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All around town today, at this very hour, people are talking about another reason for the season; the Christian reason for the season, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s an important message which I will begin by remembering that Easter is a great deal more than just the resurrection. Don’t get me wrong. A man was blissfully driving along the highway, when he saw the Easter Bunny hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting the Bunny, but unfortunately the rabbit jumped in front of his car and was hit. The basket of eggs went flying all over the place. Candy, too.
The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road, and got out to see what had become of the Bunny carrying the basket. Much to his dismay, the colorful Bunny was dead.
The driver felt guilty and began to cry.
A woman driving down the same highway saw the man crying on the side of the road and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong.
“I feel terrible,” he explained, “I accidentally hit the Easter Bunny and killed it. There may not be an Easter because of me. What should I do? ”
The woman told the man not to worry. She knew exactly what to do. She went to her car trunk, and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the limp, dead Bunny, and sprayed the entire contents of the can onto the little furry animal.
Miraculously the Easter Bunny came to back life, jumped up, picked up the spilled eggs and candy, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped on down the road. 50 yards away the Easter Bunny stopped, turned around, waved and hopped on down the road another 50 yards, turned, waved, hopped another 50 yards and waved again!!!!
The man was astonished.
He said to the woman, “What in heaven’s name is in your spray can? What was it that you sprayed on the Easter Bunny?”
The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label.
It said: “Hair spray. Restores life to dead hair. Adds permanent wave.” (variously attributed)
Resurrection for many of my Christian friends is the most important truth in their lives: if Jesus did indeed die for our sins and was raised from the dead than the ultimate gift, ever after life is what this day celebrates. However, that truth depends on accepting the essential depravity of humanity. And that is where most of us part company. Easter is about a resurrection but not in payment for anything. Easter, or the festival of Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, is a fertility holiday celebrating the return of life to earth. And all these so-called silly symbols of Easter go far beyond commercial trappings. The eggs which kids gather up are an ancient Greek symbol of fertility. They are hidden in the Anglo-Saxon tradition to remind us that new life must be found and cherished. They are hidden to remind us that new life must be found and cherished. The bunnies – well we all know what bunnies do – but more than the obvious, rabbits were, for the ancient Celts, spiritual messengers, leading the priests and priestesses to magic circles and trees of the forest. But the bunnies were also troublemakers, much like the coyote of the Southwest Native peoples, and could easily lead you on a wild hare race to nowhere. It was part of the fun of spring. Remember the Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey” about the imaginary giant rabbit? Spring is truly a mental condition. The ham which some of us will eat today is an ancient pagan symbol of posterity. This year, as perhaps in the time of Jesus, Easter shares the calendar with the Jewish Festival of Passover; commemorating the Jewish exodus from bondage in Egypt when the plague of God passed over the doorways of the Jewish homes marked with the blood of the lamb. Lamb, as a traditional Easter food, has more to do with this sacrificial meaning than with the new life a lamb is thought to represent.
It was about the third century when the early Christian church overlaid the death and resurrection story on a holiday that was already quite popular.
This morning, I want you to lay aside your own skepticism as to the factual truth of this event and journey with me into the powerful metaphors it has to offer. The Easter story is a powerful one. The march of Jesus into Jerusalem, the show down at the temple, the last supper, his betrayal, his arrest and his trial are all powerful symbols of our own lives. I ponder the brutal crucifixion and those who stayed by his side (all of the women if you remember), I think of his cry of anguish and the death. I think about the tomb he was laid in, and the huge stone that was placed over the entrance. And how on the third day the stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone. Risen to God, they say, resurrected.
Resurrection, from the Latin re surge to rise up comes in turn from the Greek, Christos, meaning anointed and risen. Just a bit of history here. Kings, messiahs and Godly men were anointed with oil and held up risen on dais and shown to the people (ever see The Lion King?) So the connection to Jesus’ kingship is not so farfetched. Jews already believed in resurrections; the bodily resurrection of the dead to God; not the night of the living dead, but a restoration of the body to its youthful form. Whatever you believe, the power of the story lies most essentially in the promise of a new life even when the life we are living in is so hard. We are all promised to rise again.
We have a long history of re-imagining the Easter Story, not as a promise of other worldly salvation, but as a promise for new life within the world we inhabit now. For me, this is a story that shows the promised of life renewed, life reborn, life again. Despite all our failures and all our misfortune, life goes on and with it comes our promise to start again. We often sing the first part of the Rumi poem: “Come, Come Whoever you Are, Wanderer, Worshipper, Lover of Leaving, Ours is no Caravan of Despair Come, yet again, Come.” But we leave off the next line, the promise to rise again, “even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again come.”
