Easter Sunday April 21, 2019
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Last year at this time I was in the Holy Land with four other women from our church, walking where Jesus walked over 2000 years ago. It was amazing! We went to Bethlehem to see the place of his birth, where he was laid in the manger; and to Jerusalem to see the place of his death, where he was laid in the tomb. At some of these sites, there are signs saying “Silence,” to encourage reverence. At the entrance to the church, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a sign that got my attention: NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH. This was intended to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful atmosphere, but I wondered if it might also be a subtle reminder that some mysteries about Jesus cannot be explained. That’s where faith comes in.
It’s a nice sentiment, but, we all want explanations...about the holy and not so holy parts of life. And we are in good company; even Jesus’ original disciples wanted explanations.
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about the first women to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday who discovered the stone rolled away, and inside they did not find Jesus’ body to anoint. They were perplexed, no doubt wondering how this could have happened and where the body could have gone? Two angels stood beside them, proclaiming, “He is not here, but has risen.” The women were in awe. The angels did not explain how God raised Jesus from the dead, but they proclaimed that it happened, just as Jesus said it would. And so the women went forth and proclaimed the good news: Jesus is risen from the dead. But to the male disciples, it seemed an idle tale and they did not believe. They wanted an explanation. Peter went back to the tomb--to find Jesus. The angels did not give an explanation but they did give the women a clue of where to find him: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
It’s the same every Easter since: we come to church secretly hoping for an explanation or at least an experience of the risen Jesus. With the angels clue, we realize that Jesus is not limited to the Holy Land or even the ancient story of the Bible. Jesus is not confined to a relic or even the church. So then where can we find him?
I don’t spend a lot of time on facebook, but I did check it as I was working on my Easter sermon---you never know where inspiration will come, right? I found a short video Tim Heavner ad shared with me and so I watched it. It was of a young boy who put twinkies in his backpack and when his mom asked where he was going, he said, “I’m going to the park to have twinkies with God.” His mom said, “Ok, but be home by 5:00 for dinner. The boy went to the park, sat down on a bench next to a homeless woman. He offered her a twinkie. She said thank you. Together they ate twinkies, drank milk, talked and laughed. He said goodbye, and when he got home, his mom asked, “Well, did you find Him?” The boy said, “Actually, God is a woman and she has the most wonderful smile.” The homeless woman went to join other homeless friends on a street corner asking for spare change, and they noticed she was smiling. The other women asked her what she was so happy about. She said, “I had twinkies in the park with God. He was much younger than I thought.”
It is a staged video, yes, but it made me wonder about real life examples of how we see God, if we open our eyes to the possibility that God can be found among the living in the world today--in the hearts, minds and faces of people all around us.
Of the Holy Land, I will always remember the day that some women and I got up early and went to see the place where they say Jesus was laid in a tomb and resurrected from the dead. We waited in a long line at the Church of the Holy Sepluchre. When it was finally our turn to go in, the priest closed it off and shooed us away, without much explanation. We didn’t understand but we left and walked around the streets of Jerusalem. We met up with a Palestinian woman. She invited us into a cafe and treated us to a delicious breakfast. She did not try to explain the conflict between Israelis and Palenstinians. She just told us her story. And in doing so, she testified that faith is stronger than fear and love is stronger than hate.
Easter doesn’t need an expert to prove it happened. It needs people to show by example that it is still happening today. It needs living proof. That’s where you and I come in. As Easter people, we are called to go out into the world--not to explain the resurrection, but to proclaim it. To testify that Jesus is not dead in a tomb but alive in the world. Where? In us. We are called to be the face and hands of Jesus. We are called to be living proof that Jesus is active in the world today, showing that Faith really is stronger than fear. Love really is stronger than hate. Life really is stronger than death. We are called to be Easter people who sing and share Alleluias with those around us.
One of my favorite Easter traditions is reading to the Wooden Ladder preschool children. After I shared the story of Easter, I went around to look at how they were coloring the picture of the cross and heart, I heard a little girl singing. I asked her what she was singing. She said that she went to church with her nana and papa on Sunday and she heard this song. She pointed to her head and said, “I just can’t get it out of my head.” Then she continued singing, “Alleluia….”
It’s Easter Sunday. No Explanations in the Church today of how the resurrection happened. But bold proclamation that it did happen. And plenty of Alleluias. May the Alleluias get stuck in your head, so that you can be the living proof that Jesus is alive and active in the world today.
Jesus is not here. He is risen! He is risen indeed. Thanks be to God. Alleluia!
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.