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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

2009-04-12 Jn 20 01-18 Easter

2009-04-12 Easter
John 20:1-18
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Our family has a number of traditions at Easter. Most of them involve candy. Eating candy. Some of our Easter candy traditions are a little barbaric. Like putting Marshmallow Peeps in the microwave. And biting the ears off hollow chocolate bunnies.

Our neighborhood has a marvelous, completely non-barbaric tradition. On Good Friday night, we have an Easter Egg hunt after dark. It brings a whole new level of excitement to the competition. And Easter Egg hunting is a competition. You can deny this, or you can embrace the competitive spirit and teach your children to elbow the weaker ones out of the way. I don't know if they have Easter Egg hunts in other countries. But I'm sure the uniquely American addition to the sport is our tendency toward the extreme. In this country, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat start early.

So, on Good Friday night, after dark, our neighborhood has an Easter Egg hunt. Yes, an Easter Egg hunt in the dark. I know, it sounds evil. But we give them flashlights. You see, one of our neighbors has a daughter who's blind. All her life, Elizabeth's been at a disadvantage in Easter Egg hunts. So another of our neighbors came up with this creative way to level the playing field. Try hunting Easter Eggs after dark. In ivy. And tall grass. Even if you have a flashlight, it's hard. Add to that the rule that each person has a particular color. So not only do you have to find the eggs, you have to distinguish - in the dark - whether you're finding green or purple or blue. In order to finish before midnight, we have to help each other. We'll shout out, "I found blue!" or "I found red!" And then the person who's blue or red comes to get it. Each hunter also has a special egg to find. It's shaped like a crystal, with points all around it. Inside, there's a prize. Just by running her fingers around the crystal egg, Elizabeth can tell you how many points and edges there are. When we finish, we all go inside and count eggs. Elizabeth always has about as many as everyone else. As Easter traditions go, I think this one's pretty good.

Good Friday, and we're hunting in the dark for symbols of life. Seems appropriate. Jesus had told his followers he'd arise from the dead. But on that dark Friday after the crucifixion, there were no signs of life. According to the Gospel of Luke,

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action [to crucify Jesus]. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day [meaning, Friday], and the Sabbath [which was Saturday, the day of rest] was about to begin.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes [which people back then used for embalming].

Where were the disciples? Those hand-picked 11 who were supposed to be his friends? A stranger from another town has to come and take his body down from the cross. Where are the disciples when he's laid in the tomb? Where are the disciples when the women are preparing the final anointing of his body? They've disappeared. You'd need a flashlight to find the friends of Jesus on that dark night. And not even then. No mention of them. Anywhere. They're just gone.

Then Sabbath day, Saturday comes. What happens on the Sabbath? Nothing. And that's the law, one of the Ten Commandments. Luke says, "On the Sabbath they [the women] rested according to the commandment. In Genesis, after God worked six days creating the earth and the moon and the stars and everything else, on the seventh day, God rested. God took a sabbath. On the seventh day of the week of Jesus' death, the world rested. Nothing happened. Jesus lay in a tomb. The people sat in their houses.

In my mind, I imagine that Sabbath being the grayest, darkest day of the year. Empty streets. No movement from the houses. Dust blowing down the road. That wouldn't be unusual, because, by law, nothing was supposed to happen on the Sabbath. Furthermore, the one person who consistently broke the Sabbath, the one who kept healing people and feeding them and teaching them on the Sabbath even though it was forbidden - Jesus - was in the grave. So nothing happened on that dark day of rest. Either the world was having a huge sigh of sadness or a huge silent breath of hope. The Bible leads me to believe there wasn't much hope in the air. Not a day of peaceful rest. The one who could bring hope was hidden in the dark ground, and nobody was hunting.

An Easter Egg hunt at night sounds like kind of a silly idea. Everybody knows you're supposed to have them in the day, and the Easter Bunny's supposed to hide the eggs where they can be found. And everybody's supposed to have their own basket and collect their own eggs, and count up to see who's the winner. You have an Easter Egg hunt at night, and the game changes. But once you know the people involved and the reasons behind it, an egg hunt at night isn't quite so silly. In fact, it begins to make sense.

People will ask me, "Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn't God just proclaim him king and make everything right without the horror of crucifixion?" You poll a hundred different preachers this morning and you'll probably get - I don't know - 9 or 10 different opinions. Preachers aren't known for originality. But here's what makes sense to me, this year. And it'll probably be different next year, because I'll be different, and the world will be different. But here's this year's thinking.

If we don't experience the dark night of Good Friday, and the silent absence of God on the Sabbath Saturday, Easter means nothing more than bunnies and candy and winning. If we celebrate that we've found God without any nights of darkness or days of absence, we're just celebrating the victory of yet another human hero. God requires us to get down on our knees and search the earth for Jesus. The crucifixion is the game-changer. It's God forcing us to take into consideration our own limitations, our own challenges, our own handicaps. Not because God needs to prove how great God is by making us grovel. But because until we really see, until we confess who we are, until we learn to ask help, and provide help, and stop playing games, we can't find salvation.

The Bible says, "Early on the first day of the week [Sunday morning], while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...." So here's Mary, going to the hillside grave, in the dark. Maybe she had a small oil lamp to light the ground and her steps. After she sees the emptiness, and after she runs to tell the disciples (oh, there they are), and after the disciples have their race to see who gets to see nothing first, and after they go back home again... after all that Mary stands weeping. Jesus says to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Well, you know how hard it is to see straight when you're all teared up. You know how hard it is to see well in the dark. She thinks he's the gardener.

It's funny, the Bible never says she sees Jesus. She only knows it's him after he speaks, and she hears. He says her name. "Mary," he says. Is he telling her who he is? Or who she is. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.... I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see." And then, after all of these things, then she runs and tells the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." Could she have found Jesus if it had been light? Could she have seen him without the darkness, without the emptiness, without the waiting?

Could you?

I know there's a lot of you who have already found Jesus. Or, more correctly, Jesus has found you. You know who your Savior is. Alleluia! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed. God bless you. But that doesn't mean you've stopped looking. Jesus said to Mary, "Don't hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father." That's the problem with Jesus. He's hard to hold onto. You think you have him and have him all figured out, and you turn around and he's off somewhere else. Or looking like someone else.

I also know a lot of you are still searching. A lot of you feel like you're spiritually fumbling around in the dark. On a search without a flashlight. That doesn't mean you're lost. Just means you're searching.

Some of you may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to fill your spiritual basket. Good luck with that.

Easter, and the days leading up to it, remind us that a lot of fumbling and tears go into a spiritual life well lived. Easter, and the days leading up to it, are the promise of hope in a dark and messed-up world. Easter, and the days leading up to it, are God's lamp unto our feet and light unto our ways. Yes, there is a lot of darkness in the world. But the darkness will be pierced. Light will shine. Christ will be found. God is alive. And you are not alone.

Loving Lord of Light, we praise you for breaking the darkness of our spiritual night. We praise you for bringing Easter to us. O God of day and God of night, God of troubles and God of celebrations, God of goodness unearthed and uncontainable: guide us on our walk of faith. Direct our footsteps. When we stumble, help us up. When we wander off, bring us back. And lead us to offer the same love and care to everyone, everyone, around us. In the name of the risen Lord Jesus Christ we pray. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.