Sunday, April 1, 2018

Not in the "Easter Mood"

I am craving resurrection.
Sometimes by Easter I am already there. I have had no problem glimpsing new life springing up all over like the green shoots bursting out of the hard ground, I’m noticing joy and hope in the people or circumstances around me.  I feel in touch with the beauty and wonder of being alive, and am ready to praise God for the whole of it.

Not so this year. 
And not just because it was 11 degrees with a windchill of 0 when we awoke this fine Easter morning.  
It’s because for whatever reason, right now I’m just more aware of the death.  
The heaviness and despair. The struggle of things. I just happen to feel them weighing on me at the moment. 
This is inconvenient timing.  
It feels a little like some kind of a betrayal of the day, like I owe it to Easter- especially as a pastor – to be joyful and triumphant.  To take my baton and conduct the fanfare and the glory with confidence and cheer.
But when I read the Easter story this year, the part that stuck out to me first was Mary’s abundant weeping. It’s mentioned four separate times.

I am craving resurrection.  
But the real kind, the deep and true and honest and eternal kind. Not the movie version. Not resurrection as a terrific grand finale, the happy ending to the whole Jesus story.  I don’t want resurrection as the fireworks in the night sky, tickertape and standing ovation dessert after the veggies of it all.  
Here is what will not cut it for me this year: Jesus was born (Alleluia! Gloria! In excelsis Deo!) and grew up, and taught and healed, and was amazing and misunderstood, and then he died a terrible, tragic death…and then, he rose from the dead! The end! Love wins! Hooray and Hallelujah!  Roll credits!

And maybe I am not the only one here feeling flat-out weary of the constant tension and vitriol that we seem to be marinating in as Americans these days.  Maybe some of you sitting here also feel a bit run down, and worn out, and not that into faking it at the moment.  Maybe some of us here just lost someone we love and wonder what the point of all this Jesus victory is when cancer seems more powerful any day of the week.  Maybe some of us are seeing marriages crumble before our eyes, or treasured friendships utterly fall apart, or are struggling endlessly to find a job, and can’t quite make the bills this month, or are watching someone we care about bowed down with depression, or fighting a gripping addiction, or are battling that big secret ourselves, and wonder what this triumphant celebration has to do with any of that.

Lucky for us, we are in good company.  It turns out that nobody in the Easter story is confident and joyful.  That’s not how Easter – or resurrection in any form – meets us anyway. Nobody throws a party around the empty tomb, or dresses up in their finest celebration clothes. Likely instead, if they’re not in sackcloth and ashes when Easter morning dawns, then they’re wearing the same thing they were wearing yesterday when they fell asleep sitting on the couch because the days are all blurred together in grief.  

In fact, in all the many ways the gospel accounts differ about Easter, one thing that is consistent throughout all tellings is that it is distinctly NOT a singular moment of happy triumph. They all share the hushed, confusing, unsure nature of it.  It’s scary, and strange, and nobody knows what to make of it, and when resurrection dawns on each of them, it finds them in all sorts of different states of being – grief, fatigue, confusion, despair, shame, hiding.  But that suits Jesus just fine because we don’t conjure resurrection, or summon God’s favor, with our good attitudes and stellar faith.  Those things have nothing to do with this story.

Resurrection can only meet us in death.
It starts there.  

We are all familiar with death. 
We are defined by death. Avoiding it, fearing it, knowing it comes for us all  – death has been the most powerful player in the game. 
And we humans know what to do when it happens.  
We know how to live defined by death.
First we grieve. Then we learn to let go. 
We figure out how to move on in the world without hope, without that person, that dream, that way we saw ourselves, that possibility, that assurance of heath, or youth, or happiness, or that future we had envisioned and planned for.  
We know how to accept death.  
That thing most dreaded has happened, there is no more fearing it, only facing it.  
So when Mary comes to the tomb that day after death, it is for only this purpose, this moving on without purpose. She came to weep.

And so, when she sees Jesus, not dead, but alive, she doesn’t recognize him. 
Of course she doesn’t. 
This living Jesus is one who’s been through death, who, in fact, is right there with all who are in it now. And life looks really different after its been through death. So Jesus looks different. 

We almost never recognize the living Jesus right away, especially when we’re looking for the dead Jesus of black and white bible stories and simple answers, or the dead Jesus of martyred sainthood and powerful example.  

