By the Rev. Dr. Nina Ranadive Pooley
Isaiah 25: 6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10: 34-43
Love, Actually Easter Morning
As you’re probably aware, this morning is both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s day. Which, as you can imagine, had the sermon suggestions flying in our family! I promise, no jokes this morning, but I was reminded of one of my favorite Easter moments.
I was leading chapel for Good Shepherd Day School, with children who were 18 months to 5 years old, and we had been telling the story of Jesus all Lent. (Using 4 inch paper figures of disciples and Jesus, they were shaped like gingerbread people.) During Holy Week we had walked our paper Jesus from the last supper to the cross and then to the tomb. It was a sad week, that week before Easter. Then, the day came to tell the Easter story – I was so excited, so were the kids, they could tell – it was finally here – the Good News part of the story! (The Good News of the whole story.) The week before we had put paper Jesus in the tomb and rolled the paper stone in front.
So, on this day, with the paper Mary standing outside in the garden, I rolled the stone away from the tomb, and asked, “What do you think they found inside the tomb?!” One little boy, about three years old, had the answer; his arm shot into the air. The answer came bursting from him: “Jelly Beans!”
You have to give him some credit – he knew somehow the body of Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, and yet there was wonderful news, and he remembered eating a lot of jelly beans on Easter, so there you go. Needless to say, it was a struggle to get from jelly beans back to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus – but we got there, eventually.
I know we face a similar struggle this morning; it’s difficult to focus on the empty tomb in the excitement of Easter. But let’s try, just for a few moments. Mary Magdalen is crying outside the tomb because the tomb is empty. She’s convinced that the authorities have taken Jesus’ body. Denying those who love him even the chance to care for his body – the ultimate act of control, taking away someone’s ability to grieve. That’s the kind of oppression they were living under. That’s also the kind of threat that Jesus posed to the Roman Empire, it isn’t a stretch for her to assume that the authorities would go to these lengths.
Remember – Jesus was executed as a criminal, an enemy of the state. This carpenter – who wandered the countryside teaching, healing, feeding; and had a band of ragged followers:
fishermen, a tax collector, a few other regulars, a bunch of women, and friends and family members. And then there were the crowds of people who wanted something from him – who needed healing, who were so poor they needed the hope he brought; he was surrounded by some pretty pitiful people. Not people of influence, not people who mattered.
Makes you wonder what the big deal is – why the powers that be get together and come after him? Because when you look at whose involved in his death you get the sense that there’s a lot at stake. Pontius Pilate represents the political interests of the powerful Roman Empire. King Herod represents the economic self-interest of the time. And the Chief Priest represents the religious institution’s vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
In the end, Jesus is condemned by these economic, political and religious leaders, because he was a threat on every level.
Jesus came teaching people simply to love God and love one another – and to live that out in their lives. And his words, his actions, upset everything. Exposed the game if you will. Because economic, political and even religious structures are built on certain assumptions – which we have to buy into in order for them to function, in order for business as usual to happen. Which means, that if we begin to question those assumptions, if we refuse to play along, the game is up.
Jesus came and called it all into question – saying this may be the way it is, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. This may be the way of the world, but it is not the way of God. We can live into another way and change the way it is, into the way God dreams it will be. Love God, love one another well – and our life will be more life-giving, both in this life and in the life to come.
Jesus came teaching, preaching and showing us the way of love. It was really rather simple. So simple that you’d think the powers that be would have laughed at him; or ignored him completely. Except, it was working. This way of love – it was unsettling, undoing, upturning the Roman empire enough so that the institutions felt threatened on every front. Changes were happening – in those everyday people, in the dirt road villages, in the communities gathered around wells, and in those places where people had been healed, or fed, or taught; people and places and communities were transformed.
Think about it, in just three years, without modern communication or transportation, things were threateningly different. Things had begun shifting toward love, toward a different kind of community, toward a new understanding of what really matters. That kind of love is radical, dangerous and powerful beyond measure. No wonder Jesus was a threat to those in power.
As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry says in his Easter Message:
“… the way of the cross, the way of unselfish living, the way of sacrificial living, seeking the good, the welfare of the other before one’s own unenlightened self-interest. That
way of the cross is the way of love. That is the nature of love. And that way is the only hope for the entire human family.
… on that third day after the crucifixion, when by the titanic power of God, by the power of the love of God, Jesus was raised from the dead. God sent a message and declared that death does not have the last word. Hatred does not have the last word. Violence does not have the last word. Bigotry does not have the last word. Sin, evil do not have the last word. The last word is God, and God is love.”
The last word is God, and God is love. My friends, love is risen from the tomb and everything has changed, everything is possible. Love beyond death, love beyond the powers of this world.
So now what? (Other than celebrating with feasting and Jelly Beans.) Jesus was clear, we can’t hold him in the garden. (Or in our churches.) He tells Mary, essentially: “Go and tell them I am going to our God, the one to whom we all belong.” And she goes to the disciples, the first witness to the resurrection, announcing, “I have seen the Lord!”
As we witness to the resurrection, we who have known God’s love, who know this story, have experienced the transforming power of God in our lives, what does it look like to go out into our broken world announcing, “We have seen the Lord!”?
Keep breathing – I know we are both Mainers and Episcopalians. But here’s what I’m wondering – what if we witness to the love of God through our actions? What if we change the rules of engagement? From the current cultural norm right now, to the way God would have it be? By lavishing love on the world, through kindness and generosity: in our relationships with one another, with those in our communities and beyond, through civil conversation, by caring about people first, and divisive arguments second, by being gentle with everyone we meet. By walking in the way of love. By facing injustice, oppression, economic dispersity – all with God’s love, embodied in us. Those who have witnessed the Risen Lord, who know the love of God, lavishing it on the world.
Because as we have seen, it doesn’t take long for radical, extravagant love to completely upend the systems of power and persecution – to undermine the powers that be, and to rewrite the rules and rescript the way we live in community together.
What do you say? Shall we be Easter People together? It’s not complicated, it’s unbelievably simple. Love God, love each other, and share it with the world. It’s just Love, actually. Through it, we will change everything.
When the stone was rolled back, love burst from the tomb, Jesus is risen, and everything is possible. Amen. Alleluia.