Easter 2004

This was not a sunrise service. Here was Mary walking near a tomb in the darkest part of the night before the dawn. A Mary who hardly knew for sure what to expect, but there nonetheless, praying that her worst fears or her deepest hopes would be founded. Bring closure to this nightmare. Either he was just a man, yes, just a man - or…….. maybe it was true - he would live again.

The body was gone. She ran to tell the others. Two of them ran as fast as they could to see for themselves, stumbling over rocks, over each other. Half afraid to look, half afraid to believe, half afraid to contemplate the implications of what this could mean for them, for their nation, for their world.

Jesus' body was gone, there was no denying that, but what did it mean? What did it mean?………… they just went home.

Not much different from most of us, I imagine. We come here today and shout Alleluia, Christ is Risen - He is Risen Indeed. We will sing the joyful triumphant songs. And, then go home. Maybe go out to dinner for a nice meal. Visit with family. Candy, Colored Easter Eggs. Will we ask ourselves the question, what does it mean?

A director of children's ministry once asked the little ones what Easter was all about. A little 3-year old blurted out, ""Easter is when we wake up early and open presents.' 'No, that's Christmas.' The second one said, 'Easter is when we have turkey'. 'No, that is Thanksgiving' said the dejected educator thinking about what a poor job the Sunday School teachers had done in the weeks during Lent. Finally, one young girl said, 'Easter is when Jesus dies and comes out of his grave.' 'That's right' said the Director, breathing a sign of relief. "And if he sees his shadow, we have 6 more weeks of winter. The director's mouth dropped open as another kid raised his hand and said, "It looks like he saw his shadow this year." Whatever point this director was trying to make in her children's message was cast aside as she immediately moved toward prayer time.

When I talk to people outside the church family, many of them don't know what the events are during Holy Week let alone what they mean. I was trying to explain to one woman all the things our congregation was going to do for our Maundy Thursday service and she looked at me confused. She said, you do all that Monday through Thursday or just Monday and Thursday. I chuckled, realizing what an easy mistake that would be if you didn't already know from childhood.

Easter, the day Jesus broke free from the bonds of death. The day God invited us to see and touch that there is life beyond life. That there is so much more than our immediate concerns no matter how serious and life threatening they are. There remains life in Christ, life in God's kingdom.

Ken Burn did a documentary about the American Civil War. It contained a scene 50-years after the conclusion of the war. Rebel and Union veterans, now all of them old, old men, gathered for a reunion at Gettysburg. That battle as you may remember was one of the bloodiest of the war. At one point, during this 50 year reunion, the veterans decide to re-enact the so-called 'Pickett's Charge.' They lined up on either side of the field…only now, fifty years later. They did not have rifles and guns, but crutches and canes. Someone signaled the charge, and the groups rushed toward each other…or at least, at their age, they started walking toward each other. And the story goes that, as each side converged, they did not fight. But instead, they fell into each others' arms…weeping…and crying…and embracing… The writer, Frederick Buechner, commenting on this scene said this: If only those doddering old veterans had seen in 1863 what they now saw so clearly fifty years later…Half a century later, they saw that the great battle had been a great madness. The men who were advancing toward them across the field of Gettysburg were not enemies. They were human beings like themselves, with the same dreams, needs, and hopes, with wives and children waiting for them to come home…what they saw was that we were, all of us, created not to do battle with each other but to love each other, and it was not just a truth they saw. For a few minutes, it was a truth they lived. It was a truth they became.

Jesus' entire life embodied that truth. His vision was justice. His actions compassion. His voice love. His death was life. His resurrection the gift that we can live a life eternal NOW. Paul said it in the Corinthians passage. IF For this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of a people most to be pitied.

Indeed if your life is one of self-preservation, licking wounds, or seeking what is rightfully yours or perhaps retribution for what is lost, then I encourage you to take today and the next and the next to contemplate what the resurrection means for you and for those around you.

