Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Joy to the world, the Lord has come.... back!!!!"

Easter Sunday 4-16-17

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our risen Lord and savior Jesus the Christ,  Amen.

Merry Christmas! ….  “Joy to the world, the Lord has come… Back!”

“Hark the Herald Angels sing! Glory to the resurrected king!”

“Oh come all ye faithful… to the empty tomb.

Well, I haven’t actually lost my marbles, though this week I probably came close, between Holy Week prep and my first ever Easter here, and also planning a surprise trip to Namibia! So, ya know, not all THAT much going on this week!

This is the most special day of the most special week of the Christian calendar. On Palm Sunday, just one week ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem in a festive parade. On Thursday, we gathered around the Lord’s table to remember the night that Jesus ate his last meal surrounded by his closes friends – friends who would later go on to deny, betray, and completely abandon him. And on the Friday that we call Good, we heard the rest of the story of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death, as darkness fell inside a tomb sealed with a stone.

But today, “It’s beginning to look a lot like.. Easter!” Because, after all, today we remember how we received the Best. Gift. Ever.

When I went Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, I attended a downtown church that drew members from the white retired social justice involved crowd and those who were born in West Africa. One year, Easters fell really early, and as we sang our Alleluias, we saw snow starting to fall outside, in big fluffy, Christmas-card-worthy flakes. It seriously felt like Christmas morning, made me want to sing some “Joy to the World” rather than “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

After all, Christmas is the holiday that most of us say is our favorite. There aren’t too many “count downs” to Easter Sunday, unless you are a big church nerd like me. Though, we still try to make Easter into a cute holiday, like Christmas, and cover up talk of tombs and death by crucifixion with chocolate and bunnies. Babies are much easier to deal with than crosses anyway. And don’t get me started on CHOCOLATE Crosses. Bah Humbug!

So why not just skip Easter and celebrate another Christmas? If one Christmas is good, two are better! Right? All the same elements are already there: we have an angel who announces good news of great joy to some unsuspecting people – shepherds, women – both pretty far down on the social latter.  Mary the mother of Jesus is there too, as “the other Mary,” at least according to many scholars. The angel tells them to “fear not.” Then the women GO to SEE what the angel has told them. (go to Bethlehem) “Come and see the empty tomb…”  And Lo and behold – they find Jesus, just as the angel said. And you know what? SNOW is even mentioned today – the clothing of the angel is described as being as white as snow! “I’m dreaming of a white… Easter!”

Oh yes, I almost forgot. At both Christmas and Easter, someone is also trying to kill Jesus. You probably forgot about that part of the Christmas story. King Herod attempted to kill baby Jesus when he heard about him from the Wise Men, and Herod tried to put the kabosh on Jesus’ potential political career at its start. (kill motion) Try putting THAT on a Hallmark Christmas card.

Jesus obviously escaped death as a baby, but it looked like here it finally caught up to him. The Roman government, in partnership with the Judean leadership in power, thought they had finally gotten rid of this troublemaker. They even put his grave under surveillance, so that his followers could not steal the body and claim resurrection. But we just heard how about how that plan failed BIG TIME.

This is what Jesus had been saying his whole ministry. Over and over Jesus told his disciples, that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mtt 16:21) That third day, that’s TODAY. But where are his disciples? We haven’t heard from them since Friday. The only people who showed up, the only people who believed the word of Jesus, were the WOMEN.

Dorothy Sayers wrote that women “were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross,” and I would add that they were first again to witness the resurrection. Women were the first preachers of the good news. The men, the soldiers at the tomb didn’t stand a chance. They came to “work” that morning expecting the cushy job of guarding a dead body. The women came to see a dead body, hoping and believing that they would be disappointed. Then boom. Resurrection happened.  Same event, totally different reactions.

Just imagine for a moment these big, tough men with weapons at the ready fainting dead away like proverbial Victorian ladies at the sight of ONE SINGLE MEASLY angel. One. Not even a heavenly host. Just one was all it took to pass out from fear. But for these women, they were not overcome by fear, because they already expected to see the impossible. For them, believing was seeing.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all be so overcome by fear of the darkness around us that we miss out where new life is happening. There is so much fear and so much TO FEAR in the world – racism, sexism, violence, war, bombing, homophobia, fear of our neighbors, of refugees, and strangers – so many things that would set us to shaking in our boots and fainting dead away in dismay.

But what if we looked at the darkness around us with resurrection eyes, like these women. Preacher and writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “...new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb.” What if we could hear through our fear, and see in the dark? What if believing is seeing? What if Easter is Christmas? What if Christmas is Easter?

At Christmas, we often call Jesus Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Remember that great Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Immanuel?” “And ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” Well, Immanuel IS HERE and Immanuel has ransomed us, so that mourning and death and exile are no longer our reality.
Maybe Easter feels like Christmas because the two are bookends of the same story –which is the story of God birthing light out of darkness, life out of death, resurrection out of Good Friday. This story is also OUR story. Easter is the culmination, the completion, the last note in the final movement of the symphony, the nail in the coffin for death. Birth, death, resurrection – you can’t have Easter without Christmas, but without Easter, Christmas is more like a gift of a pair of socks rather than a BMW.

At Easter, Jesus give us the greatest gift of all – not chocolate crosses, but eternal life with God, made possible by Jesus defeating the REAL cross, it’s power of sin, death, and the grave. Jesus’ resurrection is OUR resurrection too, and THIS is why it is GOOD NEWS. Because this gift is FOR US. It is FOR YOU.

Last week I went with a friend to hear Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony #2. During the final movement, two soloists and a choir accompanied the orchestra, and sang these words, translated from German:  

O Sorrow, all-penetrating! I have been wrested away from you!
O Death, all-conquering! Now you are conquered!
I shall die, so as to live! What you have conquered Will bear you to God.
O believe, my heart, oh believe…
Tremble no more! Prepare yourself to live!

The disciples hid, and the soldiers fainted, but the women took a page out of the shepherds’ book and MADE HASTE, skedaddling out of that tome so fast that they crash headlong into the risen Jesus. 

Because Jesus lives, we live too. We live, not to hide away or be paralyzed by fear, but to boldly put one foot in front of the other, knowing that Jesus, Immanuel goes with us, and sometimes lets us crash head on into resurrection without realizing it. Immanual comes with us, so that we may live.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come back!”

Christ is Risen!
(He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!)

Thanks be to God! Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment