Haaaaaaaaappppyyyyyyy Easter? (or Hope Finds Us)

April 24, 2014                        John 20:1-18

photo-15As is my luck at going to see and hear live music, we ended up right behind the guy who stood up and positively bellered, “I’m so happyyyyyyyyyy!”  His voice rang out over the auditorium from our seats in the first and second rows of the balcony. And you know, he was really happy.  I watched him bounce in his seat for the duration of the show.


Today is that day in the Christian story.  It is Easter, the day we are giddy, the day we are happyyyyyyy!  We’ve walked through the horror Pharrell-Williams-Happy-2013-1200x1200of Good Friday, with Jesus’ humiliating and torturous death on a cross.  We were at the foot of the cross amongst all the others who would throw Jesus under the bus – deny knowing him, run from him, lie about our relationship to him.  Oh Jesus of Nazareth.  Right.  Nope, don’t know him. We’ve endured the deafening silence of Holy Saturday, living in that in between time before hope dawns.  Waiting and hoping.  And now, here it is.  It’s Easter Sunday.  Resurrection Sunday.

EasterDressGirl_March08Yet, are we happy? Truly happy? I know that many of us are sitting in our Sunday best, straining against new and untried elastic.  The tie is chafing, the shoes pinching.  Maybe you’re here because your dad or grandma asked you to be here.  Maybe you have no idea why you’re here.  Maybe your happiness is really no different today than it was yesterday. Maybe you are unsure about all of this Christianity stuff, this God who takes on weakness to show strength.  This God who raises Jesus from the grave.  Maybe it’s all just a little too unbelievable.  Maybe it all feels a little plastic and unreal to you.  A little too dressed up. A little too hyped up, with the staying power of a guy yelling out at a concert.

300px-Color_icon_gray_v2.svgAnd you are right to question. I think it’s critical to have those doubts and questions.  I think a faith that is alive asks tough questions and wrestles with certainty.  Dabbles in paradox, strains against givens.  I think questioning what it is we believe is an essential element of faith and of all of life and it’s going to dig below the surface of Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies with hollow ears. It’s just got to.




griefMary helps us dig deeper. Mary is awash in grief as she arrives at the tomb.  She’s been through it all, from the foot of the cross now to the place where they laid Jesus, and he’s gone.  Who knows what raced through her mind.  People stole his body? Did she have the wrong tomb?  Did he come back to life, like he said he would? This faithful disciple, just trying to see Jesus one more time, is met with an empty tomb.  And she can’t quite take it in. She is filled with questions.

But she sticks it out.  She goes to get reinforcements who end up leaving after they’ve seen the linen clothes and the empty tomb.  And it’s after they leave when things get real.  Another wave of grief washes over Mary, newly alone in the tomb.  She begins to weep again. And I imagine this is the kind of gross, uncontrollable crying.  The kind you hope to never do in public.  The kind that racks your body with sobs and shaking.  Can you just hear her wailing echoing from the empty tomb?

Well, all this crying draws a crowd: 2 angels and a gardener show up to ask her what the fuss is all about.

It’s no gardener, of course.  It’s Jesus, who is unrecognizable to Mary, what with his being alive and standing there.  And do you realize when it is she recognizes him?

nametagIt’s when he says her name that her seeing changes and realizes it is Jesus.  It is when he calls her by her name. That’s when it all changes. Her life changes.

Being named and then having the savior of the world call us by name – claim us and love us – every bit of who we are – that’s when it all changes.

Yet, our lives don’t instantly morph into the video for the song “Happy” by Pharell. When Jesus says our name, well, it’s when it gets real. And it’s when it gets hard.

When we strip away the Easter bunnies and the ham in the oven, the plastic eggs and the tissue butterflies, this is a story that is as real as it gets. It’s life and death stuff, folks.


rugged-crossThis is not a story of getting prettied up, putting on your best. This is not a story of looking good for the neighbors.   God isn’t interested in making you nicer. God isn’t interested in your new Easter clothes.  I don’t think God is interested in making you happy, either. God is about making you new, and being made new seldom looks good.  And it hardly ever feels good. Being made new is a messy, messy process. And it’s personal.

This is a story of being made new. This is a story of transformation.  And transformation sucks.  Being changed is hard.  Being made new involves work.





But this is the good news.  Jesus doesn’t say our name and then hand us a self help book.  (The Bible is not a self help book!) Jesus doesn’t 5347873675_0d1fdc7ea5_zsay our name and then say, “I’ve answered all of your questions.”  Jesus doesn’t say our name and then attach puppet strings to our arms and legs and hearts.  Jesus doesn’t say our name and then attach boot straps to our feet, saying “just pull yourself up.” Jesus doesn’t say our name and then cue the orchestra to swell, intoning a syruppy “and she lived happily ever after.”

We’re all alive, after all.  We know how this works.

Jesus doesn’t solve problems, he plunges us right into the middle of even bigger problems in his name.

my-life-is-a-messJesus doesn’t give us a step by step program to loving him and being happy.  Jesus calls us by name, tells us we’re loved, and then says, “ok, love everybody else now. and I’m going to change the world – transform you and the people you try and love.”  Jesus sets us free to love and to live, and there is going to be bitter disappointment and heart breaking tragedy. There is going to be incredible happiness and deep joy.  There is going to be every day, mundane things that bring you incredible happiness.  There are going to be messes.

Because being made new looks like an alcoholic or drug addict hitting rock bottom.  Being made new looks like redefining your life as a child with divorced parents. Being made new looks like chemotherapy and friends’ shaved heads and staying home so you don’t catch the latest bug going around.  Being made new is letting go of an idea or a way of life you thought you’d never be able to live without.  Being made new will always catch you off guard, is always unexpected and is so often unwanted or hoped for.  But, when you get to the other side of it, you see it’s what you needed all along. And that it happens to everyone, all of us.

2f5e4a9ac93568bd2c5366c01a775da4 (1)Being made new means death.  It’s why we sit in silence on Good Friday and marvel at the awful name of that day. And we sat with God in that shadow of the cross and something in us dies too.  Because, in order to live into new life, to be made new, something precious and lovely, something you cling to has got to give.  Has got to die.  Jesus calls out your name to new life and he calls you to death.  That’s the thing, folks.  We are called to new life, but only through death can we have new life.



It is the God of Easter who sat with us in our sorrow, in our dashed hopes who meets us in our joy, in our happiness. Yes, today is a happy day.  It’s even a haappppyyyyyyyy day.  But it’s not because we’ve conjured it up for ourselves. It’s not because we deserve it or have earned it.  It’s because Jesus comes to us in the every day, the mundane, in the incredible and the lovely and the awful. Today our hope is reborn because hope is embodied in a man who knows your name and says it with confidence and love.  Hope has found you.  It is unexpected. It will knock you over. It will mess up your Easter best. It will mess up your life.  And it might even make you happy.

Thanks be to God.