The tomb is split open and Jesus is on the move again.
In this parish we symbolize the signs of the resurrection in a variety of ways. Most prominent are the flowers in glorious array.
Gone is the simplicity of Lent, the barren features of our worship space and the ordinary glass chalices. Gone is the hearty rye bread and the dry burgundy wine.
In its place we have our finest silver, and a light white bread with a sweet wine.
What remains are the rocks from our prayer cairns, now filled with green vines.
And this chest….
All of Lent this chest has been closed and locked, holding within it the “Alleluia’s” our children created. Then, with the celebration of Easter the chest is burst open, the Alleluia’s are released, the chest falls to its side; eggs pouring out.
The chest represents for us the tomb where Jesus was buried.
The tomb; the shadow side of life: evil, darkness, and death, symbolized for us in this chest as the tomb of Jesus, where people attempted to lock away God’s love.
As if that effort could ever contain God.
As if we humans can ever stop God from doing God’s work in the world.
Celebrating Holy Week, worshiping though the three services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil remind us of human failure and God’s triumph.
Failure because of humanity’s efforts to confine and limit God. We confine and limit God whenever we ignore or hurt others: through the words we say, the actions we take or don’t take.
The crucifixion is the ultimate effort to stop God’s love. But, God will not be contained by human sin.
The Resurrection assures us that God will prevail and God’s love will fill our lives and fill this world, we cannot stop it…though we try.
Easter eggs, which pour out of this chest, are a primary sign of Easter. They come from a very long, ancient custom; eggs were a symbol of new life all around the ancient world.
Decorated eggs come from an ancient Persian custom for celebrating the New Year, which falls on the Spring Equinox of March 20th. Persians, people from Iran, still celebrate this New Year with decorated eggs.
The ancient Hebrews, who lived under Persian rule for many years, adopted the use of eggs as a symbol of new life and incorporated them into the Passover seder meal, a symbol of God doing a new thing by freeing God’s people.
And the ancient Romans used eggs as a part of their spring celebrations of new life.
Eggs and rabbits are both ancient symbols of fertility.
There is even a story about Mary Magdalene and eggs. Mary is one of the most faithful disciples. Unlike the other disciples she stays with Jesus to the end. Our Gospel stories tell us that she was at the cross, stayed with Jesus even as he died. And then later she went to the tomb to anoint the body. It was Mary who discovered, on Easter Day, that Jesus was missing. It was Mary who ran to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus was on the move again.
The story tells us that at one point Mary went to Rome to see the Emperor Tiberius. She took with her an egg and began to tell the Emperor about the resurrection. He responded by saying that the resurrection was as likely to have happened as if the egg she held could turn red.
At which point the egg in her hand promptly turned red.
The Romans would have readily understood the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber.
The egg quickly came to represent the tomb that held Jesus’ body, and the color red symbolized the spilling of his blood. The Greek Orthodox believe that the color red also has protective power.
However, other colors commonly used today came gradually into use. Tan or ivory shades symbolized the fine linen cloth in which Jesus was bound before being placed in the grave. Green was used for the fresh vegetation of springtime. Blue represented the sky in all of its glory, and purple was used to represent the Passion of Jesus crucified.
Gathered together, all the many eggs of varied hues represent the glorious springtime in which Christians unite to rejoice at the Resurrection of Life.
As the people in the Orthodox Church gather after the Easter services, eggs are blessed and given to all. The worshipers then go about greeting one another with “Christ is Risen!”, and hitting their eggs together, cracking them open.
The cracking of the red eggs among the Orthodox symbolizes a mutual prayer for breaking the bonds of sins and misery and for entering the new life which comes from the resurrection of Jesus.
None of the eggs should remain unbroken. Breaking the eggs emphasizes that Christ has conquered death and is risen, granting New Life to all. After cracking, the eggs are eaten, symbolizing the end of the Lenten fast.
