Texts: Psalm 116; Matthew 28: 1-10
As a young child I both anticipated and dreaded Easter. My anticipation was a child’s anticipation: the basket of candy with a chocolate Easter bunny, but it came at a price: My mother would drag me shopping for a suitable church dress, something frilly and "feminine," as she put it, which was okay, but then the moment of dread was her insistence that I have ringlets a la Shirley Temple. That meant I had to have these old hot irons put against my head to get the desired look. Back in the fifties of the last century -- oh, my goodness, did I really say last century? -- that was how we all lived. When I once asked her why I had to suffer just to satisfy God, though I wondered if it was God I had to satisfy or my mother, on Easter Sunday, she just gave me that look telling me that my question was out of line.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church had a small chapel used by the St. Barnabas Mission to the Deaf with a window depicting the Resurrection. As Rev. Berg preached what seemed to me to be an incredibly long sermon, I would study the window. In content it was not much different than the painting up on your right. The morning sun, however, created an entirely different sense as it shone brightly through the window. The artist must have studied where the light came because it shone right through the space between the angel and the women. To me, as a child, it was utterly dazzling.
The very idea of what we call Resurrection is, of course, dazzling. The gospel writers who pieced together the stories they had heard about the Easter moment when the people who had known Jesus and seen him die but then say they had experiences of Jesus alive and in a new form, told the story differently, of course. The experience of the three women was at first dismissed by the disciples, but as others began to experience the presence of something they could not explain in ordinary terms, they realized that the women were not just hysterical with grief.
So what does this event which goes beyond history, that transformed a small group of people into a force that changed the world, what does this event mean to us today? It means, I believe, that rather than making Easter something apart from the life of Jesus, we must integrate it into the very fiber of who Jesus was and what he did. We must live as if Easter really matters.
This is more than simply believing in some pie in the sky when you die, as Joe Hill put it in his scatological song “The Preacher and the Slave.” It’s not just a promise of floating on a cloud in little white gowns as a reward for being passive and accepting of one’s so-called lot in life. It means transforming our lives in such a way that we actually realize God’s grace here on earth. Truth goes beyond the way an event is communicated; there is a truth that was essential in the very life of Jesus. We cannot just simply focus on Easter and Resurrection as a way of getting beyond our daily concerns; Easter is about our daily concerns. Look at the life of Jesus himself. He not only healed people but spoke out against those forces that confine and oppress them. And, to paraphrase Pogo, “them” is us.
Living as if Easter really matters means being willing to take risks. Fortunately, we are not usually called upon to take the kind of risks as did the early followers of Jesus. Many of them paid for their risks with their lives. Our risks are different because we live in different times and they are just as real for us as were the risks faced by the early disciples. They are risks we are required to consider regarding our environmental future, our commitment to creating an open and welcoming society, and our willingness to share our resources with others.
We live in a state where a governor will not consider raising taxes on the wealthy but will consider gutting state services. We live in a country where a Congress is more concerned about protecting its interests than the poor. We live in a world where leaders make decisions based on narrow national interests rather than on human rights. Well, you may say that everyone is just being practical. But that’s the whole point. Easter is not about being practical! Easter is about living a life modeled on Jesus, a man who showed us how to live in a radically new way.
Easter this year has a special meaning to me because of the date. On April 24th Bob, my Bob went off to teach a class and three hours later I got a phone call to come to the college because he wasn’t "feeling well," a nice euphemism for his having a heart attack. Bob was dead when I got there. I wanted so much to shake him, get him up, but the medics pushed me away. He didn’t get up, of course, and the following morning I was faced with telling my two boys, ages 2 and 5, that their father was dead. His death changed my life as have the deaths of those whom we loved and continue to love changed all of our lives. But in the deaths of those whom we loved and continue to love, our lives are not just changed but transformed. For those people are not dead in us and we live as if their lives really mattered.
Easter is the same. Easter tells us to live as if Jesus’ life really mattered. Just as our lives have been transformed by the ones we loved and continue to love, our lives have been transformed by the life of this man who had the very soul of God within him and who shared that soul with others. That soul of God is shared with us when we live as if Jesus and his life, Jesus and his death, and the experience of a living and loving God is present in us. The truth of Easter is in our experience of the love and grace of God and in sharing it with the world around.
Let us pray: Giving and loving God, who offers us your gift of new life through the One we knew as Jesus, who is called the Christ, the One who has shown us how to live, open to us your way of life, your way of care, and your way of love. Amen.