March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday
"We Do Easter"
"We Do Easter"
What is Easter? Easter is not an event; Easter is a choice. Easter is not the same as Jesus’ resurrection; Easter is our response to it. We do Easter. Easter is not about facts and evidence. It is about interpretation; we interpret what we do not understand. Where facts can be binding and guilt inducing if we cannot find them or feel unable to accept them, interpretation leaves open an entry for mystery, miracle, and the profundity of truth. Dare I say interpretation is faith? Easter is about faith.
I would ask you to recall for a moment a movie you have seen recently that you thought so amazing you forgot where you were and found yourself immersed in its drama. What was that movie? Was it ‘Selma,’ or the movie, ‘Lincoln’? Was it ‘Amazing Grace,’ the story of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, or was it the movie ‘Amistad’? Or, was it the movie ‘The Blind Side,’ the story of a homeless boy who becomes an All American Football player and first round NFL draft pick? What movie are you remembering? Picture in your mind some of the scenes from the movie and try to recapture your feelings as you watched the movie unfold. For the time you were watching the movie, it was real to you. Even after it was over, its story left you with a truth and in some way transformed you.
Easter is about stories, and Easter is told with all the pizzazz that stories and movies are told. Easter is about characters in a drama that draw us in, just as the movie you remembered right now drew you in. Easter invites us to be drawn into the stories that are being shared with us by various people, including those in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The stories in these four Gospels are not the same because they are told by different people who are speaking to different groups of people. In the Bible, then, Easter is given to us, not in facts we can cross-reference, but in the context of the lives of the storytellers; to know about Easter we are brought into the reality of people’s lives.
In reflecting on today’s scripture passage from John, the commentary of Barbara Lundblad of Union Theological Seminary stood out to me. There are two scenes in this story, actually. The opening scene, in fact, is depicted on the front of your bulletin. There we see a stone rolled away. This would be the stone that seals a tomb. Next to the stone, we see a concerned woman telling the man beside her that she had walked into this tomb to tend to Jesus’ body but had not found him there. What surprise! And also, what fear! This is the opening scene. The woman in this scene is Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest friends. The man is likely Simon Peter or the unnamed other disciple that the Gospel of John refers to as “the one whom Jesus loved.”
Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark. Did the darkness symbolize her lack of understanding at this point of what had happened to her friend, Jesus? Grief stricken and afraid that the authorities would see her, Mary arrives at the tomb only to find that the stone has been removed. She is confused and afraid. What has happened? Is there more danger to be feared? She runs back to tell her two friends, Simon Peter and the other disciple. Perhaps she is warning them. They return with her. Simon Peter then goes into the tomb and sees that there is no body and that the linen wrappings are folded neatly. Why would the wrappings be there but not Jesus’ body? If Jesus were alive what was he wearing? We do not know how Peter responded to what he saw. We do not know if he suspected theft or if he believed that Jesus was alive. The other disciple, however, also went into the tomb, saw the wrappings folded neatly and he believed. The two male disciples, then, returned to their homes.
But Mary Magdalene stays behind. Verse 11 is where the second scene of this story begins. She is weeping outside of the tomb, and as she does she bends down to look inside the tomb. She then sees something that the other two disciples had not, or at least had not commented about. Mary sees two angels sitting where Jesus’ body would have been. The two angels inside the tomb ask her why she is crying, and she responds that she does not know where Jesus’ body has been taken. She sees an empty tomb and she sees angels. Yet, she does not know what it means.
I like to think of Mary’s weeping as her prayer. She cries out to God in anguish at the loss of her dear friend. And in her prayer, in her weeping, God answers. She encounters Jesus through her tears. This is what happened. After seeing the angels, she turned back around and saw a man standing there. She does not know that this man is Jesus until he calls her by name, “Mary!” It is when Mary is called individually in this way that she believes and sees that her friend, her teacher, her Rabbi is indeed alive! She is transformed and empowered. She no longer weeps in sadness. She returns to the disciples and is the first to announce the resurrection of Jesus. She is the first to interpret for the world her experience of the Risen Lord. Mary Magdalene is therefore the first Easter preacher. She says, “I have seen the Lord” and she shares with her friends all that Jesus had said to her. She shares her story.
That was Mary. But remember, there were “[three] disciples [in this story]. One sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes. One sees the same thing and there is no indication that he believes anything. [And it is Mary who is] surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her name. You see, to all and each of these [God speaks. The Gospel does not praise one over the other. It does not value one response over another. In fact,] in each of these [disciples] we [can] find ourselves at one time or another. [At times the evidence speaks to us; at times it does not. And at times, it is the personal relationship we crave, to hear our names called individually and to know that God’s love is directed at us individually.] [The author of the Gospel of] John could have written a less complicated story. “Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. They saw the linen wrappings lying there and believed Jesus had risen from the dead.” [But] John leaves room for each of us -- for one who sees and believes, another who sees and leaves uncertain, and one who needs to hear her own name.” (Barbara Lundblad, workingpreacher.org, accessed 3/26/2016) (Brackets are writer’s additions.)
The story in John is really good drama. It is good drama because it leaves room for belief and well as uncertainty. It leaves room for us to enter into the story and to interpret or make meaning out of what we cannot understand. Jesus alive again? Not comprehensible! But see how these characters are transformed! A woman, Mary, becomes a preacher, a poor fisherman, Peter, will become the cornerstone of the Church! There must be some truth, some life-giving power in this story! The story in John and the stories in the Bible are really good drama because they entice us to know the God they speak about, a God of Love, a God who lives among people, calls us by name and is even willing to suffer and die on our behalf. Through the remarkable stories of these people in the Bible a truth about a God, whose love is even stronger than death, is communicated to us. The stories in the Bible invite us to respond to this compelling mystery. They invite us to do Easter.
Will you do Easter today? Will you be open to responding to the drama of love and to interpret what your mind cannot assimilate? Will you search your own life to recognize when you, yes, you have been touched by an unexpected hope or had been endearingly called by name so that you knew you could persevere and live with joy? Will you search your story and open your eyes to the power that transforms you? Will you seek out ways that make God's love and peace concrete in this world especially where this might seem impossible, even as impossible as a resurrection? This is doing Easter. And when you do Easter, you want to share your story. And so you will become Easter people to go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Love and Life. Amen.