Happy Easter everyone!
Last Easter that greeting meant something quite different than what it means this year. I think that is an important observation to make.
It is not that last Easter was somehow less Eastery or that this Easter is more. It means that Easter always needs to be discovered fresh. It means that if all Easter has to offer are phrases that sound joyful but ring no familiar bells, if it doesn’t hook up with us and really make a difference, we might as well go outside and enjoy Easter as Spring (whenever that arrives.)
I want to take about the business of making Easter proclamations. We’ve heard it many times this morning — People have greeted you with those words. Perhaps someone has said, Christ is Risen! and you might have responded — He is risen indeed!
Tradition has it that we include some sort of Easter Proclamation like this in our Easter morning liturgy. I have included two.
The first was by a living Californian poet Ellen Bass, a poem entitled The Thing Is. The second is technically a Paschal Greeting — and it’s old. The only new thing about it is that I changed the verb from Christ IS risen to Christ HAS risen in an effort to give a sense of the classic Pauline version of resurrection — Christ has been raised by God. It’s an effort to avoid presenting resurrection as spooky resuscitation.
I hope by putting these two proclamations together to breathe the kind of life into our greetings this morning so that it is real and not spooky, to make the kind of greeting ring bells today that it could not have last Easter, to say something today that could not be made on any other Easter, 7 1/2 months after a devastation and great loss.
Even if you home was not flooded back on the 28th of August, your heart must have pounded in your chest when you read those words: “To love life, even when everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands and your throat is filled with silt.”
I think to myself as I re-read them, “How many times did grief weigh upon me like my own flesh?” And you — How many times did you have to put your face between your hands and sob? The grief being too much to bear?
The tropical heat wave a few weeks ago and the sudden melting of the snow and subsequent re-exposure of tires and propane tanks in the woods, sand-filled corn fields and permanently stalled out cars next to weeping houses brought the tropical heat wave of grief back — how can a body stand this?
And if Bass had ended her poem with the words of the Paschal greeting, that “we bear it because Christ is risen . . .” we would discard this poem as worthless — just a grim reminder of what has gone on before with no hook to the present.
But she doesn’t. She doesn’t borrow the ancient words of the church fathers because she knows better. She knows that those words were generated and then subsequently issued in the form of a proclamation in order to get people to hew to the church’s official line. We aren’t looking for that — we’re looking for a new sense of life, a new sense of possibility, a deeper courage in the face of all that trash yet to pick up, all those homes yet to finish building.
Here’s the story:
On Good Friday, you couldn’t bear to watch, so you left town for higher ground. All of the reminders of your past, the pictures, the rug with the story of your last cat still stained into the corner, the old woodwork that told the growing pains of generations of children measured on the door frame, the sweat and equity you put into it — all washed away that night.
Then, perhaps like the Mary’s in the first story, you came back tentatively — frightened by what you might find. And shocked by what you did see. Perhaps like Peter in the second story — you couldn’t get there fast enough — your heart was there before your self. And you burst in, unafraid. And then left, in tears.
For the disciples — Good Friday marked an end to one of the most extraordinary, one of the most solidly real, one of the most lively times of their lives. Good Friday was not just the death of a friend — it was the death of an experience, a vibratingly alive, hopefully shimmering, gliding feeling of being truly free — an experience of God. The grief of his death would have been tropical and weighed upon them like their own flesh.
Like us, like you, they too stood outside the door, or just inside it and put their heads in their hands and wept.
The story according to the Gospel of Mark is the earliest story. It probably more closely tells the story of what happened. Easter Sunday morning was an experience of shock and despair. But within days, hours perhaps, something had happened.
John tells it best in two words — two words uttered with astonishment that from a place of such deep despair and grief could come love — “My dear!”
Easter was not something that happened by any other miracle than by the miracle of the discovery of love — love did not get waterlogged on August 28th. Love did not flee forever in fear on the morning of the 29th — by the afternoon in fact many were holding their friend’s and families hands in silent gestures of solidarity — it was astonishing, but they could say with Mary “My dear. . .”
They could say, Yes, I will take you. I will love you again.
So, I say again. Happy Easter. May we never have another one like it.