We are an Easter people! I mean, we must be. Everybody’s here! Some of you have bought new clothes or dressed up. (Your sacrifice is duly noted. 🙂 The choir–God bless them–is singing at both services. Here’s the real proof we’re an Easter people–the Parish Life Team has been working for weeks on an Egg Hunt that will be completed in 27 seconds flat. See what I mean? We take this Easter business seriously! Because we are an Easter people! We are an Easter people!
We are an ….Does anybody know what it means to be an Easter people? Did anybody Google that before you came this morning? I’m starting to wish I had.
Just kidding. Why Google when you can Gospel? Let’s look at today’s Gospel story and see what the original Easter people—Mary, Peter, and the disciple Jesus loved—can teach us.
Mary goes to the tomb early Sunday morning. We aren’t told why she goes. Maybe it’s to mourn. Maybe it’s to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know what else to do. Whatever the reason, we do know this: Mary believed that Jesus was dead. Why else visit a tomb? As devastating as the events of the previous week had been, Mary didn’t try to gloss over what had happened. She knew that Jesus had died.
How tempting it is sometimes to gloss over reality…to turn our heads when an obviously hungry person asks for money…to change the channel when the news reports yet another mass shooting or terrorist attack…to avoid sections of the paper that detail famine in African nations, or child sex-trafficking in Atlanta, or the plight of millions of refugees worldwide.
But Mary shows us that Easter people don’t ignore or gloss over reality. Easter people look at the world as it really is. They see the pain. They see the suffering. They see the death. They are present to it. They sit vigil with it. They do not turn away from it….
…and they are affected by it. Later, when Mary returns to the tomb, she stands outside it weeping. Not only has Mary looked at reality with her eyes wide open, not only has she seen the pain, suffering, and death…she also has allowed herself to be affected by what she sees.
Whenever we look at pain, suffering, and death in the world—the little Syrian boy covered in dust and blood, buckled into the seat on the cargo plane, staring ahead, dazed; the skeletal figures of people starving in South Sudan; the stories of our Muslim friends who live in fear of exclusion or violence—whenever we look at pain, suffering, and death in the world and allow ourselves to be affected by it, we, like Mary, are Easter people.
What does Peter show us about being Easter people? Ah, Peter. He who speaks before he thinks, he of the good intention and the spotty follow-through, Peter–who tries to follow Jesus, but often fails….the one thing Peter is not is reticent. Everything Peter does he does with 110% effort– whether it’s declaring Jesus to be the Messiah or denying him with an oath, Peter acts with decisiveness.
On that first Easter morning, Peter is true to form. The minute he hears Mary’s news, he drops what he’s doing and heads for the empty tomb. The other disciple gets there first, but stops at the entrance. Peter, though slower than the other guy–If he’d had a Seder meal on Maundy Thursday like the Seder meal we had this past Maundy Thursday, I’d be sluggish, too. J Anyway, the other guy is faster, but doesn’t go in. Peter doesn’t hesitate. Peter doesn’t tiptoe around the resurrection. He doesn’t lurk around the edges of it, like the other disciple does. Peter plows right in and faces resurrection head-on.
Let me be clear. Peter doesn’t have a clue what it means. John tells us… “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.” Doesn’t matter. Even clueless, Peter is fearless in facing the resurrection.
Friday night, I had the best Good Friday ever! The youth let me hang out with them at Wayne’s house to watch a movie about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In the discussion after the movie, someone asked: “So, Pastor Kim, what really happened to Jesus’ body? I mean, yeah. Okay. Jesus’ spirit was raised, but wouldn’t his body still be there?” You want to know what I said? I said what I always say: “I don’t know. What do you think?”
Getting the bodily resurrection of Jesus figured out with our 21st century scientific brains is a losing cause. But Peter’s rush into the empty tomb shows us that understanding resurrection and facing it are two different things. Something happened after Jesus died; there are too many accounts of his appearing to disciples after his death to ignore them. Resurrection is a key part of our Christian story. It’s the reason billions of people have come to faith over the last 2,000 years. If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we’ve got to deal with the resurrection, whether we understand it or not. That’s what Peter teaches us about being Easter people.
