Readings [Isaiah, Acts, Luke]
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
How do we celebrate Easter? That’s the question that brought the preacher up short looking at today’s lessons. Let’s wonder together.
That we need new heavens and a new earth is painfully obvious, Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine being simply the latest reminder. “No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” In my years working for World Vision I was constantly reminded how simple this vision is, and how difficult to attain for so many of the world’s people. Build houses, plant vineyards—and then some guy from the capital drives up with a piece of paper that says it’s all his, not yours. So simple, but attaining it, nothing less than “new heavens and a new earth.”
How do we get from here to there? That’s the question to which Easter is the answer.
The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
How do we celebrate Easter? We acknowledge how badly we need new heavens and a new earth.
How do we get from here to there? Consider the second reading from Acts.
Here’s Peter the Jew in the home of Cornelius the Roman centurion, something like a Ukrainian in the home of a Russian Captain. It took a heavenly vision to get Peter there, but that’s for another sermon. What’s astonishing is what doesn’t happen: Peter doesn’t unload on Cornelius, Peter and his friends don’t try to slip various interesting toxins into Cornelius’ kitchen. He describes Jesus’ activity: “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” When he gets to Good Friday, he passes on the opportunity to talk about Pilate, the Roman hospitality, the Roman cross and nails. “But God raised him on the third day… everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” From the context it’s clear that forgiveness of sins includes forgiving others’ sins. If the story is about the conversion of Cornelius, it’s first about the conversion of Peter. Breaking the cycles of violence, recrimination, payback: looks like that’s core to getting from here to there.
How do we celebrate Easter? After the Acts reading there’s some logic in standing next to Peter and renewing our commitment to our continual conversion.
What about our Gospel reading? The thing about Good Friday is that that’s the world we know. That’s what happens to good people: Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., too many civilians in the Ukraine. Not easy to believe that that world can be cracked open. “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The apostles. Being slow on the uptake is apostolic. I find that encouraging.
How can we believe that God can crack this familiar world open? The text points us in two directions: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Remember! We’re really good at forgetting, forgetting what Jesus said, what Jesus did. Remember: God’s cracking this familiar world open: that’s not been a short-term project, that’s why the Bible is a big book. Second, “Peter got up and ran to the tomb…” He gets up, doesn’t assume he already has all the information he needs. The older I get the easier it is to assume that I have all the information I need. I don’t.
How do we celebrate Easter? We might try listening to the women more often, and, with them, various other voices regularly ignored.
How do we celebrate Easter? Not—with all due respect to Madison Avenue—by cueing up “Happy days are here again.” There are still too many people driven from their homes and vineyards, still too many thriving oppressors, and at least some of us thinking some days of the week that payback still sounds like a really good idea. Jesus’ resurrection “an idle tale”? That would be so much simpler.
So, in the name of the Church, simpler is overrated. Christ is risen. Those cracks in our world: that’s how the light gets in. Let’s see together where that risen Christ would lead us.