“Seeing ‘New Life’ on Easter Morning”
Mt. 28: 1-10;
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook; Northwood United Church; April 16, 2017
Growing up as a “PK” ~ a preacher’s kid ~ can be a little tough. Take Easter morning for example. With an Easter Sunrise service, the Sunday morning Easter-egg hunt needs to be scheduled creatively and some clever negotiations need to go on with the Easter bunny. Many years ago, my family decided to have the Easter bunny visit on Sunday afternoon. I was serving a congregation in Prince George at the time and the plan was for me to take our two year old daughter to the park while Mom went ahead and hid the eggs and treats. And so, I took Mikayla to a park overlooking the city. After a little time on the swings, I said: “Hey Miky, I think…I think…I think… I saw the Easter bunny”. “You saw him, really! Where?” “Over there, hopping into that brown house down there…and there he goes now into the white house…” “Oh daddy, I see him too! And now I see him going into the red house…and there he goes into the next one…Oh daddy, I love Easter!”. What is it about a child that allows them to see the mystery and wonder and beauty of life? And what happens to us adults that make us blind to it?
What I would like to suggest on this Easter morning is that the message of the text is for us to begin seeing with the eyes of Easter. I would like to suggest that the first witnesses to Easter morning learned how to see, for the first time, they learned how to see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning. To be sure, it had been a dramatic week. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem for Passover and received a King’s welcome as the crowds waved palm branches over his head. As the week unfolded, the darkness of humanity was revealed. Betrayal ~ for 30 pieces of silver; denial ~ by all his friends ~ ‘surely I do not know this man’, and execution ~ as Jesus is put to death on a cross with the crowds screaming “crucify him”. Jesus’ body has been laid in the tomb on a Friday that only God could make ‘Good’ and the Saturday Sabbath has just occurred, where it was forbidden to visit the graveyard. And then comes Sunday….and then comes Sunday! As the sun rises, the bravest ones to go to the tomb were … the women: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They can’t see Easter’s ‘new life’ yet; they can’t see God’s promise revealed yet; they can’t see resurrection yet. What they were expecting to see was a place of death; what they were expecting to see was a dead corpse; what they were expecting to see was Jesus’ lifeless body. They did not yet have the eyes to see ‘new life’ on Easter morning. The angel greets the women: “do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, … Go quickly and tell his disciples ‘He has been raised from the dead…”. The text says that as a result of that interchange with the angel, as a result of seeing the empty tomb, the women’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of ‘new life’, and they were forever changed. They began to see the ‘new life’ of Easter. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
Certainly having the joy of participating in the baptisms with these two priceless children ~ Reid and Danica helps us to see ‘new life’ in Easter. Historically, baptism was only celebrated once per year ~ Easter Sunday. The 40 day season of Lent, which we have just concluded, was the time of preparation for their baptism. And in one’s baptism, we talk about the dying of one’s old self and the birthing of one’s new self in Christ. The people would always face the East, the place where light would originate and as the child is baptized, they would turn away from the dark and be symbolically born into the light. In our baptism, we are reminded of the ‘new life’ that we are given in Christ, the hope that we are given, the light in our darkness. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
So what does ‘new life’ on Easter morning look like? Well…I suspect it looks very different to each of us through our life’s journeys. There are the obvious ‘new life’ images of Easter: sometimes ‘new life’ looks like the birth of a new child or one’s first love, or the first day in a new school, or in a new residence, or in a new career or all the many new things that we experience in the course of life. Yet, we know that ‘new life’ is not just about experiencing things for the first time. The older we get, we know that life is lived through the complex shades of gray that make it so deep and rich and challenging. And eventually, in life, mistakes are made, lines are crossed, friendships are broken, and life becomes lived amidst those varying shades of gray that ensue. Eventually those many first things that we experience come to an end … and death enters the picture. And when death enters the picture, that is where it gets, oh so hard to see Easter’s ‘new life’. It is indeed hard, yet if we look, that is where the true depth and meaning of Easter is found. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
One of the challenges is that we are so literal in our reading of the Easter story. And, frankly, scripture was never meant to be read that way. Jesus has been put to death and on Easter and we come looking for him to be all put back together ~ with blood stains nicely mopped up; wounds on his forehead carefully healed; and nail punctures vanished. We expect all the remnants of death to have been hermetically sealed and removed from our sight so that we can come to church wearing our Easter Sunday best finding a perfectly restored Jesus who walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are His own. And (as we know) it just doesn’t work that way. I came across a fascinating insight from Albert Einstein on death: He said: “we fear death because we cling to an idea of ourselves as discrete individuals. But if we could just see ourselves as part of the mysterious unfolding of the universe which is beautiful in its complexity, we wouldn’t be so fearful”. We cannot remove death’s existence, death’s memory, death’s stench; however, what we get to see in Easter is the ‘new life’ that God brings following death on Easter morning. Easter, I would suggest, is a time when we are given the courage, the strength, the capacity to look beyond death and know that God will bring something more ~ that God will bring ‘new life’ in Easter. Can you see the ‘new life’ in Easter morning?
We had a funeral earlier this week at the church and many tears were shed. In the service: prayers were offered, scripture was read, a eulogy was shared and a life was lifted up. After the service, we gathered in the lobby for a reception and there was … laughter. I listened in as some of the deceased’s life stories were shared (the ones not deemed appropriate during the service, I guess). And the family laughed together, and comforted one another, and saw ‘new life’ together. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
We have 12 step groups that gather in the church through the week. Addiction can be one of the most powerful grips on one’s life. It will cause a person to lie, cheat and steal. It will tear the addicted person apart; it will tear their family apart, it will cause suffering and death. Yet sometimes… ‘new life’ intervenes and a future free of addiction; a future to begin again is found. When I hear the serenity prayer prayed: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference” ~ when I hear those words, I hear ‘new life’. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
We have several outreach ministries to the poor and homeless here at Northwood. People come to the church through the week for food. We cook up food and serve it in ‘the Strip’ area in Whalley. And our ‘shoebox ministry’ is gearing up once again for a spring delivery of boxes and boxes filled with items needed for life on the street. I can’t think of a moment that I have ever been involved in serving people in need when I didn’t feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and grace from the recipient. Words of appreciation “thank you so much” and sometimes even questions “why are you…helping me?” Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?
What story would you add to these three? What stories of seeing Easter morning’s ‘new life’ in your life would you add to this story?
The first witnesses came looking for Jesus’ dead body. He told them what was going to happen ~ that he would rise. Yet, they were not ready to look for him there. They looked for Jesus among the dead. I would suggest that the hopefulness of this text is a call for us to see the ‘new life’ on Easter morning in new places in our lives and in the world. I would suggest we are called to see Easter morning’s ‘new life’, for we are Jesus’ Easter people and resurrection is our story ~ new life is the core foundation of our living and being. Can you see the ‘new life’ of Easter morning?