What’s An Easter?

John 20:1-18

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

David Sedaris is a writer who reflects on his life with such wit, my younger sister has more than one story about reading his books while riding public transportation and because she was laughing so hard, she missed her stop and got lots of stares from all the other riders.

The bit that always gets me rolling is the one where Sedaris has moved to France and is taking beginning French lessons. He’s the only American in the class, filled with people from around the world: Morocco, Poland, Russia, and Italy to name a few. The day’s lesson involves trying to describe major holidays and Easter has just been put on the table. A woman from Morocco raises her hand and asks, “What’s an Easter?”

It’s funny because it’s true, right? What’s an Easter? In your own native language, how do you describe Easter to someone who doesn’t know? Is it all that different from what we just heard? “Well, we buy a ham and our family meets at grandma’s house and there’s an Easter egg hunt with eggs brought by the rabbit of Easter.”

In light of our own stumbling efforts to wrap our mouths around the vocabulary of this day, let’s look to Mary for help. As our laughter fades,  all we can hear is Mary’s weeping. What do we do with a woman who has taken the message of Jesus so seriously that all she can do is weep at his tomb?

She had gone out to the tomb in the early morning hours before the light dawned and found the stone rolled away. But did you notice? She didn’t even look into the tomb before she ran back to tell the disciples. On her way back to tell them, she simply assumes the worst: the body is gone. Somebody has stolen it. The only thing she’s actually seen is that the stone is rolled away. She goes for help and Peter and the Beloved Disciple race to the tomb to see. They assess the situation – the rolled up cloths. Ah well, nothing to see here, and they leave.

But Mary stays. Weeping. And then she stoops down to look into the tomb herself. She sees 2 angels who ask her, “Why are you weeping?”  She turns around and sees someone, it must be the gardener, who then asks her, “why are you weeping?”

She is in deep grief. Stuck at the tomb. Weeping. Give her some space, right? It’s only been a few hours!

This is where the April fools joke appears, right? This is where those outside the church, outside of faith say, “really? Why are you weeping? Why are you hoping? It’s just a story. It doesn’t really matter.”

What’s an Easter?  The Easter story is central to who we are. But more often than not, this is not what we’re known for.  The Christian story often gets co-opted as a story for winners, for very very successful people. Christians are more known for who we exclude than who we love. Or we are known for having all the answers, living with a truth that certainly must cancel out bad days and tragedy.

Are we known for this story, the Easter story, the ultimate Good News?

These conflicting notions of faith and church and life make me laugh and they make me cry. Because we have the best story to tell and I’m not sure we’re able to tell it well, if at all.

Yet, it’s a story about the world we live in.  It reflects the ordinary, mundaneness of our lives. It reflects the bad days, the tragedy, the hard days. Thursday and Friday of Holy Week are all about our lives, here and now. Learning how to love and serve each other on Thursday while the threat of death looms large on Friday.  Trying to do our best at work, at home, in community while juggling stress and cancer and debt and divorce, depression, anxiety, violence and, you know, LIFE. You guys, it’s our Christian story. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday.

So we get to this day, this “what’s an Easter day” and we are ready to joyfully laugh, yet we are on the verge of weeping. Because Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday are all right next to each other. What has Sunday changed? It’s not like the stress and the juggling and the cancer of Thursday and Friday are gone today.

I got a message from Jenny after our service on Thursday. It’s a worship service where we practice what Jesus instructed us to do: to wash each other’s feet. Now, we offer hand washing, too, because if we’re not in the mani-pedi salon, we get real weird about feet, right? So, Jenny is reflecting on her experience praying for a mom washing her teenagers hands, but she was afraid she would sob. And then the 3 little letters LOL. Laugh Out Loud. Do you see how close our laughter is to our weeping? They are just a breath apart. Just as holy week is from Easter.

Why are you weeping?

What’s an Easter?

It’s no joke that Jesus went to the cross, dying the death of a loser. Put to death not by an angry, blood-thirsty God to teach us a lesson but by us, a blood-thirsty people, stirred up by top government officials and religious leaders to keep things as they are. Wait, this story is how old? 2000 years or 20 minutes? I can’t tell. It’s enough to make you laugh. Or cry.

It’s no joke that Jesus came back from the dead. Resurrection is why we are Christian. Resurrection is why we have a story to tell. We are sent away from the tomb, called by name, deeply know, to live into hope and to laugh and cry about this victory. This victory that doesn’t look like military parades featuring dignitaries and displays of violent power. This victory looks like collecting stuff for people who call the space under bridge overpasses their home. This victory looks like dragging yourself to work and finding kindness in your bones for the co-worker who annoys you but obviously needs to be loved. This victory looks like waking up and thanking God for another day. This victory looks like standing up for those who are beaten down, especially when your voice is the minority voice.

What’s an Easter? Why are you weeping?

It’s the best, cosmic joke on death ever played.

What’s an Easter? It’s somewhere between laughing and crying. It’s in the mundane, every day life.  You may not be able to explain it but you’re living it.

What’s an Easter? Take a look around you right now. This is what Easter looks like. You and me, recipients of love and grace we do not earn. We’ve been brought to our knees in this life. And yet here we are. It’s our story of death and resurrection. It’s enough to make you laugh or cry.