How many of us in this room have broken our vows? Sabotaged our recovery, failed to, once again to be what we know we could be. I have. Have you? Can you hear me?’
Beloveds, I know this: That what makes us human is both striving and our inherent imperfections. We were born incomplete and we will die incomplete and that is fine, really it is. Today, this Easter I want us to let up a little on ourselves and the ones we love. It’s a hard world out there, and we have made our share of mistakes and we will make many more and still we are welcome, still we are able to rise again. That is the promise of Easter and that is the promise of our lives.
Resurrections happen to all of us.
Life can only come from death. One depends on the other. Only from the renewed earth do tulips rise to a warming sun, only from the ashes does the phoenix rise, only from the tomb does Jesus walk. Only from death comes life, physical or otherwise. Think about those new directions that your life took after some failing in another; the death of the loved one, a divorce, losing your job. The good news is this: Each of us has an Easter awaiting. It’s not reserved just for the holy, or even the courageous. Each one of us has the power of resurrection, right here and right now. Today, one of you is feeling the pain of a separation, today one of you is struggling with the demons of addiction, today one of you is feeling numb after seasons of meaningless labor, today, more than a few of us are feeling the chill of winter’s sorrows. We want to feel spring but it’s so hard!
From Frederick Buechner this Easter morning:
“Crucifixion is part of our stories too, because we too are men and women of sorrow and acquainted with grief. Yet, we’re raised up nonetheless. We’re raised up, and we have to tell of that too, that part of our story. In spite of every reason to give the whole show up, we’re here just able to hope; in spite of all our griefs and failures we’ve known, we’re still here just able to rejoice; in spite of the darkness that all of us flirt with, we are here still just a little, at least, in love with light. By miracle we survive…and for the time being maybe that is resurrection enough.” (Thanks to Rev. Debra Haffner for posting this on Facebook)
I can still recall, little Jenny, then aged 9, struggling with cancer. Her mom, single and struggling herself was doing all she could to take care of her and her older brother. I ministered to them both as I could. At one time Jenny’s mom confided in a dark moment, “John, if I could only take this away from her, I would take it on myself”. “And where would that get you Carol?” I asked. “Jenny and Ben need you.” After six long months of struggle, Jenny’s cancer went into remission. Her life returned to normal, she would go on to grow up to fine young woman. But Carol did not do so well. All the struggle, all the bills, her estranged husband, Jenny and Ben’s Dad, were too much. She started drinking. Then drugging. One cold night in March she hit a phone pole and died.
Life can only come from death. One depends on the other. Think about those new directions in your life that happened after some failing, some great change. I have sat and prayed with so many who thought their life and failure. But when you look at the story of your life with an open heart you will find it was not a failure. You learned lessons along the way and you found a little wisdom. Lord knows I did. I can’t say I was the best father I could have been. Anger, emotional distance, working far too hard, I was not there in the way I could have been for my daughters. But I haven’t given up. I am trying now. I experiencing that resurrection in slow and daily routines. And it is good. The good news is life is always waiting. It was for me, it was for Jenny and her brother Ben. It is not reserved for just one Holy Day of the year. Or even for the courageous. Each of us has a promise to rise again. Right here, right now.
How? How do we make real this promise to rise? With Faith and Hope. Faith or trust is what underlies hope. That stepping down that path is the beginning to something new. And if it isn’t then so what? Wasted some time did we? Perhaps. In some ways I believe this church is just beginning its resurrection, its transformation. We are investing the faith that the future will be bright. Are we, could we be, just a microcosm for our lives? Could we be here and now, as a community, the promise of what our world could be? I believe so.
And I also believe that we can help others to their own promise of resurrection. Faith and hope. Hope that our work, our trust in the future will result in change is why we are here. Put faith and hope and love together and you have ministry of one for all. Caring for each of us as we struggle to live our lives and deal with loss and grow again. Rise again.
Jenny would tell me years later after she had become a young woman that she wondered if her Mom had made some kind of a trade. “No trade” I told her. “It’s was just painful.” Jenny went on “I talk to my Mom all the time, she doesn’t answer with words but she fills me with her presence. I have become a mother because of her. And because of her my daughters might become mothers themselves someday. There are two sides to living and dying. What once was dead will promise to life again, whether it is a young girl who grows up to be a mom herself someday, even with her mother gone. A woman goes beyond her own guilt to learn the lessons of her adoring father. Even in death, life rises again. Even in change we grow.
Easter reminds us that nothing, even sorrow can last. Light follows dark, spring follows winter, life follows death. We learn again, that beyond the stones of our struggles lies a new life of grace and giving, promised to rise again.