“Easter: The Great Hunt for Life”
Ps. 118 & Luke 24:1-12 ~ Northwood UC ~ April 17, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
What would Easter be without a hunt. Did you have an Easter egg hunt in your home this morning? Or perhaps you remember the great Easter Egg hunts from the years gone by? My children are now young adults, but they still insist that the Egg hunt must continue! In our home the Easter egg hunt has shifted from being a sacred moment of awe as they sauntered around with their egg baskets and imagined the Easter bunny hopping around. In our home, it is very different now that they are young adults. At 18 and 22, it has become more of an Egg Hunt battle as they push one another aside and jockey for position in the great competition to see who can get more eggs. It is kind of a mix between black Friday shopping and Easter Egg hunting. However, in fairness to my kids, after the final tally is completed and the victor is crowned, they always carefully ensure that each walk away with an equal distribution of eggs. And so, the great Easter hunts continue on Easter!
History records the earliest Easter Egg hunt to have occurred in the time of the Christian Reformer Martin Luther. Luther is remembered as organizing Easter Egg hunts for his congregation in Wittenberg, Germany. So, we are going back over 500 years to the origin of this tradition. But before Luther’s Easter Egg hunt commenced, there was an earlier hunt…there was the hunt for life that occurred 2 millennia ago.
To put things into perspective as the week’s events unfolded, the Jewish pilgrims had all returned to the Holy Land to celebrate the liberation festival of Passover ~ God’s ‘passing over’ the enslaved Israelites in Egypt which led to Pharoah’s decision to release Moses and the Israelites on a journey home to the Promised Land. Among those making pilgrimage home to Jerusalem was Jesus. Jesus’ ministry had created an increasingly larger and larger following and he was well known: well known to the Jews, the Gentiles, and the religious authorities. As one who was being proclaimed as ‘the Son of God’, he was a problem for the Romans who held that title for the emperor. As one who questioned the narrow teachings of the religious authorities ~ the Scribes and Pharisees ~ he was a problem for the Jewish community, who he was seeking to reform. Jesus had become very popular, well known, and a growing threat to the Roman and Jewish status quo.
In the week that unfolded, Jesus rages in the temple turning the tables in anger and condemning them for “turning my Father’s house into a marketplace.” Mary will have the unique understanding to prepare Jesus for his death as she breaks open the costly nard and wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. The week will continue to unfold and Jesus will invite the 12 into the Upper Room and teach them about servant leadership as he washes their feet and shares the Passover Seder meal together. Increasingly, the decision to follow Jesus or the way of power will become difficult. His followers will deny him, the crowds (who once loved him) will shout “crucify him” and he will die a horrible death. The temple curtain will be torn in two, the sky will turn black and he will breathe his last. As the Jewish sabbath approaches any contact with Jesus’ dead body is forbidden. A rushed burial of Jesus’ limp body occurs and he is laid in the tomb until the proper rituals can be performed the following day. Sabbath occurs on the Saturday and the hearts of Jesus’ followers are confused, torn, and broken. A lot has happened this week. And that is why we have gathered for special services on Maundy Thursday and on Good Friday.
And today, we gather after the unfolding of these profound events that continue to touch us so deeply. And we see the very first Easter hunt that started it all…the hunt for life. The women had returned to the tomb on the Sunday morning. As soon as the sun had risen, and Jewish law permitted their return, they found their way to give Jesus’ body a proper burial. Coming to the tomb, they received a surprise that will continue to echo through the ages…Jesus’ body was not there. And they are asked the timeless question: ‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’ And that eternal question ripples through the ages and unto us now: why do YOU look for the living among the dead? Where do YOU look for life? Where is new life to be found?
This original Easter hunt for life is a faith question; it is a question of seeking; it is a question of trusting; it is a question of life. Sometimes our ways are ones that lead to death; our ways are ones that do not bring life; no longer offer hope; do not bear the renewal that God yearns for us to have. Jesus taught a lot about being so bound to the ways of this world that there is no room for the Kingdom of God. The past two years through the pandemic have taught us the artificialities of the world’s separations as we met a virus that would walk through any human constructed separation: country, class, gender, sexuality…all were affected. The successful way through these past two years came about through the costly price of loving neighbour: limiting social contact, vaccination, masking ~ and we learned the ways of life through the challenging time.
But the ways of death continue to be around us and many are drawn to them. And we continue to be asked: ‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’ As weapons and guns and tanks are unleashed, we see the ways of death. As a shooting in our community occurs, we see the ways of death. As conflicts erupt in our homes and workplaces, we see the ways of death. Why do we continue to look for the living among the dead?
The countercultural call in the Easter story is to seek the sanctity of life…to look for life among the living. When we were exclusively an online community, you might recall that I asked for your submissions of new life that we later edited into an Easter video that was part of our worship service. Do you remember what you submitted? I do. There were images of budding tulips and daffodils breaking through their tombs of earth and showing new life. There were images of people smiling amidst the isolation of a pandemic. There were images of a sunset ushering in a new day. Where do you see new life?
Earlier this month, the Pope welcomed and listened to a delegation of Indigenous people from Canada who shared the horrors of the Residential schools. At the end of the stories being shared, the tears and the listening, the Pope said “I am very sorry” and shared the “sorrow and shame” that he felt over this tragedy. Indeed, much more work is to be done by the Catholic Church (and all churches and our Government), yet these words are sign and symbol of new life.
New life looks like a new career starting after a long-time career has ended; new life looks like a new relationship beginning after the ending of one that seemed to be eternal; new life looks like slow and gentle recovery from a loss that was so devastating. Where do you find new life in the Easter hunt?
New life looks like acceptance when things are not entirely understandable to us. I know of people who have been beacons of new life in their family when a member ‘came out’ and was rejected for their sexuality. New life is the call to love and acceptance that they offered as a gift to their family…that they might actually ‘BE’ a family who welcomed each member.
Jane Dawson is our Justice Minister for the Pacific Mountain Region and she recently shared some powerful words of life in her newsletter. These words, which I will close with, come from Grace Okerson, currently a Masters of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology in Florida. Grace writes: “As a queer, Black woman, belonging is something that I have always craved. I have always strived to be “enough” and have tried to contort myself to fit into the boxes that society has made for me. Rather than try to find a box that can encompass my identity, I have found that I need to get rid of the boxes entirely. I was not created to fit into a box or conform to societal standards. I was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God tasked to bring Christ’s kin-dom here on earth. I am different. And my difference matters, and makes me unique. I am a person who values community above all else and strives to create inclusive and affirming communities where individual flourishing can be realized. When thinking about freedom and liberation, I often love to ask others the following question: “Who would you be if you were allowed to flourish in all the desires of your heart?”
And so, the timeless Easter hunt continues: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Let us go forth seeking life, bringing life, being life, living the Easter story.