The pain, denial, rejection, and suffering, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is over. The darkness of Good Friday has passed. The tomb of Holy Saturday, pointed us to examine the shadow side of life: of evil and darkness; toward all the ways people attempt to lock away God’s love.
Now, the tomb is split open and Jesus is on the move again. No human effort can ever contain God.
As a congregation we have walked the way of the cross, followed the footsteps of Jesus. We have washed feet, prayed through the night at the altar of repose, knelt at the cross, and rejoiced as the light of Christ came into the world once more.
Together we journeyed through the Triduum of Holy Week and embrace the most ancient traditions of our faith.Today we sing our Alleluia’s and celebrate Easter.
Each year Easter comes – it comes to assure us that nothing we do will 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 offers us a ritual reminder of the reality of human failure and God’s triumph.
Failure because of humanity’s ongoing 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 or the action we don’t take.
Easter comes no matter what for God can not be contained by human sin, human doubt, not even human certainty can limit God.
The Resurrection assures us that God will prevail and God’s love will fill our lives and fill this world, we cannot stop it, contain it, limit it…or fully know it…though we try.
And so on this Easter Day we find the church filled with flowers and music and candles. Gone is the barren simplicity of Good Friday. Signs of new life are every where.
Although we don’t have any in the worship space, Easter eggs are a primary sign of Easter.
On Good Friday afternoon I decorated eggs with the children of the parish. Some might find this an odd thing to do in the church, but it’s really not.Easter eggs 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. Modern 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, common symbols of Easter, are ancient symbols of fertility, used long before there were Hebrew or Christian peoples
There is even a story about Mary Magdalene and eggs.
Some say that 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 to Mary that the resurrected Jesus first spoke. 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 no more likely to have happened than if the egg she held could turn red.
At which point the egg in her hand promptly turned red.
In this story 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 Orthodox believe that the color red 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!.” They then hit their eggs together, cracking them. 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 an awareness of their tradition. We hard boil eggs and decorate them with colored dye and stickers. Perhaps the Easter Bunny hides 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 10:00 service we will have an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids, eggs filled with sweet treats.
And so 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 adopted ancient customs of Spring and new life and reinterpreted them 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.
And yet he lives.
He 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 can these ideas make sense in our lives today? 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 when we struggle and wonder if life will ever feel right again.
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.
But, like the wounds of Jesus, we carry the marks of our suffering.
However, when suffering has been fully integrated into our being it make us, whole. Wholeness includes both suffering and wellness…
For example, 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. 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 life of wholeness,that helps us grasp just a hint of the resurrection.
God comes to us as a human. Some people suggest that in the person of Christ God learns what it means to live a human life, to love, to suffer, to grieve and to die.
In taking on human form God says that God accepts humans, each one of us, just as we 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. Into the chaos of our broken lives 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.
Our lives, made new in the resurrection, are healed, not because our suffering and tragedies disappear, instead those experiences continue to live in us, but in a new way.
Therefore our suffering also becomes the very place, the way we know God, understand hope, and center ourselves in faith. In this new life we are better people because of our suffering.
More compassionate. More humane. More real.
I’m not suggesting that we go out seeking ways to suffer….suffering will find us all on its own.
I am suggesting that in and through the experiences of suffering we also find the ways that God is present with us. Ways in which, because of our egos we may not know as fully during the times that life is good. Suffering makes us vulnerable and vulnerability opens us up in ways we least expect. And when we are open we come to know God. When we are open we are able to receive the love that God always offers.
As Christians we know God most particularly and fully in the person of Christ. For us Christ is the fullest expression of God’s love poured out for humanity.
The miracle is that in being loved we learn how to love.
In the resurrection we become the vessel through which God’s love continues to made manifest in the world. Over the next 8 weeks we will reflect on this idea and then at Pentecost we are reminded that Christ has given us the Holy Spirit.
This Holy Spirit abides in us. It is the Holy Spirit abiding in us that enables us to move from sorrow to hope to new life. It is usually not because anything outside changes,it is because something inside of us changes.
The miracle of the resurrection and the gift of new life is our Christian tradition, ever real, even as it is mysterious.
Mary Oliver, my favorite poet says it well in this poem called “Logos”
“Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
And the felt ferocity of that love
And the felt necessity of that love,
The fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
And don’t worry about what is reality,
Or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
Spoken with love.”
(Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early” Beacon Press, 2004).