Resurrection of Our Lord | Easter Sunday
Texts: Isaiah 65:17-25 | Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 | Acts 10:34-43 | Luke 24:1-12
Driving to St. Luke’s from my house, I take Central Park Avenue south. The street is narrow enough that the mature trees planted on the sidewalks stretch their branches out over the street and create almost a canopy as your drive down.
I drive that way almost every day, but I forgot about the trees. Entirely. A few days ago, out of the blue, driving to work, I was like, oh. Wow. The trees!
Because a few days ago, some trees around here began getting these little green puffs, right on the very edges. Not leaves at all. Not robust foliage, just little poofs of green, highlighting the tips of the branches that I have seen every day all winter, and then saw again this week as if for the first time.
I am so grateful that those trees are my neighbors, and my elders. Every year without fail, their growth is a sign of resurrection and new life.
A few years ago Josh and I celebrated Easter in the fall. Because when we were living and worshipping with the Lutheran Church in Argentina, in the Southern Hemisphere, Easter in March means Easter is in the fall. The promise of new life took on new shades as we learned what it meant for Christians in that part of the world to proclaim new life even as the earth around them moved towards winter.
Easter, like so many of our ancient traditions, is deeply rooted in the cycles of creation. Do you notice that Easter isn’t on the same date every year? It varies widely, in a way that’s kind of annoying to me, as someone who is accustomed to ordering my life by numerical days and weeks, and not by sun and moon.
Do you know how we decide when Easter is? First we wait for signs of spring. Then we wait for the spring equinox, when the sun’s light is directed precisely at the equator, and the day and night are the same length. After that, we watch for the full moon, marking the Jewish festival of Passover. And then we wait for Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, and the first day of Creation.
It is coincidence that this year, Easter also falls the day before Earth Day (which is tomorrow), but it is a convenient coincidence. And not just because Earth Day-Easter gave me an opportunity to nerdily tell you about the origins of Easter and the planet. It is a perfect combination because actually Easter has everything to do with this earth, with God’s creation, and with our creaturely lives.
“I am about to create new skies and a new earth,” says God through the prophet Isaiah. The new thing that God is doing on Easter isn’t just spiritual, and it isn’t only about the afterlife, Easter is also about this place. About life before death!
In Easter, God is laying before us a vision of abundance, green, thriving, life.
No longer shall there be any creature that dies before their time, but we’ll all enjoy ripe old age. There will be no weeping or distress in the city. No longer will the people build houses just so that someone else can live in them, or labor to harvest crops for someone else’s table, but they will live in their houses and eat their food. Their work will give them life. Even natural enemies will snuggle up for a nap together because there will be no place for hurt or destruction in all the land.
The prophet Isaiah is describing God’s future, a future which looks so much like the ancient past. Like the garden home that God created at the very beginning, a place of peace and rest, wholeness and joy.
It is no coincidence that in the gospel of John, the place where they bury Jesus is in a garden. The tomb where they put Jesus’s body is a green and growing place because for John, the death of Jesus marks the first day of a brand new creation, where death and sin are no more.
But I’m not saying that this Easter is just all sing-songy nature, like a crown of flowers and birds flying around all chipper perching on Jesus’s resurrected finger. Sometimes when we talk about creation it can be easy to romanticize and forget that even gardens have their share of death and danger.
That’s a hugely important part of the Easter story: Resurrection doesn’t come out of nowhere. Resurrection comes out of death. Real death and suffering.
Just ask the women.
There were so many women there.
Learn their names in case anyone ever asks you whether women can be leaders in the church. Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and many other women with them whose names are unknown to us, but known to Jesus. Women who had traveled all the way from Galilee with Jesus on this city to city grassroots movement. They were there on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered the city in peace and protest. Women who saw Jesus on the cross, who the gospel writer Luke testifies were standing just nearby while other disciples abandoned, watching until Jesus’s very last breath. These women do not abandon, but follow Jesus all the way to the tomb and in their last few hours before sabbath got everything ready that was needed to prepare the corpse.
Just like those women, we know all too well that this life isn’t all happy gardens and Easter mornings. There is the fear of Thursday, and the terror of Friday, and the empty, numb, grief of Saturday. There are days when you feel like a dead twig in winter. There are days when the people you love are suddenly gone. There are days when it’s not so clear that you’re going to make it to tomorrow. There are times when even this green-blue earth seems to fragile and you lose hope for a future of life.
And when Sunday does come it isn’t always BANG like an empty tomb. More often, little tiny poofs of hope start growing around the edges, is all. Confusing green highlights of hope that catch your attention.
So maybe Easter feels more like a slow thaw. Or a reluctant but courageous re-opening of your heart after it’s been hurt. Or maybe Easter looks like the simple decision to wake up one more time. Or like little pockets of resistance and resilience against all odds.
I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine who had grown up in a tropical climate told me the story of her very first winter in Chicago. In the place where she grew up there aren’t four seasons like we have in northern latitudes. There were seasons more like dry and rainy, and the plants looked mostly green all year round. My friend described the very real fear and sadness that she felt as the trees lost their leaves. Of course she was a scholar and a really smart person so it’s not that she didn’t know about fall and winter in northern climates. But the reality of seeing the bare trees was really striking for her. She said despite the fact that everyone around her was telling her all about how spring would come in a few months, she would look at these dead trees, and it just seemed totally impossible to her.
Hope can be confusing. And hope can coexist with our fear and pain. The mystery of this life is that we’re kind of living Thursday through Sunday all at once, all the time. Death and resurrection intermingle like a forest floor that’s full of decaying leaves and growing fungus turning over into rich nutrients and growing up into little saplings, and strengthening deep roots.
The disciples definitely don’t “get” Eater on the first try. It’s not “Wow, thank you for passing that along, Mary and Joanna and Mary and everyone! Jesus is back, I totally believe your eyewitness testimony.” No! It seems so impossible that they literally can’t believe this whole group of faithful women. It will take weeks and months, and years for the community of disciples, the brand new church, to make sense of what life looks like in this new resurrection reality.
And we’re still figuring it out too. That’s why we come to church on Sundays, each Sunday a little celebration of the resurrection. We don’t come here for easy answers (like follow these 10 steps for God to make resurrection in your life!).
Life is more complicated than that. Pain is more real than that. The mystery of resurrection is more powerful than that.
We come because, like the women, we are drawn back to Jesus’s side every time. Drawn here because we long for that vision of a creation restored. We yearn for our wounds to be healed, and for the reign of God to come near. We have been following this Jesus person all this time, and it just doesn’t make any sense to stop now, even if he is dead.
But inexplicably, we find, when we show up, that when we came here looking for the dead, we were looking in the wrong place.
Put down your embalming spices and lift your heads. Look around and see the edges of green. Death is not in charge here! God is doing a new thing, and God is doing it now. Go tell your friends and neighbors and they won’t believe a word you say, but say it anyway! Alleluia! This is the resurrection dawn, God’s recreation. This is the day of new life. Thanks be to God.