April 4, 2021—Easter Day
New Testament Lesson and Reflection
Let’s flag a few highlights of today’s reading from John’s Gospel.
First day of the week – Sunday. Crucified Friday, buried in the tomb before sunset, quiet Passover Saturday. Sunday Mary comes to anoint the body.
Dark – without Jesus, where’s the light, where’s the dawn?
The body taken: by whom, what plot afoot? Mary suspects the religious big boys were so afraid of him they want to get rid even of his corpse
The linen cloth rolled up. I once heard a splendid sermon all about this linen cloth rolled by itself. The preacher preached: Jesus wasn’t in a rush, he was in charge, even tidying up
Woman, why are you crying? I’m getting less interested in Church conferences that want to talk about talking about the purpose of church so we can talk about what we can do about the church. For me, it’s pretty basic: Go where the people are crying. Go where the people are crying. Jesus is neither concept nor idea nor belief – Jesus is action. So is Christianity. Go where the people are crying.
Supposing him the gardener. And there it is!
A tomb in a garden? Weird.
And the other Bible word for garden is paradise. John paints for us the picture of the new Eden.
Mary, lost, looking for her partner, her friend? Mary, the new Eve, first-born of the resurrection, who is chided how you cannot cling to the old, nor can you grab the new: you can only receive it.
Why do you suppose Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener? For what was Adam’s job in the garden? To till it, cultivate it. Adam was a gardener.
When I read the Bible, I always try to listen to what the author is proclaiming. Here John proclaims Jesus as the new Adam. The new man. The last Adam. The new humanity.
Listen please. John 20: 1-18:
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Can we have an echo please.
Leader: Christ is risen!
Congregation: Christ is risen!
Leader: Christ is risen!
Congregation: Christ is risen!
Leader: Christ is risen indeed!
Congregation: Christ is risen indeed!
Are you ham people or lamb people? We’re definitely lamb people. Roasted leg of lamb. Rubbed down with marjoram and thyme. Dozens of slivers of garlic inserted. No mint jelly, we prefer black raspberry.
But not this year. Just us and a small rack of lamb. Plus, no time for leftovers for my wife Elaine to make her true English Shepherd’s pie. Tomorrow we fly to Oakland, California, to finally see in person our two month old grandson, Isaac James. We haven’t been able to take his big sister, Eve, to the nearby park since we were there in October. And she’s now walking. Our daughter and her husband named her Eve because our daughter’s Brooklyn born husband is half Ashkenazi Jewish and half African-American and back in the summer of 2019 they were afraid of the kind of society their daughter was being born into. So they named her Eve, meaning life, the hope of new life.
Easter traditions are changing. And however untraditional I may seem at times, I do love certain traditions.
I feel sorry for kids raised without Easter rituals. We starve them if every day is ‘same old, same old.’ Even the pagan rituals of bunnies and eggs and things are wonderful, giggly traditions. They all combine to remind us of something sacred and wonderful: new days, new beginnings, fertility and abundance, something sweet after months of winter drab. Pastels instead of grey. Willows and lilies and taffeta frocks on little girls.
Something special is happening.
Though we might wish to admit it is rarer and more difficult for our kids to appreciate how special an Easter basket can be with its peeps and treats and chocolate bunnies to eat, when, after all, they can have treats all the time. We dull them with too much. We cheat the remarkable.
So likewise do we starve our kids when we remain silent about Easter. Or treat it ho-hum. Or the obligatory church holiday.
Sure Easter’s message seems incredible, incredulous, incomprehensible. Jesus jumping up like a jack-in-the-box, thumbing his nose at death, at hatred, violence, separation, at our atrocities and tragedies, at what the cross does.
But between the two which really is the better story? Life without Easter or life with Easter?
I know which message I prefer.
After all, how we view the world affects our relationships: our relationship with ourself, with others, with creation itself. Our relationships affect our circumstances.