Rarely do we get that experience it. We spend most of our lives wandering sometimes aimlessly, sometimes on track - in search of ourselves. In some sense we are all like the lead character in the movie Antwon Fisher.

Antwon was an orphan. He spent his youth in foster-care homes and orphanages. His experiences were not good. Sometimes he was controlled, sometimes slighted. sometimes abused. He never knew unconditional love. He enrolled in the Navy out of high school, but got into trouble because of anger management issues and he was assigned to visit a psychiatrist. Together, he reluctantly peeled back the layers of frustration and resentment, layers of internal fear and control…and he did it because someone cared, someone showed him the face of real love, someone who treated him like a son - not a case to be resolved.

AT one point, Antwon decides that he needs to go find his birth mother. He needs to know why she gave him up, why she couldn't love him.

Returning to his home town with only the name of his father and mother, gets out a very large phone book, and just starts calling everyone with their last names. Finally, he stumbles on his Aunt and Uncle who greet him warmly and tell him all they know about his father, the brief relationship with his mother, how he had since died. His uncle offers to take him to see his mother.

They drive over to a tenement apartment. His uncle goes inside and calls her name. The two men walk in. They walk into a tattered living room with one woman sitting in silence. His uncle tells her that her son is there. She never moves. The uncle leaves to give them some time alone. Antwon sits down and asks her many of the questions he had always wanted to ask her. She never responds. She just rocks…She is just not right.

Finally, he gets up and walks out of the room. He had come all that way, with all those hopes, all the questions that he wanted to get answered, to be comforted and held…only to find that spiritually he was a motherless child. He is just numb, leaden.

His uncle was waiting for him in the car. They drove across town in silence to another house. The two of them get out together and walk up to this other house. There are people out on the porch, people inside milling around. As Antwon walks up to the house, they start introducing them selves to him. "Antwon, I'm your cousin Clarice." "Antwon, I'm your great uncle George." There are more people in the living room, more in the hall. Dozens of people, all introducing themselves to him, until finally he gets back to the dining room, crammed full of people. They finally lead him up to a regal, elderly woman sitting at the table. And the table is spread full of Sunday food, bowls and bowls of steaming wonderful food. She takes his hands in hers, her eyes brimming, and she says, "Antwon, I'm your grandmother…Can you stay for dinner?"

In the resurrection, God comes to tell us the rest of the story. We may not have the life that we would have chosen if we could have it all our way. We may have more pain than we can bear. That pain may have turned us into people we never intended to be. It may be impossible for others to tell who we really are - crying to be reborn. But Christ came to tell us we have a place at the table.

God is like the great matriarch of Antwon's family, loving us, pulling for us, surrounding us with people that will build us up, praying for us when we are far away, calling us back home. WE are surrounded by a great throng of people that are supporting us unseen.

You are somebody. Remember who you are, remember whose you are. Live forward into the full potential of that identity. No matter how lost or alone, or confused you may feel, God is calling you home.

The story of Easter is not that we avoid death, but that even in death, even through death, God is with us and for us.

May I close with the words of Helen Keller that most of you know a woman totally blind from early childhood.

It is the resurrection day again: there is joy upon the hills and gladness in the fields. Wherever we listen, there comes the songs of the blossoms, the chime of birds and stream. Wherever we look, we behold the miracle of life new risen. The green tide rolls from the south, pressing on over the hills and running into the valleys, bringing hope to winter-bound souls.

Even thus, the Word of God runs swiftly upon the earth, searching our hearts, as the soft spring rain seeks the roots shut in the dark earth, and awakens in them the impulse to rise and share in the glory of leaf and flower, sunshine and song.

So may the Word of Life awaken in us an irresistible desire to think more deeply, feel more sincerely, love more generously, and be more worthy of our spiritual heritage!

This is he fairest of all resurrections…the rising in our souls of a nobler self. Now is the moment for us to rise out of the darkness of our selfish lives and, quickened by His love new risen in our hearts go forth in His steps with healing in our hands for the wounds of the world.

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