So, from Mary we learn that Easter people have a clear-eyed view of reality and that we are affected by the pain, suffering, and death we see in the world. From Peter we learn that Easter people face resurrection head on, even when we don’t understand it. What might the disciple whom Jesus loved teach us about being Easter people?
First, a word about this disciple’s name. Tradition identifies it as John, one of the 12, who possibly wrote the Gospel of John. Though it would have significantly reduced his word count to write “I,” the author seems to be making a point by referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It’s probably not that Jesus loved him and no one else, like the refrigerator magnet someone gave me that says, “Jesus loves everyone, but I’m his favorite.” No, it’s more like the disciple is still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Jesus loved him….that Jesus loved him. Many of you have told me how important it is to hear the words every week “that God has loved you, loves you now, and will always love you.” Calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”–It’s like that. (I wonder what might happen if we all changed our name tags to read, “the disciple whom Jesus loves?”)
What might the disciple Jesus loved teach us about being Easter people? Just as passionate as Peter, the disciple runs to the empty tomb when he hears Mary’s news…but unlike Peter, he stops at the door. After Peter plows in, the other disciple follows. As soon as he enters and sees Jesus’ death shroud lying there, the disciple Jesus loved believes. Despite the fact that he “did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead,” he believes in resurrection. He doesn’t understand it, but he believes in it.
So, are we an Easter people? If like Mary, we have a clear-eyed view of reality and allow ourselves to be affected by the pain, suffering, and death we see in the world, then yes, we are an Easter people. If, like Peter, we face the resurrection head-on, even without understanding it, then yes, we are an Easter people. If, like the disciple whom Jesus loved, we believe in resurrection, even without understanding it, then yes, we are an Easter people.
Looking at what’s happening in the world around us…sometimes I think believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago is easier than believing in resurrection and new life today. There is so much pain, so much suffering, so much death. Hope often eludes us.
But if we are to be Easter people, we will cling to hope. As an Easter people, even in the midst of death, we will believe in the life that is waiting to emerge from that death. As Easter people, we’ll believe in resurrection, even when we don’t see how it could possibly happen. That’s what we’ve learned from Mary, Peter, and the disciple Jesus loved. I’ve got one more story to tell about more Easter person–Claudio.
Pastor Heidi Neumark and her husband Gregorio, traveled to Gregorio’s native Argentina to visit his 12 siblings and myriad other family members. It was a long trip.
After visits to the homes of several relatives, Heidi and Gregorio traveled to nephew Hugo’s house, where they had been promised a surprise. The surprise turned out to be Hugo’s brother, Claudio.
When Heidi and Gregorio arrived, they found Claudio immersed in the clutch of his loving family—happy recipient of hugs and kisses and abundant food and drink.
Why the special treatment? Claudio was nearing the end of a prison sentence for a murder he’d committed when he was 20. “In Argentina, an inmate in his final year of prison gets to go home on monthly visits. The first visit is for 12 hours, the second for 36, and the next for 48. Claudio had scheduled his two-day visit to coincide with Heidi and Gregorio’s visit.”
As she looked around at those gathered, Pastor Heidi said it looked like the group had “emerged straight from a parable of Jesus. Two people were missing eyes, one due to a fight and one due to untreated diabetes. One person needed a cane to walk, while another sat in a rickety, homemade wheelchair. They were seated at the table with ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,’ and the burnished place of honor belonged to Claudio.”
Pastor Heidi notes that “prison has changed Claudio. He is no longer the cheerful, outgoing, funny boy [she remembers] from a previous visit. He’s withdrawn and traumatized—so the family told [her] as they lavished him with love. When [she] asked Claudio about his experience inside, he didn’t want to discuss it. ‘I’m surviving,’ was all he said. And then, lifting up his downcast eyes, looking at the people around him, he said, ‘This is what matters.’” (Chr. Cent., 4/12/17)
Even as he experiences pain and suffering and death…even though he might not understand it…even in the midst of the harshest of circumstances… Claudio clings to hope, he nurtures life even in the midst of death, he receives the love lavished on him by his family and knows himself to be the one they love….And because of all of this, Claudio believes. He believes in resurrection. Claudio is an Easter person. Are you?