Happy Easter! Christ is risen!
Well, here we are at another Easter Sunday. The Easter holiday or course comes with a lot of traditions in many families. These beloved traditions are things that we can reliably count on year after year after year. I’d like to share a few of my family’s traditions growing up. I’m sure you have some of the same ones.
On Easter Sunday, I would get up before dawn to get to my church for their Easter sunrise service. There, every year, we would sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” (which we sang this morning). Every Easter my brother and I would get an Easter basket filled with candy. Every Easter I would trade him most of my chocolaty candies for most of his fruity candies. Every Easter we would have an early dinner at 3pm. We would always have ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and my favorite- a brown gravy with raisins in it. And these traditions were held by my family just about every year that I can remember. The sunrise church service, the candy bartering, the early dinner of ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and raisin gravy. I loved it. The fact that it happened every year didn’t diminish the significance or the joy of it all. In fact, it was kind of comforting knowing exactly what was going to happen every Easter Sunday. No surprises.
But the core of Easter was and is still surprising. The story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is absurd and nonsensical. It doesn’t line up with reality and it doesn’t align with human experience since well- ever! Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women come to Jesus’ tomb with spices and ointments. These were used to prepare a body for proper burial. Strong spices had a practical purpose as they were used cover up the smell of one who had been in the tomb for three days. What else were they going to do? The most you can do for a dead body is honor it out of respect for the life it once held. The women arrive at the tomb and find the entrance open. What could have happened? Because it is Easter Sunday we may know the correct answer, but let’s just imagine that it was any other Sunday. Could it have been a tomb robber? Some kids messing around? Did we not seal the tomb properly? All of those explanations are entirely possible. We have seen those things happen before or at the very least have heard of those things happening before.
The women enter the tomb and find that Jesus’ body is missing. As the women are scratching their heads trying to figure out how a body just disappears like that two messengers appear and ask them the odd question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Well, no one thought we were looking for the living among the dead. We thought we were looking for the dead among the dead. The dead tend to stay dead and they tend not to do too much traveling after you lay them to rest. These strange messengers announce an even stranger message, “He is not here, but has risen.”
That message has become so common to our ears, especially if we have made it part of our tradition to go to church for Easter Sunday. But that simple statement, “Jesus is not here, but has risen,” is anything but common. It turns the world completely upside down. There is a certain comfort in the predictabilities of life. We can be confident in a select few things. The sun will rise in the east and it will set in the west; what goes up, must come down; Mom will make mashed potatoes and raisin gravy this Sunday; and all living things (including us) will one day die. Anna Carter Florence, a professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary says, “If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?”
It is no wonder that when the women return to tell their story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead without any solid proof, they are dismissed as delirious. The apostles’ dismissal stinks a bit of sexism, but I also think the men’s dismissal of that crazy talk from the women is an excuse to not have to confront the incredible and audacious claim that in Jesus the dead just might not stay dead.
Only Peter gets up to check out their story for himself. Peter runs to the tomb with their story running through his mind. When he arrives, he finds the tomb empty and Jesus’ burial cloths discarded. This leaves Peter with one of two options to believe, either someone broke into Jesus’ tomb and is now carrying his naked body someplace or the story of Mary, Joanna, Mary, and the others is true. The story of someone breaking in to a tomb to steal a carpenter’s corpse is almost as absurd as a story about the dead not staying dead. Peter has a lot to think about. What if their story is true? What if Jesus really did rise from the dead? Peter leaves for home and is amazed at the possibilities that lie before him.
What possibilities are raised when we believe that the dead don’t stay dead? They are endless. There is the simple assurance that death is not the end of us or our loved ones. Being with someone as death tightens its grip on someone you love seems so absolute. There is no coming back from death in my experience, but in our faith there is. In Christ, there is true hope of life after death.
Death is probably the most predictable thing in life. If God’s unconditional love shared through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus dismisses the assurance of death, what can we be sure of? We can be sure that God’s love knows no bounds and nothing will get in the way of that love’s work of forgiving and restoring us whom God loves. What else are we sure of? Looking around our world we may be so sure that there will always be war and violence, there will always be poverty, there will always be illness, there will always be hateful divisions, there will always be greed, and there will always be loneliness. There will always be death. Well, death has been swallowed up by Christ and “If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?” You certainly can’t count on violence, poverty, illness, division, and the like. You can’t count on their certainty when God’s love dismantles the predictable things in life that separate us from God and from each other. We know that we can count on God’s love and not death or sin, so we can live our lives boldly working against the forces of hatred, selfishness, and death knowing that they are not as predictable as we might believe. With the promise of the resurrection we can hear the story of how Christ was raised from the dead and we can wonder in amazement at what that means for us and the world. In Christ, resurrected life is what we can count on, not death, not sin… nothing else but the love of God in Christ who is raised from the dead.