Reflecting on Easter Sunday… a sermon

Easter, old greec salut
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“But how did it happen? I don’t understand how when he was dead he was alive again. How did it happen?”

The class had finished. The next class was waiting and I was halfway through the door. A nine year old, engrossed in the drama of the Easter story, required an answer to this question or he would be most disgruntled.

I had at the most ten seconds to reply.

Little did he know that he was asking a question that has proved to be one of the greatest stumbling blocks to a full minded, full hearted, full bodied embrace of faith in the Crucified and Risen One.

The disciples themselves had enough trouble coming to grips with it.

Even though Jesus had spoken many times of his coming death and being” raised on the third day.”…

Even though the concept of resurrection had already been adopted into mainstream post exilic Judaism …

The disciples were just as confused and disoriented on the day of Jesus’ resurrection as we often find ourselves to be. They were looking for answers that required more than a passing ten seconds.

Often we think we have to have it wrapped up so neatly.

Christian tradition has spent two thousand years developing and narrating through art and music the Great Triduum  – the events leading up to and including Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

Good Friday services – with their focus on the vicarious pain and suffering of Jesus seem to draw the most crowds. Our own human experiences seem to be so well expressed in the shame, scapegoating, grief, disappointment and seeming failure of the Passion of Jesus.  We are drawn, not through masochism, but an eternal value that breaks through the most awful things we can humanly experience.

It is the demonstration of love – it is the culmination of a truth that Jesus demonstrated and taught throughout his time amongst us “Greater love has no one than they lay down their life for their friends.”

We can feel part of the Good Friday story – it is our story that beckons us to be more complete expressions of who we are called to be, even though it culminates in death.

Holy Saturday seems to be a hiatus – an “in between time”. The gospel narratives graciously omit the thoughts and activities of Jesus’ followers at this time. Grief deserves a season of silence – where nothing is said and nothing is done.

Easter Sunday immediately throws us into the unexpected. Grief and trauma experts would say it’s far too soon to come to grips with new realities – we are still trying to assimilate and adjust to fresh loss.

Yet here it is. On the third Day the Son of Man will be raised.

The women attending the tomb at dawn with their embalming supplies must replan their day and their emotions.

The disciples must contend with their disbelief and confusion.

And I suspect this morning that many of us may find ourselves among them.

This week we have farewelled two significant fellow travellers, both well known to our community of faith, both an integral part to our understanding of who we are.

At the service for Keith and again at the service for Bruce,  we uttered the words that give expression to resurrection hope, yet this morning on resurrection day, we are still dealing with our feelings of numbness and empathy for their families who are in the early stages of readjustment to “the great absence.”

Others of us, for ourselves or our friends, have received grim news about our health and once again we are confronted with finiteness and mortality.

There were those of you who, at our Good Friday service, came face to face in a deeper way with some of the grief that you have carried daily with great courage and faith.

But this morning, Easter Day, the Day of Resurrection, you are brought face to face with a new reality.

Traditionally, the Great Triduum marks this day as one of joy and celebration.  We may feel under pressure, in spite of ourselves, to put on a brave face and join in with gusto the alleluias and the Easter shout.

I know that we often do these in defiance of our feelings than because of them.

Our question is not “How did it happen?” but what does the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, God’s anointed one really mean? What does it mean to the grief I carry for myself and others?

This question moves us beyond the debate of the mechanics of resurrection and the debate around its physical, metaphorical and allegorical interpretations. The question, “What does it mean?” transcends them all.

Bruce Sanguin, who blogs at If Darwin Prayed, also reflects on the meaning of resurrection in the face of personal loss:

Paul had this theology that Christ was alive in the gathered community, risen in them, or not at all. I’ve never felt that the church took itself seriously enough as the mystical body of the risen Christ.  Church is a community that knows all about despair and so is able to create a space that can hold the grief. Like Jesus, we can be a healing presence…

When the time is right, we can also play the part of the mysterious stranger in the story of the road to Emmaus. The road to Emmaus is the path we all walk when we discover that much of life is beyond our control. The conversation can turn to despair, but the stranger miraculously sets this conversation within a larger narrative of promise. Then he sits the heart-broken disciples down, feeds them, and explains that the worst thing that can happen is never the last thing that happens.

