What DOES Easter really mean?
The world says: Spring has sprung. The days are longer. It it time for gardening, new life erupting. Let’s celebrate with candy, bunnies, new clothes, family dinner. The Church says: Death is conquered. Eternal life is ours. God rules. Lent is over. The time of sacrifice is ended. Let’s celebrate with Allelujahs!
Is that all there is? Is it enough? Because for some, the concept of ongoing life is almost unbearable. They live with continuing loss, ongoing hunger, persistent abuse , unending loneliness, constant failure, day after day of surviving with unmet needs.
The women who came to Jesus’ tomb were filled with unbearable sorrow, yet their love was rising to the task at hand. What could be more difficult and more distasteful than tending to a body that had been entombed three days in a hot and humid climate? Who wants to live forever in circumstances like that?
The male disciples were huddled in a secret place, with their guilt, their shame, their fear. They had given up their careers. They had left their families. For what? This tragic and terrible ending? Some could go back to fishing. Could Matthew return to his job with the Roman government? Could they make up for the years of their children’s lives that they had given up? They had paid a price, for a hope now vanquished. Now they had no hope, no security, no future. Who wants to live forever in a situation like that?
It might have been better to have the courage to die with him, or, like Judas, for the shame of their choices because of him, than to live without him…and try to figure out where to go from there. What was the message of Easter for them?
We know the rest of their story, but what is the real message of Easter to those who go to church on that day and at Christmas? We hear that Jesus was born, to be our Savior. We hear that Jesus died, to be our Savior. But what does any of it mean to life in this century, to the people who are living here and now?
The real message of Easter is that God loves us enough to become one of us. God loves us enough to die for us. God loves us enough to live for us!
I know how it feels to be in that garden like the women, having lost loved ones. So do you. I know how it feels to huddle in fear and despair, wondering what to do with the rest of my life. So do you. I know how it feels to leave all that I know and all that I have to follow him. Some of you do, too. I know how it feels to be unappreciated and unloved in the process. You do, too. I know how it feels to have evil spoken falsely about me, to be accused of acts for which I am not guilty. So do you.
The real message of Easter is that – SO DOES JESUS! SO DOES GOD!
The human condition is not unknown to God, who took our form and lived as one of us. Every human experience and emotion is known to God who died in our place. The real message of Easter is that God loves us enough to come to us in our loneliest, most sorrowful, most terrifying, most isolated moments. Jesus came to Mary weeping in the garden. Jesus came to the disciples hiding in a room, with the doors locked.
The real message of Easter is that nothing can separate us from the love of God! There is no place, no circumstance, no situation, no desolation where Jesus does not find us. And when he finds us, the message is always the same. Hear Jesus’ message to those devastated people who loved him: I am not returning to Calvary. That is the place of death. I am not remaining in the garden of the tomb. I have already triumphed there. I am going to Galilee. Come meet me there. I am going to the places where we lived and walked, where we shared in ministry, where we met the needs of people, where I met your needs, where we played with children, where we talked of the Kingdom of God, where I showed you who the Father is…and who you are because of who God is.
I am going before you. I am going to Galilee – to the roads of life, the safaris where people seek life itself. And when you get there, I will be there, waiting for you.
What is the message of Easter? Not just a never-ending life, someday, somewhere, not just a triumph over sin and death, but life TODAY filled with the presence of Jesus, who eats with us, and talks with us, and teaches us, and promises never to leave us unattended in the world. Because death and the grave can not hold him, life can not hold us back from him. Go and share this good news on your personal safari!