Easter Sunday–April 21, 2019
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18
When I was 5 my mother bought me a small yellow chick on Good Friday, but early on Easter morning, I remember walking into my parents room crying, as I carried the shoe box in which my chick was dead. My parents made some efforts to revive it, but the chick stayed dead. And that’s the problem with death: you stay dead.
For all of our supposed sophistication pre-modern people had a much closer experience of death than we do. The dead were not whisked away in black bags, but stayed in the home where the body would be washed by the family. You couldn’t live to be an adult and never have seen a dead person as happens so often in our culture. Unlike Saint Francis who called it Brother Death, we hide it away. Almost every time I’m at a visitation at a funeral home, I’ll hear someone say, “My, doesn’t she look good!”
No she doesn’t! “Dead is dead.”
So it makes perfect sense that Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus. How could any of us recognize a friend at the mall when three days before we watched as she was put into the ground at Pine Ridge?
But I want to suggest that there is something harder to grasp than the reality of a dead Jesus being resurrected. The really hard thing to come to grips with is what does it all mean?
First, what does it mean in the story of Jesus? It means that God has vindicated Jesus! His message about the peaceable kingdom of God must be true after all and the vainglory and violence of Empire, then and now, must be false. It means Jesus is our Leader and Master, and emperors and presidents are not!
Secondly, what does the resurrection mean in the story of me? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
In other words if Mary Magdalene is having nothing more than an emotionally-driven hallucination, then Jesus is dead and all his teachings are buried with him.
All his talk about loving your enemy, eating meals with the marginalized, telling us to not to worry about tomorrow—it’s all a bunch of nonsense. Why believe anything he said or did when the best and brightest of his generation put him on trial, find him guilty, and execute him as a heretic and rebel?
If Jesus is not raised then all the cross shows us is the triumph of power and violence over this spiritual pretender.
For me, the hardest thing to believe on Easter is not that Jesus was raised from the dead. If we believe that a mindless nature didn’t create itself, but came out of the wisdom and beauty of God, then it’s no big deal to imagine the transcendent power of God recreating Jesus. If God can create billions of people, raising one shouldn’t be too hard.
What’s hard to believe on the existential and personal level is that what is flowing from the Cross is the eternal, infinite, and unconditional love of the Crucified God—for me, and for you!
This is too hard to believe because at our core is the certain belief that we are not worthy of such an invincible love.
+We can’t believe that our Heavenly Father would come running out to us, like the Father of the Prodigal Son, when we have done things we ought not to have done, and not done those things we ought to have done.
+We can’t believe the Good Shepherd would bother to come into the wilderness to find us.
+We can’t believe we deserve to be guests at the wedding banquet of God’s Son.
So we spend our lives covering up our feeling of unworthiness with our hurry sickness and digital distractions, huddled up into groups of likeminded people who we hope and pray will like our pictures and posts.
Maybe we’ll try self-help affirmations telling ourselves how special we are, but these, as helpful as they may be, don’t go deep enough because the sick self cannot heal the sick self.
Yet: Throughout the millennia, people have found their healing at the foot of the cross where the Risen One takes our unworthiness and replaces it with Christ’s worthiness.
As I like to say, the good news is not about having to climb some moral ladder to get up to God. Rather the good news is that God has come down to us in Jesus Christ; to exchange our faithlessness for Christ’s faithfulness.
As Paul writes in Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live but Christ lives in me and the life I live in the body I live within the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” 2:20
Only then can we believe in the eternal, infinite, and unconditional love of God for us.
That’s why Paul prays for us this way: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This is the free gift which cost Jesus everything, because invincible love only comes through the searing fire of the cross.
This love is free for us but it is not easy: because as we believe that God love us, we begin to realize God loves people we can’t stand and don’t trust. People who look and sound different become our sisters and brothers no matter where they’re from or how long they’ve been here.
At the foot of the cross the Risen Christ is building a universal community which will strip our egos bare and fill our hearts full. The story of Me becomes the Story of We.
But on Easter of all days it’s not enough to talk about eternal, infinite, unconditional love because that’s an abstraction. That’s why the Gospel writers don’t say love came out of the tomb, but that Jesus came out of the tomb. The Love of God is a person who is for us.
When my chick died years ago, death became easy to imagine, and easy to fear.
It has taken me decades since then to realize we can also imagine the Risen Jesus.
When we walk through our house in the middle of the night with the lights out we can’t see a thing, so we use our imagination to see the door, the table, and the steps are.
If we only trust what we can see with our eyes, we will surely break a toe or break our neck. But when we trust our imagination to show us what is real, we can walk in the dark.
Christ is present but can’t be seen, so faith is imagining Christ walking with us. Imagine Christ holding your hand. Imagine that his grip is stronger than your grip of the hand of a child or a grandchild as you cross a busy street.
Imagine Jesus calling your name—and knowing Jesus IS and always will be the eternal, infinite, unconditional Love of God there for you.
Then once you can imagine Jesus with you, imagine Jesus with everyone in the room…and everyone at work…everyone everywhere. The Risen Jesus is even with those loved ones who are no longer in this life.
For that is the reality of the Risen Christ.