Two Easter Questions

Lessons for Easter Day, Year B: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; and, Mark 16:1-8

As I have grown older, my thinking about Easter has (for good or bad) become simplified, becoming much more comfortable accepting the story at face value. So now, instead of spending time trying to rationalize and explain the narrative, I feel comfortable with the ambiguity and astonishment and I find joy in the wonder and amazement of it all. I imagine that you already know the story as well as I do: Jesus died on a cross. He was then laid in a tomb. But, on the third day, as some of the women who were among his followers went to care for his body, they noticed that the “very large stone” over the entrance had been rolled back. Those women are met by a messenger who tells them, “He has been raised; he is not here.” 

Indeed, the tomb is empty and Christ is risen. 

If pressed, I might conjure up some explanation, rationale, and comment on the holy week experience. I can come up with very real historical parallels to demonstrate how Jesus was killed by the forces of the empire and institution that held sway over the people and land, and how in his life and message Jesus fought hard against that oppression. I can see how Jesus was killed like a revolutionary because he was trying to show his followers a way of divine love and compassion different from the oppression and selfish ambition of the Roman empire. And history demonstrates that Jesus’ burial in such a tomb might not have been unusual (even if it was perhaps a tomb far grander than his status would have warranted).

There are rational explanations and useful comments to be made about all of the days we call holy week! But what I can’t explain (and what I choose to longer explain) is how Jesus was raised from the dead. So I won’t try! However, while I have no rational explanation, I do have experience. I’ve seen resurrection in my life and I’ve seen it in your lives. It’s our story and it’s the story of the scriptures! Today’s resurrection story isn’t new. Indeed not, for it’s the fulfillment and completion of what God has been doing all along. Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, the narratives told proclaim a God who was, is, and ever-more shall be life-giving.

Think about it:

  • Have you ever been freed from patterns and behaviors that entrapped and enslaved? That’s the story of Israel escaping the bondage of Egypt!
  • Have you ever had your vision of another person or the world transformed, leading to new insights, new life, and new relationships? That’s the story of the blind beggar who could see because of the healing hand of Jesus.
  • Have you ever been stuck without meaning or direction? Jesus said to the lame man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” That’s resurrection.
  • Jesus cleared the unnecessary clutter from the Temple to make room for the people to meet God. Maybe, with God’s help, you’ve cleared out unnecessary clutter from your life to make a new start. That’s resurrection.
  • Remember the raising of Lazarus? Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.” Have you ever been bound by something only to have it unbound? That’s a release that is resurrection.
  • Have you ever felt as if new  life had been breathed into you, felt a new sense of energy and enthusiasm?  That’s the resurrecting breath of God blowing through your valley of dry bones. 

I come to Easter Day with questions about the Easter story: The first we bring to this day. The second with which we leave this day. They stand as bookends to the story. The first question is this. Is the story of the resurrection still true? That’s the question we bring to this day. I ask the question today not because I think that the story might have changed since last year. Rather, I ask the question because my story has changed. My life is different today from what it was last Easter (and not just because of Covid). So, I need to remind myself that the Easter story – the story of the resurrection – is still real and true! That is, after all, why we show up in church every year to hear the same old story. 

So, let me be clear. In the many ways your life and my life has changed and is different from last Easter, for good or for bad (or a mix of both), the story is still true! Regardless of who you are, what you’ve done, or left undone, Easter is still happening. The story was true yesterday, it is true today, and it will be true tomorrow. And while it may take months or even years for resurrection to free us, the promise of today is that God never leaves anyone in the darkness of the tomb. The stones of our lives are being rolled back, the tombs are being emptied, and the messenger is proclaiming the good news, “He has been raised; he is not here.”

That’s why this nave is so bright and beautiful, filled with light, candles, and flowers, and still ringing with our Easter Alleluia. Those are not just decorations and songs, they are God’s promise – the truth about your life and my life – that resurrection is real. Easter is not just something from the past to be looked at and celebrated. It is the lens through which we are to see everything. It’s a life to be lived. Getting Jesus out of the tomb is not the ultimate goal of Easter. Easter is about our new life. That means that today is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. The most important part of Easter is not what happens today. What matters most about Easter is what we do tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that. 

“He is going ahead of you,” said the young man dressed in a white robe to the women. He is going ahead of us rolling back stones, emptying tombs, preparing new places, and calling forth life. Every cross is flowering with new life, every tomb is becoming a womb of new birth, and every darkness is being overcome by new light. 

Easter happens in the Galilee of our lives: the hometown, the familiar places, the usual relationships, the ordinary circumstances. Easter happens in the everydayness of life. And that brings me to my second question, the question with which I want you to leave here today. What will you do with your new and precious life (adapted from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver)? What difference will today make tomorrow? 

“He has been raised; he is not here.” “He is going ahead of you to Galilee.”

If we leave here today the same people we were when we came we’ve missed the point of this day. Easter isn’t the annual remembrance and celebration of an event in history. It’s here and now. It’s a new way of being. It is a new way of living. Easter is less a noun and more a verb. So tell me this. What will Eastering look like for you tomorrow?  

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