The living Jesus, though, he looks like the gardener tending to life, with his hands in black dirt and green earth in the early morning of a new day. And in the days to come he will look like the unknown traveler on a long, dusty road in honest conversation, or the famished guest at the table, holding out his broken hand to your doubt, or the one cooking breakfast on the seashore while you’re head is in the nets and the work, and your eyes are on the task in front of you, and your heart is closed to the impossible inevitability of resurrection. 

Please, Mary begs the one she thinks is the gardener; please sir, tell me where his body is.  
And then he says her name, Mary.

And suddenly, whatever she knows to be true about how the world works, and what she’s experienced before, about what is real and what is impossible, and what is dead and gone and over, is ripped wide open.  And because he sees her and calls her by name, she recognizes Jesus. 
And Mary herself is resurrected.

Resurrection begins in death; it can come no other way. We meet the Risen One only there. 
Not in faith with all the answers, or in joy on demand.  
But in feeling what we feel when we feel it and not faking or pretending, just like the weeping Mary and the racing Peter and the nameless disciple whom Jesus loved who did not understand but believed anyway. 
Resurrection finds us when we face death and call it what it is. 
And listen when the Risen One calls us by name. 
And recognize when we’ve been recognized by God.  

I am craving resurrection. 
I want to know the life that comes on the other side of death. 
I want to feel the courage that lives through me when I am trusting, and present, and listening for the voice of love when it calls my name. 

Even though we pretend once a year like Easter a singular and spectacular event, it actually unfolds gradually, person by person, a breathless moment here, a surprising encounter there, a sudden setting aside of reality as it was for reality as it has come to be in a dead and risen God, where hope springs unbidden and unexpected from abject despair, and new things are born when we’ve given up hanging onto what has died. 

So this week I sat for a bit and listened deep within for the celebration I was needing this Easter.  I sat with my inopportune hyper-awareness of death at the moment, and my fervent craving for resurrection, and my longing to see Jesus.
And I began to think about certain people who help me see Jesus. 
They help me see Jesus because they love him. They listen for his voice. They seek Jesus. They want their lives to serve him. They want to love people, and see people, and live humbly, and be people who forgive and ask for forgiveness, and join in acts of healing, and live from persistent hope.
I thought of seven different people, out there in the world who help me recognize Jesus, who help me listen for his voice.  Then I walked to a little boutique shop and I bought a pack of beautiful notecards. And I sat down and wrote an actual note- with a pen and everything – to each one of them, letting them know that their life, their witness, the ways they recognize and follow Jesus, help me to love and trust Jesus more. 
And I put stamps on the notes and I mailed them. 

That felt like participating in my own resurrection.

The Risen one might meet you with resurrection in a hard-struggled reconciliation, an unearned forgiveness, a glimpse of selfless generosity. You might be pulled by Jesus into resurrection by the freedom of unfettered joy, or through a soul-cleansing, sobbing release, or a deep, knowing silence that fills you with peace, something or someone that suddenly reminds you of the bigger picture. Or Jesus may draw you into resurrection through a small gesture and prayerful pause that attunes you again to the love that holds us all and will never let us go, by reminding you of all the ways it is quietly lived out in someone’s life.  

Easter is not some grand finale, happy ending that wraps up every loose end or heals up every wound. On the contrary, Easter is what breaks it all open and thrusts us back into the messy world where God is relentlessly present, and the Spirit is always moving, and we could come upon the risen Jesus at any moment, and be resurrected ourselves.

We are no longer defined by death.  We are now people defined by life. 
By new life, resurrected life, life that has been through death and looks very different on the other side. This the identity poured us in baptism; and taken into us communion, and lived out through us by God’s Spirit of love. 

So we are going to rejoice, sisters and brothers. 
It’s why we are here. 
We are going to bring back out the trumpet and tighten the laces on our dancing shoes. 
In a world mired in death, heavy with sorrow, and broken with injustice and anger, we are going to declare, with brazen Easter morning confidence, that we are not in this alone, Christ has come, and that no matter how bad it gets, death will not get the last word, Christ has diedChrist has Risen, and when all else has passed away, only love remains, Christ will come again.
In the presence of the risen Jesus, (who is with us right now, whether we recognize him right away or not), we are going to celebrate resurrection. But the real kind, the deep and true and honest and eternal kind.  
Because resurrection is what God does. 
It’s what God is always doing.

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