No matter if we express them or not, Easter is full of expectations.
If you attend church on Easter, you might expect to see some fine dressed folks—it’s the Sunday best of the Sunday best day of the year, isn’t?
You might have expected to see more people in the pews than on a more normal Sunday.
You might have expected to sing familiar hymns that you grew up loving like, “Christ the Lord is Risen today” or hear some beautiful choir music.
You might have expected to hear a really moving sermon.
And I tell you, there isn’t anything worse than having your expectations unmet on Easter!
But I believe all this business of expectations and their being either fulfilled or unfilled truly says something about what we all believe Easter to be: an event.
We think of Easter as an event we need to mark as a special occasion. When it’s over, it’s over.
Yet, when we do this, when we make Easter just an “event” we’re robbed. Consider the story again on this day. This year, I thought a lot about John 20:1-18.
From John’s telling, we learn that early in the morning, the first day of the week while it is was still dark, grief-stricken Mary comes to visit the gravestone of her beloved Jesus. She needed to be close to him. She needed somewhere to go with her grief. She could not be penned up in her home anymore. She goes to be in the place where she knew Jesus’ body was laid to rest. But as she approaches the tomb she realizes that the stone on Jesus’ tomb was no longer there.
Afraid, Mary runs to get the men for some backup. Simeon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved race their way out to the cemetery. The other disciple, John bends down goes in to look and see the grave-clothes of Jesus, but no body was there. Simeon Peter actually goes in and sees the same. Both men return to their homes.
But, sweet little Mary who has been watching this peek in, peek out game the men were playing, still weeps outside.
Taking just one more look at the tomb, Mary sees something that the guys don’t get the privilege of seeing: angels.
And these angels ask her an important question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
When she answers, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they laid him” the biggest shock of her life is about to come next.
WHO does Mary see when she turns around? None other than Jesus himself. But the narrator warns us that Mary’s doesn’t really see.
For, as the old saying goes, what you see is what you get, and for Mary she saw only what she expected to see, the grounds keepers. Mary believes she’s talking to a gardener and so asks him about what might have happened to her Lord’s body. And it takes Jesus shaking her literally to help her to see rightly.
Can’t you just picture it? “Mary!” Jesus says as he grabs on her shoulders and rocks them back and forth. “It’s me Mary, can’t you recognize me? It’s me. It’s me!”
And suddenly the most unexpected miracle IS before her eyes: a risen Jesus, a Jesus who is alive, and a Jesus who says Mary “don’t hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
And it was a grand event, I tell you. A really grand event of Jesus fulfilling the promise he made to his disciples before he left the earth. Jesus faithfully kept his word. He was alive.
And so it’s true, Easter is a great festival day to celebrate the occasion when Jesus arose from the grave!
But do we want Easter to be just an event?
For many, Easter is simply this. It’s a day to celebrate Jesus atoning for our sins, paying the price for us so that we can go to heaven when we die.
Easter, however, can be so much more! If we are looking for it . . .
It can be about a God who brings the kingdom of heaven to this earth, a God who can make the worst of all possible days worth living, and a God who can breathe new life into the deadest parts of our soul and communities.
I believe Resurrection is a verb that can change us. Easter is a way of life.
Several years ago, I reached a really low part of my life.
Everything that I had expected would have happened to me hadn’t. Everything that I had hoped would have cheered me up didn’t. Everyone who I thought would have come to my aid in comfort hadn’t shown up in ways I could receive.
And life really was terrible, Kevin, my husband, could vouch for me on this. And I think if you are honest about your own journey, you’ve right there too at some point as well.
For me, I’d gotten to that point when praying was something I didn’t do a lot of because my prayers weren’t being answered, why bother?
On one really bad day, I never said to a dear pastor friend, “Maybe I don’t believe in God anymore.” (which is of course the stuff that you aren’t really supposes to admit aloud—but we’re good enough friends now, so I think you’ll be ok). But this is where I was and my gracious friend received my confession and I know God did too.
For in only in a matter of hours, did I felt shaken in an internal way while I was doing chores around the house—much like Mary’s experience with Jesus in the garden.
It was as if in those moments, God spoke to me and said, “I don’t appreciate your non-acknowledgment of me. You can say and do a lot of things, but don’t forget I’m here and always will be.” Whoa! I was listening again. That was God.
And it wasn’t as if everything magically fell into place after that. Or that there weren’t many hard times to come. But from that moment on, I didn’t doubt the Almighty anymore and haven’t since. Hope found me bit by bit.
Practically speaking to my life without a lot of plans, an invitation to co-lead a youth camp with a friend came within hours to my empty calendar. I got eyes to see the joy around me that wasn’t in bed with the covers over me. And my persistent friends finally got through to me in the weeks to come—that my life had value, even if it was not exactly what I wanted.
This is what resurrection looked for me. I can’t imagine my life without resurrection in the moment I just described to you and so many days since. Resurrection is what my spirit longs for in this broken world in which you and I live. I don’t know how to live without the possibility of resurrection anymore.
I’ve told you this personal story this morning because what I most want you to hear is that the beautiful witness of Jesus’ resurrection was personal.
In fact, I believe, resurrection is always personal.
Mary experienced resurrection among the angels and an appearance of Jesus himself. Peter and John experienced resurrection by believing Mary’s testimony, trying to our race one another to the tomb and seeing for themselves the abandoned grave-clothes. Everyone God what they needed to see when they needed it.
And this why if we read all three other encounters of resurrection in Matthew, Mark and Luke we see it’s not the same story in every one.
This is used to bother the analytical side of me—I mean, which one is the “right” one? (I only want to preach on that one!)
But the more I journey with Jesus and help others do the same: I’ve realized that the Holy Spirit guides us at our own pace. We all see God in different ways which why we have four resurrection stories, and not one is better than the others.
Easter is a great day to remember that God keeps his promises and that everything Jesus said about his life was indeed true. But it’s also a day reconnect ourselves to living Easter.
So I ask you as you’re reading this:
What hurts in your heart today?
What nagging issue in your family keeps you up late at night?
What dream in your life plan is unresolved?
What is dead in our church that needs new life?
Resurrection can change your answers!
This is the good news:
For there’s no hurt that can’t be mended because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
For there’s no unresolved dream that can’t be fulfilled because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
For there’s no dead part of you that can’t have it’s tune changed to joy again because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
And with such great news, we need to keep celebrating, don’t we?