The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Some years ago I mentioned a clergy friend who left the pulpit to sell life insurance. It was a good decision. He didn’t feel comfortable preaching about Jesus’ resurrection – sort of agnostic about it. Now, I realize resurrection is pretty important in the church, especially this day. My friend’s theory: “Resurrection is like nature. In the fall, grass and flowers die; leaves drop from trees; temperatures fall. A few months later, spring comes. Grass greens; flowers bloom; buds appear on trees; and life re-emerges from winter’s death – except here in Wisconsin, of course. “Resurrection is like nature,” he says. “Wow,” I said, “that sounds like a real life changer. But when Jesus says, ‘Consider the lilies of the field,’ I don’t think he’s talking about resurrection.”
Nature can be explained, unlike the unnatural, or “supernatural.” Resurrection is unnatural. It’s natural that no one sits by a grave waiting for their loved one to reappear – either in spring or three days later. Yet consider what one philosopher once said, what we think is supernatural is natural to God. As neuroscience and quantum physics confirm we continue to expand the realm of what though we knew.
No witnesses were present to see what really happened that first Easter. All we have are stories of people who experience a reality and a presence like they’d never seen. And nothing would ever be the same for them or this world again.
How natural that Jesus’ good friend Mary would go to the tomb after Sabbath ends – to anoint and honor his body. How unnatural to find the stone’s been moved aside and the corpse is missing when she gets there early that morning. She dashes off to tell Peter and the other disciple, John what she’s seen – or not seen. They all know Jesus is dead – mission failed. So someone broke in and steals the corpse – those are the first words of the first Easter morning. That’s natural.
Peter and John sprint to the tomb. John outruns Peter, peeks in, and waits for Peter to go in first. In that culture, old folks still get a little respect. Peter sees the burial garment, and the head cloth neatly folded. “Other” disciple follows. He “believes,” but we don’t know what he believes. I doubt he nudges Peter, “Remember, big guy – he told you this would happen.” They simply go home. That’s natural. Their behavior shocks us only because we know the end of the story. They have no idea what’s happened. That’s natural.
Mary arrives back, stands outside the tomb, weeping, and looks in. Now two angels sit where Jesus lay. Up behind her comes a man she thinks is the gardener. “Why are you weeping?” he asks. “Tell me where his body is. I’ll take Jesus away.” The gardener says, “Mary.” Suddenly she realizes what she still cannot comprehend. How could she? Is it really him? She reaches out, but he backs away, something about ascending to the Father, which doesn’t make a lot of sense at the time.
Here’s how Easter becomes a reality. Easter comes when Jesus speaks Mary’s name – personal and relational. Jesus comes back to life for his friends, for all of us, for creation; loving us, not condemning our unbelief or failures; or telling us how to get to heaven when you die. He’s not interested in what we believe about his resurrection. He simply speaks your name. When you hear him, do as Mary. Reach out for him. But you can’t hold onto him. He’s on the move. He awaits for you up ahead, out in the world where you live. Don’t look for him in gardens or church buildings. Don’t wait until you have enough proof to believe. Don’t wait until you’re certain. It’s a leap of faith – a trust and acceptance of him, and when you leap you’ll likely hear your name spoken. You’ll be raised into a realm beyond rational belief and comprehension, a realm surrounding the natural one. Without words that can adequately explain what you experience, you know beyond rational proof that the risen Lord is risen in you. Believe first, then you’ll hear him. Jesus’ resurrection is personal and relational for you before it becomes universal.
God restores what’s dead, showing us death is defeated. God turns what we think is right-side up, upside down. God never loses anyone or anything God loves enough to create. So don’t think or accuse God of killing his child. This is the work of misguided, self-serving, fear-filled, people – religion and government in bed together – who resort to violence and evil to maintain their control. The gods and governments of this world, our failures, tragedies, and losses, violence, hatred and evil are being absorbed into God’s love. God doesn’t lose anyone or anything. God is in charge. That’s Easter, and God’s resurrecting of us and this world.
Jesus gives Mary a mission, “Go tell the others, I’m coming for them.” Thus Jesus ordains Mary as the first preacher and apostle of his resurrection, “Go say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, my God and yours.’” And Mary goes to tell them all she’s seen and heard. And until the risen Lord becomes personal, and you receive him, individually, resurrection is merely hearsay. Christ is risen for you, not because I say so, or theologians, your sweet grandma, or holy scripture. No doctrine, no amount of straining to believe will convince you. Only God’s gift of grace awakens glorious joy in you – and that is the sign of resurrection. All is not clear and understood, but you’ll know beyond understanding, the Lord is risen in you indeed!
People will go home this day. Easter is a good day for the church. For many that’s about it, something overheard from a distance – important, but not relevant to how we live everyday – until Jesus raises his new life into yours. God gives it. You won’t figure it out. Love wins and keeps winning against all odds. Resurrection transforms us into Jesus’ people – sent as Presiding Bishop Curry says, “To change the nightmare of this world into the dream God intends.” Easter is more than a day to come to church, and go home as you came. It’s God bringing heaven to earth in you, hearing your name spoken, and going forth like Mary to tell what you have seen, heard and learned. And that my friends, is how resurrection happens. Alleluia, Christ is risen!