The first time I ever presided over Holy Communion (big deal!) was on Easter morning. It was during my internship in StL, MO. I had to get a special letter of dispensation from the Bishop of the Central States Synod, Bp. Gerry Mansholt...because this was going to be “an extenuating circumstance”: See, it was at 6am. Sunrise service outside, IN A GARDEN actually...well sort of it was in St. Louis‘ Forest Park...at 6am! ;) So there was no one else to do this. And it was going to be pouring down rain! Talk about April Fools’: rain and cold and wind on Easter Sunday at 6am. Extenuating circumstance? No pastor in their right mind would do this.
I loved it! (about a dozen of us, very special memory) I wish it was raining and cold today too..but that’s OK. You can certainly imagine rain and wind and cold. Rain and wind and cold on Easter reminds us to think twice about not romanticizing Easter. I love all the lilies and trumpets and food and fancy outfits and being warm and dry and hunting for eggs and eating chocolate and clinking glasses and being with friends and family...but the first Easter morning was void of all the comforts and all the fanfare. It was just another morning, it seemed. Maybe it was even raining or cold or windy, when they approached the tomb?
Judy (CG) gave Katie a gift, a book with a quote on the cover: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” It’s especially perfect because she gave it to her after hearing about our big move to Virginia in a few months, and Katie, as you can imagine, was really feeling down about all this.
While Easter is a joyous time for us, I hope we don’t forget that Easter is also a scary time. It’s scary because of what happened: Jesus has risen from the dead! But its even scarier because of what it means: Because Christ has died, and because Christ has risen indeed, it means that we have new life. NEW LIFE! And while that has celebration written all over it, it’s also absolutely terrifying...a downpour: rain and cold and wind...
Maybe it’s been too long for some of you, and it hasn’t happened yet for others, but I wonder if any of you had a similar experience as me around the time of high school graduation: I remember this great mix of absolute ambiguity, excitement…and total fear. It was a strange time. I was thrilled that I was done with one thing...and absolutely terrified of the great unknown that was college, lurking out there on the near horizon. I mean, I had only really ever lived in Houston...and now I was moving all by myself, not knowing anyone, all the way out to California to go to college! My friends were going all over the country for college, too.
So what did we do? We went to parties. We went to our homes, and stayed out late, and clung to the relationships we knew. I remember even making new friends with classmates I’d hardly hung around with in high school...probably because we shared the familiar, a common comfort zone. It was like we were all huddling together even tighter the summer after graduation. I really felt that. It was a response to our fear — the rain, wind and cold that was the great unknown. The NEW LIFE we now had.
I laugh: “Then the disciples returned to their homes” (v.10). They see Jesus’ body gone, one of them even “saw and believed” right there on the spot. We hear “they don’t yet understand,” but it sounds like they’re starting to put the pieces together. They are witnesses to none other than Jesus’ resurrection! But they return to their homes?! What!? (contrast to shepherds at J’s birth)
The Gospel of John really does a good job of describing this fear that overwhelmed the disciples after the resurrection. We’ll hear even more of that next Sunday when they literally lock themselves in the the upper room, they’re so afraid. It’s like their fear builds the more they huddle. Yes, the Easter story is filled with great joy (that’s Mary Magdalene’s story), but we’ve been in that joy, this year in the YEAR OF JOHN all week actually — Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday— I keep saying, in John, “it’s ALL good,” Jesus is all powerful and in control. No need to be sad for Jesus. Christ’s Passion is a “feast of love,” as we sang on Maundy Thursday. “Jesus sacrifice bunted us home and now we’re free,” we celebrated on Good Friday. Easter too is a story filled with joy.
But it’s also terribly frightening…because of what it means. Everything is new now! In a way, Christ’s death is the good part — that’s why we call it Good Friday. Why? Because Christ’s death brings hope and comfort, it means that Christ identifies with our suffering in the deepest sense. You know the old African American spiritual: “Nobody knows, the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows, but Jesus.” Jesus takes on our pain and all the pain of this cosmos, he gets right down next to it, takes it on himself. (Sacrifice bunting and getting called out: it’s the worst!)
But he doesn’t just die, in all that love for us and for this whole world. (That’s Good Friday.) He also conquers death. (That’s Easter.) And that’s super scary! That’s rain and wind and cold. That’s April Fool’s. That’s a mess. That. Changes. Everything.
The fact that Jesus lives, and therefore we do too, despite all the cruelty and pain and suffering of this world and this life, that changes everything. Our being freed from sin and death is not the end of the story, because now, post-resurrection, we live anew with Christ. Everything’s different. Christ didn’t just die, breaking the chains of sin and death, and then leave us. Christ came back-to-life to stay with us in our new and liberated state!
We have been taken off of one path and placed onto another...far more drastic than moving ourselves off of a high school path and getting ourselves onto a new path. The resurrected Jesus transplants us from one place to another.
That’s scary. That’s like suddenly being plopped into the dark, cold, wind and rain. This new post-resurrection path we walk is muddy, friends in Christ! It is challenging. It makes me want to go back home too, huddle up with everyone and everything familiar, lock the doors, and go back to the life I knew before Jesus burst forth from the tomb. But our NEW LIFE in Christ...what did Katie’s book cover say? “...isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Jesus resurrection comes amid a storm!
Rome still rules! The temple leaders are still seething...the rain keeps falling. Pain will keep coming our way, violence will keep coming our way, sorrow will come our way, anger and greed and war and death will all come our way, more shootings will surely come our way, more arguments and more confrontation, more division and more suffering will all keep coming our way. That’s the storm, that’s the mud. That’s the rain, cold and wind. That’s the April foolishness of this world, and that’s what drives us back behind closed doors...
But because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are now different. We are in the world but NOW we are not of the world. That means we stay/abide too, like Jesus: We engage the powerful forces of evil, the Devil himself, and laugh. We unlock our doors and our hearts and our minds, we touch the wounds of Christ, we now touch all that pain. And that means we might, we probably will, get hurt. We touch the earth lightly, following the example of Jesus, but that’s not how the world works. So we might get hurt. We live in love and peace, but everyone else seems to worship violence. We trust in God, but everyone else seems to trust in money and guns. The evidence is everywhere. Just trusting in God? That’s April foolishness to the world! And for Christians, it usually doesn’t end well...in this world. [pause] But that’s OK: Everything has changed because Jesus conquered death. And so we don’t have to be afraid: In the final end, it all ends well.
In the meantime, we remain faithful and loving. We stay and engage the evil of this planet with a robust — that is with God’s very — mercy, justice, hope, joy and PEACE. Everything has changed…because of LOVE. That’s scary. And that’s good. It’s what this Gospel is all about: dancing in the rain...for Christ is risen!