By Kris de Curtis from Maddaloni, Italy (and Now .. Chocolate Eggs to Everyone!) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you decorated for Easter? The decorations reminded me of when our kids were little. Seeing Easter ducklings brought back memories of one of their favorite children’s stories when they were toddlers. One of those stories was Splish, Splash, and Splush. It’s a cute story about three little ducks that are afraid to swimming in the pond.
Our kids loved to have their favorite stories read to them over and over. We must have read their favorite books thousands of times. We all knew them by heart. But, that didn’t matter. They loved to hear it over and over again. Some stories are like that.
Maybe you have had a similar experience with your children. They come with their favorite books for you to read, the ones you all know by heart, but they just want to hear again and again.
Perhaps it reveals more that I would like about me as a parent, but sometimes they would hand Splish, Splash, and Slush, and I was start reciting the story from Two Stories about Kate and Kitty. “Kate was a little girl flitty and pretty. Kitty was a little cat, pouncy and bouncy. Kate and Kitty belonged to each other.” Their reaction was immediate, visceral, and indignant: “Dad! That’s wrong!” “Read right!”
Many of us have heard the Easter story over and over. And yet, we come to hear it again. Some stories are like that – we can hear them again and again. Don’t worry – I’m not going to mess with the Easter story!
I don’t have too. Unfortunately, our lives are full of experiences that do that. We hear about the bombing in Brussels, or about an attack on another teacher in the Saint Paul Public Schools and isn’t there are part of you that cries, “that’s just wrong!” Or a well-loved Hastings High School counselor, like Kirk Johnson dies of cancer at 51 – isn’t there are part of you that cries, “that’s just wrong!” Our world is full of stories of poverty, injustice, suffering, loss, and death – all of which makes me want to cry, “that’s just wrong!”
Certainly Mary and the disciples must have felt that way when they came to the tomb early that first Easter morning. While they may have been in similar places to begin with – they had different reactions to the empty tomb. Mary’s first reaction was – “that’s just wrong!”
She thought someone had taken Jesus body away. She runs to get the other disciples. The disciple identified only as the one that Jesus loved, sees the empty tomb and the rolled up grave clothes and we are told he believes. Peter sees the same thing and we have no indication that he believes anything.
There is a mystery here. Why is it that two people can see the same thing and have two very different reactions? The disciples leave and go back home.
Mary is left weeping. She sees and talks to two angels and still thinks someone has taken Jesus body. She sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him. She thinks he is the gardener. Finally Jesus breaks through to her when he calls her by name.
Three people see the empty tomb that first Easter and there are three different reactions. The first Easter was a mixture of confusion, faith, mystery and surprise. Where are you this Easter? How do you find yourself reacting to the Easter story? My guess is, that there are a whole variety of responses present here today.
God’s activity is clouded by confusion and shrouded in mystery. There is a part of us that knows the story of the world: the injustice, the pain, the suffering is “just wrong.” And yet, it often takes time for us to believe that God has a different story: a bigger story – a BETTER story. It is one that validates that part of our selves that knows pain, suffering and death is, “just wrong!” And knows it not just in words, but knows it as a living reality. Where we find ourselves clinging not just to the idea of it, but trusting it with our gut and living it with our lives.
Most of us only get glimpses of God’s activity, of the reality of God’s bigger and better story. We get empty tombs – situations and circumstances that are ambiguous and open to a number of interpretations.
Confronted with glimpse and empty tombs, some of us, see and believe. Others are left wondering. Still others like Mary needs something more intimate, more drastic in order to break through to us. Thomas will need to see Jesus’ hand and feet. Paul will need to be knocked to the ground on the Damascus road.
For many of us faith is a process – it occurs evolves sometimes with fits and starts. And yet, despite the confusion, despite the mystery of two people seeing the same thing and coming away with different responses, the Easter message has not only survived – it has resounded through the ages – Mary’s announcement still echoes “I have seen the Lord.”
“I have seen the Lord” wasn’t a onetime announcement. The gospels tell us that Jesus continues to show up in surprising and mysterious ways. There is still confusion and faith when he does. Have you seen the Lord?
Take a look at those sitting around you. As one of your pastors, I have the privilege of hearing your stories of the places where many of you, “have seen the Lord” and experienced God’s presence. Some of your stories are very personal and private, but others have already been shared publicly.
If you were here for our mid-week Lenten services you heard Laura Russel talk about her experience of God’s presence in the midst of depression. Leigh Nelson talk about God’s presence in the midst of losing two daughters and a wife – how he is looking forward to God’s one more surprise. You heard Logan Welshons talk about God presence in playing soccer with kids from the Dominican Republic on his servant mission trip with Servant Road. A prison may be the last place you might think you would experience God, and yet, Betty Nygaard shared how God has used the inmates in prison to be God’s presence in her life. Tom Siebanaler shared how God has been active in through the experience of receiving a heart transplant. If you were at the funeral for Kirk Johnson you heard is daughter Brianna tell how God has worked through Kirk’s cancer to bring them closer as a family and strengthen their faith. These stories are but a few of the many and various ways you continue to announce, “I have seen the Lord.”
Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son Matthew took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years.
About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, “I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ And I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter.’
“You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.
“And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’
“The answer is Easter. The answer … is Easter.”
How do you find yourself reacting to Easter today? Is it still Friday for you – wondering what to do with your pain? Or is it Saturday – filled with confusion and doubt? In some ways it doesn’t matter. God is still at work.