16 April 2009

Easter Day - Ta Da Christ is Risen

By Stuart Pike

12 March 2009

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

            Joseph of Arimathea’s friend, Levi, is standing in front of him wondering why Joseph would have given his brand-new (and very costly) tomb to bury the body of Jesus. “For why did you do such a thing?”, Levi asks. “It hadn’t even been used!” Joseph just shrugs.

“And it was expensive!”, says Levi. “And this man was a criminal! He was executed by the Romans!”

“Why so generous?” asks Levi.

Joseph just shrugs again. “It was nothing,” he says, “He only needed it for the weekend!”

            It has been a tradition in the orthodox Church for hundreds of years, to tell jokes on Easter Day. The reason is that God played the biggest joke imaginable on that first Easter Day, cheating the devil with the biggest surprise of all: not even death can hold God’s son back. Life wins over death!

            There was a Sunday School teacher who told the Easter story to her kids and then, wanting them to use their imaginations, asked, “What do you think Jesus’ first words were when he rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. A tiny little girl put up her hand and waved it around, “Pick me”, she said, “I know, I know.”

            “Oh yes”, said the Sunday school teacher, “What do you think he would have said?”

            The little girl jumped to her feet and splayed her feet and arms wide open as she sang out: “Ta da!”

            I think that this little girl understood the true meaning of Easter. The mixture of astonishing power and great joy could be summed up in words like, “Ta da!” The story is amazing. We have heard it so many times we forget to be astonished. Jesus rose from the tomb and destroyed the oldest enemy, death, which had such power over us.

            Mary went to that tomb very early in the morning expecting only death and sorrow. She is bewildered by the empty tomb, and in her despair, she runs to tell Peter and the others. Peter and John run to the tomb and enter and see the evidence of the body being unwrapped and the head wrapping lying in a place all by itself. The story says that John believed, though it doesn’t say exactly what he believed. They head home.

            The bewildered Mary is left in her grief, still thinking that the body of her Lord has been stolen. The men who blustered in and left so quickly failed to recognize that there was more in that tomb. Perhaps it took someone with Mary’s sensitivity to perceive the holy presence of angels in the tomb.

            Yet, in her bewilderment, she still doesn’t recognize that it is Jesus in the garden. She thinks it is the gardener. I can imagine the smile playing across Jesus’ face as he realizes that she thinks he is the hired help!

            Then follows the most crucial part of the story for me: Jesus calls her by her name: “Mary!”

            At the sound of her name, the scales fall from Mary’s eyes and she recognizes her Lord, alive and smiling at her. Jesus, of course, knows her name, and it is hearing her own name in his voice that the moment is transformed.  Before she hears him call her name she is simply trying to make sense of all that is happening. She is trying to figure it out rationally.

            I think that is what we try to do as well. There have plenty of theories and books written trying to explain away the astonishing truth of Christ’s resurrection. One novelist, Dan Brown, has cottoned on to people’s need to rationalize and made $380 million selling his fictional story. The news has reported how he was being sued by the authors of 'The holy blood and the holy grail' by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh which is a theory which Dan Brown uses in his book. Although that suit has been lost. After that an art historian launched a new lawsuit.

            I hear these news stories and I shake my head and laugh! It is amazing how human beings use the wrong tools in so many situation. We try to use words to capture what is beyond words. We try to use logic to explain something which can only be experienced. We try to use theory or even theology to rationalize mystery.

            When we do these things we are like Mary, seeing not reality, but banality. Instead of rationalizing and explaining, open your heart and be filled with joy. Because, our Lord Jesus knows your name as well. He knows us through and through and he loves us fully, just as we are in all of our imperfections.

            So what can you do in order to hear Jesus calling your name? Most religious traditions appear to have some common wisdom. Essential to this wisdom is the need for us to stop, to be still and to open ourselves to the holy presence.

            It is a problem for us who live in a fast-paced, infinitely wired society – bursting with the noise of our technology. We have become so used to the noise, and have developed our own preferences within the noise, that many are uncomfortable with silence. And because we are filled with noise, we find it really hard to truly live in the present moment, and just to be. But God is only ever found in the present. And so we often miss the holiness which is among us and is present to us in our everyday lives. We fail to see Jesus and simply see the gardener.

            The good news of today’s Easter story is that you can have a relationship with Jesus which will transform your life! The scales can fall from your eyes, too, and in a moment, in the time it takes to hear your name, your world can be changed. And your life can be filled with meaning.

            Don’t come to the Easter story with logical hypotheses. Bring your whole being to the Easter story and open your ears to hear your name! And have faith by experiencing Jesus’ presence just as Mary did that first Easter morning. Nothing can explain away your own experience of Jesus. Be astonished, be astounded as you hear your name because, Ta da! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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