Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015
&Scripture Readings: Mark 16:1–8, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Psalm 118 (VU p 837, parts 1, 2,and 3 Responsively), John 20:11-18
Any of you remember an old radio show called “The Rest of the Story”? Paul Harvey would have some nugget of information with a surprise twist in it, and it would always be left hanging until after the commercial, when Paul would bring in a punch line that would make us go, “wow, I didn’t know that!”In some ways, our gospel readings could be seen a little like that. We have Mark’s gospel, where the three ladies go running out without telling anyone. End of story, end of Mark’s gospel. What a cliff-hanger. And then we have the gospel of John, where there is a much more detailed encounter, and Mary goes to get more witnesses to figure out what happened. John gives us the ‘rest of the story’, all tidied up, and leading on to greater things.
We also had a third reading, Paul’s retelling of his Easter experience, in which he, who wasn’t even one of the original band of followers. this is the oldest written account of Easter, written before Mark and John ever got out their pens and tried to get it down on paper. Paul says, “You know this, you have heard it, you know the people who have told you what they saw”.Three different reactions, three different views, three different tellings. We dislike that, we modern scientific people. We want our stories to come in nice packages, starting with “once upon a time” and ending with “and they lived happily ever after”. We want closure, completeness, sensible and rational, logical progression. Modern people would ask, “which version is right?” and if they couldn’t pick one, they might conclude, “these are all nonsense.”
We are hung up on closure. We think that things should have tidy endings, that our emotions can be boxed up like Easter decorations once the chocolates are all eaten, that we have an expiry date on traumatic experiences, and that we only need to deal once with bad situations before we move on. We want the easy answers and living with an open-ended story only causes us stress. Tell us which of the stories is right, Mark, Paul or John, and let us get on with things.I think that it is possible to have a variety of stories that all are true witnesses to the first Easter. I remember one Easter when I thought I would surprise everyone at my kid’s school. I had a gig as the Easter Bunny to give out chocolates at a mall. So I talked to the teachers and they thought it would be fine if I showed up at recess. Everything went as planned, kids were coming over and getting hugs, and I was having a grand time. A teacher came rushing up to me and told me I had to leave right away. One of the children was having a panic attack! It was full blown, hyperventilation, tears, beet red face, and crying!
If you had asked the kids on the playground what they had experienced when they saw a 6 foot tall bunny on the playground, most of them would have said, “the Easter Bunny, of course”. If you had asked the teachers, they would have said, “a parent volunteer”. But for one little child, they would have said, “a big tall thing with huge scary eyes that was staring at me.”Our scriptures are like that. John’s gospel says that the first Easter was a private, beautiful thing that turned sadness into joy, lonely heartbreak into comfort and reconciliation. It was the gospel that inspired the hymn, “I Come to the Garden Alone”, a retelling of Mary Magdalene’s experience with Jesus by the empty tomb. Paul’s story says that it came to an ever widening community, that many people still remember that experience, meeting and seeing Jesus in a way that profoundly transformed them into saints and leaders. Mark’s gospel tells that it was so surprising that it shocked the three women who experienced it, shocked them so much that they didn’t speak of it. Terror and amazement. Terror perhaps in the fact that if this reversal of what is natural, what does it mean? What would it mean to us today if we really believed that there was a God? What if there was the potential of you and me having an actual experience where we came in contact with the Living God? With Christ?
I may never put my hands in the nail wounds of Jesus, but I have heard stories of encounters with the sacred that have profoundly changed people. I have witnessed folks get their courage back, find the ability to walk in dark times, face their addictions and heal their hurts. I have seen sinners strive to be saints, and have heard stories that would make you weep, of people who were locked in dark tombs of their own, who have heard the message of the angels, “do not be afraid, you will find what you are looking for!”We gather together on Sunday mornings to share that good news, to hear each other’s stories, and to help each other along the way as best we can. We gather to heal, to talk, to pray and to watch for signs of the Easter story in our lives. We gather because for us the story of Jesus has no closure, but is a story that continues to inspire, challenge and transform us. We gather because Jesus keeps appearing, keeps breaking open our tombs and letting light in, pulls off the darkness and gloom, and accompanies us on our journey. We gather, as I did four years after that recess fiasco, with my bunny head in my hand, to show the now 12-year old that it was just a big fancy kind of hat that I wore, and that it was still the same person under the hat. I wasn’t just a parent volunteer, I also happened to be this child’s Sunday School teacher, and while it didn’t quite take away the terrors, it was a comfort to know that the big staring eyes had a caring person behind them. They faced their fears and so they too became transformed by something hidden, something surprising, and something that at the heart of things was about love. Maybe that is the key, behind the big staring eyes of our understanding of God is a caring love that risks all, even fleshy life to witness to the Covenant of Love. And now you know that the rest of the story is your story, your witness, your journey. May you be saints for others and share your joyful halleluiahs as others have been saints for you. Amen.