Today, in the Christian Church of the western world, we use Easter eggs in all kinds of ways, but often without the conscious meaning used in the Orthodox tradition.
We hard boil eggs and decorate them with colored dye and stickers. Perhaps the Easter Bunny hides these eggs around the house for the children to find in the morning. Some people blow out the inside of the egg and paint the shells in very fancy patterns. Often we use plastic eggs filled with candy treats.
Today after our service we will have an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids, eggs filled with sweet treats. And I think it is helpful to know that this tradition is not just some modern Easter game, but one that is grounded in ancient customs symbolizing new life.
As Christians we interpret this custom of Spring and new life through the resurrection of Jesus. After the tragedy of the crucifixion of Jesus, who was abandoned by most of his friends and left to die a horrible death on the cross, something new was experienced by the people of the early church. Somehow, in someway, Jesus was present to them once again. But this presence of Jesus was not like a ghost…not some vague figment of what was once the person of Jesus. Nor was it a healed and cured Jesus, as if the crucifixion had never happened.
The resurrected Jesus comes to the people as one who is both dead and alive, he bears the marks of his death on his hands and his feet. But he also lives in a new way. He does not need to open doors. He is just there, present to all people in new ways. His being contains the marks of his suffering and the reality of his new life.
It can be a challenge to some modern people to take these ancient traditions of our Christian faith and understand them. How do we come to trust in the resurrection as a reality in our lives? Where is the truth in the resurrection and how can it be meaningful for us?
I think each of us lives with experiences of tragedy and suffering.
There are seasons in life where we struggle and wonder if life will ever feel right again. A song from Indigo Girls says, “It’s been a warm winter but a cold spring. Everything feels wrong to me…” In seasons of suffering, everything feels wrong.
No one is exempt from times like these.But over time, over a life time, we are often able to see that these times of suffering eventually leave and our lives settle down.
At our best we are able to see how the suffering actually makes us better people, gives us character. Like the wounds of Jesus, we carry the marks of our suffering.
True, sometimes these marks make people bitter.
However, when we work through the struggle and the suffering, the effort makes us better, more whole.Wholeness includes the suffering and the wellness…
Only from experiencing suffering can we develop a sense of empathy for the suffering of others.
Our Christian story helps us understand the seasons of life in order to make meaning out of such events and circumstances. For many of us, we are richer deeper people because we have suffered. It is from that place of common suffering that we are able embrace the thread of human life, to show compassion and love for others, because we have all suffered. As Christians, it is from this place of suffering and in our experience of being healed, renewed, and restored to a better life, that helps us grasp just a hint of the resurrection.
God comes to us as a human.
In the person of Christ God learns what it means to live this life,
and to die.
In taking on human form God says that God accepts humans, each one of us, just as we are. And as a Christian people this place of profound acceptance becomes the place where we are able to welcome others, in their anger or fear or pain, and love them for being who they are, who we are, flawed, fully human, whole….
For just as God loves us as we are so too are we to love others, just as they are.
The resurrection is a sure and certain sign that God is with us.
In the midst of our darkest days God holds us up. Its how we get out of bed in the morning and put on foot in front of the other. Into the chaos of our broken lives God sustains us.
Or at the very least, the hope of God sustains us….
From the shattered hopes and dreams God scoops in and begins to help us sort life out, creating a new sense of order, a new sense of life, a new direction.
In the resurrection we have Jesus risen from the dead,
healed, made new,
alive once again,
and yet carrying the clear and visible signs of the tragedy of the crucifixion.
Our lives, made new in the resurrection,
not because our suffering and tragedies disappear,
rather those experiences live in us.
And we are better people for them
More compassionate. More humane. More real.
The miracle is that in being loved and in loving we are transformed, made new in a whole new way.
Our Gospel reading tells us that when Mary told the other disciples about the resurrection they thought it was an idle tale…
So, our question today,
in the year ahead,
will the Resurrection be for you just an idle tale???
Or will you bring the Resurrection alive in the way you love God, love self, and love others?