Easter Homily April 20, 2013
We know the story well enough by now, don’t we?
Two days after their teacher, their friend, their brother, had been killed
The women closest to him went to prepare his body
And they found the stone at the tomb had been rolled away –
Matthew’s gospel says they feel the tremors of an earthquake –
And the tomb is empty.
What do they make of it?
Where do they go from here?
An angel appears and tells them that he is risen…
And they must have – mustn’t they?
They must have doubted it,
They must have been completely perplexed.
How could this possibly be?
But inside their hearts that had prepared for a solemn, heavy task,
The bubble of excitement, of joy
dared to enter. A little flutter at first, but there it was.
And when they go to tell the others, as the angel has commanded,
Jesus meets them on the road, blocking their path,
Asking them not to be afraid,
Telling them to carry on, to tell the others that he will meet them in Galilee.
And by the end of that encounter,
where they feel his feet and know that this is no ghost,
but the real Jesus they knew in his life on earth –
that joy that has the same palpitations as fear,
the trembling kind of joy that could just about burst anyone’s heart
must have been awfully close to the surface.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Now you know that this is a church for people who believe a little,
and a church for people who believe a lot.
People who believe a lot get baskets full of candy on Easter morning –
Do we have any of those kinds of believers with us today?
People who believe a little, or not at all, might be tempted to see around every corner,
try to figure out the trick of it all.
Do we have any of those kind of folks with us today?
Well, Easter is a day for all of us together, friends.
If our hearts are full of doubt, if our eyes roll at tales of miracles
and we can’t even imagine that there could be such a thing as a bodily resurrection,
this tale is one that offers us just enough doubt in our doubtfulness that we might want to pause and give ourselves over to wonder, at least for a moment.
In his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan, who is a scholar of religion and a Muslim challenges a lot of the traditional thinking about the life and role of Jesus as a historical figure in his time. He says that claiming to be the Messiah was not something particularly unusual; having a faithful following who share tales of your healing miracles also hu-hum at the time. Most aspects of Jesus’ story are pretty run-of-the-mill for fringe Jewish sects of the time. So why did Jesus’ story stick? What made it significant enough that people told and re-told it, and eventually grew a whole separate faith tradition out of it, in his name? All he can figure is that something truly remarkable must have happened after his death. Something unforgettable. Something so extraordinary that it set him apart from and inspired an awe and wonder that even the least believing had to bow to. He stops short of saying that the bodily resurrection is real – no one short of those true witnesses and those of great faith could say for certain – but the nonbeliever, the historian, has to own that there was something extraordinary that took place in the days and weeks after Jesus’ death.
The God of Easter is not interested in how much you believe, you see,
or whether you use the word god at all.
The divine presence we’re reminded of today, that we invite into our midst and celebrate,
is one who wants to feel us close and know us in the flesh,
who knows us when we are deep in doubt and suffering and stands by us,
suffers with us,
and still calls us not to be afraid
of the new life,
the great joy
that can still visit us
even after it has seemed all as been lost.
This is the god who is willing to surprise us
not with parlor tricks,
but with the real, full-hearted presence
of a fresh start
of a new story that can be brought to life
from the embers of the scorched earth of our mistakes,
of our betrayals,
of our misfortunes and our griefs.
In the midst of the mysteries of why we have to suffer so,
This is the holy spirit of joy that enters our lives
And lifts us up on wings of crazy, wild celebration,
Of impossibility that makes no sense
Until it arrives at our door
and we have no choice but to let it in.
This is the invitation
to move past belief and unbelief altogether
and simply know
that love, the love of God,
the goodness that dwells within and shines out from all who know this truth
is always waiting at our door.
No matter how grim the future looks,
No matter how cold our hearts have grown,
The door can always be open,
The question is always there…
Will you let me in?
Will you let this love transform you,
Open you past your own suffering
And let you connect with others –
Will you share the good news you have found,
Will you share your hardest story
And let both your suffering and your celebration connect you to the web of creation
That is woven so fine
We can commit the sin of forgetting it?
Let it in,
The Easter story beckons,
If only for a moment,
Lay down your cynicism,
Unroll your eyes just as the stone was rolled away –
And let your heart be freed for joy.
Let the kin-dom of heaven be known right here on earth,
in the good news
that love always wins,
and death is not the final answer.
Believer or unbeliever,
Can you let that in?