You want change? Change your worldview.
We can see ourselves as the Good Friday world would like: futile, empty, broken, mean, selfish. Or we can see each other as created in the image of God with gifts, abilities, capacities to make decisions to change the world and ourselves into gardeners of paradise.
We can be either Easter people or Good Friday people. I know which I choose.
After all, isn’t that which this is all about? For on Friday, they threw the full force of fallen and fell humanity at him and it failed.
The cross shows what happens when we reject God at the center of our lives and relationships.
Imagine if the sun suddenly spiraled out of our solar system, spinning wildly off somewhere. Where then would we be: Mercury, Venus, Earth and moon? All coherence gone. Chaos turning our planets into marbles in the sky, random and dying and purposeless.
Likewise take away the God Jesus reveals from the center of our lives – God, the active verb of essential spiritual truth, this ground of all being, all beauty, all justice, all love, and the triumph of life over death and evil – and where would we be?
The Greeks called the dead: The thirsty ones.
I love holy week. I do. Maundy Thursday is my favorite service of the year. I am a melancholy soul. Which is why I really like Easter. Easter, I find, is refreshing. Even more so this year since I had my second vaccination a week ago. With Easter, you only need chocolate bunnies. And a sunrise. And the scent of spring. And a family meal. And Jesus.
“We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”
Now I lay me down to sleep…
Jesus loves me this I know…
You tell me: life without Easter or life with Easter?
Christians, especially this week, might remember how in the eyes of a world afflicted with cataracts and glaucoma, the guy we follow was a failure, a loser, executed alongside two other losers. He didn’t win a new BMW for being faithful. We aim for headlines, forgetting it is the judgment of history that tells the real story. Do any of you remember who won the Oscar for best actress or best actor last year? Quick: who won this year’s Super Bowl?
Christians this week especially might remember how we are defined by Easter for Jesus is our Lord not Caesar, a Lord who turns the world upside down: Rejecting self-preservation for other-salvation; That to die is to live; How the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. That’ll surprise white supremacists. But, go figure, white supremacists aren’t Christians. They can be if they repent. Better is having something worth fighting for than only fighting against. For we are what we love. My Jesus tells us we are most important when we are servants. Scandalous!
How can Christians love this ugly cross? For many, it’s decorative costume jewelry, whether the Roman cross, Celtic cross, St. Andrew’s cross, Greek cross, Maltese Cross, Coptic cross. The Romans loved crucifixion. That’s why they kept the stakes stuck in the ground outside the cities. They crucified to keep the oppressed afraid, to squelch rebellious hatred with efficient and indifferent hatred. When you keep a people afraid, you got them! Nakedness, helplessness, suffocation, brutality, the disgrace of the cross. 6,000 were crucified along the Appian Way to punish Spartacus’ army. 2,000 Jewish revolutionaries were crucified outside Jerusalem when Jesus was a boy. More would follow.
Let’s translate the slogan ‘Jesus died for our sins’ more accurately: My Jesus died on the cross because of our sins. This cross is what we do, again and again, because we prefer our Good Friday measuring sticks to Jesus’.
Christians this week might especially remember how the reason for Easter is less about a bus ticket to heaven after you die, less about being spiritually enlightened to experience heaven now. Easter reminds us that this week we too die. Those who put their selfish life first, lose it, and those whose self-centered life dies find true life. Violence is selfish. Hatreds are selfish, prejudices are selfish. Such sins must die for love to arise. A new humanity laboring, planting, sowing, reaping in a new garden. Our Easter reality is our path for resurrection from a cross littered world.
We might remember how we die many times in a lifetime, don’t we? Each little death is a coming attraction of the big one. I graduated from High School and those happy days died, shoving me toward someplace new. The bachelor dies when he marries and is reborn a husband. The young woman dies when she gives birth and is reborn a mother. We die when the kids leave home to start their own.
Are these deaths worth it? You tell me.