the full grace of God in 20 minutes or less on a Sunday morning.
· Other preachers get themselves so worked up about sin and hell that they try to chase away the evil by appealing to fear and guilt until Easter becomes one super-sized altar call.
· A lot of preachers in our tradition look at Easter as their own existential conundrum and drag into the light all the questions and fears THEY have been worrying about all year in private. Or else make the case that Easter is just a sanitized Christian version of an ancient nature religion that honors the arrival of spring with a reassuring predictability.
And still others choose to celebrate our most sacred holy day as something fundamentally sweet and amusing and tender: they tell us heartwarming stories of pastel drenched children saying the most adorable things until the Feast of the Resurrection starts to resemble a community Easter Egg Hunt rather than a day of true shock and awe. Look, I’ve tried them all from the cute to the challenging. I even quit preaching on Easter for a time leaving the message to the spirit of the music and the prayers, but that’s not faithful either because beyond the traditional habits of this day, somebody here – and I don’t pretend to know who you are – but someday here today is actually searching for something of the Lord.
So here’s what I want to say to you whoever you are: our Feast of the Resurrection asks us to hold together two often contradictory truths at the same time.
· First, Easter is supposed to upset us: as preacher Anna Carter Florence puts it, “if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?” Easter breaks all the rules, shakes up our entire understanding of how the world works and throws us off balance. That’s what happened to the women and the men in the Bible story and that’s what happens to us if we are paying attention, too. Everything changes and this isn’t an accident or a mistake: God wants us to be unsettled and upset. That’s the first truth…
· And second, this shock to all that is predictable can become a source of great comfort and blessing for us even as it shakes us to our core: the women in our story came to Christ’s tomb to do their duty – to fulfill their loving obligation and follow the rules for the dead – but the left energized and filled with a whole new way of experiencing God’s love in the world.
Two truths – shock and blessing – are at the core of Easter Sunday. And rather than fall into the trap of trying to say too much today, I’d like to quietly think out loud with you about what some of this might mean for us as 21st century people. I’d like to share three insights from the Biblical story and then ask two questions about living a resurrection faith, ok? Is that clear?
Now I probably should tell you that my model for doing this kind of Easter message is Pope Francesco I – a humble and wise pastor – who faces the enormous problems before him with a gentle grace and profound prayer. The very way he speaks reminds us that when God upsets us and awakens us to new possibilities, it is always to bring us comfort and joy. It is always to bring healing and hope to our wounds. Ad it is always to nourish us from within and bring us to the rest we so desperately desire.
So, come with me into the Bible for a few minutes knowing that I’m going to ask you twp questions about living a resurrection faith at the end of this message, ok?
Now to start off let me remind you that Luke’s gospel begins the story of Jesus with women and angels and ends the same way: the entire drama of redemption in Luke’s gospel includes Elizabeth (1:41-45), Mary (1:38-56) and Anna (2:36-38) right from the start – and each of these women offer a prophetic voice that describes the grace-filled way God works in the world. What’s more, Luke tells us more stories about the faith of women than all the other gospels:
· There is the woman whose son had died and Christ brought healing because he had compassion for her. There was the woman from the streets who crashed the party to anoint the Lord’s feet with oil.
· There was Mary Magdalene who was blessed with grace and peace through Jesus, Mary and Martha who served and prayed with him, the woman in the city who spontaneously offers Jesus and his mother Mary a blessing of love and gratitude, the woman crippled and bent over for 18 years who was healed, the woman who kept pounding on the judge’s door until her prayer was answered and so many more.
So just as Luke’s gospel begins, so it ends – with women and angels – because, you see, women in this story are at the core not the periphery. It has been said before, but must be said again, in first century Palestine women were NOT social leaders nor did they hold political, economic or religious power. But in the world of Christ’s gospel, everything is turned upside down, right? The last become first, the forgotten are embraced as treasured guests, children become valued rabbis and women – particularly Mary the mother of our Lord – become the new model for living faithfully in the world.
For much of our history, the Christian Church has spoken this story – and then ignored it – by excluding those whom Christ loved and making allies with the powerful rather than seeking the wounded and lost. Thanks be to God that in our generation most people don’t CARE about the Church any more – now we can be free to be radically faithful. Now we can turn our attention to the women – and to Mary – and learn how to live a resurrection faith that is free from the cynicism and mean-spirited judgment of our day.