Beatrice Bruteau , in The Easter Mysteries, reflects on resurrection thus:

It’s about “anointing” the world to be the real presence of God. This is what is celebrated in the Easter vigil and Eucharistic Feast. What we call “resurrection” is the full manifestation of the Incarnation itself. This is the revelation of what and who we really are…

…Thus the divine life comes down from heaven and is sown in a perishable body. But the divine life gradually rises up as the imperishable that it truly is. The world itself is to be wrapped in the mantle of divine praise, the presence of the life-giving Spirit. And this takes place through us, the highly conscious elements of the world, the humanity made from “humus,” from the dust of the earth, the dust of the stars, and organized into a “living being,” which is ultimately to realize itself as the “life-giving Spirit.” The first humanity was from the earth, a humanity of dust; the second humanity is from heaven….Just as we have borne the image of the humanity of dust, we shall also bear the image of the humanity of heaven. (1Cor.15:47,49)

If that wine is too rich and heavy, try this. Rebecca Lyman writes:

In his black and white photographs, [Ansel] Adams portrayed the whole range of tones from deepest black to pure white. Black and white are not oppositions as much as ends of a continuous range of light. His development technique overcame the limitations of the photographic paper to reproduce more closely the ratio of the human eye: we see much more than what a camera could reproduce. In his photographs of Yosemite snow and granite, Adams revealed to us what we physically see. Our minds and eyes are no longer disconnected. In Adams’ photographs we see light spread throughout the zones of black and into white again.

On Easter the resurrection stories of Jesus connect our eyes and hearts to our minds as Gethsemane becomes Eden. We have spent a week soaked in pain, separation, betrayal, and fatal suffering. What our hearts sought, our eyes did not find in the awful torture and death of Christ. None of this was what should have happened to a good man in Jerusalem. The male disciples flee and the women disciples stay, but all see nothing but the relentless victory of death.

Now in the early morning, the women encounter grief and joy as the darkness of the tomb gives way to light as dazzling as snow and lightning. The places that we knew were empty of hope are filled with divine presence, and the world as a whole has been remade new. We go to the garden looking only to be near our lost beloved, and find ourselves embraced by Love itself.

[At the Easter Vigil before dawn, we pray] This is the night … when Israel came out of Egypt, when all who believe in Christ are delivered, when Christ broke open the bonds of death. This is the most holy and blessed darkness where restoration and healing come from “Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting—he who gives his light to all creation.”[1]

These places in ourselves that we avoid are exactly where God makes a home. What we consider to be tombs of our buried hope and dreams become the gardens of God’s renewal. The sharp realities of suffering, death, and grief are essential to the continuum of love and joy at Easter; their very darkness is what causes the light of resurrection to dazzle.

We don’t have to come to grips with it all at the mouth of the empty tomb on Easter morning. On the calendar, Easter is a season that runs, not just over this long weekend, but fifty days. Indeed, every Sunday is a reorientation to resurrection affirmations.

We ponder at leisure the fresh realities that the empty tomb of Easter places before us. And, like the women and the Twelve who were amongst the first, as Jesus’ intimates, to reflect on the new reality that confronted them, we  too can move from confusion and despair to a courageous embrace of resurrection faith and drive.

So how does one satisfactorily answer a nine year old’s question about resurrection in 10 seconds?

“But how did it happen? I don’t understand how when he was dead he was alive again. How did it happen?”

“I don’t really know how. God did it!”

His look of relief and wonder was transparent.

“Oh, God did it!  Wow!”

I also breathed a sigh of relief. That was all he wanted to know for now. And it’s a starting point.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Wow!

Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

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