That’s one insight from today’s Bible story. Another is that even the women in this story had to have their habits and expectations challenged and upset before they could fully embrace the gospel. They didn’t go to the burial tomb of Jesus expecting the resurrection – they expected to find him dead. They went to the tomb to perform a religious ritual – they went to follow the rules and keep them – only to experience the love of God in such a shocking way that when they told the men of their community what had happened they were considered crazy.
· Yes, I know the story in English tells us that the men interpreted the resurrection story of the women as “idle chatter” but that is way too tame. As one scholar puts it, “to call this an idle tale is a fairly generous translation of the Greek word: leros. For that word is the root of the word delirious… meaning the men thought these women were crazy, nuts, filled with utter nonsense.”
· And the women themselves were not entirely clear about what was really going on, too because… resurrection blessings are always upsetting before they are comforting – even God’s chosen women in this story were thrown off balance.
Which should be good news for most of us: if we don’t get what the resurrection is all about today – or tomorrow or for a long time – we’re in good company. The women who went to the tomb were just as perplexed and challenged by all of this as we are: they expected the bad news to remain bad news.
It took time and questions and experience in community before they could see that God can bring new life out of death – and “reconciliation out of conflict” – and hope out of despair and healing out of our hurts. Easter upsets everything and takes some time before it brings us comfort and joy.
But that comfort and joy is also part of the story – and let’s not ever forget that. Since Christmas time, those who have been here most Sundays know we’ve been reading the story of the life of Jesus from Luke’s gospel. And one of the themes that Luke plays with comes to a climax with Easter; namely that God’s love is always better than what we expect. In much of our life, we have come to expect that we will be let down…
· Our politicians – left and right – often sound good but they can’t really deliver. That new hair conditioner makes the model’s hair look all sleek and silky on TV but doesn’t really work on our nappy heads. That new lover feels good at first but soon the buzz wears off… and we’re just as disappointed and frustrated as before.
· Enter the Easter story in Luke’s telling and everything starts to look different. Think back to the Prodigal Son rolling around in the mud of the hog pen. “The most he hoped for was to be received back in his father’s house as a servant. Instead, however, he received restoration in his father’s – or his mother’s – open arms. He received much more than he expected.” (African American Lectionary Reflection) Same is true with the women who first went to the tomb: they expected to find Jesus dead – but got MUCH more than they ever dreamed was possible
For that is the promise and truth of resurrection living: we KNOW how to expect the worst – and often look for it, too – but Easter upsets all of that in pursuit of God’s comfort and joy. So let’s be clear that we will never fully understand, comprehend or be able to systematically categorize the blessings God. On Easter Sunday, “God raised Jesus from the dead because God was creating a new reality” saturated in shocking, upsetting and life-changing comfort and joy.
And that brings me to my questions: first, what makes believing and trusting in the resurrection hard for you; and second, what are some of the clues and experiences that have helped you wonder, doubt and maybe even hope that Christ’s resurrection could be true? Are you with me? Is that clear?
· What makes it hard to believe such a thing…?
· What makes you wonder – and maybe even trust – that it is true…?
It took Christ’s first disciples a long time to live into resurrection faith – but when they did everything in creation changed. And that is what God offers us this Easter: a way to begin – or deepen – our walk in wonder and maybe even faith so that all things in heaven and on earth might be redeemed and renewed by grace. From my experience, some days will be better than others in this pilgrimage – some days there will be more fear and doubt than trust and comfort and joy – that goes with the territory.
So let me share with you the best way to practice a resurrection faith. Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the smartest preachers in our land, puts it like this:
Start by loving God – and love a neighbor, too. Be a neighbor – and don’t complicate things by arguing about specifics. You know what it means to do love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of it, so remember that knowing the right answer does not change a thing. If you want the world to look different the next time you go outside, do some love. Do a little or do a lot, but do some – and do not forget some for yourself.
The good news for those who have ears to hear on Easter Sunday is this: Christ is risen – and love wins. Go now and do likewise!